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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

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

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

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

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. 

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.”

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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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland

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