Sunday, April 14, 2013

StVZO? German Bicycle Requirements Make Sense



Click the image to go to the ADFC, General German Bicycle Club, website (in German)


In Germany, the road traffic permit regulations, Stra├čenverkehrszulassungsordnung (abbreviated StVZO) dictate the requirements for bicycles. Every bike on public ways, for kids or grownups, is supposed to fulfill these rules, and most bikes are sold with the required accessories already in place. You can buy a bike without everything, and some people ride bikes that don't conform, but in the event of an accident they are likely to be found at least partly responsible. This can get to be very expensive. Most people just follow the rules.


But in addition to the legal aspects of it, the StVZO makes sense. It regulates bicycles as traffic participants, not as pedestrians, and makes bicycling safer for everyone. (The latest StVZO just went into effect April 1, 2013 and declares for the first time that bicycles should follow vehicular traffic rules and lights, not pedestrian ones).  By standardizing these features of bikes, pedestrians and drivers know what to look for and cyclists are assured some safety features on every bike. Here are the technical requirements listed in the image above (sources include ADFC and Wikipedia):
  • Brakes  Bikes must have two brakes that are independent from one another. (Switzerland requires them to be one on the front wheel, one on the back).
  • Bell Bikes must be provided with at least one brightly toned bell. Other devices to alert others with sound, like horns or bike wheel bells that spin on the tire, Radlaufglocken, are not permitted. If you hear a bike bell you know without looking that it is a bike. (Austria permits horns and, like Switzerland, makes an exception for lightweight racing bikes)
  • Lighting  A white headlight and a red rear light are required and must be ready for use at any time. The headlight and rear light must be turned on with a single switch. They must be able to be powered by a dynamo backup, though they can use batteries in addition (as a standlight for example). One additional battery powered rear light may be added at the most; further battery powered lamps are not permitted, including blinking ones or ones on the helmet or body. Racing bikes (in Switzerland 700c x 23 or thinner) up to 11 kg weight (24.25 lbs or 12 kg/26.45 lbs in Austria and Switzerland) are not required to have the dynamo lighting, but may use removable battery powered lights. These lights must be carried at all times. All lighting needs an approval stamp from the German department of transportation in Flensburg - see the image at top or your own B&M LED lamps. Incidentally, the lights that are permitted don't have a setting for blinking. All lights stay on when switched on so that other traffic participants can judge distances well, something that is harder with a blinking light.
  • Reflectors  A red reflector not higher than 600 mm above the roadway at its highest point and a large rear reflector marked with a "Z" must be mounted on the rear. A white reflector must be mounted facing forward, and yellow reflectors must be mounted on the pedals and on the spokes. The yellow spoke reflectors, 2 per wheel, may be replaced by tires spokes or rims with sidewall reflectors. Why the "Z?" I guess it is the approval symbol for this kind of reflector. The rear light and one reflector can be built into the same thing; the other one is separate. 
  • Carrying Capacity  According to DIN EN 14764 bikes must be built to hold 100 kg, including the weight of the bike itself, clothing and luggage, and weight of the rider, but many bikes are made stronger than required. Riders weighing over 80 kg are therefore encouraged to seek a bike explicitly marked with a higher maximum capacity. 
  • Fenders, Chainguard, a Lock, and a Rack  These are not actually required by the StVZO but have become expected on most bikes. Switzerland does require some of these. Standlights, the dynamo lights that stay lit for a while after you stop at an intersection, were going to be added to the 2013 requirements but didn't make the cut. I expect they will be required soon, and perhaps hub dynamos will completely replace tire dynamos in the regulations as well due to their better wet weather reliability.  The ADFC bicycle club, when rating bicycles, takes a point off for cafe locks (wheel locks).
Have a look at the StVZO compliant children's bike we just found at the used bike store.

10 comments:

  1. I wish we had similar safety requirements here. That would increase the level of demand enough to make the custom additions on my new bike that co$t me a hefty chunk of ca$h (dynamo hub, good front and rear dynamo powered lights) much more affordable in the U.S. market.

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    1. Yup. It's amazing what comes on a basic bike at a normal price point (internal hub, dynamo hub, LED lights) if everyone expects it. We're with you.

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  2. I paid a little extra for the standlight feature on my new lights - well worth it for added safety at stoplights and stop signs.

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  3. @ Fargo - very nice! I have recently added more lights to my bike because a friend was recently hit by a car while riding.

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  4. How much rolling resistance does a hub dynamo produce? I tried using a wheel dynamo once and it was intolerable even on flat ground.

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    1. You may have overestimated the drag, or perhaps had a very defective dynamo or installation. Chris Juden (technical editor at CTC) has noted that modern bottle dynamos produce less drag than climbing only 20 feet in a mile. Modern hub dynamos are even better, equivalent to climbing only 6 feet or less in a mile.

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  5. Even the cheap hub dynamos are silent and barely noticeable. Resistance seems worse in your hand spinning the wheel than it is in real life. If you are concerned many comparisons of dynamo efficiency and rolling resistance are online - I'd start with peter white's site. Or just buy a fancy German one to begin with. It's worth it to have one though, honest

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  6. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Sears and Roebuck offered, (and I bought one) a dynamo type generator that ran from the tread of the tire NOT the sidewall. It was much quieter, much, much less drag and very efficient, running both the head and tail lights. So why did that one go away? Probably because it was so efficient and the US cannot have efficiency, now can they??

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    1. I think you might be talking about a Sanyo tire dynamo that fit behind the bottom bracket where you might put a kickstand. They had a smoky plastic rain guard and a little lever to move them against the tire. Great dynamos but only on smooth tires- mountain bikes must have meant the end of these. They will still power modern LED lights and they are still quiet. I didn't know Sears sold one like it. Thanks for the note.

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