Amsterdam by Bike – A Dutch Experience

categories: europe travel

There are many different transportation options in Amsterdam- car, bus, metro & tram, but perhaps the best one is the option most of the Dutch themselves choose, that is bicycle. Many first-time Amsterdam visitors are intimidated by the thought of biking in the city. It can be scary thinking of sharing the city’s streets with tram & auto traffic, as well as having to wade through a considerable amount of foot traffic as well. Following a couple simple tips can make seeing the city by bike a safe, simple & unforgettable experience.

Vondelpark is a great place to get comfortable

Vondelpark is a great place to get comfortable

1- Start simple. It’s is probably going to be easier to get used to the feel of the bike and where it’s gears and brakes are if you’re in a less crowded area. Biking up to Central Station via Damrak, one of the city’s busiest tourist streets, is possibly the worst introduction to biking in Amsterdam one could ask for. Instead, head for the beautiful, more open areas of the eastern and western canal belt. Another easy thing to do while getting your bearings is to make sure you start on roads with designated bike paths, which are easier to bike on than regular roads or the cobblestone streets that are all over the city. Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s large urban park located out by the museums is another excellent place for beginners to start getting comfortable.

Tram tracks- a biker's nemesis

Tram tracks- a biker’s nemesis

2- Watch out for the trams and tram tracks.  A good rule is to never ride your bike close to tram tracks going the same direction they are going. It’s too easy to get distracted and if the tires of the bike make it into them, it’s almost a certainty that the bike will stop going forward. At best you’ll get a hard stop, at worse, you could be thrown from the bike. This isn’t that hard a rule to follow- most of the streets with tram lines either have bike paths far away from the tracks of make such lousy streets for biking that you’ll get off them soon anyway. Also, listen for the distinct clanging sound of the trams, especially when crossing intersections- always give them the right of way.

This bike looks like it may have been locked up for a while :-)

This bike looks like it may have been locked up for a while 🙂

3- Lock your bike up. Any bike rental place in Amsterdam is going to provide a good lock, show you how to use it, and reiterate a number of times how important it is to lock up your bike, even if just popping in to a shop or restaurant quickly. There will always be something around to chain the bike to- and you’ll see bikes affixed to just about every type of non-moveable object in the city. 4. Don’t try to be like the Dutch right away. It’s easy to see why this rule is important- most of the Dutch you see riding bikes in Amsterdam have years and years of experience at it. It’s very common to see them biking and talking on the phone or texting, or carrying people or large objects on the front handlebars. Some ride around with oversized bags on their backs. Again, they are pros at this, you are not- don’t follow their example.

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Stay aware of the flow of traffic- it’s not hard to do

5. Follow the flow of traffic. The most common mistake tourists make in this matter is stopping the bike in the middle of a bike lane to check a map. If you have to do so, do what any sensible person would do when driving a car, signal (using your hands) and get over to the side before pulling out the map. Hand signals, while not too commonly used by the Dutch themselves, are a great way of letting fellow bikers know your intentions. 6. Take a bike tour if all else fails. Biking on your own may prove too much for some people, so there are plenty tour companies where experienced guides will shepherd bikers of all skill levels around on a dizzying array of tour options. While most people will soon find the freedom of being on their own on a bike in Amsterdam, it would be better to take a bike tour than not to try it at all.

My friend Toni, loving the freedom of biking in Amsterdam

My friend Toni, loving the freedom of biking in Amsterdam

7. Have fun with it. Once you have the feel for it, the biking around should be fun. There’s no need to race off anywhere. Explore neighborhoods you wouldn’t have seen on foot. If you are even more adventurous and have the bike rented for multiple days, get outside of Amsterdam to one of the small cities that are a couple hours ride by bike. On the way you’ll get a glimpse of scenic Dutch countryside, farms and, of course, windmills. If you don’t feel like biking back, most trains will allow bikes (during non-peak periods).

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Author’s Note: There are a ton of bike rental outlets in Amsterdam- I’ve always had a good experience with the people at Bike City in the Jordaan. Besides being friendly and knowledgeable, the neighborhood provide a much less congested starting point that do many of the outlets around the Dam. (This recommendation is unsolicited- I’ve never received a discount or compensation from Bike City.)

Here’s a little YouTube clip I made from footage I took with my Go Pro camera on my last biking excursion in Amsterdam in April of 2013.

Amsterdam by Bike - A Dutch Experience

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by Erik Smith

Erik's parents fostered a love of traveling that started with long family road trips during the summer months. His first international trip was a family jaunt to Europe at age 14. Since 2003, he has been trying to visit all the National Park units in the lower 48 states, currently standing at 304 of 350 visited. In 2010, he took a one year break from his National Park quest to visit Israel (with side trips to Jordan & Egypt) for the month of May, on a tour inspired by The Amateur Traveler. His blog is at http://onmyfeetorinmymind.blogspot.com. Twitter:@eriksmithdotcom

5 Responses to “Amsterdam by Bike – A Dutch Experience”

Davide from Rome, by bike

Says:

Urban cycling in north of Europe is just amazing. In cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin it’s part of daily life, but here in Rome you never know if you’ll be back home!

Arjen

Says:

“most of the buses have bike racks up front”?? Was this copy-pasted from a blog about the US? I’ve never seen a bike rack on a bus in NL.

Erik Smith

Says:

Arjen-
I seem to recall buses outside of Amsterdam having them, especially those in more rural areas. I know I’ve never seen them on Amsterdam city buses.

Honest mistake, not a cut-and-paste job at all. Thanks for the clarification, I will have it removed if I can’t verify that.

Arjen

Says:

I realize my reaction was too harsh, but I can hardly image you really saw that. Bikes and buses are mutually exclusive. Who needs a bus when you got a bike? 🙂

Gessell

Says:

Great post. I’ve been living in Amsterdam a few years now and the things that the Dutch can balance on bikes still amazes me. Touring the city by bike is something everyone should experience once in their lives.

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