Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

Death of girl who was riding fixed-gear bicycle before fall a misadventure: Coroner's inquiry

SINGAPORE – The death of a 13-year-old girl who fell from height after crashing into a railing while riding a fixed-gear bicycle has been ruled a misadventure.

Delivering her findings on Friday (Oct 23), State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam also said there is an ongoing review of the use of such bicycles, which some have said are not suitable for the young as it requires strength and skill to manoeuvre.

Fixed-gear bicycles generally do not have hand-operated brakes, and rely on the rider’s pedal resistance to come to a halt.

The report from the review is expected to be out by the end of this year.

The death of the girl is a “cautionary tale” that has raised concerns over the use of fixed-gear bicycles, also known as fixies, said the coroner.

The girl had been riding the fixed-gear bicycle, which did not have brakes, with her schoolmates at a multi-storey carpark in Pasir Ris on Jan 8 when the incident occurred.

The 13-year-old had learnt how to ride a conventional bicycle only about a year ago, and she had wanted to try riding the fixed-gear bicycle.

Her friends lowered the seat of one of them, but the 1.53m tall girl was still “too short” for the bike, whose seat height was 1.03m after adjustment, said the coroner.

A friend originally accompanied her on foot as the girl started riding, and the girl said she was not confident of riding as it had been some time since she last rode a bicycle.

However, the friend could not keep up when the girl started cycling down a ramp from the seventh floor to the sixth floor. The friend shouted for the girl to turn right, but the girl continued to move straight towards the metal railing and collided into it, said the coroner.

As a result of the impact, the girl was thrown over the building, the court heard. The fixed-gear bicycle was stopped by the railing and fell to the ground.

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A resident found her on the ground floor, bleeding from her mouth and gasping for air, said the coroner. She was pronounced dead on the scene by paramedics.

Following this incident, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it will look into the issue of fixed-gear bicycles, which it had previously treated as normal bicycles with no restrictions to their use, said the coroner.

The coroner noted that LTA’s view was that the bicycles are “not inherently unsafe”.

However, the coroner also said that Mr Zulkifli Awab, an avid cyclist and founder of a popular cycling group HolyCrit, has stated that fixed-gear bicycles are not for the young, inexperienced or unfit.

Riders of such bicycles need to be proficient in handling the bicycle, and must have “sufficient leg power” to employ the backpedalling method to bring the bicycle to a stop, Mr Zulkifli has said, noted the coroner.

He had recommended that the bikes should not be used by those below 16 years old as their muscles are generally not sufficient to generate enough power.

The coroner said that there should be public education efforts to highlight the dangers of riding such bicycles. This was among the recommendations that arose out of the inquiry into the girl’s death.

Riders should also be required to wear helmets at all times, although this might have had little to no use in this case, she said.

She extended her condolences to the family of the girl.

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