A local’s guide to cycling in Amsterdam

Cycling in Amsterdam is not for the faint-hearted. With cars (including crazy taxi drivers!), trams, buses and pedestrians criss-crossing town, you have to have eyes in the back of your head to stay safe. Cycling is the best way to get around though, so read on to prepare yourself and you’ll be zipping through Amsterdam in a flash. 

“Greek tourists on rental bikes escorted off the ring road’. A recent news article on local website AT5 details how the police had to guide the tourists off the road, seemingly unaware they were not supposed to cycle there.

We cyclists think we rule the roads, and while that may not be entirely true (just ask any car driver), there’s a whole lot of traffic and we all have to get along in this hugely crowded city. So, while cycling in Amsterdam is a fun pastime and will get you around town quickly and easily, there are some things you have to be aware of.

Trams, taxis and pizza delivery boys
These are the biggest potential hazards. Trams can’t really go anywhere besides following the tram tracks, but they are huge and can go fast. Beware that trams are much broader than the tracks, so keep your distance. Never cycle in between tram tracks and be careful crossing them: the risk of getting stuck is real.

While not everyone is created equal, there are plenty of taxi drivers driving recklessly. Same goes for pizza delivery guys on mopeds.

In general, always be extra vigilant when you see trams, taxis and pizza delivery boys.

Bike lanes
Bike lanes can be recognized by their red color, by the dotted lines separating them from the main road, by the drawings of a bike on the asphalt and by traffic signs. These traffic signs show arrows to indicate whether it’s a one-way lane or a two-way lane, meaning bikes can go in both directions. If you’re unsure of whether you’re correctly positioned on the road, look around you to see what the locals do. Don’t cycle on the highway: you can tell something is wrong when the cars are going faster than 50 KM/h (~30 M/h). If there is no clear indication for a bike lane, stay on the right of the road.

Bell ringing + maximum number of people cycling beside each other
If you hear a bicycle bell ringing behind you, it may be directed to you. Whatever the case may be, make sure you are not in the middle of the road, but on the right.

It is acceptable to cycle with two people beside each other, but not more, and only if there is room to do so. Sometimes the bike lanes are very narrow and it is advisable to stay behind each other. If you are cycling two-by-two and somebody wants to pass, they will ring their bell and you’ll have to move behind your travel companion to let the person pass.

Leisurely cycling vs getting from A to B
Us locals love cycling. However, if we want to cycle recreationally, we will likely do this in the country side, not in the city. There’s a difference in attitude between the local cycling habits and those of tourists. This manifests itself mostly in the difference in speed. If you are cycling at a leisurely pace, you will get overtaken a lot. No problem, just make sure to leave room for kamikaze cyclists.

It is non-negotiable to have your lights on when cycling at night. Ask your rental company about lights on your bike, or carry portable ones.

Rental bikes come with only one lock. Make the most of that! Try to attach your bike to a bike rack or to a bridge. The latter is perfectly acceptable, as you will notice. Be careful not to lock your bike to another person’s. It happens, especially when alcohol is involved…

Bike racks shaped like a staple
Staple-style Bike Racks – these are called ‘nietjes’ in Dutch (little staples)

Shop keepers tend not to like it when you put your bike in front of their shop. Look around if there’s a designated parking area, indicated by bike pictures on the sidewalk. Whatever you do, try to park your bike wherever it’s least in the way.

Still confident you can do this? Fantastic! Slightly worried? Don’t sweat it. Amsterdam is a compact city and you can easily get around by foot or public transport. At night, there are plenty of taxis, just be careful that you take one from a reputable company (TCA, for instance). If your accomodation is further away, there’s also night buses you can take.

Happy cycling!

Also of interest: more on Amsterdam. 

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