Amsterdam’s cycling statistics are impressive. Over 75% of Amsterdammers own at least one bike (totalling an incredible 880,000 bikes in a city of 780,000 people); around half the journeys in the city are made by bike, and those add up to a daily total of about 2 million km! Cycling really is a way of life for the average inhabitant of the Netherland’s capital.
This wasn’t always the case, however – and the current cycle-friendly environment was a hard won victory.
A Quick History Lesson
As the Netherlands became wealthier after WW2, there were soon far more cars on the road than ever before, and the number of bicycles started decreasing. Cyclist and pedestrian safety was not a priority and people started organising protests at the number of deaths caused by traffic: In 1971 alone over 400 children were killed on the roads. An oil crisis in the early 1970s meant that new, less car-centric solutions had to be found. New cycle paths were built, and the Dutch love of cycling started its steady return. Now the Netherlands is the world’s safest country for cycling, with the largest number of cyclists. Check out this fascinating video for more background:
These days, Amsterdam’s fantastic 500 kilometers of cycle paths, flat landscape and cycle-savvy population make it the perfect place to explore on two wheels. However, cycling in a city so filled with bikes poses its own challenges. If you are anxious about setting off onto the city’s crowded cycle paths, read our rules of the road and you’ll soon blend in with the locals (or at least you won’t annoy them too much!)
Our (Mostly Unwritten) Rules of the Road
#1 GET A SECOND LOCK
Amsterdam might look like a bike-lovers paradise but it is still a major city, and bike theft is rampant. If you are hiring a bike, make sure they give you a second lock (in addition to the common on-bike ring lock) – and make sure you use it to secure your bike to something immovable. Also, make sure you don’t block someone else in – finding somewhere to lock your bike can be a nightmare in Amsterdam, but not being able to get it back out is even worse.
#2 BRUSH UP ON CYCLE PATH ETIQUETTE
Cycle paths in Amsterdam are directional – so make sure you’re not going against the flow of the traffic. Ride on the right hand side of the bike path, unless you are overtaking. Signal clearly – but check behind you first, so that you don’t fling your arm out in the face of an unsuspecting fellow cyclist. And never ever ever block the cycle path – if you need to check your map, or adjust your lights, pull over onto the sidewalk.
#3 BEWARE OF THE TRAMS
The tram tracks sunk into the roads are the bane of every Amsterdammers life, especially when they are slippery from the rain. Cross them at an angle, so you don’t get your wheel jammed, and keep an eye out for taxis, which are also allowed on the tracks. After a few beers however, tram #26 is your friend – it’s the only tram you can take a bike onto.
#4 DON’T BE SCARED OF A FEW PARCELS
The Dutch load their trusty cycles to almost comical levels – you’re likely to see at least one or two people transporting furniture on their bike during your holiday, and loads of bikes with boxes full of children on the front! Dutch cycles are sturdy and stable beasts, so don’t feel you can’t take your bike along if you’re doing a bit of shopping. Your rental place will be able to supply a basket, if you think you’ll be needing it.
#5 AND FINALLY… DON’T DRINK AND CYCLE!
It is against Dutch law to cycle under the influence of alcohol and if you are veering all over the cycle path and getting in the way of other people then it won’t just be fellow road users telling you off, the police will be getting involved too. Top Tip: Bikes are allowed on the Metro, and on tram 26 – and you can always lock it up overnight (but remember to take a photo of the nearest street sign to remind your sober self where to pick it up) – so there’s really no excuse for being a drunken pain.
Amsterdam is also surrounded by beautiful (and flat) countryside, so if you are staying for a little while, it’s worth heading out for a day trip outside of the city, down the Amstel towards Waver, or to Haarlem. With two wheels and some nice weather, there is no finer place to explore than Amsterdam and its surroundings. Enjoy!
Some more useful links:
- I Amsterdam’s cycling FAQs and their page about hiring a bike
- There are numerous bike hire places in Amsterdam, but MacBike and Amsterbike are popular (and you can get a discount with an I Amsterdam card)
- Bike tours are a great way to explore the city and a quick google search will bring up tons. Mike’s Bike Tours, Yellow Bike and Bike Tour Amsterdam are all worth a look
- If you’re deciding where to stay, check out our guide to Amsterdam’s various districts and also Wimdu’s great selection of accommodation in the city