Little Known Facts You Need To Know About Cycling In Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a unique city in regards to architecture and urbanism but also regarding their traditions and culture. In some ways it’s similar to other European cities – when most of the European capital cities were created hundreds of years ago, their streets were designed so that people were able to walk, ride their horses or, more recently, to drive their carriages. There were no cars back then.
We lead more modern lives nowadays, but it’s nice to try keeping the atmosphere of a historical city intact. I often recommend using a bike while in a medium-sized European city, as it’s the simplest way to get from A to B without spending too much time in traffic or searching for the best parking spot.
When it comes to riding a bike, which city do you think of first, if not Amsterdam? There’s something about pedaling on those tiny canalsides, while heading to work or simply sightseeing. I had a great time in Amsterdam, and without any doubt, cycling added some extra fun to exploring the city!
1) Basic knowledge about the Dutch cycling culture
Riding a bike in Amsterdam is a truly unique experience, but in order to understand Holland’s bike culture, you need to know some basic facts about it.
Numbers always tell an interesting story, so think of a city of less than 800,000 inhabitants that has about 900,000 bikes. Yep, true, more bikes than humans, and with 4 times as many bikes as cars. That’s insane, one might think, but think again – you can never really own too many bikes, can you?
One important detail is that about 60 years ago, when cars started to become affordable, the streets no longer belonged to the people who lived there, but to the huge traffic flows. Many accidents happened and the Dutch government reacted quickly – they had to choose between making it bike friendly or car friendly. The streets were too narrow, there was no space for both. This was going to be a historical choice, and it was going to have a huge impact on peoples’ lifestyle. They chose the bikes, and what a great choice!
As a result, Dutch people nowadays ride their bike almost everywhere. They go to work daily, they do grocery shopping, they take their kids to kindergarten – all by bike.
It’s important to have that in mind if you would like to ride a bike in Amsterdam.
2) Where can I get a bike?
If you are planning a short trip to Amsterdam (let’s say up to two weeks) you can easily rent a bike. There are several rental companies (Black Bikes, King Bikes, Discount Bike Rentals) with similar prices and services. (around 10€/day). Some hotels (Aalborg Hotel) have their own bikes you can rent, which makes getting your hands on a bike even easier.
If you stay for a longer period, for example you have a school exchange or a summer internship there (like I did), it’s better to consider buying one. You can find plenty, literally PLENTY of bikes for sale on Facebook pages (Amsterdam for sale). You can also buy them from people on the street – once a guy just came to us asking if we wanted to buy his bike for 20€ (of course that’s a more unpredictable and uncertain option). And you can also find it on the street, actually in the garbage. You probably don’t know, but Dutch people throw away a lot of (good) stuff – you’ll see it for yourself once you get there. The nice thing is that nobody judges you if you take them! I did, and I also saw a lot of other people doing this. Consider dumpster diving if your budget is small.
Speaking of money: don’t spend too much on your bike, just don’t! Bikes in Amsterdam come and go – they get stolen, sold, bought and stolen again. You just need something to get you to that traditional brewery faster, nothing else!
3) What kind of bike should I rent/buy?
One thing probably no one tells you about is that there are a lot of slopes in Amsterdam. If you liked geography during high school, you would know it’s situated on a rather lowland area – true. But no one told you about the bridges! Small, narrow, long ones, almost all of them are considerably steep. You should know that before you choose your bike (if you have what to choose from), and I would recommend having at least 3 gears.
Another important thing are the brakes. Usually, Dutch people have pedal brake bikes, which could be difficult for you to get used to. The safest choice (especially if you stay only a few days and you don’t have time to get accustomed) would be a hand brake bicycle, but it might be a bit more expensive.
4) Where do I park my bike?
To put it frankly, unless there’s a ‘no bike park’ sign, you can park it anywhere. The tricky part is, can you really park it there? I should probably remind you that there are more bikes than humans in Amsterdam; you can thus guess the fast little vehicles are EVERYWHERE. Just spot a tiny space between two of them, put your bike there and hope you’ll still find it later. For that, you will need a good chain. Sometimes you can spend more on the chain than on the bike itself, but believe me, it’s worth it. I would say an average of 10-20€ would do, and there’s also the “Action” shop with some cheap bike (and other) stuff.
5) Basic rules to know and follow
There are some simple rules that are really easy to follow (and not just while you’re on your bike! Obey these while driving your car or just walking on the street too). They’re super easy rules, most of them are even common sense. But please don’t play superman or another superhero, just follow them!
Hand signals – whenever you turn left or right.
Priority to the right – whoever comes from your right side has the right to pass first.
The correct lane – if you want to turn right, stay on the right lane, if you go left, chose the left one; just like driving the car.
Red light – red light means wait, green light means go. It’s dead simple. There will be so much stuff going on in your head, you don’t want crossing the street on red light be one of them, believe me!
The bell – use it whenever you want to avoid a danger! Get your ears used to the sound of it, other people might use it to warn you!
Unwritten rule of the very crowded streets – just get off your bike and walk! Red light district during the evening is one example, but you will get to discover many others. Just walk; or better, avoid busy areas if you are in a rush.
6) What to do in case of emergency
It’s most likely and desirable not to happen, but what if it does?
Usually it’s just a finger scratch or a knee bruise, and as Dutch people are really friendly and kind, an apology would do.
If you got hurt and you are alone, don’t panic! In the Netherlands, the emergency number is 112, and just don’t panic; they will come in a blink of an eye.
If you hurt someone, the same: firstly call 112. While waiting, try to talk to the person; if they are looking like losing consciousness, talk to them and try to keep them awake. There are some first aid (www.wikihow.com/Do-Basic-First-Aid ) everyone should know.
As I already mentioned, riding a bike in Amsterdam is a truly amazing experience! I could even say it is life changing. Make the best of your time in the city of bicycles!