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FAQ - Roads, Law etc.

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Alpine roads in general.

If you aren't used to mountain roads, the Alps could be a bit of a biking challenge and the most fun you ever had. Mountain passes often have many hairpin corners which can be both tight and steep and seem the more so the bigger the bike. On the other hand, a wide beautifully surfaced series of hairpins can be sheer biker's heaven. And the twisties in between are the relish. (Excuse mixed metaphors)


Surfaces :

All routes on this site are tarmac roads(unless otherwise noted). The beating most roads get in the winter from the ice and snow means that surfaces can vary considerably from year to year and inevitably somewhere you will have to ride on gravel and stones like this through a stretch of roadworks. Normally this will be on a downward side of a really steep pass involving a number (where any number is too big) of hairpins whilst being followed by a Dutch bus full of touring walruses about 3 feet from your rear tyre. But don't let that put you off ;-) . The use of gravel to aid winter grip is widespread. Great in the winter, but a pain in the summer. June is the worst summer month for this, but the traffic slowly clears it as the summer passes by.

Rules of the road, etc.

Traffic signs in most of the countries are very similar to the UK version. They Often look slightly old-fashioned to my eye, but you can recognise the meanings.
You can try these sites if you want to get an idea of what to expect:
International traffic signs from an American site,
Official German traffic regulations.
There are a few differences, though:
Most countries on mainland Europe have a "priority from the right" system. This means that by default, vehicles coming from side roads on your right have priority over you. Dubious eh? Well, yes, really. Unless you are on a priority road marked at regular intervals by a yellow diamond with a white border: Priority start and finished by a similar one with a line through it:priority end

or, on a normal road, just before each junction by a sign (thick black road pointing up, narrow black line entering from the right, or crossing it) prior_road.gif 39x35.

Be careful, especially in housing areas.


Road Manners:

The French and the Swiss car drivers are generally very considerate to bikers - when they notice you - and normally let you pass as soon as possible (and Germans on the Autobahns). The French often try so hard that they nearly drive themselves off the road in their eagerness to get out of the way. Of course you then feel obliged to overtake and this can lead you into going faster than you really want and is legal (did I say that?).
The Dutch normally move their ancient yellow Mercedes diesels out into the road to stop you getting past. Austrians are either neutral or boy racers up your arse all the time. The Italians are always on the racing line whatever they're driving - normally the ubiquitous Fiat Uno or a souped-up Vespa with spannies.


These are so new that car drivers don't know (or care) what to do, whether to indicate etc. but they are becoming popular on mainland Europe. They are positively dangerous. In most cases the traffic on the roundabout has priority, and those entering have to give way. Normally. But not always. Each country has its own set of rules. Just watch and take it carefully.


You may NOT filter right on a red light, unless there is a green filter arrow lit (for our American cousins).
EXCEPT:IT'S NOW LEGAL in GERMANY! Small green arrow placard stuck on post next to traffic light indicates WHERE you may do this, and advises that you do so at your own risk. If you don't see the arrow DON'T TURN - instant disqualification for 1 month for crossing a red light. If in doubt don't do it! [Thanks to JS]
Basic sequence of colours is similar in all countries, with a few variations.
The "normal" sequence would be:

1) red green
(go, obviously)
2) red amber
(stop if you can, or go very fast)
3) red red
4) red red and amber
(10,000 revs drop clutch)

Italy and France do not have phase (4) red & amber. It goes straight to green, which can cause a heart-attack if you first notice this in a busy town and you're first in the queue....

flash_g.GIF 35x90 Austria has a phase (2a), flashing green between green and amber. Treat it as amber.
flash_y.GIF 35x89 You will often see lights set to flashing amber - this means either the lights are broken (which is often the case in Italy) or it's off peak and proceed with caution. Normally other road-signs show who has right-of-way at that junction.
flash_all.GIF 35x93 In Italy I have seen (5) red, amber and green together. Nobody knew what it meant so everybody went...



My lawyer says I shouldn't put this one in so anything you read below is a figment of your imagination.
In general it's always a good idea to observe the limits in towns and villages (especially the approach to small towns as the police haven't got anything better to do). In Germany, Austria and Switzerland the police issue on the spot fines(they take credit-cards). Sorry no info. for France: We've been lucky, though the gendarmes have been known to time speeders between toll stations. In Switzerland there is a fine proportional to the speed above the limit at which you were travelling. It can be very punitive: £120 on my last mishap for 50 mph in a 30 limit. If you let them catch you were not going fast enough! In the mountains there are virtually no police around, let alone any interested in catching speeders. However it is probably not a good idea to crash a manned border crossings doing a ton!

Speed limits
Country Towns Country Motorways
Germany 50 km/h 100 km/h unlimited (unless shown) Despite "common knowledge", a high proportion of Autobahns have speed limits.
If you are involved in an accident at over 120km/h, then you may be prosecuted for reckless driving, even if it wasn't your fault.
Switzerland 40/50 km/h 80 km/h 120 km/h toll sticker req.
France 50 km/h 90 km/h 130 km/h lots of tolls.
Austria 50 km/h 100 km/h 130 km/h toll sticker req.
Italy 50 km/h 90 km/h 130 km/h lots of tolls.


Bike headlights

are compulsory (on) in Germany and Austria, and in Italy on the Autistrada as well. I'm not sure about CH or F.


In Austria it is now legal for bikes to filter between lines of cars, as long as the cars are stationary or moving slowly. But most car drivers still don't know this, or don't care, so watch out. I don't know the laws for the other countries, but I suspect that it's illegal still (officially): take your cue from the local bikers.
According Jonathan Schuster it's apparently still illegal in Germany, but police advise it is safe to 'lane split' such that you are not stuck at the end of a Stau (traffic jam) - which is open to interpretation. Very unlikely to get nicked, even following a police car through a jam (we tried it).
If in doubt don't do it near a policeman or manned border-crossing.


is generally OK in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, you will frequently see people's helmets etc. just hanging off the handlebars with no owner in sight. In Italy, however, it is quite common for hotels/pensions to allow you to park the bike in a locked compound guarded by a hungry Rotweiler. But in 12 years of touring the Alps we've never had any problems at all. We have just taken the obvious precautions. If you visit caves, or museums, for example, they are normally willing to look after your bags & lid in the kiosk whilst you are inside. Most places are biker-friendly.



Yes, dark visors are legal (hooray!) - and dark visors with sunglasses. Eat your hearts out, you Brits (yuck yuck).
Just have a clear one handy if it looks like you'll get caught out at night.