Cycling rush hours in the dark

Although it is now rapidly changing for the better, we are still in the dark season. From early November to late February the hours of daylight are so few, that it is hard to film anything for you during the week. Simply because most of my free hours are in the dark. But, in an attempt to embrace what you cannot change, I decided to film the morning rush hour and the evening rush hour in that very dark.

Children cycling to school with a parent. Also in the winter darkness and the cold rain.

One of the main shopping streets in ’s-Hertogenbosch doubles as a main cycle route outside shopping hours. Most of the shops open around 9 or 9:30 in the morning. Rush hour takes mainly place from 8 to 9 in the morning, so before these shops are open. That means there are few pedestrians and there is no problem combining walking and cycling. Cycling is also allowed in this street during the day, but at those hours there are much more people walking than there are people cycling, so it is still no problem to combine the two. This is not too common in the Netherlands, I recently wrote that Utrecht has problems even with streets just outside the shopping area, but in ’s-Hertogenbosch combining the two works perfectly fine.

During this morning rush hour in ’s-Hertogenbosch it was raining so much that people even cycled with an umbrella. Note that most riders have lights in this city.
Children this age (and much younger) cycle to school on their own.

Thanks to the bright lights that are already on in the many shops – even before they are open – we can see the people cycling in this street a bit better than in a street with only street lights. The light reflection of the wet street surface enhances that even further.

Morning rush hour in the dark in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

To compare and contrast I also filmed the evening rush hour in Utrecht. At an intersection that was also nicely lit by all the shop fronts. It is a lot busier at this location, because this is an intersection in one of the busiest cycle routes in the Netherlands. When you focus on the number of people cycling with lights, I think it is safe to say that on average fewer riders have lights in Utrecht than in ’s-Hertogenbosch, at least in these particular locations while I happened to be filming.

Evening rush hour in the dark in Utrecht.

Isn’t it mandatory to ride with lights then? Yes, it is, but people are people and many simply don’t always abide to the laws. That could cost them if they are caught and in recent time more people did get a fine than before. The fine is considerable. If you have no working front light and/or back light you risk a €55 fine and another €9 added for administrative costs. That is a mid-range fine (see info box). Just a few days after I filmed the morning rush hour in ’s-Hertogenbosch, I did see a crackdown in another street there, where everybody without lights was stopped and fined. So the rules are enforced, but people have too much the feeling they can get away with it. And when you look at the figures they may have a point.

In Utrecht the evening rush hour is a lot busier. Perhaps a bit daunting for the unexperienced rider, but not so much for the average Dutch person.
Even at this busy point parents cycle with their children.

The figures for 2017 are not known yet, but in 2016 the police issued 34,671 fines for riding without lights, up from 26,000 in 2016. But remember: this is for the entire year in a country where people make 15 million rides per day. So yes, the chances that you are caught are slim. They also vary a lot by municipality.

It is never too busy to use the smart phone according to many Dutch. The authorities would like to decrease the use of the smart phone on the bicycle, but it will be so hard to enforce a ban that the government is not yet willing to create one. So using the smart phone on a bicycle in the Netherlands is not yet illegal.
There are many people in Utrecht who do have lights on their bicycles, but on average there are fewer than in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

On average only 20 people on 10,000 inhabitants were fined for riding without cycle lights in 2016. That is the average for the entire country, but in the municipality of Katwijk this figure was 94; exponentially higher. Leiden (88), Tilburg (87) and Vlissingen (82) are some other better known municipalities with a much higher average of fines issued than the national average. When we look at the four largest cities in the Netherlands there are also big differences. Rotterdam (5.5) is way below the average. Utrecht (17.6) is close to the average, but still below it, while The Hague (29.9) and Amsterdam (32.7) are above average. To compare, ’s-Hertogenbosch had a rate of 9.6 fines per 10,000 inhabitants in 2016.

A crackdown in ’s-Hertogenbosch. All people cycling past this point without lights were stopped…
… and fined. Riding without lights (front and/or back) in the dark means a €55.00 fine + €9.00 costs.

