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Cycling in Switzerland: what you need to know

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Whether you’re on your daily commute to work, on a family outing at the weekend, or taking your racing bike out for a spin, as a cyclist, you’re a road user and as such are required to follow the rules of the road. But road signs, rights of way, and speed limits are not the whole story: There are many other regulations that apply to cyclists in Switzerland too. 

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    Cyril Senn

    Cyril Senn, a legal expert at AXA-ARAG specializing in traffic law, answers the most frequently asked questions about traffic rules for cyclists.

Can I swerve onto the sidewalk to overtake a line of cars?

No, bicycles must use the road or, where available, bike lanes and paths. If motorized traffic is at a standstill, cyclists are allowed to pass to the right of the queue provided there’s room to do so. However, you’re not allowed to whizz through the queue of vehicles weaving in and out slalom-style.

Are you allowed to listen to music while riding a bike?

No. The same rules apply to cyclists as to all other road users: Your attention must not be distracted by listening to audio devices or the like. If you’re listening to loud music on your earphones, it seems doubtful whether you can still pay full attention to what’s going on in the traffic around you. 

From what age are children allowed to ride a bicycle on the road?

There’s no actual age restriction, but children are not allowed to ride a bicycle until they can pedal. Children under the age of six are permitted to ride a bicycle on a main road under the supervision of someone aged at least 16.

My two-year-old daughter is still a bit unsteady riding her balance bike on the sidewalk. In this case, as her mother, am I allowed to ride my bike on the sidewalk too?

No, riding on the sidewalk is not permitted.

Is it compulsory to wear a helmet in Switzerland?

No, cyclists do not have to wear a helmet in Switzerland. Helmets are only compulsory starting from “large” e-bikes. However, we advise you to always wear a helmet, as it can massively reduce the risk of serious head injuries.

Am I allowed to ride my bike on hiking trails?

A simple question that could take a whole dissertation to answer! Basically, bicycles are not allowed to ride on paths that are unsuitable for cycling. According to the Road Traffic Act, this includes, for example, footpaths and hiking trails. However, rapid progress in mountain bike technology means that – given the right skills – “bicycles” are now capable of thundering down even the steepest and rockiest hiking trails. The cantons have the option of designating special routes for bicycles or mountain bikes.

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    Regular bike vs. mountain bike

    In some cantons, mountain bikes in particular are only allowed to ride on designated trails, while other cantons are extremely liberal and leave it up to the bike enthusiast to decide whether a trail is also intended for mountain bikes. In any event, mountain bikes in particular are obliged to show special consideration towards pedestrians or hikers.

I was about to overtake a car parked on the right-hand side of the road. Just at that moment, the driver’s door swung open – and I was very lucky to be able to swerve out of the way in time. Is there a rule about how much distance I have to allow in this type of situation?

The basic rule is that you always need to maintain sufficient distance from all road users. The law does not specify an exact figure. However, when opening a car door, you must always make sure that traffic approaching from behind is not endangered.

Are you allowed to take your feet off the pedals while riding?

As long as you are in control of the bike, taking your feet off the pedals is not explicitly prohibited. However, you must not take your hands off the handlebars.

I have two toddlers. Can I attach a trailer and a child seat to my bike?

Yes. You can tow two children in a trailer and have a secure child seat on your bike as well. The same applies to a tandem. So with a trailer and a child seat mom and dad could cycle around on a tandem with their three children.

New cycling rules since January 2021

Turning right on red

Cyclists and moped riders are now allowed to turn right at a red light, provided this is indicated accordingly.

Children up to 12 years of age are allowed to ride on the sidewalk

If there’s no cycle path or cycle lane, children up to 12 years of age are allowed to cycle on the sidewalk. The Federal Council realizes that this may disturb pedestrians on sidewalks, but the new regulation helps prevent accidents between children and cars and therefore benefits road safety.

Am I allowed to attach a child seat or child trailer to my e-bike? If I do, what speed limit applies?

Yes, two children can be transported in a trailer and one on a child seat. There is no speed limit, but you generally have to adjust your speed to your “load”.

Can I carry my terrier in a bicycle basket on my handlebars or in the cargo compartment of a cargo bike?

Animals are regarded as cargo and must be secured accordingly. Provided you use a special basket or cage that won’t allow your pet to escape in the city traffic, the answer is “yes”. The priority is road safety at all times.

Can I ride my bike in the bus lane?

Unless exceptions are indicated, bus lanes may only be used by buses operating as public service vehicles. If the bus lane also shows a bicycle symbol cyclists are allowed to use it too.

Do bicycles in Switzerland still need an insurance sticker?

No, the bicycle sticker was abolished in 2012.

Fines for cyclists

Are cars and trucks required to maintain a specific minimum distance when overtaking bicycles?

No – there is a general requirement to maintain sufficient distance.

I left my bike in front of a shop window – and the owner complained. Where am I allowed to park my bike?

Bicycles can be parked on the sidewalk, provided there is at least 1.5 meters of space left for pedestrians.

On a bike path am I allowed to overtake other cyclists on the left and on the right?

Basically, you must ride on the right and overtake on the left. This means that even on cycle paths you must overtake on the left provided there is enough space.

Do cyclists also have the right of way at a pedestrian crossing?

Pedestrian crossings may only be used by pedestrians. Cyclists must push their bikes.

Is it a compulsory requirement for bicycles in Switzerland to be equipped with a “clearly audible bell”?

No, nowadays a bell is no longer required.

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Are you allowed to "walk your dog" while riding on a bicycle?

Yes, adults are allowed to lead a dog on a leash provided they exercise due caution.

Do I always have to push my bike in a pedestrian zone? Even in the morning or evening when there’s almost no one out and about?

Yes, the pedestrian zone is strictly reserved for pedestrians.

In what situations or locations are cyclists allowed to ride side by side?

Two people are allowed to ride side by side,

  • in a closed formation of more than ten bicycles
  • in dense bicycle traffic
  • on cycle paths and on designated cycle routes on secondary roads
  • and in traffic-calmed areas.

What are the rules on transporting goods by bicycle? Do I always need a trailer?

No, there are also carriers and “cargo bikes”. The load must generally be secured in such a way that it does not pose a danger to other road users. For example, if you are transporting tools such as hammers and screwdrivers and they fall on the road when you go over a pothole, the load was not secured in accordance with the regulations.

Where do I have to ride on a traffic circle (roundabout)? On the right, on the left, or in the middle?

In principle, the right-hand rule also applies at roundabouts. However, cyclists may deviate from this rule in the roundabout for safety reasons, so that their path is not cut off by cars.

This is what you need to keep in mind when overtaking on a bicycle:

  • Cyclists are allowed to pass standing and moving lines of vehicles on the right. Swerving onto the sidewalk or weaving in and out of the line of cars is prohibited.
  • Other cyclists may only be overtaken on the left on the cycle path.
  • Cyclists may only overtake a stationary or slow-moving queue of vehicles on the right if this does not obstruct vehicles turning right.
  • Specifically, the cyclist’s overtaking maneuver must be completed before the motor vehicle’s turning maneuver begins.
  • Cyclists should never try to insist on their right of way, as they are always the weaker road users!

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