Reader question: In Switzerland does my bike need a registration plate?
The Swiss have a myriad of rules in place, so the question about a registration for a bike is a legitimate one. The answer depends on what kind of bicycle you ride.
The registration plate, as well the the ‘velovignette’ — an insurance sticker — had been obligatory in Switzerland for many decades.
It showed that the bike (and the rider) had liability insurance for damage to third parties, which was covered by up to 2 million francs. Insurance to one’s own bike was not included, though additional coverage could be purchased separately.
Anyone caught riding a bike without the vignette was slapped with a 40-franc fine.
However, the Swiss backpedalled on this obligation in 2011, when the parliament amended the Road Traffic Act to abolish the compulsory vignette for cyclists from January 1st, 2012.
Instead, bicycle owners have had to be insured since then by their own personal liability policy, which doesn’t require any visible stickers.
According to an official government site, “most insurance companies automatically include cover for cycling accidents in personal liability insurance».
On the other hand, the insurance vignette remains compulsory for mopeds and motorbikes with bigger engines, as well as for bicycles equipped with electric assistance exceeding 25 km/h.
You can register these vehicles at your local driver and vehicle licensing office, but you must have a proof of insurance with you.
A long and winding road
Before 2012, registration stickers for bicycles were quite the thing, however.
Apparently, the Swiss invented not only milk chocolate in 1875, but nearly two decades later (in 1892) they were also at the origin of the registration plates for bikes, an idea that also spread to Belgium and the Netherlands, according to the Museum of Swiss Bicycle License Plates (yes, there really is such a thing).
“No other country has developed such a creative variety in respect of designing bicycle licence plates", the museum’s website says.
"In line with typical Swiss tradition, each canton exercised its autonomy to the full in this area too, which gave rise to a colourful and extremely interesting range of forms, sizes, colours, fonts, systems, materials and finishes. The canton of Lucerne (LU) issued the first plates as early as 1892. The canton of Basel-Stadt (BS) followed in 1894. These early versions were valid for several years. From 1906 “Year Initials” were introduced throughout Switzerland. The canton of Jura (JU), established at a later date, is special in that it issued the first plates for 1980 and was the first canton to change to stickers as early as 1987".
The last plates, according to the museum, were embossed in 1988.