Cycling is immensely popular in Germany! Over 75% of Germans own a bike, and pretty much everyone knows how to ride one properly, often learning to do so in early childhood. Unlike some countries, where Cycling is more of a sport, cyclists are a well established and expected part of German traffic. The country has cycling lanes in many places and many Germans use a bike as a part of their daily commute to work or school. So, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about cycling when you get to Germany!
You can’t just ride anything with two wheels and call it a bicycle, though! Your bike needs to be roadworthy, meaning it needs to meet a set of requirements that make sure you can participate in German traffic in a safe and responsible manner. Let’s take a look at what’s required:
- Proper lights: First of all, you need a well functioning set of lights. A white or yellow light at the front, but without any of the fancy blinking effects that some bike lights offer. Some lights are on permanently, others are only on while you’re moving, turning your momentum into electricity with a dynamo. At the same time, you need a bright-red rear light that is on as long as you’re on the bike, even if you’re stationary. The main function of these lights is not to help you see in the dark, but mostly to help other drivers see you in the dark and during poor weather conditions. If police find you riding with a broken light, or if you’ve simply forgotten to turn it on, you’ll face a fine of €20 euros or more.
__- Reflectors: for similar reasons, your bike needs to have at least one yellow reflector or, like many bicycles these days, have reflective spokes or strips on the tips that will help another driver spot you when coming towards you in poor lighting conditions and from an angle where they would not be facing your lights.
- Brakes: To ride your bike legally in Germany, you need 2 independently functioning brakes, usually one for the front wheel and one for the back, to make sure you’re able to stop quickly and safely in most situations. For example, if only your front brakes work while going downhill, a panic brake would likely see you sailing over your steering wheel, possibly right into whatever triggered your desire to stop in the first place!
- A bell: Similar to the horn of a car, your bike needs to have a nice loud bell on it. This way you can alert other cyclists or pedestrians of the fact that you’re coming through from a position where they might not be able to see you. If you don’t have one, or it doesn’t work properly, it will mean another fine! So, if your bike is poorly maintained your fines could easily stack up to over €75!
- Situationally, a seat: While your baggage rack could easily hold a child’s weight, transporting your child of 7 years or younger with you on your bike requires you to install a proper child seat. Similarly, it’s also technically illegal to ride a bike with someone on the back (unless you happen to have a really cool tandem bike designed for 2 people). Generally, police tend to ignore this if they have somewhere else to be, but if it’s clear that you’re swerving dangerously, prepare to fined for this and anything else that’s wrong with your bike.
Bicycles are a common sight in Germany, and as a cyclist, you participate in traffic by following the rules, just like everyone else. This means keeping an eye on traffic signs to tell you when to stop or give right of way as well as sticking to the ebb and flow of traffic lights. Simple enough, but here are some common or unspoken rules for cyclists that will save you from a fine or simply keep you safe.
- Don’t drink and cycle: participating in traffic while under the influence is dangerous! That said, if you’ve had a couple of beers, it’s better to grab a bike than to get into a car. Just remember that if you’re having trouble moving straight, it’s better to simply call yourself a taxi.
- Make sure you can hear traffic: It’s technically not illegal to wear headphones while riding your bike in Germany. However, for your own safety, you should make sure that you can still clearly hear what’s going on in traffic around you. This means you should keep your left ear free, as this will allow you to hear other vehicles coming up behind you. Additionally, overhead headphones will clearly signal to other drivers that you might not be fully able to hear them coming.
- Cycle in the bike lane when available: Germany is full of designated bike lanes, either on the road or on the pavement, where they’re clearly marked with lines or a different colour. For example, a green cycling lane means that you have right of way as long as you‘re on that lane! If there’s no cycling lane, just stay as far right as possible. Make sure to stay sufficiently clear of parked cars, as someone swinging open their car door can bring your bike trip to an unexpected end. If there’s any kind of obstruction on the road or cycling lane that makes driving there unsafe, you’re allowed to ride onto the pavement. Just be mindful of any pedestrians that might already be there!
- Indicate when turning or suddenly stopping: Being safe in traffic means being predictable! Look over your shoulder to see if it’s safe and extend your hand in the direction you’re going a few seconds before turning. This will warn other drivers of your intent and will give cars time to respond to your change in direction. If you need to stop unexpectedly, you can warn other cyclists and vehicles behind you by extending your arm downward with your hand extended.
- Obey traffic lights: running a red light is extremely dangerous, as well as quite heavily fined at €200 as well as possible consequences for your drivers’ license if you have one. So, make sure you stick to the lights just like everyone else! In some cases, cyclists will have their own smaller traffic lights, roughly at eye level. If these aren’t there, stick to the general traffic lights. The only real exception to this is when the traffic lights are not functioning, or when you’re out at 2 AM and you‘re sure there’s absolutely no-one else on the road.
- Common sense: Not a law, but please use your common sense! As a cyclist, you’re incredibly vulnerable when navigating alongside what are essentially steel death machines moving at much higher speeds than you are. You may have the right of way, but that doesn’t mean you have to claim it. If it’s unsafe to make a move, simply opt to wait until it is or stop instead.
Do I need a helmet when cycling in Germany?”
Technically, no. There’s no law requiring you to wear a helmet as a cyclist in Germany. However, if you often drive in heavy traffic or in bad weather, it might be an idea to invest in a proper helmet!
Getting your own bike in Germany is very easy! Especially in larger cities, it’s easy to pick up a second-hand bike for almost any budget up to €250. Do make sure that your new bike meets the requirements we discussed earlier. If you really want your own brand new bike, you could be paying anywhere from €700 to over €1500. Germany is actually promoting the use of bicycles recently, so you could also check if your employer has a bicycle plan that could see you scoring a great bike for a friendly price. Additionally, most of the major German cities are now home to quite a number of ride-sharing services, allowing you to score a bike that meets all the requirements on the go!
So, get those legs pumping to get where you need to go! Of course, if you're looking to go super long distance, it might be time to look into buying a car in Germany!
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