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 in a city with nearly as many bicycles as people (an estimated 800,000 bikes to 814,000 people), 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, so that you don't cause any crashes.
Note that basic rental bikes have back-pedal foot brakes, not hand brakes. Shoes with no heels whatsoever (canvas sneakers and ballerina flats, for instance) make it dangerously easy for your foot to slide off the pedal and lose control of your stop reflex.
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 specifically themed routes like Gay Amsterdam, Amsterdam in Film, and Jewish Amsterdam. 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. The staff are exceptionally amicable. And, should careening canalside prove so delightful that you stay a while, new and secondhand bikes are sold here, too.
Het Zwarte Fietsenplan. 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. 020/670–8531; www.hetzwartefietsenplan.nl.
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.
Know the rules of the road before you hit the streets! Trams have the right of way, followed equally by cars and bicycles, with pedestrians in last place. Although pedestrians and cyclists seem to think they have the right of way, and do indeed have more legal protections should an accident occur, walkers must yield to anything on wheels.
Road Rules: Do
- Use hand signals when turning: extend right arm before turning right; vice versa for left.
- Ride in bike lanes, not in car traffic or on sidewalks.
- Beware of parked cars with doors swinging open.
- Use bike lights in the dark (it's a ticketable offense if you don't).
Road Rules: Don’t
- Talk on the phone, text, or listen to headphones while cycling.
- Go through a red light (you could get a ticket).
- Stop suddenly mid-lane.
- Ring your bell unless it's necessary.
- Cycle if you’re chemically impaired.
Taking a Bike on the Metro or Train
For the metro, you'll need to buy a supplementary €1.70 fietskaartje (bike ticket), enter the car with the blue circular bike logo, and look for the special hooks to which you affix your front wheel. If all designated spots are taken (not unlikely on a rainy day), stay in the same car, doing your best to stand with your bike. Bikes aren't allowed on the metro during rush hour on weekdays (7–9 am and 4–6:30 pm). For more information, consult Amsterdam’s transport authority (0900/8011en.gvb.nl). To take a bike on a train, you need a €6.10 dagkaart fiets (bike day card). Note that you're limited to off-peak train hours (weekdays 6:30 pm–6:30 am and 9 am–4 pm, weekends, and anytime July and August).
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.
No laws require bicyclists in the Netherlands to wear helmets, but if you want one for yourself or your child, ask at the rental shop. It's well worth it, especially if you're riding in traffic.
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