Emergencies and how to cope

We expect most of what follows to be superfluous, but: Insurance is advisable, actually essential. When something unforeseen happens you will at least avoid financial problems. Some cycle routes involve cycling on roads and although many of them are little used by road vehicles, we urge you to take care. Fortunately because more people cycle in Europe and perhaps because many motorists are themselves cyclists in their free time, we have found few aggressive motorists. They usually give cyclists room to wobble. In cities there are clearly marked cycle routes, but there are also trams, pedestrians and aggressive fellow cyclists. Some pedestrians are locals but many are tourists, guide book in hand, and in ‘traffic-free zones’ they forget about the silent approach of the cyclist. So take care and give audible warning of your approach. From a personal point of view, we have had very few mishaps despite many kilometres of cycling each year, apart from a few moments of carelessness.

Helmet wearing is not compulsory in Denmark, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Switzerland though encouraged by safety organisations, especially for youngsters going to school. Illogically we wear them part of the time, but it’s a personal choice.

The emergency telephone number is 112 all over Europe.

Health insurance

All the member states in the European Union, Switzerland and Norway have mutual health insurance arrangements, for citizens of the other states. To qualify you need the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which should be obtained before you leave your own country. Equipped with one of these you are covered for the same quality of treatment of illnesses, injuries and dental emergencies offered to persons insured in each country so long as these occur on your trip. Read the small print, as ever, and advice on how to access treatment. Many people also like to take out additional insurance. We basically rely on the EHIC system in the EU but have a private travel insurance in addition that covers us for extra costs. Most doctors, dentists and chemists, but not all, can speak some English.

If you come from a country outside the EU please take out a travel health insurance. It is bad enough falling ill or suffering injuries on holiday without having the additional worry of the costs of treatment. Hospitals and clinics might be prepared to accept credit cards though German institutions are incredibly mistrustful of these. Do not forget to ask for documentation, invoices, or letters, so you can argue with the insurance company once you reach home.


The emergency services in Europe are as good as anywhere in the world. There is unlikely to be any unseemly question of ability to pay at the scene of an accident and you can sort out the finances later. Allergy sufferers or those with special conditions like diabetes are advised to wear the relevant bracelet or carry an internationally approved card giving details of the condition.

If you should be involved in an accident, try to stay calm, treat personal injuries if possible and assess other damage later. It pays to have a first aid kit with you. Having the wherewithal to clean up a graze and put a plaster on, can mean much for the comfort of the wounded party. Out in the sticks help for minor injuries can be some distance away. Most emergency service personnel will speak some English.

Police may be called to an accident if anyone is injured or damage to a vehicle or other party is involved. Be warned that swearing or using insulting language, whatever the provocation, is inadvisable. Most English language insults are well known in Europe, unfortunately and can result in prosecution. If alcohol is suspected you may be breathalysed or required to give a blood test, even if riding a bike. With 0.5% or more alcohol in their blood people are liable to face prison or a fine or possibly both, so it is best to avoid the grain and the grape during the day.


Guard against theft by all the usual means: e.g. locks and secure overnight storage. If the worst happens then make sure the theft and all possible details of the circumstances are reported to the local police at once, since your insurance claim may depend on doing this. If your bike is insured, notify the insurers immediately. If it has been stolen from a secure place, you may get a full refund. It is not a good idea to leave bikes with insecure panniers whilst you go to eat or shop. Most railway stations have left luggage lockers which are reasonably priced and you can nearly always find somewhere to eat with a view of the bike. Terrace cafés often have bike racks next to them. If not, take your stuff off the bike and with you, leaving the bike secure.

We try to keep our valuables divided between us, making sure that we each have some local currency and have things like passports and credit cards either on our person or somewhere in an identifiable package. In another pocket it is a good idea to have a list of telephone numbers to contact in case credit cards, or passports get lost or stolen and photocopies of your passport and tickets.

In the unlikely event that you end up without money, credit cards and passport then you may need to get in touch with your consulate. The passport issuing authority in your country will provide you with a list of consulates. Keep this list separate from your credit cards, passports, tickets, etc.

Return safely to Useful Stuff.

copyright: Judith & Neil Forsyth, Konrad-Adenauer-Allee 51A, D 68519 Viernheim