As a youngster visiting Belgium in the 70s and 80s, I remember being intrigued by the registration plate, (a stamped metal disc, usually attached to the front forks IIRC), attached to all bicycles.

More recently, I notice that these no longer exist.

Given that the UK Times recently published an editorial calling for the introduction of such measures here in the UK (further discussion here), I tried to establish why Belgium chose to scrap this scheme.

As with many things that happened last century, the internet only offers small amounts of noise with regards to this subject.

Does anyone remember the reasoning that led to the abolition of bicycle registration in Belgium (probably some time in the 1980s)?

Have there been any other notable schemes in other countries that were subsequently scrapped?

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    Would you be interested in what happened to bike registration plates in Switzerland as well? They took the whole thing more seriously than Belgium. Yet abandoned it about ten years ago as it was pointless.
    – gschenk
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 13:32
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    @gschenk I wrote this question in response to the typical reactions from some elements of the UK press to changes in our highway code, so anything that shines light on similar schemes is welcome. I edited the question to ask this.
    – spender
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 15:05
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    @njzk2 Warning: This is just my opinion: The Times is owned by the same family who own Fox News, the WSJ, the New York Post and the UK Sun newspaper. It might be argued that they "own" a great deal more through the influence they are able exert on politicians in different countries. I don't think realistic reporting was ever their goal. Nowadays, it's about peddling the next bit of outrage for a quick buck. The Times just packages it up in a more pseudo-intellectual way than some of their other outlets.
    – spender
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 22:47
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    @njzk2 they seem to have gone that way recently.A few years ago they weren't
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 7:32
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    There was a similar scheme in Portugal where bicycles had to carry quite large, ~10x15cm number-plates. Some could still be seen in the early '90s though no longer required.
    – Carel
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


These plates were actually not "registration plates", but proofs of payment of the bicycle tax — so you had to renew them every year.

The bicycle tax has been removed from 1986 to 1998 (depending on where you lived, it was a provincial tax), and so were the "tax plates". From what I could understand, the tax yielded actually very low (30 belgian francs in 1986, so more or less the price of a daily newspaper, plus the cost of producing the plate and the paperwork), and not really enforced.

More info here

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    Belgium was and still is notorious for slapping taxes on anything.
    – Carel
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 9:19

In Switzerland liability insurance for bikes was mandatory. Until 1989 a metal number plate had to be mounted to the bike (Velonummer). From 1989 to 2011 bikes had to have a sticker (Velovignette).

The registration scheme ended in 2012. An initiative by a conservative politician, Philipp Stähelin, succeded in a parliamentary motion to end it. Reasons to do so were:

  • Cost exceeded benefit considerably: 20% of insurance fees went into bureaucracy

  • 90% of Swiss cyclists already had private liability insurance

Important for the present (perennial) debate in the UK is the end of number plates on bikes in 1989. Unlike the stickers the earlier number plate is visible to bystanders.

I searched the web for the arguments in the debate up to the 1989 move to stickers. Unfortunately I found only a few arguments:

  • The plates had to be replaced every year. Otherwise they would not serve as proof of valid insurance. This was expensive and a nuisance.

The main arguments against getting rid of the number appear to be:

  • It was easier to return lost bicycles to their owners

  • The number plates were distinctly different between Cantons and people grew attached to them. (They are collectibles now.)

Bear in mind, Switzerland is in large parts a direct democracy and famous for its decentralised federalism. If there is not very wide support for change there will be a referendum or some Canton blocks it or does their own thing. When something that is in place for a century gets abandoned so easily, it is fair to assume there has been overwhelmingly wide support for it.

Source: Wikipedia (german)



In Belgium one of the reasons why the scheme was scrapped was that it cost more to collect the tax, issue the plates and have the police check the validity than it would produce income for the state.

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    This was on of my immediate thoughts. The amount you'd need to extract from cyclists just to pay for the infrastructure and enforcement would be prohibitive.
    – spender
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 9:41
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    @spender With today's green political aim to get more people on bikes and leaving cars at home, taxing bikes would be counter-productive since an unused but tax-paying car shovels more cash into the coffers than the cost of cycle taxing bureaucracy would remove per day. (cynical thoughts, maybe)
    – Carel
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 14:51
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    Making the use of bicycles prohibitively expensive would not be seen as a negative by some of the people calling for things like this.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 11:24
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    @EricNolan: The partly hidden aim of people calling for taxing, license plates and possibly roadworthiness checks of cycles, as well as their general banning from main roads.
    – Carel
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 13:40

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