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Survival Guide: Cycling in Amsterdam

Date: 25 Oct 2017

The bicycle is like a holy cow in the Netherlands. Take away a Dutchman's bike and they will immediately feel uneasy. Our flat landscape lends itself well to two-wheeled, human-propelled transportation. Cycling in Amsterdam is another story altogether and might, at first, seem like a potentially lethal endeavour. It’s not as bad as it seems, but there’s no harm in reading up a bit on the subject before pedalling away.


The bicycle

Choose a bike that suits you and that is in good condition. Has it been 10 years since you last rode something with two wheels? Then it’s probably best to look beyond a brakeless fixie and go for a decent city bike instead. Adjust the saddle to the correct height, so it touches your hip when you’re standing next to the bicycle. When seated on the saddle, your feet must reach the ground. Please note, many Dutch bicycles have coaster brakes instead of handbrakes.  


The cycling path

It might look like you can cycle anywhere in Amsterdam, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The pavement belongs to pedestrians, the main road to motorists. There is over 513 kilometres of cycling path in the capital. On these paths, cyclists rule, though mopeds can also use them. You can typically recognise a cycling path by its red colour, decorated by a charming white bicycle every now and again. Often, though, it’s just a lane on the main road, marked by a white stripe.


Cycling etiquette

If you cycle in a straight line on the right-hand side of the bike path or shared road, there is little that can go wrong. Overtake on the left. Give a quick ring before overtaking, so the person in front of you knows what to expect. If you hear another cyclist enthusiastically ringing their bike bell, they’re probably asking you to keep right so that they can overtake you. Never bike against traffic. Cycling against traffic is never appreciated. If you need to take a turn or cross the road, make sure to inform your fellow road users. If possible, make eye contact and point your hand in the direction you want to go.



Lights on

Granted, many Amsterdammers cycle in the dark without any lights on their bike. However much you want to adapt to local custom, don’t follow this example! Bikes without lights are virtually invisible for cars in the dark. If the lights on your bike don’t work, you can buy a pair of separate lights for a couple of Euros at Hema. Put the yellow or white light on your handlebars and the red light on the back of your bike. 


Lock it

“Want to buy a bike?” This tempting offer, which you will hear often on the streets of Amsterdam, will leave you with a stolen bike 9 times out of 10. You can prevent your bike from being stolen by locking it properly. There are three criteria here: lock your bike with two locks, lock it to a fixed object and do so in a permitted spot. Ideally, you should place your bike in a bicycle rack and lock the bike to the rack with a chain. If you park your bike in a random spot in the city, there is a chance that the city council will cut the locks and take the bike to the bike depot. If you have lost your bike, call +31(0)20 334 4522 to see whether it has been taken to the bike depot. It is very useful in this case to have the bicycle’s frame number at hand.


Dangers and inconveniences

Beware of big lorries and buses, do not cycle directly right beside or behind them. The same applies to tram rails: keep appropriate distance. You won’t be the first to get their bike stuck in the rails, leaving you in the middle of the street. And what about punctures? They’ll happen to the best of us. Broken beer bottles and discarded nails are but two enemies of those vulnerable bicycle tyres. Fortunately, Amsterdam has a large share of skilled bicycle repairmen and women. If there aren’t any near you, go to www.flattire.nl. They will send someone to your location to fix your tyre and get you going within 45 minutes.



After all these tips, tricks and warnings, cycling might seem a difficult, dangerous endeavour. Let’s not forget, however, that cycling in Amsterdam is incredibly fun! It’s a fast, efficient, flexible, healthy and environmentally friendly mode of transport. On a bike, you can see a lot of the city as you feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. You’ll experience a true sense of freedom: bikes allow you to go wherever you want. Why not take a different road back to Wittenberg? Go out and explore. If you end up lost, Google maps or a friendly passerby will help you find your way in no time. 

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