FAQ - Roads, Law etc.
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)
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,
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
and finished by a similar one with a line
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)
Be careful, especially in housing areas.
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
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
The "normal" sequence would be:
(stop if you can, or go very fast)
||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....
||Austria has a phase (2a), flashing green between green and amber.
Treat it as amber.
||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
||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!
||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.
||toll sticker req.
||lots of tolls.
||toll sticker req.
||lots of tolls.
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