One-armed cyclist busted by German cops for riding while one-armed


Bogdan Ionescu, a theatre box office worker from Cologne, gets around the usually cycle-friendly city using a modified bicycle that allows him to operate both brakes – one with his foot. But on 25 March he was pulled over by a police officer who, he says, told him he was breaking the law.

Under German road safety rules, bicycles are required to have to have two handlebar brakes. After a long argument at the roadside, the officer insisted that Mr Ionescu’s bike was not roadworthy and issued him with a €25 (£20) fine.

I’m sorry, sir, but the law states you must have two handlebar brakes. Your foot operated brake clearly is not a handlebar brake, as it is not on the handlebar.


I guess cops can be assholes anywhere in the world.


Don’t those cops have better things to do, like busting one-armed bandits?

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After an argument with the police? In the USA he’d have been tazed for non compliance and then shot for resisting arrest (preventing them from cuffing both hands behind his back).


The notion that in Germany bicycles need two handlebar brakes is BS. Paragraph 65 of the StraĂźenverkehrszulassungsordnung (StVZO, regulations that govern the street legality of vehicles) stipulates that bicycles must have two independent brakes but does not regulate how these brakes work or how they are operated.

In Germany it is absolutely normal for bicycles to have one handlebar brake that acts on the front wheel and a brake inside the rear wheel hub that is operated by moving the pedals backwards. One would never think of such a bicycle as a »modified« bicycle since many bikes – especially kids’ bikes and bikes for casual riders (as opposed to racing bikes or mountain bikes) – come like that from the factory. It would be highly unusual for police officers not to know this. Thus, as long as the one-armed guy has one of those bikes he should be fine. It could conceivably be a problem for the guy to ride a bike that has two handlebar brakes and no foot-operated one in the rear wheel hub, because then having just one hand he could only use one of the brakes, but from the photograph that doesn’t actually seem to be the case.


Back pedal brakes! That takes me back. My old Raleigh Strika had those…

So fixies are illegal in Germany?


It is a modern, civilized country after all.


»Fixies« aren’t illegal in Germany; a court has ruled that the non-freewheeling connection between the pedals and the back wheel counts as a brake, so as long as your »fixie« bike has another (handlebar) brake you’re fine. (As far as riding on public roads is concerned, of course; you get to ride whatever bike you like on private property/racing tracks/….)

I looked at the original article(s) in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, and it seems that the cop in question was under the erroneous impression that the (single) handlebar brake had to be on the right side of the handlebar, which in Mr Ionescu’s case makes little sense since he only has a left hand. (Moving the brake lever from the right-hand side of the handlebar to the left-hand side was apparently the »modification« that the English article talked about.) This does not paint Cologne’s boys in blue in a very favourable light (but judging from the comments on the articles they appear to have a pretty dismal reputation in the first place).

The real disgrace is that (a) it took two months to sort this out for good, and (b) the police then claimed that he would get a €5 refund for the brake mistake but would still have to pay a €20 fine because his bike didn’t have the mandatory lights, which he wasn’t cited for originally and which was also factually untrue. It’s good to hear that he received an apology and (full) refund.


Did you see the poster on the electrical box behind him? Maybe not related, but perfect!


Well, it’d be highly unusual for a traffic officer to not know this. :wink:

Conceiveably someone from a different section that doesn’t ordinarily deal with vehicles (say, Criminal Investigations, perhaps?) could be unfamiliar enough with both bicycle design and the pertinent codes to genuinely be confused.

Of course, officers in such divisions wouldn’t ordinarily be pulling over cyclists - although I suppose you don’t have to specifically be a traffic officer to cite someone for a (sincerely perceived) traffic violation? I think many of us would expect an officer in such a division to stop someone who they thought they witnessed run a red light, for example, even if it could later be proved that the light was actually green the whole time.

The important thing in my mind, however, is that the police did the right thing in the end. A full apology, a full refund, and even a nice statement from the police spokesperson that doesn’t sound contrived or insincere. They made a mistake, but they took responsibility for it.

You are now my go-to guy on German bike law.


Nothing says “Hey Mum, I’m home!” like powering up the driveway and then slamming down hard on the back pedal, letting the rear wheel slide out and skidding to a halt.


To be fair, nowhere in the article is it even suggested that the officer in question was rude, disrespectful, or in any way behaving poorly. It’s a pretty blatant editorialization to assume the cop was an asshole.

Remember, you can be wrong and make mistakes without that making you an asshole. Far too often I see people simply labeling anyone who disagrees with their views, or who does something they don’t like, an “asshole”.

