Bicycling in Amsterdam

Getting around on two wheels has long made sense for Amsterdammers. The city's denizens are proud of their reputation as frugal, efficient, sporty, and eco-conscious—qualities all embodied in and on a bike. That their country is flat and the weather mostly moderate, and with petrol and parking pricey commodities, the bike has been a no-brainer for eons. But it's wise to take a few safety precautions.

Steady Wins the Race

Getting stuck behind a swerving slowpoke can create problems: some speedy Amsterdammers lose their cool and forget the traffic rules. If you’re mounting a bike to help nurture that inner child who misses the joys of a banana seat, it might be best to work through that desire in a residential neighborhood, a park, or smaller town. But if you feel you’re enough of a biking pro and want to go native, join the rest of the cyclists who make up downtown Amsterdam’s "rack pack." Slow? Fast? Actually, when it comes to city biking, steady is the way to go.

Note that basic rental bikes have back-pedal foot brakes; you'll pay a little bit more for hand brakes.

Renting Your Ride

Getting a bike in Amsterdam is easy. Tourist-friendly rental shops dot the city center. Walk in, have the shopkeeper size you up, hand over a bit of collateral (usually a credit card or your passport plus €50), and you’re ready to roll.

Although small cycle shops are popping up all over, citywide chains MacBike and Yellow Bike have dominated the market for decades. Both are good choices for guided group tours within Amsterdam or its surrounds and most have maps for themed routes. Both have prominent logos and crazy bright-color frames, alerting everyone on the road you’re an out-of-towner. Prefer to go more incog? Rent from the all-around excellent chain Het Zwarte Fietsenplan (Black Bikes).

Het Zwarte Fietsenplan (Black Bikes). There are branches of this popular bike sales and rental shop throughout the city, in Centrum and elsewhere. Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 146, Centrum, Amsterdam, North Holland, 1012SJ. 085/273–7454; black-bikes.com.

MacBike. There are a handful of outposts around Amsterdam, including at Centraal Station. De Ruijterkade 34B, Centrum, Amsterdam, North Holland, 1012AA. 020/620–0985; www.macbike.nl.

Yellow Bike . There are two Yellow Bike locations in Amsterdam, one on Nieuwezijds Kolk and the other on Nieuwe Nieuwstraat—both near Centraal Station. Bike tours leave from the Nieuwezijds Kolk location. Nieuwezijds Kolk 29, Centrum, Amsterdam, North Holland, 1012PV. 020/620–6940; www.yellowbike.nl.

A Great Bike Trip

If you’re jonesin’ for green, consider a bike ride in the nearby country. A mere five-minute sail from Centraal Station, Amsterdam Noord offers quieter and roomier ways of the road with plenty of tree-lined waterways to keep the Zen in motion. If you like your nature interspersed with a bit of folkloric kitsch, check out any or all of the 10 villages forming the region known as Waterland. The former fishing communities graciously cater to tourists, and within a matter of meters, you can peddle past polders and windmills, small wooden houses, and drawbridges, churches, and cafés. A good point to begin your northern exposure is Buiksloterweg, which you can reach by the same-named ferry crossing the IJ every 12 minutes.

Best City Bike Trails

Amsterdam’s parks make for some very pleasant cycling. While locals frequent Vondelpark, Oosterpark, and Westerpark for jogs and picnics, a biker’s best bet is the Amsterdamse Bos. The 80-year-old forest has 50 km (31 miles) of cycling paths that snake through Amsterdam’s southern Buitenveldert neighborhood and the nearby suburb of Amstelveen.

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