Rant time – Austrian drivers

My big wake up call. I have never seen cars and buses routinely used for deliberate intimidation on the scale of my last four days in Austria.

I have cycled all over the world. Most of the time driver behaviour doesn’t worry me too much. I get annoyed by rank stupidity, unnecessary speed, impatience and incompetence, but so do drivers and walkers. Abuse comes, but the threat is minimal and not physical.

Four days ago in Vienna was the first time I saw a car driver partially overtake a group and then steer into the side of the group to force us out of the lane. I thought it was a mixture of incompetence and impatience, someone unable to realise that the group was 50 metres long.

But then several times more over the next three days, including hand gestures to make the intention quite clear. A city bus – like the hated bendy buses of London, but this driver deliberately trapped five riders against the kerb by pulling across us.

While most drivers waited politely to let our groups turn to the left across the traffic flow together yesterday there was a guy who sped towards the group to scatter it out of his way.

I wish I had the presence of mind to take photos or get the bus number, at least in Vienna. I think there would have been some local government embarrassment about intimidation of a visiting cyclists’ group, but the drivers clearly had no such fears.

Maybe I’m naïve – riding companion Vladimir from Moscow said he was not at all surprised by the drivers, but he felt safer in Russia because most roads had shoulders which the cyclists use and he did feel uncomfortable in a group out on the carriageway on rural roads. But I guess I expected Austria to be more benign, at least like Germany.

Most Austrian cyclists I met were positive about the direction of cycling in the country, and especially the potential for tourism with the stunning scenery and iconic routes like the Danube cycle route. Clearly their drivers have a lot of catching up to do and it would be a shame if this put visitors off.

Rant over – later I’ll follow up with some more positive Austrian stories.

11 thoughts on “Rant time – Austrian drivers

  1. I am riding almost every day in Vienna for three years now, but I had never such experiences. Most drivers behave quite fair. Some do not concentrate enough, but that is all.
    It seems you had really bad luck meeting all strange guys of this city in a few days.


    • I hope so, because there is so much positive cycling stuff happening in Vienna and I am really excited about Velo-City next year.

      To be fair, two of the incidents were outside Vienna, perhaps the country drivers are less aware?


  2. Hi Kevin!
    Sorry to hear your bad experiences. I’m too cycling daily between Vienna and it’s southern satellite towns. And although I’ve had a fair share of negative experiences over the years, including bus drivers, your negative experiences seem to be an absolute spike. And the comparison with Russia and drivers there being less rude leaves me puzzled. Nevertheless, hopefully when you’ll be back for VC2013, you’ll give it another try! 😉


    • Oh yes, coming back for sure.

      The rant was somewhat prompted by the contrast between the fun riding in Vienna, the community and the RadParade compared to the unprovoked aggressive incidents on the tour.

      Normally at home drivers might take risks around individuals but are rarely aggressive towards groups.


  3. You keep calling these incidents “unprovoked”.
    They aren’t.

    A group ride that is not sanctioned and escorted by the Police is bound to violate a large number of traffic laws, like “bicycles must not go in parallel”, “everybody has to travel as far to the right as possible”, “bicycles must use the bike lane”… and then – when it comes to large groups – there alway some kind of “Rogue Marshals”, stopping without any legitimation other traffic that would otherwise rightfully enjoy right of way.

    Face it: all this IS in fact provocation. And it is against the law.

    That said: I do not excuse OR support deliberate dangerous behavior by people operating multi-ton, multi-horspower vehicles that are dangerous by their sheer existence. I think that is irresponsible and downright criminal.

    It may come as a surprise to you that I am an everyday cyclist – commuting and leisure – as well as a supporter of more rights for cyclists and much less cars in the city. I do believe, though, that in an environment that shifts towards a more bicycle-friendly city cannot be forced upon the car-driving majority by provocation. In Austria we have a saying that loosely translated goes “however you shout into the forest – it will sound back just the same” (I hope that’s somehow understandable).

    To create and/or endorse a “war” between cyclists and motorists (and pedestrians) doesn’t help at all.


    • Thanks, that’s an interesting view point which adds to the debate.

      It’s not one I have come across with tourist cycling groups in other countries and it certainly wasn’t the perspective of our group leader who runs tours which bring revenue into Austrian businesses.

      We did “single file” and similar acts of courtesy – but maybe it didn’t help.


      • Well… I do have to apologize that I assumed that it was *that* kind of group ride; I think this is because I only recently took part in my first group ride – which happened to be promoted as a Sunday leisure event and turned out to be some critical-mass-style ride.

        So – that was what I meant to say.
        I guess you can’t expect getting more from society by just taking it.

        Which is – on second thought – just what individual motorized traffic has done; only just in the course of 60 years of which most looked at the car as the all-mighty bringer of prosperity.

        Tricky one. So that means we need to change society against it’s own will (including all those ugly excrescences).

        I surely hope that your next visit will be more pleasant.


        • I am sure it well

          I didn’t really expect the post to be circulated so widely by the cyclists organisations but I am delighted by the number of peiople who have commented that it realy isn’t so bad, especially in Vienna.

          I’m hoping to be back numerous times in the run up to Velo-city 2013, and perhaps I learned a lesson about ranting too soon!

          Enjoy your riding, after nearly 40 years of group riding I still find it to be one of the most uplifting experiences of friendship, travel and sport combined.


  4. It is time that cycling helmets were fitted with digital cameras so that bad motorist behaviour can be captured and used to prosecute those who threaten others’ lives. One does not have to like having cyclists on the road, but no one has the right to use their dislike to justify frightening or hurting others.


    • Lots of people doing that in the UK now – has even been used as court evidence. Of course it assumes you are wearing a helmet…..


  5. I am a Brit who lives in Vienna who cycles every day. I can confirm that your experiances are typical and an accurate report on cycling conditions in Vienna. The government is more interested in PR campains like this: http://tschuldigen.at/ than designing out the conflict with clear rules of the road / clear junction desgins for cyclists / clearly separating pedestrians and cyclists / accurate width on road cycling facilities so you are not forced in to the door zone / etc…. Therefore when you visit Vienna again remember Might is Right.


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