Dissent does not equal disrespect, even when it is misplaced, misguided, or misinformed. A motorist isn’t an asshole merely for insisting they didn’t run a red light, and a police officer isn’t an asshole merely for insisting that they did. They can’t both be right, and the person who is wrong isn’t automatically an asshole for not being correct.

You have to actually treat someone badly - not just treat them differently than they might want - to actually be an asshole.

You’re talking about situations in which a legitimate difference of opinion can exist and not easily be verified. This is not one of those. The man pointed out both the logical and LEGAL flaws in the officers position, and he refused to budge. He may not have been an asshole in making an error, but he most certainly was an asshole to not admit he was wrong when it was pointed out to him; and no, observing that people lie to police doesn’t cut it when the question is something that can be resolved by reading the statute in question.

I’ve had exactly that sort of interaction with police, and it’s something I will truly never understand. I mean honestly, which is more wasteful and embarrassing? Looking up a statute and quitely admitting a mistake or losing the case in court or the press?


Have you honestly never been in a situation in which you felt absolutely certain you were correct about something which you were in fact completely wrong about, despite the passionate arguments of someone else? Have you never been utterly convinced that the other party was basing their entire argument on misinformation, when in reality you were the one who was misinformed?

Even police officers are only human and can fall prey to cognitive biases and mistaken judgement. Sometimes that means not believing someone who it turns out actually is correct. That’s not bad behavior, that’s just bad judgement.

In the absence of ready access to the exact wording and legal interpretation of the law, what is a police officer reasonably going to trust more? The word of a cyclist they’ve never met who might very well just be trying to get out paying a ticket? Or their own judgement reinforced by their own experience and authority as a law enforcement officer?

I highly doubt the officer believed Mr. Ionescu was lying - I think the officer merely believed Mr. Ionescu was mistaken about the law, and that they personally were not.

Could the officer have contacted someone and verified the law? Perhaps - although typical police procedure as I understand it is that you cannot detain someone without cause, effectively meaning that you have to immediately choose between citing them for something, or letting them off scot free.

As far as I’m aware, the police aren’t really allowed to witness something they believe to be a crime or infraction and then hesitate in citing it in order to double check the exact text of the law to be sure. An officer can’t just show up at your doorstop and say “I saw you run a red light last Thursday” and have any expectation of being taken seriously. But if they stop you right then and there and say “Hold it! I just saw you run a red light!”, we all seem to collectively agree to take that seriously, even in the absence of other evidence.

Of course, even if the exact text of the pertinent law was available for immediate perusal and confirmation, you still run into issues like wording and interpretation. Unfortunately, this is where different people’s understandings of a law can really begin to radically differ, and it typically isn’t simple or easy to discern who has the right of the issue.

… which is why we have lawyers. :smile:

The officer in this situation seems to have had only two options - trust their own judgement as a law enforcement officer and levy a fine, or trust Mr. Ionescu’s word as an untrained layperson and let the issue go.

If the officer let Mr. Ionescu go and was wrong to do so, then they just failed in their duties to enforce the law and the situation cannot be rectified later.

On the other hand, if the officer instead trusted their own judgement regarding the law and was wrong to do so, then the fine could still be contested and the courts would sort the matter out - which is exactly what happened, but is also exactly why we even have a court system in the first place.

Making a mistake in judgement in the course of fulfilling the duties of your office doesn’t make you an asshole. Falling prey to cognitive biases and improperly valuing your own knowledge compared to that of others doesn’t make you an asshole. Sticking to your guns (in the temporary absence of concrete evidence confirming the issue either way) despite the insistance of someone else who ends up being proven right doesn’t make you an asshole.

It just makes you a human.

The bad call wasn’t really anything to do with the law — it was a simple failure of common sense. The dude obviously has no right arm, so a brake lever on that side is useless. But he had adapted the bike so he can safely stop. The rule wasn’t made for him — the cop should have just smiled, thanked him for his time and wished him a safe journey. End of story.


Bottom Line, Law enforcement all over the world like to waste taxpayers money. They should just try and get real criminals.


Ah well, German police saves roughly 2 million round of ammunition a year by not shooting, so I’m not overly concerned with them enforcing traffic rules.


Is it me or is Xeni trying to top Cory in the “lying in headlines”-department?

I mean, I could understand if the story had been mangled by various rounds of translations, like losing the fact that this was about missing brakes, but it’s right the in the frigging article she quotes.

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