Bikes and Amsterdam are like cars and Los Angeles. Everyone has at least one and that’s how they commute. Most Dutch people have been cycling from about the time they could walk (at least in some form). I’ve heard that they even take a cycling class in elementary school so they know all the rules of the biking road. Think you can ride with them?
Cycling is a culture, and in our time in Amsterdam we have noticed a few things that might help you understand what to expect, and some rules of the road. I’ll be honest. It took me a month to buy a bike. I was scared to bike with such experts! And it wasn’t as easy to find a bike for someone so short that wasn’t a kid.
If you are moving to Amsterdam and are looking to purchase a bike, there are shops in every neighborhood. Many sell second-hand bikes, too! I wouldn’t suggest buying a bike from a guy on the street, on Facebook groups, or Marktplaats (the Craigslist of the Netherlands). Many of those are stolen. There are people at the Waterlooplein Market that would be fine to purchase from, if you are in that area. Make sure it has a rear-wheel lock and get a good chain lock. It’s pricey, but worth it! And always lock to something stationary.
If you are just visiting Amsterdam for a few days, I don’t think you have to bike in Amsterdam as a tourist. It is easier to get around, but takes a while to get used to where you can and can’t bike and how to handle yourself. You really need to pay attention and know how to not be in the way…and not break the law. So if you do decide to rent a bike in Amsterdam, rent a bike that screams “I am a tourist”. You may hate it at first, but people give you more room and will give you more warning if you are in the way. It’s helpful for locals to know that you don’t know all the rules. It keeps everyone a little safer.
What you’ll see on the bike paths
It’s truly amazing what you will see on a bike path in Amsterdam. I don’t think anything suprises me anymore. You have regular bikes, motorized bikes, scooters, Bakfiets (bikes with a box on the front), little cars (for the handicapped), motorized wheelchairs, and bike taxis.
What you’ll find on bikes:
Bikes can carry almost anything! There are specialty bikes too. We’ve seen a bike made for cheese deliveries, one created to be a mobile bike shop, and ones with a wheelchair on the front. But you’ll also find these places in or on bikes: many kids, dogs, luggage, ladders, vacuums, lamps, artwork, pizzas, crates of beer, groceries, flowers, etc… Some stores even have bike-friendly packaging so you can easily hold it while holding the handle bars.
What to know about cycling in Amsterdam:
- Use arms to show which directions you are turning, or point to the right to stop (on the right side).
- Right of way is from the right. This is especially important in the canal belt.
- Follow the bike paths. Do not bike on the sidewalk. I don’t care if you see a local do it.
- Do not ride through red lights…even if you are turning right. It’s illegal.
- You must have a front and rear light that works if riding at night.
- Get off your bike and cross at a zebra crossing if necessary or easier. We all do it.
- Right of way typically goes like this: tram, bike, pedestrian, car.
- Don’t lock your bike to a draw-bridge…it may not end well.
Do you have any tips to add? Have you been cycling in Amsterdam? What did you think?