In 2013, the (then) Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment investigated how many people cycle without lights. This turned out to be around 40%. In the four largest cities it was much higher at 60%. When we look at my videos, Utrecht seems to be on that latter average, while ’s-Hertogenbosch seems to have more people riding with lights, even more than 60%. Again, judging from my own images and observations. I don’t know if it was ever investigated why these differences exist.


Some Dutch fines for cycling traffic misdemeanours

With regards to illumination

  • No pedal reflectors € 35.00
  • No rim (wheel) reflectors € 35.00
  • Inadequeate red rear reflector € 35.00
  • Inadequate lights € 55.00
  • Riding with flashing lights € 55.00

Lights may be attached to torso, bag or bicycle, but not to legs, arms or head. (That would cause too much movement of the lights.)

Some other fines

  • No working cycle bell € 35.00
  • Inadequate brakes € 55.00
  • Ignoring a red traffic signal € 90.00
  • Ignoring red signals at a train crossing € 90.00
  • Not keeping right as much as possible € 90.00
  • Failing to give priority to a pedestrian on/near a zebra crossing € 140.00
  • Failing to give passengers the possibility to enter or leave a tram or bus € 150.00
  • Using the motorway as a cyclist € 150.00

From: Auto en Vervoer info


36 thoughts on “Cycling rush hours in the dark

  1. Are all Dutch bike lanes outside the city with street lights? For example let’s say you have a 10km commute between two cities with a countryside in the between could you be left in complete darkness? If so is this something that discourages people from cycling?
    Normally roads for cars are not illuminated in these situations.

  2. What would happen if halfway on your ride somewhere, one of your lights ran out of batteries and the police stopped you? Do you think such a reason would be acceptable to not be given a fine? Especially in that case, a € 55.00 fine is incredibly steep and unreasonable in my opinion.

    1. Depends on how convincing you are. I’ve done the “What?! It was working just fine when I left!” and “Oh, I had no idea! It was working just fine, look it’s still turned on” and was let off with a warning. I’ve also been stopped once in a huge check-point in which they let me and my friends go off with a warning (to be fair, every cyclist on the outside of the pair abreast had lights on, we made sure of that) because they hadn’t quite expected so many cyclists and didn’t have enough manpower. Never once got a fine, though. These days, I generally have an extra pair of LED lights in my purse, just in case.

  3. Not having lights is mildly ridiculous. Chinese-made bike lights are so cheap that my city (Hamilton, Ontario) hands them out for free on the bike paths when the clocks change in the fall. They can be bought for about one euro each, including battery.

    On the other hand, Dutch cyclists are the safest in the world, in spite of widespread non-use of lights at night. So perhaps lights are not the most important safety factor.

    1. I think your second paragraph hits the nail on the head — despite the large proportion of unlit cycles, the Netherlands remains by far the safest place for cycling.

      So why the police are targetting a pretty low-risk and low-harm “crime” is beyond me, considering that there are plenty of bad drivers around who run the risk of causing much more harm!

      Seen yesterday in Groningen: a person being ticketed for cycling without lights in the well-lit town centre, while behind them a taxi is driven and parked on the footway.

      1. I believe that there are three answers to your question:

        1. It is a quick and easy way to boost the police numbers of tickets handed out. Thereby showing “good” statistics that the police can report to politicians.

        2. It is dangerous for police to enforce the law against people who are already engaging in dangerous behaviour with two-tonne lethal weapons. Even in the gun-happy USA, far more police officers are killed with motor vehicles than with guns. Much safer to ignore car drivers and go after cyclists.

        3. Even in NL, there are a lot of anti-cycling attitudes among police officers.

        1. I think these are not really the answers:

          1. Indeed, until around 2010 there were quotas for the police on numbers of tickets (see e.g. but there were set quotas per type of infraction, not just aimed at cycling. Ticketing of cycling without lights happens (almost) only in pre-planned actions, typically after moving away from daylight saving time. It’s pretty rare that you get fined for cycling without lights in normal circumstances. And these actions make sense, since research ( does show that using lights decreases the chance of cyclist-motorized traffic collisions.

