5 reasons the Dutch cycle without bike helmets

While it may be shocking to many expats, most Dutchies cycle without helmets! If you are cycling with a helmet in the Netherlands, well, people can tell that you’re a foreigner. 

Cycling is an important part of Dutch culture. As the Dutch dare to do what most people wouldn’t on bicycles (like carrying an entire TV on their backseat), you would think they’d be super careful by wearing a helmet, right? Wrong! Most Dutchies wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a helmet. 👱‍♂️

Here are some reasons why the Dutch don’t wear helmets:

1. Other road users are more aware of cyclists

Over 27% of all trips in the Netherlands are made by bicycle. This means that wherever you are in your car (except the motorway, of course), you will almost always be sharing some part of your journey with a cyclist.

Compare this to the UK where only 4% of journeys are taken by bike, and you can begin to understand why Dutch car users are so used to sharing the road.

Peter van der Knaap, the director of the Dutch Institute for Road Safety and Research (SWOV), believes that cycling is becoming safer over time due to Dutchies cycling so much. 🚴‍♀️

According to the Dutch Institute for Road Safety and Research (SWOV), travel by bike is less safe than travel by car. However, travel by bike is safer than travel by moped or by motorcycle.

READ MORE | Do’s and don’ts of riding a bicycle in the Netherlands

2. No one wears a helmet while walking

OK, this argument sounds a bit weak, but it’s true! Head injuries aren’t as dangerous when you are cycling. Besides, they are just as likely to happen in a car, and most head injuries actually happen when walking.

In addition, falls are responsible for almost 50% of traumatic brain injuries in the USA, yet you don’t see people advocating for compulsory helmets in cars or when out on a summer stroll. 🚶‍♂️

people-cycling-in-amsterdam-yellow-bikes
Wherever you look in Dutch cities, you won’t see any helmets! Image: Alenmax/Depositphotos

3. Helmets can be ineffective

Many Dutch people argue that bike helmets are restrictive and can actually obstruct the vision of cyclists, making it difficult to quickly look over the shoulder to check the traffic or make a sharp right turn without hitting anyone.

To further back up this theory, a traffic consultant for Fietsersbond, Theo Zeegers, says: “If you are hit by a car on your bike there is no helmet that will protect you.”

There is actually no bike helmet ever developed that will protect you against the kind of dangerous impacts you experience at high speeds. It is impossible to make such a helmet, and I don’t think one will ever be developed.

What he ultimately says is that helmets may be helpful when having a collision with other cyclists. However, if you get hit by a car, a helmet will not make a difference. A very controversial statement! 💁‍♀️

4. Traffic lessons for five-year olds

Verkeerslessen (traffic lessons) start in school when Dutchies are five years old. It may just begin with running around the playground and knowing that red means stop, and green means go.

The older the Dutch children get, the more complicated the lessons become, and before you know it they’re all cycling themselves to school.

5. Less restrictions = more cycling

As you can imagine, cycling every day (the Dutch manage at least 70 minutes per week!) means that the Dutch have definitely earned their frikandel and fries on the weekend.

A 2015 study quantifying the benefits of cycling in the Netherlands showed that all this cycling and fresh air mean that Dutch people have half a year longer life expectancy and 6,500 fewer deaths per year. 😲

So what would happen if the government suddenly decided to introduce compulsory helmet use? According to Cycling UK, enforced helmet laws in some countries have caused a huge reduction in bicycle use. For example, in Western Australia, bike use has dropped by about 30% since the introduction of such a law.

woman-cycling-with-umbrella
Dutchies will bike in any condition, and never with a helmet! Image: razvanphoto/Depositphotos

Who knows what would happen in the Netherlands if the government introduced a similar restriction. It’s possible that it would put people off the many short cycling trips they take if they didn’t have their helmets with them.

Instead of promoting and enforcing helmets, the Dutch seem to be more focused on implementing good biking practices such as no drunk cycling, no texting whilst biking, and having well-lit bicycle paths. 

What do you think about the Dutch not cycling with helmets? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Feature Image: ivonnewierink/Depositphotos

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2018, and was fully updated in September 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Lucy Seip
Lucy is a thirty something wannabe blogger, mum of 3 who fell in love with a Dutchie and followed him around the world before settling down in Assen. Loves wine, good food and saturday night dancing. Continuously extolling the virtues of a dutchified lifestyle.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Five times last year other cyclists ran into me. I wear a helmet because of the concussion I suffered six months ago. Since I started wearing my helmet no other cyclist has violated my right of way. If five percent of cyclists are dangerous to other cyclists, someone is a threat to me every day. Soldiers don’t wear helmets to protect against tanks. Helmets protect against the higher frequency light shrapnel and small arms fire.

