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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

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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