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Mar 13, 2017

“Fixies” — lightweight, minimalistic bicycles — enjoy a growing following among China’s urban youth, but a court in eastern China is not impressed by the fad.

The Changshan County People’s Court in Zhejiang province ruled on Friday that both the owner of a fixed-gear bike and the shop that sold it are partly to blame for the death of a young woman who lost control while cycling downhill and hurtled off the edge of a mountain.

The owner and the shop have been ordered to pay damages totaling more than 660,000 yuan (about $96,000) to the victim’s parents, local newspaper Wenzhou Evening News reported Sunday.

The deceased, a college student identified in court documents by her surname, Hong, was visiting her former high school classmate and friend, surnamed He, when the two went for a bike ride on Christmas Day in 2015. Hong borrowed He’s fixed-gear bike, a style of two-wheeler that requires the cyclist to pedal continuously and often does not come equipped with brakes. Instead, they are brought to a stop by abruptly holding the pedals in place with one’s feet to cause the rear wheel to skid.

Cycling on a fixie can be challenging, and Hong was reportedly a beginner. When she rode on the winding road down Daluo Mountain, she was unable to control her speed.

On March 7, 2016, the court accepted the case brought by Hong’s parents. The plaintiffs made claims against He, the shop that sold He the bike, and the highway authority tasked with maintaining the road. For their daughter’s death, funeral expenses, and emotional damage, Hong’s parents requested a compensation package of 860,000 yuan.

The court ruled that responsibility for Hong’s death lay 50 percent with the shop that sold the fixed-gear bike, 20 percent with He for buying the bike and allowing her friend to use it, and 30 percent with Hong herself. Though Hong’s parents also named the highway authority in the suit, claiming the road on Daluo Mountain is rugged, steep, and ill-marked in the section where Hong died, the official investigation stated that it could not determine whether the management or maintenance of the road section bore any responsibility.

As a result, the court ruled that the bike shop must pay more than 470,000 yuan and that He must pay over 190,000 yuan. The shop, after its initial claim that it hadn’t sold He the bike was proved false, has maintained that the bike didn’t violate official regulations. Arguing she was unaware that the bike was in violation of official rules, He said she should not bear any responsibility, adding that she had no intention of putting her friend in harm’s way.

Despite their popularity, fixed-gear bikes violate national safety standards, which require front-wheel brakes. Furthermore, the bike in question did not adequately display a business name, contact information, license number, or date of manufacture, the verdict said.

Net users were divided by the news, with some saying the shop was mostly at fault for selling a product that did not abide by regulations. Others, meanwhile, wondered whether Hong herself shouldn’t carry most of the blame.

“So your daughter isn’t responsible at all?” asked one user on microblog platform Weibo. “Someone who’s more than 20 years old shows off on a winding mountain road even though her technique isn’t good, and then they blame others when an accident happens.”

Contributions: Lin Qiqing; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: People ride fixed-gear bicycles in Kunming, Yunnan province, Aug. 20, 2014. VCG)