          2. Sorry, but I think that’s a non-argument, at least in The Netherlands. I’ve not heard of police officers being killed in such instances; and if that would happen, it would be on national news.

          3. Really? Yes, there is a tendency to believe that people cycling make more traffic offenses (may be true), but I’ve never experienced anti-cycling attitudes. A person on a bicycle is just a person using yet another mode of transport.

      2. There are always people that do worse things (“go catch real criminals:the drunk driver says. “Focus on the drunk drivers”, the speeding car driver says. “Cars are much more dangerous”, the cyclist without lights adds.)

        Cycling without a light is dangerous: you are less visible for traffic. I cycle more than I drive. I don’t think fining people that cycle without a light has anything to do with an anti-cycling attitude.

        1. The whole point of rear lights is to enable people to drive faster than they should. A safer system would see much lower motor vehicle speed limits after dark. But that would be heresy!

          In the well-lit centre of Groningen, drivers should be going slow enough to stop anyway. Plenty of people on foot, do they need lights too?

          Also, if there’s good evidence that lack of lights is a factor in a large number of cycling collisions, then by all means police it. But is there? Or is it just “common knowledge” assumed to be true?

  4. I find it interesting that there is no explanation for the discrepancy between lighting between Utrecht and s’Hertogenbosch. Although, I find it reasonable that Utrecht would have fewer cyclists with adequate lighting because the amount of ambient light averaged over the entire city would be higher than in s’Hertogenbosch because Utrecht has a larger population than s’Hertogenbosch.

    Here in the Washington, DC area I see a similar pattern with drivers who don’t realize their lights are not on due to ambient lighting in the urban areas. Once they drive into residential areas or suburbs, where it is darker, they turn on their lights. Certainly much more dangerous than a cyclist without lights, but I believe similar reasons apply (e.g. habits, inattention, perception of adequate lighting).

    1. That’s not really it. American suburbs and Dutch suburbs are hard to compare. I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent Houten post on here, the one that’s best cycling city of 2018 in the Netherlands. That’s a Dutch suburb, it’s a couple of miles outside of Utrecht. Dutch suburbs tend to have better cycling infra than Dutch cities do because suburbs are build with modern Dutch traffic in mind: cars, cycling and public transport. While the old Dutch city cores don’t really have space to consistently accomodate all forms of modern traffic. Bad lighting is so rare in cities and towns and such, you’d have to go more go out in the country for bad lighting, but that doesn’t really apply to either of these two cities.

      I think it has more to do with the kind of cyclists and bikes. In a bigger Dutch city you’ll see alot more worn down bikes, as a result of daily city use and outside parking. That’s why you’ll see more city bikes there too. Simple, sturdy, often older, bikes, ideal for daily city use. With chain guards, no gears, and just back pedal breaks. Nothing that draws the attention of thieves. Nothing on there that can break easily, no loose cables, and very low maintenance. With the exception maybe of two things, tires and lighting. Can’t avoid the occasional flat tire. But many people can’t be bothered to fix their lights once it’s broken or stolen. And Utrecht is a big student city, students are always among the most active cyclist groups in a city, and tend to ride shitty city bikes. I’ve been there, as a student in Amsterdam.

  5. Interesting post. Could you please explain the rationale behind prohibiting cyclists from riding with flashing lights? Here in the US, a rear blinking light, aka a “blinkie,” is common for urban cyclists who consider themselves to be safety conscious. Is their use prohibited in the Netherlands?

    1. Try to picture in your mind what would happen if all those people in the Utrecht video would have flashing lights. You’d be blinded and you couldn’t tell one apart from the other. Quite dangerous if you had to cross and estimate their speed. Now if you are the only cyclist in a sea of car lights then flashing makes a lot more sense. But here in the Netherlands it’s awful!

  6. I live in Germany and I am impressed by the crossing in Utrecht – such a big crossing but only very few motor noises. In my town every busy street is noisy! Also the police in Germany recommends not only to light your bike correctly but also to wear reflecting garments when you go by bike and even by foot in the dark – it seems to be a dangerous action to walk or ride a bike.