  2. I’m dutch and used to biking without a helmet.
    First; There is a lot of drunk cycling over here same goes for biking whilst apping (which will be illegal from the first of july 2019)
    I’m not sure how other counties organized it but in the Netherlands the one who drives a car is responsible if a biker is injured, imo this gives the bikers an unfair (needed, I know) advantage, but in the age we are living in now, when I drive my car I see a lot of bikers just ‘Throw’ themselves in front of my car without even looking behind them. It’s horrifying, and I have no idea why they don’t lecture the cyclist at this point.
    My mother taught me how to safely pass from one way to the other, most important lesson was that I looked behind me to see what was happening over there, and respect the traffic rules.
    Now I’m riding my car, and I’m looking out for the cycler who goes rogue and may jump before my car, and that happens a lot.
    Enough of my rant for now and to the point.
    I’ve been in GB and Usa, and I was petrified a few times.
    Cyclist riding on highways and there where curves, so I could not see the cyclist from ahead.
    I was freaking out about that! You may think it’s weird that we don’t use helmets, but I was freaking out that I was allowed to drive so fast, and past cyclist with such a high speed.
    That won’t happen in the Netherlands, because it’s not allowed for cyclist to be on that kind of roades.

    • Sad to hear that about the Nederlands. When I was there on visits in the 70s, 80s and 90s I didn’t see any uncivilised cycling and I thought the Platt Deutsch were so sensible like their Deutsch neighbours. I also discovered mayonnaise on chips and cheese with jam!

  3. Wearing a helmet means you have to take it with you when you get off the bike, which is extremely annoying. You can of course keep it on and look like an idiot while you’re shopping, or find a spot on a chair next to you in the pub or restaurant, but all these solutions are bound to cause problems and aggravations. Much easier therefore not to wear the damn thing at all…

  4. Very interesting article and agree with all points except #3. Studies about cycling and wearing helmets are extremely conclusive, wearing a helmet will help prevent injury and possibly death. Will they prevent all injuries, no. Do you expect your seatbelt to prevent injury form a train/car collision? No, but it’s a good idea to wear your seatbelt.

    Having cycled in the Netherlands the main thing that stands out (and possibly makes the best point for not wearing a helmet in NL) is that the country is full of bike paths and bike lanes. This, I believe, makes me feel comfortable not wearing a helmet in the Netherlands.

  5. This article is a load of BS. It finds statments to conclude what the they want to conclude, so they can justify not wearing a helmet. Wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle will make you more safe from having a head injury that not wearing any – that can’t be argueed, but yes off course it can be annoying and ugly and bite uncomfortable and the arguments you’re bringing here can of course give a reason for why people is still not wearing a helmet. But stop trying to use your arguments to make it sound like it’s safer to not wear one, than wearing one.

    I live in Denmark a country where they population rides their bikes on a daily basis probably as much as the Dutch people and have the same cycling/car traffic culture. Copenhagen bicycle culture = Amsterdam bicycle culture.
    I’m a nurse and hear about the headtraumas caused by falling on a bike without a helmet from my colleagues at ICU an neuro on a daily basis. And I just arrived home from 5 days as a foot tourist in Amsterdam.
    So I feel that I have some knowledge to speak in this subject.

    In DK people are beginning to be more aware of the risk of not wearing a helmet and we are begging to at see at least half of adult cycelist and all children having a helmet on.
    Then I was horrified from in 5days in Amsterdam only seeing one kid and one sport cyclist wearing a helmet!
    They where carrying their kids some thight up in really fancy safety chairs but also some barely strapped in! I saw a kid with rollerblades an protective gear on his nees but nothing on his head!!
    And maybe people from Amsterdam learn traffic safety from an early age as we also do here in Denmark but most of them drove like maniacs no regard for red light, cars ore pedestrians as weel again as people in Copenhagen. We also saw some young kids having fun and being silly on their bikes one actually feel and hit her head.
    So after all my rambling, my point is I am pretty sure if you check the Dutch statistics of head traumas caused by not wearing a helmet in a bike accident I’m pretty sure it’s high. You are shutting your eyes to a problem that could be easily solved.
    And no a helmet can’t safe you from a broken leg in an accident but it’s a hell lot easier to repair a broken leg than a broken brain…

    And yeah yeah you’re a chill country and enjoys your legal prosteuition and legal pot, and you don’t wanna be tied down by safety things like a helmet but don’t come and say it is not without a consequence??

    Inspite of this i love loved Amsterdam sweet actice biking pepole and the all the bikes because i reminds me of home. But stay safe guys!

    Ps..! you can lock your helmet to your bike lock so you don’t have to bring it everywhere, and in Denmark you can buy a necklace that you can wear that will inflate and protect your head so your hair can still flow in the wind…

    • You’ll find it difficult to convince a Dutch person cycling is dangerous. Wearing a helmet will undoubtedly reduce the incidence of head injury by a factor of 2. That sounds great, but chances are so small you get one in the first place. One in 90 people in their whole life(!) in the Netherlands are admitted to hospital due to a cycling head injury. On top of that these injuries are mostly from race bikers and electric bikers who tend to wear helmets…
      At the same time every Dutch person cycles virtually every day and an average of 2.5 km/day.

