Politics & Government

Are your pedals illegal? Wichita bike board revolts against state law

Urban cycling made safer with bike lanes

Cyclist Jenn Rygg and friends navigate the hazards of downtown Wichita with the help of new bike lanes. (March 10, 2016/Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle)
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Cyclist Jenn Rygg and friends navigate the hazards of downtown Wichita with the help of new bike lanes. (March 10, 2016/Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle)

Riding down the Kellogg access road near Maize Road, Alan Farrington was surprised to learn that the high-tech, high-performance pedals on his bicycle are banned in Kansas.

“Every bike shop in the city sells them,” he said, somewhat incredulously.

And he’s right. But that doesn’t make it legal.

At issue here is an obscure state law banning the sale of bike pedals that don’t have reflectors on both front and back. Farrington’s don’t – along with pedals on untold thousands of modern bicycles around the state.

That touched off a mini-revolt last week at the Wichita Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, which voted 10-1 to delete the pedal-reflector requirement from state law changes to be adopted into Wichita’s municipal code.

And now, the chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees have agreed to hold hearings on whether the pedal-reflector requirement should be dropped from state statute as well.

“If they bring it up here, we’ll hear it,” said Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita and Senate transportation chairman.

It’s not really an issue for the casual rider who picks up a bike at Walmart to ride around the neighborhood with the kids. Those bikes almost certainly have ordinary flat pedals with reflectors attached.

But more committed cyclists use specially designed pedals with clips and matching cleated shoes that clip into them. That lets the rider pedal on the downstroke and the upstroke, making for a more efficient transfer of leg power to move the bike forward.

In fact, a good set of pedals and shoes often costs more than the average discount-store bike costs total.

But clip-in pedals generally don’t have flat sides to mount a reflector to. And that’s what had the bike board up in arms – or legs.

The law requiring pedal reflectors has been on the books since 1975 – when virtually all bike pedals were flat.

And the clear consensus of bike board members is that’s about as outdated as a Schwinn Stringray.

“This is not consistent with how high-performance pedals are going to be used by people, like me, and I’m just an amateur bike rider,” said board member Tom Lassiter.

The main change in state bike law this year allows cyclists to wear headlights and tail-lights on their bodies instead of having to have them attached to their bikes.

No one on the bike board had a problem with that, but several members noticed the pedal-reflector requirement as they reviewed other minor changes.

Incorporating state law into the municipal code is usually routine. However, the city doesn’t have to do that, said Jan Jarman, the assistant city attorney who advises the board.

Although authorities could still enforce the state law, she said she knows of no one who’s ever been prosecuted for illegal pedals.

State Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, said he understands the issue and if the bike board contacts him, he’ll introduce a bill and hold a hearing when the Legislature returns to session in January.

“We could sure take a look at that next year and see what we can come up with,” said Proehl, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Because it is a safety issue, he said he’d also like to hear from law enforcement before making a final call on repeal.

Petersen said he’s glad this year’s changes in the bike law have spurred more discussion of what may be outdated with all the new technology in cycling.

“It’s amazing how many bills get passed because somebody says ‘Why are they doing that?’” Petersen said.

Back out on the street, Farrington said he doesn’t think having reflectors on his pedals would make him any easier to see.

When riding at dusk or dark, he already has a white flashing light on the front of his bike and a red flasher on the back. In addition, he wears a bright shirt with a reflective water backpack and reflective shoes.

“Today’s technology on lights and everything, that’s kind of taken the place of what used to be on a pedal,” he said.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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