  7. It’s interesting to note that fromthe fines in the infobox, i don’t think the following ones are ever enforced:
    – No pedal reflectors € 35.00
    – No rim (wheel) reflectors € 35.00
    – Inadequeate red rear reflector € 35.00
    – No working cycle bell € 35.00

    ‘Inadequate brakes’ will get you a fine if you ride on a fixie (which used to be a hype a few years ago). But reflectors and a bell are officially required, but you could cycle your whole life without them without any problems.

    1. There is a prevailing myth that a fixie somehow MUST have inadequate brakes. It simply is not true. Fixed-wheel transmission type and brake type/layout are unrelated.

      1. That’s an interesting statement. I assume that, in court, a judge would assume ‘een goed werkende rem’ to mean that a fixie can be stopped by it’s rider in a similar distance as a regular bike. However, even with brakes, most fixie-riders are definitely not capable of doing so. I cannot find any court cases on this, so until then, this is a grey area.

        1. You can’t find court cases because it’s not true. “Even with brakes”, all bikes will stop as well as their brakes will stop them, regardless of the transmission.

          The blanket statement “most fixie riders” is just baseless stereotyping. There is no data at all about what “most” fixie riders have in common.

          You are just making this up.

          1. I don’t have hard data. I’ve done quite a bit of track riding though, and know a few outdoor fixie riders. All with a front brake, if i’m not mistaken. And i’m quite sure none of them will beat their own stopping distance if you’d swap for a freewheel and a double brake setup. Try the experiment yourself, you might be surprised.

            It’s not the brakes that stop the bike, it’s the rubber on the road. And the weight distribution shift from braking with your legs vs braking with your front wheel is significant, and takes time. And time is distance.

            I agree, the extrapolation to ‘most fixie riders’ is not backed up, i shouldn’t derive that conclusion from only anecdotal evidence. But I wasn’t aware that there were scientific standards to commenting on this site.

            1. You’re still just taking it as read that people riding on the road with a fixed-wheel transmission have only one brake (the front brake). In the UK, this is legal, but it isn’t somehow “necessary”.

              Having a fixed wheel transmission simply does not define the brake arrangement, and making statements about fixies based on this assumption simply make those statements meaningless generalisations.

              So it isn’t just “most fixie riders” that is meaningless, but your assumption that inadequate braking is implicit in fixed-wheel bikes.

              The only part of your claim that makes any sense is that bikes ridden on the road with inadequate brakes have inadequate brakes.

              This isn’t a lack of adherence to a “scientific standard”, it’s just bollocks. Look back at your original assertion: “‘Inadequate brakes’ will get you a fine if you ride on a fixie”.

              The only part of it that is meaningful in the real world is that inadequate brakes will get you a fine. Whether the bike that the inadequate brakes are attached to is a fixie is irrelevant. Some bikes with freewheels or many gears have inadequate brakes. Many fixies have two perfectly good brakes.

              Stop implying that fixie riders are yobs with a disregard for safety and a cavalier attitude to braking.

              YOU may know a few fixie riders with one front brake. That’s quite a lack of hard data.

            2. No, inadequate brakes in general will not get you a fine (unless possibly if you end up in a serious accident). Just like reflectors and a bell, these are completely optional, and not enforced.

              However, riding a fixie without brakes will get you a fine. In Amsterdam they were quite strict on these a few years back. Not sure if they still check for them, but without a brake, you’d get fined for ‘inadequate brakes’.

              Riding a fixie with just a front brake is, in my opinion, still inadequate, but since there are no court cases to back that up, you can be of a different opinion. I don’t mind that much, it’s definitely not more dangerous than a worn down brake of any other type on any other type of bicycle.

              Fixies with 2 brakes might exists, i’ve never seem them.

            3. For all clarity: I’m not implying that inadequate brakes on a fixie are ‘more inadequate’ than inadequate brakes on any other type of bike. But I am simply stating that inadequate brakes on a fixie are treated differently by the police.

              Reflectors and bells are mandatory, but never enforced. Brakes are never checked. Theoretically, if you happen to speed over a crossing yelling ‘look out, i don’t have brakes’, you might get fined if a police officer is close by, but otherwise, you can drive your shitty bike with no brakes as long as you like. (Unlike riding without lights, which is checked for regularly).

