CollectionsBicycle licence plates

Bicycle licence plates in Estonia

Since the introduction of bicycle as means of transportation (from late 19th century until the 1960s), bicycles had to be registered in Estonia – at first with the police, later on with local government authority. After the registration, bicycle owner received a licence plate. It was usually mounted to the rear of the bicycle, e.g. to the upper branches of the rear fork, beneath the saddle. However, in earlier times – especially prior to the 1930s – it was installed under the nut of the front wheel; in rare cases (mostly in the 1910s); the licence plate was even attached to the front frame next to company logo.

Front-mounted licence plates were usually double-sided, i.e. the number was visible on both sides. Sometimes, e.g. in the late 1920s, a bicycle was granted two licence plates, similar to automobiles – one plate was mounted underneath the saddle or on the rack, and the other one beneath the front wheel nut.

In order to prevent counterfeiting, the licence plates were made of died sheet metal and painted. Some plates were only painted, especially in earlier days (before the 1930s) and partially during and immediately after World War II, when dies were less available.

Before (and immediately after) World War II, bicycle owners had to pay annual bicycle tax. This payment was associated with the licence plates system; so that after paying the tax, the owner received a new licence plate, which was replaced each year. Annually issued plates were usually different in colour, so that it was easy for the authorities to recognize the plate in the street traffic and check whether the cyclist had paid the tax or not. Besides that (generally since the 1930s), the licence plate was also equipped with the year of issue – it was particularly important if the licence plates from different years did not differ in colour. The number was often added a letter or two indicating the county (total no of counties in Estonia were slightly greater than 10), or – after the administrative reform of the 1950s – district, where the bicycle was registered.

By the way, in the 1930s the same method – county codes, annual replacement of licence plates, year indication on the licence plate and various colour combinations – was used for motorcycles and automobiles. After the war (since the second half of the 1940s), this system was no longer used for automobiles and motorcycles, but it persisted in bicycles for a while – in Soviet times the cyclists had to register their bicycles at local government authority, not at state authority.

Annual replacement of licence plates and collection of bicycle tax discontinued in the 1950s-60s. However, the licence plates still indicated the county codes (or district codes after the administrative reform of the 1950s) and year numbers. The requirement of registration of bicycles preserved for a couple of decades after the war and became voluntary in the late 1960s. Local executive committee (i.e. local government units in Soviet times) issued registration certificates with licence plates for bicycles as late as in the 1970s and early 1980s, although it was already voluntary by then.

Therefore, in the 1970s, only old bicycles still had licence plates in Estonia, and eventually this tradition was lost.