Cycling in Germany: 10 important rules

How to avoid fines of 150 euros or more, even if you are a tourist?

Cycling in Germany: 10 important rules

Cycling in Germany is at least convenient and useful. But there are rules that must be followed, especially for your own safety.

Read also: VELOHamburg: a bicycle festival will be held in Hamburg.

Here are the main traffic tips and rules that cyclists should be aware of, according to the German Road Safety Council (DVR) and the German Automobile Club (ADAC). After living in Germany for several years and cycling through medium and large cities, I added a few lines of my own.

1. Overtake other cyclists on the left

Cycling in Germany: As in many other countries, cyclists ride on the right side of the road, just like motorists.

And while it may seem obvious that you should pass other cyclists on the left – on dedicated bike lanes or not – you’d be surprised how many cyclists ride in the middle or on the left side of the lane.

Those who prefer to ride slowly should be careful and stay closer to the right-hand side of the bike lane – this will allow other, faster cyclists to have enough room and easily pass them.

You will be fined 150 euros for driving on the sidewalk in Germany.  Photo: aussiedlerbote.de

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen cyclists ride on the pavement to pass slower cyclists, but it’s officially illegal because sidewalks are for pedestrians.

2. Familiarize yourself with road signs

While the stop sign is familiar to most people, no matter what language they speak, other signs are not so universal.

For example, wherever a “Give way” sign (a red and white inverted triangle) is installed, cyclists, like motorists, must give way to other vehicles and wait. Other signs, such as a white and yellow diamond-shaped sign, on the other hand, mean that drivers must yield to you.

Examples of traffic signs in Germany.  Photo: ADAC

Another sign (number 254 in the picture), round, red and white with an image of times in the middle, means that cyclists are prohibited from entering the street.

Conversely, if you see a blue sign with a white bicycle on it (237), you can be sure that this route is for cyclists only.

But if you see a blue sign with a different image on it (and there are no times), then you are not allowed to enter (for example, a sign with the image of a bus means that only buses can travel on the street).

3. Remember the rule “first right then left»

The bicycle has been my primary means of transportation for about five years now, and yet every now and then I witness a cyclist nearly crash, presumably due to ignorance of this rule.

First we pass those on the right, and then those on the left go.  Photo: aussiedlerbote.de

All intersections, according to the DVR, have a “right first then left” rule unless there are traffic signs or traffic lights indicating otherwise. This means that both motorists and cyclists must give way to traffic traveling on the right.

In small streets, for example, this rule can be seen in action. A typical situation: a cyclist riding down the street must occasionally stop in front of cars traveling on the right at an intersection.

Growing up in Canada, I had a hard time getting used to this rule because most intersections without traffic lights have stop signs, meaning the right before left rule is rarely enforced.

4. Small children should ride a bicycle on the sidewalk

Small children are the exception when it comes to cycling on the pavement: they are allowed to ride on it until the age of eight.

Children on their way to school in Brandenburg.  Photo: unsplash.com

After this age, they can ride a bicycle alongside those who travel on foot until the age of ten. But after that, they have to ride on specially designated bike lanes like everyone else.

5. Lights, brakes and bell are a must

Although wearing a helmet is recommended, there is no official obligation to wear one. On the other hand, lights, brakes and a bell are a must.

Failure to comply with these rules can result in the police issuing you a fine, according to the dash cam. This means that, for example, if you decide to ride your bike at night but your headlights don’t work, don’t be surprised if the policeman gives you a ticket.

Lights, brakes and a bell are mandatory for cycling in Germany.  Photo: aussiedlerbote.de

In cities such as Münster in North Rhine-Westphalia, which was recently voted Germany’s most bike-friendly city, the police are keeping a closer eye on offenses committed by cyclists.

My relatives who live in Munster have told me that cyclists there are often fined for not having a bike light, although I have never heard of anyone paying a fine for not having a bell.

Personally, I don’t think the ringing rules are terrible. The bell is useful not only for alerting pedestrians who unwittingly cross the bike path (and potentially forcing you to stop), but also for warning cyclists when you’re about to overtake them.

6. Don’t get on your bike if you’ve been drinking

As some of the items on this list highlight, cyclists often have to follow the same rules as drivers, and not drinking and driving is one of them.

Cycling in Germany: 10 important rules.  Do not ride a bicycle if you have consumed alcohol.  Photo: aussiedlerbote.de

If you are found to have a blood alcohol level of 1.6% or more, you can earn up to 3 points and receive a fine. Similarly, it is forbidden to call or text on a mobile phone while cycling.

7. Use hand signals to indicate turns

Cycling in Germany: Using hand signals to indicate to motorists and cyclists that you want to turn is not only polite, but also avoids potentially dangerous situations, such as when a cyclist rear-ends you.

When turning, give a hand signal in advance to indicate the direction you wish to turn. If you want to turn right, just raise your right hand up.

This may be unusual for people from countries where the signals for cyclists are different. In Canada, for example, a raised left arm bent at a 90-degree angle means a right turn.

Also remember that pedestrians have priority when turning right when the crosswalk is green.

8. Avoid dangerous situations such as getting into drivers’ blind spots

When drivers of trucks or cars make a right turn, cyclists are at “particular risk” because they are often invisible, ADAC says.

A sign at one of Berlin's intersections warning cyclists not to be in motorists' blind spots.  Photo: wikipedia.org

Stay far enough away from vehicles to avoid drivers’ blind spots, ride your bike with care and, if necessary, get off your bike and onto the sidewalk, DVR advises.

Making eye contact with the driver is also important to avoid getting into dangerous situations.

Cars at T-intersections and driveways are other road situations that can be dangerous if you’re not careful on your bike.

9. Watch for open car doors

On streets where cars are parked to the right of the bike lane, keep a sufficient distance from parked cars. Some drivers open their car doors without regard for passing cyclists; you can avoid the risk of serious injury if you anticipate their actions.

Watch for open car doors.  Photo: aussiedlerbote.de

But not only the cyclist must guarantee safety in this case, ADAC claims.

In the Netherlands, driving schools teach you to open the driver’s door from the inside with your right hand when exiting a parked car. In this way, drivers contribute to safety as this movement forces them to use their upper body, turn slightly and check for pedestrians or cyclists.

10. Remember: Cyclists are “more vulnerable»than motorists

Even if you have the right-of-way in a traffic situation, ADAC advises for your own safety not to press for it if you encounter another road user who is not obeying the rules.

If, for example, you have the right of way at an intersection and you notice a car speeding by without stopping, don’t risk yourself and let the driver pass.

Remember that cycling in Germany is considered “more vulnerable” than driving a car.

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May 26, 2022 at 10:25 p.m

Main photo: aussiedlerbote.de

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