              But as soon as you ride a fixie, policecars will suddenly start riding next to you and look carefully. And they might stop you to check your bike. The police doesn’t like fixies. Don’t blame the messenger.

  8. It also makes a difference if the bicyclist also drives a car. After one encounter with a bicyclist appearing out of nowhere next to your car, while you intend to make a right turn, you will remember how important it is.

    Last time I drove a car, a few months back, it was raining and cold. The car didn’t have proper ventilation and the windows did not instantly become nicely transparent quickly as I am used to with new rental cars. The owner hardly drives his old car. The dirty windows seem to hold the rain drops better.

    I got startled a few times by bicyclists without lights! I just slowed down to 30km/h with a honking line of followers who want to drive 35 (I profoundly HATE driving a car in Amsterdam).

    Many bicyclists in student cities do not even have a driving license yet. I once explained to a girl parking her bike that it is not wise to attach red lights on the front and back. For a motorist in the dark it looks like you are another bicyclist to pass, but instead you are approaching. She never thought of it. “That makes sense indeed” she replied. They are just clueless, those bicyclists without car driving experience. There are many of them! Says someone driving at most 5000km per year.

    But in rural areas there is a division: young bicyclists are treated more or less carefully, they are excused. They don’t know yet and their brains are not ready yet. If you do something clumsy as an adult you get insults because you are supposed to know better. I know Amsterdammers who feel safer inside the city. Until the appearance of the moped on the bike lane that was, but that’s another story.

    1. Yeah, there needs to be more info to the cyclists on the reasons why having A light and in the RIGHT sequence is important. I began to see it as soon as I was taking my driving lessons. but then again, often people in the Netherlands dont NEED to drive a car to get where they need to be on a daily basis, so a lot of people delay getting, or just dont get their licence. a couple of friends of mine are nearing 30, and only now are they taking driving lessons, because going by car might make their daily commute a bit more comfortable

    2. “Many bicyclists in student cities do not even have a driving license yet.”

      This is funny. In the US kids only learn to behave in traffic at the age of 16, while in NL kids are used to ride in traffic from age 5 on. By the time they are old enough to drive they have at least 15 years of experience

  9. Great post! I’m a New Yorker who commutes during rush hours. It is still dark here when I leave the office. New York City does not have strict laws as in Dutch or if there are cycling laws it’s not enforced as much. I ride without light because I cannot stand the bright light on other bicycles, they’re blinding! It’s stupid, I know….but I probably won’t get a light until I get a fine. Speaking of, your list of fines are interesting to read. It made me curious what are some of our fines here for breaking a law. I’ll have to do a bit research!

    1. If front white cycle lights are blinding oncoming traffic then they’re angled poorly, in the Netherlands front cycle lights are supposed to be angled at the road, not up into the faces of oncoming traffic. This also improves visibility of the road.

      1. In the US, most bicycle lighting that’s commercially available has a poor beam pattern that throws a lot of light up – basically they’re modified flashlight designs that blind oncoming traffic and wastes battery power (yes, battery power, they usually aren’t dynamo lights).

        You can get European lighting, but it’s often treated as a luxury good by American bike shops, and they don’t tend to stock it (at which point… why not just order online directly from a European bike parts reseller?)

  10. yeah, speaking as a student, student cities are, in my experience, the worst when it comes to bikes having lights during the dark hours. it might be due to the Dutch tendency to bend the rules when we can. in my city (Groningen), people warn each other when they spot a police stake-out for bicycle lights, so that one might cycle around. I personally find people without proper lights very anoying, but I am not without blame, riding an ancient bike relying on detachable, easy-to-steal lighting and often forgetting to bring it along when I set off during the daylight hours.

    1. Thank you, as I was reading the blog, I was wondering, or thinking about if one had to use detachable lights, what would one do.

    2. Dutch students also just generally ride shitty and old bikes, and can’t be bothered to fix or replace bike lights when broken or stolen. Students are very active in city nightlife, and that’s where most bikes end up damaged or stolen.

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