Complex flow processes at river bifurcations and the influence of the layout of a bifurcation make it difficult to predict sediment distribution over the downstream branches in case bedload transport dominates. In one-dimensional models we need a nodal point relationship that prescribes the distribution of sediment over the downstream branches. We have identified which factors need to be included in such a relationship for the division of bedload transport at bifurcations. Next, irrotational flow theory for idealized geometries has been used to derive a simple physics-based nodal point relationship that accounts for the effects of helical flow in the situation that a channel takes off under an angle from a straight main channel. This first step towards a complete nodal point relationship is applicable to bedload transport situations if the flow is clearly curved and if there is no pronounced bed topography. The relationship has been tested against data from a unique set of laboratory measurements, numerical data and data from a scale model of the Rhine bifurcation at Pannerden in the Netherlands. We find that the derived model yields a reasonable prediction of the sediment division over the downstream branches, and yields better predictions than the Wang et al. model for the situation considered. Considering the relative complexity and limited accuracy of the nodal point relationship for the effect of helical flow alone, however, we conclude thatderiving a practical physics-based 1-D relationship including all relevant processes is not feasible. We therefore recommend 2-D or 3-D modelling for all cases in general where morphological evolution depends on the division of bedload transport at bifurcations. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.