Five Secrets to Safe Cycling in Vienna

How to get started on two wheels.

Gliding along at a human speed, open to the world, cycling is one of the best ways to absorb the city. Allowing you to take in sights and sounds from snatches of conversation to singing birds, the chime of church bells to the cursing drivers – most likely directed at a cyclist. And sometimes with justice, as Vienna’s streets can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to cycling – with confusing intersections, heavy traffic and impatience behind the wheel. Here are five things to keep in mind when starting out!

Necessary Equipment

According to the Fahrradverordnung (bicycle ordinance) of 2001, cyclists are responsible for ensuring their bicycle is properly equipped for traffic, including: 

  • 2 fully functional, independent braking devices
  • a bell or a horn
  • a white or yellow headlight and a red taillight
  • reflectors on the front (white), back (red) and on both pedals (yellow)

Many headlights have a “flashing” mode, but its use is strictly forbidden and will absolutely infuriate the police. However, you may set your taillight to “flash.” Lights are not required during daylight hours. 

Helmets are not mandatory for those over 12. They are, however, strongly recommended.

Important Signs

Cyclists often have to deal with bike paths overrun with pedestrians – be prepared to call out “Achtung!”  or use your bell. Car doors can swing open unexpectedly and inattentive drivers may cut you off. To cut down lengthy arguments, it pays to be aware of where you can and cannot ride. 

Circular vs. Square Sign

(C) Wikimedia Commons

While generally recommended, some Radwege (bike paths) are optional: A square sign indicates that you may choose to use either the road or the designated Radweg. A circular one, however, means you are obligated to use the bike lane only. The exceptions to the circular sign are road- and cargo bikes, which may always choose to ride in traffic. 

Pedestrian or Cycle Path?

(C) Wikimedia Commons

Bear in mind that a bicycle is still a vehicle, no matter what, so riding on the sidewalk or any pedestrian zone is illegal unless there is a combined lane, indicated by the signs above. The left one means that both bicycles and pedestrians share the lane – although riders are obliged to take special care and not endanger foot traffic. And if you must take the sidewalk to get where you’re going, dismount and push your bike.  

However, there are also separated lanes within a combined path (right), where bikes and pedestrians each have their own sides. 

One Way Street

(C) Wikimedia Commons/Oleg Sidorenko

Unless indicated (“ausgen” is short for ausgenommen, i.e. excepting) one-way signs apply to bikes, the same as other vehicles. 

Drunken Cycling

If you think riding a bicycle while inebriated is less serious than drunk driving in the eyes of the law, think again. The alcohol limit for cyclists in Austria is 0.8 per mill – same as for operating motor vehicles. And the same rules apply if this level is exceeded: Fines can range from €800 to €5,900 depending on how intoxicated you are, with similar penalties for riding under the influence of drugs. A refusal to take a breathalyzer test can also result in a fine between €1,600 to €5,900.

Even more seriously, riding while drunk may result in the authorities concluding that you are a threat to yourself and others, and could end with your losing your driver’s license altogether.

Cycling & Children

In Austria, children under 12 years are not permitted to ride unattended, and wearing a helmet is mandatory. Anyone older than 12 may ride a bike, even in traffic. 

Fahrradausweis

However, if you are comfortable with letting your child brave the open road, there is a way for kids to start younger: Children as young as 9 can apply for a Fahrradausweis (bike license), which allows them to cycle on Austrian roads independently. To qualify, a child needs: 

  • an application by a legal guardian 
  • to be 10 years of age (9 if in the 4th grade)
  • to have successfully passed a cycling test on basic traffic rules
  • to pay an administrative fee of €3.27 for the license

The test is taken after about a year of preparation at school in a Verkehrsgarten (“traffic garden”) a safe training course operated by the police, where children are provided with both practical and theoretical training. You can apply either with the police directly or at ARBÖ (Automobile, Motorists and Cyclists Association of Austria) at the end of 3rd grade. The exam is exempt from the current ban on school events due to COVID-19 and therefore still takes place. 

In addition, Fahrrad Wien and the Mobilitätsagentur offer entertaining and informative courses and workshops for children and adults!

Bike Accidents

What to do if you are involved with a bike accident? Accidents with bicycles are treated the same as any other accident in the traffic, thus you should follow the same steps.

  1. Secure the scene of the accident. Take photos of potential damages to your bicycle
  2. If it is unclear who caused the accident, call the police (133)
  3. If anyone is injured, call an ambulance (144)
  4. Exchange contact information with the other parties (ID, name, address, license plate if a car is involved)
  5. Note down phone numbers of potential witnesses 

What about the costs? If you are found guilty of the accident, 

  • Your liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) will cover the costs of other parties, but not your own. 
  • Private accident insurance (Unfallversicherung), will cover personal injuries, if you have one.
  • If the accident happens on your way to and back from work, your statutory accident insurance will cover potential medical bills. 

Your insurance/s will reduce coverage or not cover you at all if

  • you were intoxicated 
  • listening to loud music (also an administrative offense which can result in a fine)

Without any insurance, the costs will have to be paid out of the liable person’s own pocket.  Therefore, insurance is recommended if you cycle often.

Elifnaz Kabalci
Elifnaz Kabalci is a recent graduate of English and American Studies at the University of Vienna and is currently doing her Master's degree in English Linguistics. Besides being involved in journalistic writing, she is also a creative writer and a poet.

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