Staying Alive, The Rules of the Road.

From time to time you need to use or cross ordinary roads especially in towns. Most of the rules are much the same as back home: You cannot cycle on expressways or motorways for example, but there are some differences that are very important.

Napoleon’s revenge

Continental Europeans insist on riding and driving on the right, i.e. the unnatural side of the road. Just accept this. It is also true for cycleways. Remember, always look left first when you come to a junction.

Blue signs, red signs

Blue circular traffic signs are instructions to do something, not something that is forbidden. A circular blue sign where two walkers and a cyclist are displayed side by side means that both pedestrians and cyclists have their own marked bits of pavement (sidewalk) in this area. Try to stay in your section and be polite if someone is walking there on the cycle part. I tend to whistle as we cycle among pedestrians, so they notice we are there.

Sometimes the pedestrians and the cyclist are shown one over the other. This means that you both have to accommodate the other and there is no bit of the pavement you can call your own. Be fair and make sure that the walkers know you are there. Normally they will move to one side.

Stop signs and yield at major road junctions are the usual familiar red-bordered signs. Round signs with a red border indicate that something is forbidden.

Priorité à droit

If there are no signs to the contrary when two roads come together the participant who has a vehicle on his right must give way to that vehicle. If you are coming up to a road as you leave a field track, then there is no way that the ‘road user’ will regard you as having right of way. However, even when you do have right of way, use your common sense. If a 40 ton truck is zooming down towards you at high speed, then forget any theoretical right of way you may have.

There are exceptions to the priority from the right rule. A red and white triangle with its apex pointing upward, displaying a black arrow pointing upward, means that you have priority at this junction. A ‘square fried egg’ a yellow and white diamond means that you are on the major road. The end of the main road is shown by a ‘square fried egg’ with a diagonal line across it. You then do not have right of way. In the main, motorists on this route play by these rules. They assume that you are conversant with them.

One way streets and pedestrian zones

In some, but not all, one way streets you can cycle against the flow of traffic. You will normally see a square sign with a pictogram of a bicycle and the word ‘frei’ below the no entry sign. There may well be a marked zone for you to ride in. Although local cyclists often ride the wrong way along other one way streets, it is not to be recommended. It can be expensive and dangerous.

In some pedestrian zones you are allowed to cycle. Take care and cycle slowly. If there is no sign that you may cycle then it is better to dismount. Take especial care when small children are about. Traffic law assumes that a small child can make sudden movements without warning. Any collision with a child will be regarded as your fault.

Unless there is a notice to the contrary then cyclists are expected to follow normal traffic rules and regulations. On cycleways you can cycle side by side, as long as you do not impede other traffic by doing this. On roads it is better to cycle behind each other. When cycling in a group, it is better to split larger groups into two. Remind people, and youngsters especially, to look where they are going for themselves, not just to follow blindly the person in front. It is safer not to use an ‘iPod’ whilst cycling, since you cannot hear others approaching. Cycling using a mobile phone is illegal in Germany. Driving a motor vehicle while using a mobile / cell phone / handy is as well but it is observed more in the breach.

Other hazards

In cities there are often trams/street cars using tracks in the streets. They are very large and have right of way. Make sure you cross the tracks more or less at right angles, which is not always that easy. If your bike wheel gets trapped in the tramline, intimate contact with cobbles or tarmac is inevitable.

Other human powered trail-users can make life interesting at busy times. Inline skaters find well-surfaced cycle tracks irresistible, most of them are well disciplined and relatively expert, so just accept them. Be kind and patient with obvious learners, perhaps they will graduate to more adult forms of personal transportation. Cycle routes are enjoyed by many family groups, especially in school holiday periods, so ride considerately. Local trails also a favourite with elderly cyclists, some of whom ride incredibly slowly. In most of the towns and cities local cyclists have a habit of whizzing about regardless of others. They normally have hair trigger responses and we’ve not seen any mishaps, apart from our raised blood pressure.


Return using the proper hand signals to Useful Stuff.


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