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Reader question: What are the rules for e-bikes in Switzerland?

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Reader question: What are the rules for e-bikes in Switzerland?
What are the rules for e-bikes in Switzerland? Here's what you need to know. Image: Pixabay

Electronic bikes, known as e-bikes, are growing in popularity. From speed limits to rules about lights, here’s what you need to know.

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Electric bike technology has improved dramatically in recent years, with e-bikes now a popular way to get around in both urban and regional areas. 

Filling the void between bicycles and motorbikes, e-bikes are a cheap and relatively quick way to get around, while you can also get fit (kind of). 

The regulatory framework however is a little complex, with new rules having come into effect in recent years as lawmakers have sought to catch up with an explosion in the bikes’ popularity. 

The following are some of the main rules for using e-bikes, along with a brief explanation of what is and what isn’t an e-bike. 

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What is an e-bike? 

Electric bikes, aka e-bikes, have a small motor which kicks in to help you pedal. 

As described by Bicycling.com, “when you push the pedals on a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can zip up hills and cruise over tough terrain without gassing yourself.”

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The Swiss government divides e-bikes into two categories: “slow (assisted pedalling up to 25km/h) and fast (assisted pedalling up to 45km/h).”

The rules for slow e-bikes are largely similar to those for regular bikes, although there are some differences, whereas there are special rules for faster e-bikes. 

How do I know if I have a fast or a slow e-bike? 

The Swiss Automobile Association lays out the specifics of different types of electric bikes so that you can discern which is which. 

Slow e-bikes are defined as “** Electric light motorised bicycle with a power output of up to max. 500 watts, pedal assistance up to max. 25 km/h, design-related maximum speed of up to max. 20 km/h: from the age of 14 category M, from the age of 16 no ID required . 

Fast e-bikes are defined as “** Electric motorised bicycles (with moped number) with a maximum output of 1000 watts, pedal assistance up to a maximum of 45 km/h, design-related top speed of up to a maximum of 30 km/h: Category M required from the age of 14.”

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Do you need a licence to ride an e-bike? 

Slow e-bikes can be ridden without a licence. 

For fast e-bikes, you need a category M licence. 

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A category M licence - M for motorbike - is available to everyone aged 14 and over. 

This requires just a theory test - no practical test is required. 

More information about an M licence is available here. 

Do I need to register the bike? 

Fast e-bikes need a number plate and a vignette, but slow e-bikes do not. 

This will generally be done when you buy or rent the bike, but if not you will need to visit the roads and motor authority in your canton. 

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Switzerland’s vignettes 

Minimum age

People need to be aged 14 and over to ride e-bikes in Switzerland, although those aged 14 and 15 must have at least a category M drivers licence. 

This applies to both fast and slow e-bikes. 

People aged 16 and over are permitted to ride a slow e-bike without any licence in Switzerland. 

Do I need a helmet? 

Like for bicycles, helmets are not required for slow e-bikes but they are recommended. 

Helmets are compulsory for fast e-bikes. 

Where can you ride an e-bike? 

E-bikes are required to use cycle lanes in Switzerland. 

You are allowed to use a slow e-bike on a road which prohibits motorised bicycles (marked with a ‘no motorised bicycles’ sign). 

What about speed limits? 

You will need to comply with the speed limits on the cycle paths you ride on. 

Generally, this will be either 20km/h or 30km/hr. You need to adhere to the limit regardless of which e-bike you ride. 

At present, it may be difficult to determine your speed as e-bikes do not need to be fitted with a speedometer (although many do have one). 

Speedometers become compulsory for e-bikes from 2024 onwards. 

What about lights? 

From April 1st 2022 onwards, e-bikes will need to have their lights on at all times, rather than just at night or during periods of poor visibility. 

This is for both slow and fast e-bikes. 

This reflects the rules for cars and motorbikes in Switzerland, both of which need to have their lights on at all times. 

If you do not have your lights on – or if you don’t have lights at all – you may be subject to a fine. More info is available here

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