      Good luck getting the Dutch to buy into this.

      • Cycling without a helmet isn’t dangerous, car drivers are dangerous.

        Dutch seem to cycle like maniacs, but in fact the traffic is well structured in an organic way. My children were three when I taught them to ride a bike and the first few times (when they were 4) we went to the market in the center they wore a helmet. Now the oldest is 10 and is able to teach my Indian co-workers how to participate in traffic.

        I’m not affraid of him colliding with other cyclists. I’m affraid of car drivers being distracted by their phone, arguing children or a pretty women…

  6. It’s hard to believe you failed to mention the main reason. The safety increase that separating cars from bikes on their own roadways gives. It is the most important factor. While biking you will often have minimal to no contact with car traffic increasing enjoyment and safety.

    • Agree Bart, separation and reducing the speed of cars are the life savers.
      And on a side note. Most dutch people use a helmet on high speed bikes. Both race and electric.

  7. My sister clipped the back of my bike while riding and fell to the pavement. She suffered severe brain trauma and nearly died. She had to have a craniectomy and is undergoing extensive therapy but is unlikely to ever drive again or live independently.

    My husband had an accident where he hit a small rock going down a hill and was thrown from his bike. He broke a few bones in his pelvis and his HELMET BROKE IN THREE PLACES, but no head injury.

    Where are your statistics in this article? I’ve seen lots that show that helmets make a huge positive difference. This is an irresponsible article. No one will EVER convince me to ride without a helmet.

    • You didn’t mention the country where you live. This is of high importance since the Netherlands is virtually flat, thus easier to travel on bike. Next to that the infrastructure for bicycles over here is great.

      The children don’t get just traffic lessons at elementary school, they also get an exam on bike in the real world, following a strict route. They pass checkpoints and get their diploma. I don’t know any other country which has something similar.

      Besides all our safety measurements cyclists and car drivers are supposed to interact at all times. They have to know when and who has to give way to the other.

      I don’t see it happening that wearing a helmet would be mandatory. And if it will, I’m sure it will fail to be taken seriously.

  8. Speaking as a neuropsychologist, who has assessed many people with traumatic brain injury, I would never cycle without a helmet. Yes, if you get hit by a car at high speed you will certainly suffer injuries to other parts of your body – and no helmet can prevent that – but it absolutely can reduce the likelihood of damaging your brain if your head hits the ground with any significant force, for whatever reason you happen to come off your bike.

  9. The Dutch do not to worry about a bicycle helmet because THEY are hard headed by nature! That is also why every one is wearing wooden shoes, klompen! (just kidding)

  10. Its fantastic cars and bikes have a mutual respect relationship over there but theres more to consider beside bike on bike or bike on car accidents. When we were kids my brothers wheel snagged something and he fell off his bike. His head hit the ground hard enough for him to black out and a neighbour had to help him home so we could take him to the hospital. His helmet was cracked in half. If he hadn’t been wearing his helmet that would have been damage to his skull. Its an interesting read and I’m sure its working out for them but after seeing that I’d never go biking without a helmet.

  11. There is never a good reason to ride without a helmet. Safety should never be compromised. None of your arguments convinced me it was worth the risk. I race bikes and always wear a helmet.

  12. If helmets are not increasing safety, WHY are the professional bike riders using helmets, then??? I find the article of very low quality – Where are your statistics and your sources?

  13. I don’t wear a helmet in a city where it’s mandatory, and regularly get spooked by police who could pull me over for it.
    Despite this, I’m proud to ride around showing people it’s possible.
    Yes, they make a small difference to personal safety. But they make cycling so inconvenient and ugly that more people drive. The only real danger on a bike is cars.

  14. Anyone speaking for helmets needs to consider the weight of their years of lobbying. The auto industry funds helmet promotion.

  15. Thank you for a very interesting article !
    Each of the 5 reasons are quite true, but it might also be worth mentioning: The extremely low incidence of bicycling head injuries in the Netherlands (as compared to ridiculously high number in the U.S.) is in great part due to the much better cycling posture and weight distribution of Dutch bicycles. With Dutch bikes the seat is lower and the swept-back handle bars are higher, requiring an upright seating posture. This facilitates good forward vision and situational awareness. This posture also shifts the weight distribution towards the back and greatly reduces the likelihood of a forward tumble over the handle bars and the inevitable ensuing head injuries. The typical American cyclist rides with the seat higher than the handle bars (frequently much higher), reaching forward for the handle bars, and the resulting head-down riding posture significantly reduces forward vision. Not to mention reduced peripheral vision with a helmet. With that posture, any incident, even benign, will result in the American cyclist pitching forward head-first and becoming another participant in head injury statistics.
    Thanks again for the great article !

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