Maximum speed for bicyclists

Now and then somebody mentions on bicycle activism blogs that there is no speed limit in the Netherlands for cyclists.

That struck me as a bit odd, so I decided to find out if this is true.

And yes it is, by and large.

The Dutch rules of the road (RVV 1990) only mention speed limits a couple of times, notably in articles 20 through 22, which regulate the maximum speed for motorized vehicles.

There are a bunch of snags and exceptions though.

The most obvious one is the speed limit on woonerfs. Woonerfs are a type of proto-Shared Space, an area where all road users mix. To protect the weakest of these—children playing—the maximum speed for all road users on woonerfs is defined in article 45 as stapvoets, the speed of a walking horse. Since this is technically too slow for both car drivers (the engine would stall) and bicyclists (they would keel over), the Dutch supreme court has decided that stapvoets should be interpreted as 15 kph.

According to article 63, traffic signs overrule traffic rules (that makes sense, as signs can be used to indicate exceptions to the rules). Article 62 says that all road users are required to obey signs that either prohibit or command something. That means that signs regulating the maximum speed also apply to bicyclists.

Generally bicyclists will not encounter speed limit signs, with one exception. The signs that indicate the start of a built-up area are often accompanied by a speed limit sign. As article 22 of the Dutch rules of the road already orders operators of motor vehicles to limit their speed to 50 kph in built-up areas, this is an extraneous sign. My guess is they are put there to remind motorists to lower their speed. But since signs apply to all road users, they also apply to cyclists. Signs only apply for the wegvakken (road segments) immediately following them, that is until the very first side-road or crossing.

Finally, there are two catch-all articles in both the Dutch rules of the road and the traffic code, one regulating reckless speeding, and the other regulating all reckless behaviour. Article 19 of the RVV (the rules) says that “bestuurders [‘operators of vehicles’] must be capable of bringing the vehicle to a stop within the distance of which they are capable of seeing the road, and of which it is free”.

And article 5 of the Dutch traffic code states that all road users are prohibited from behaving in such a way that this causes danger or hinders other road users.

By the way, if you want to read the rules for yourself, the following definitions may be useful:

  • Weggebruiker: road user
  • Bestuurder (‘operator of a vehicle’): all road users except pedestrians
  • Wegvak (‘road segment’): the stretch of road from one (side)road to another

(I am not a lawyer. The above is not legal advice.)

One response to “Maximum speed for bicyclists”

  1. Remembering my good old times in the Netherlands, I can somewhat agree to your findings. Yet, I have to admit that I never reached 50 kph in our “dorpje” (=small vilage)… those big, fat Dutch bikes were simply to heavy. OTOH: I’ve seen racing bikes break speed limits frequently back in the days – which raised mixed feelings at our local “wijkagent” (=local police officer doing duty as a pedestrian).

    Aaah – Holland… Heineken, Olieballen and weird laws that give you the feeling of real freedom. ;)

    De groetjes!

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