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One of the most common questions that I get about the Amsterdam is about biking. Bicycling in Amsterdam is the best way to get around, however biking can be terrifying for people who are used to leisurely bike rides in the park who haven’t done city biking before.
Keep reading tips from a Dutch resident on what to know about biking in Amsterdam, without a tour, before your trip to the Netherlands! This guide to cycling in Amsterdam includes Amsterdam bike rules to know prior to biking in Amsterdam for both tourists and residents.
Should you rent a bike in Amsterdam if you’re a tourist? …No.
If you don’t bike at home, biking in Amsterdam might not be a good idea.
I write this as numerous friends and family members have come to visit me in Amsterdam. They were so excited about cycling culture in the Netherlands, so they rented a bike for a couple days in Amsterdam. One of them NEVER rode a bike besides when she learned how to ride a bike while others routinely commuted on bike in the United States. However, majority of my guests HATED biking in Amsterdam.
Personally, I love it, but it’s stressful. If you want to try it out, I recommend renting a bike for one day in Amsterdam. Cycle around and see how you feel about it prior to committing to a multi-day bike rental. (You’re welcome in advance.)
If you’re moving to the Netherlands, biking is an essential part of daily life in the Netherlands and even if you don’t bike at home, you’ll get used to it faster than you realize. In Amsterdam, public transportation is good, however biking is often faster. I used to be a sunny weather biker, but I’ve started biking everywhere since I’ve moved to the Netherlands.
Biking in Amsterdam is like driving in a car anywhere else.
Bikers have their own separate parking lots, lanes, stoplights (most of the time), and insurance. Although people think of riding a bike down a tulip field, riding a bike in Amsterdam is more like driving a car in a major city: there’s laws and infrastructure there to govern biking. As a result, it’s a bit different than what many people expect.
Bike lanes are generally one way, so please don’t veer around. Stay in your lane, wait until you see a turn lane to turn (don’t just go up on the sidewalk!), and check which direction the lane is moving in. The bicycle 🚲 on the pavement typically faces the direction that you’re supposed to bike in. If a bike lane has two directions, it will indicate it on a sign with two opposing arrows. If there’s no bike lane, you might want to check your directions as you might be doing something wrong.
Helmets aren’t required
This always shocks people visiting Amsterdam for the first time. You rarely see cyclists wearing helmets in the Netherlands. I initially debated it as I was uncomfortable riding my bike without a helmet, however it’s fine most of the time and I’ve since stopped worrying about it. I completely understand if you don’t want to skip wearing helmet. Most bike rentals will provide a helmet at extra cost for you (or your children).
Backwards triangles and zebra stripes: When you must yield to traffic
Yielding confused me immensely when I first started biking in the Netherlands. You’ll see something that looks like this 🔻🔻🔻 at most intersections. This means that if the one-sided edge of the triangle is pointing towards YOU, you’re supposed to yield to traffic. I somehow thought the opposite, which was not good.
Similarly, if you see zebra stripes (a pedestrian crosswalk), you’re supposed to yield to pedestrians. If a pedestrian is jaywalking, you have technically have the right of way, but if you hit them, it won’t be good. You need to be careful in watching for people who jaywalk in Amsterdam. I find that biking in Amsterdam Center is the most complicated due to tourists walking in front of the bike path.
Tram Tracks in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a robust tram network, which is great for those dependent on public transportation. However, as a biker, you need to be careful not to ride onto the tram tracks as the tracks are the perfect size for your bike wheel to get stuck.
As someone who has personally been victimized by the Amsterdam tram tracks (and fell off my bike after getting stuck [I’m a bit clumsy]), I recommend riding over the tram tracks at a 45 degree angle and staying away from the tram tracks as possible.
Bikes in Amsterdam aren’t the same as what you’re used to
Prior to moving in Amsterdam, I lived in a hilly part of the USA where I’d commute to my work on bike in good weather, so I needed gears. There’s two components to this point: the bike that you rent in Amsterdam may not have gears and/or hand brakes.
I’ve had a bike with gears, however you don’t need a bike with gears in Amsterdam. 99% of the Netherlands is flat and you won’t require gears (except to bike over bridges). As a result, you’re likely to encounter fixed gear bikes where all you need to do is pedal.
Similarly, many bikes in Amsterdam have hand-brakes. I was used to hand-brakes, but for those not used to a pedal brake, it can feel unnatural to pedal backwards to stop. Over time, I’ve gotten used to it, however people visiting Amsterdam might be more comfortable getting a bike with hand brakes.
However, for those moving to Amsterdam, I recommend getting a pedal brake bike as maintaining a hand brake bike to ensure that it stops properly is far more costly than a pedal brake bike. The wires connecting your brakes to the wheel can get loose and you’ll need to bring it to a bike shop to get it adjusted. Similarly once it goes for good, replacing a hand brake can be costly.
Your bike needs to have lights, especially in winter
It’s technically illegal to not have your bike lights on at night, especially in winter. Most rental bikes will come with lights, so no worries there. If you own your own bike, you can get affordable bike lights from HEMA. Just be aware that people steal portable bike lights off bikes…so be sure to put them in your pocket before you leave! The police sometimes check at night.
Be careful of scooters
Amsterdam is in the process of banning scooters at the moment that I’m writing this. The government is not 100% there YET, however scooters are one of the leading causes of bike accidents in Amsterdam.
Although they’re not supposed to weave and/or always even be in the bike lane, they often do. If you see a scooter approaching, be sure to move as far to the right as possible to let them through. My husband has been knocked off his bike by someone who went too close to him, so be careful.
Be aware of others trying to pass and go single-file if necessary
If you’re biking next to someone, it’s okay IF the bike path isn’t too busy. If you’re biking during rush hour and/or a busy area, be sure to go single-file. It’s annoying as you might not be able to talk easily, but one of the most annoying things for people who live in Amsterdam of tourists who don’t let other bikers (who are going faster) through. As a result, move to the right to let others through, especially if they’re going faster than you.
Use your bell (sparingly)
While you’re biking, you’re likely to encounter tourists who don’t understand the concept of a bike lane. Instead of yelling at them, you can ding your bell once in case they’re not looking carefully around them (often the case). Just don’t overdo it as it annoys a lot of residents when tourists riding a bicycle in Amsterdam for the first time just ding people insistently. We got it after the first ding.
Use hand signals and don’t stop/turn without notifying others
This is one of the most important things to know about biking in Amsterdam. To signal that you’re turning left or right, you’ll want to put your arm out to notify others that you’ll be turning at the next intersection. Give proper notice as you’ll annoy people if you don’t signal properly and/or this can cause accidents by people not expecting you to stop to turn (I’ve seen this happen).
If you really need to stop, just do SOMETHING with your arms to indicate to people behind you that you’ll be stopping. A lot of tourists stop without warning and one actually hit my husband while he was biking to work. Wait until the next proper intersection to stop (with signaling), get off your bike, and take a photo.
Respect no-bike zones aka SIDEWALKS and pedestrian ONLY zones.
If you’re going to bike in Amsterdam, you need to play by our rules. As someone terrorized by tourists who visit Amsterdam who bike on the sidewalk, expect people to curse you out and treat you awfully. There’s bike lanes. Go in the bike lane.
If you’re on the sidewalk, walk your bike. Similarly, if there’s a sign that you’re in a pedestrian-only zone, it doesn’t make it okay to bike through the pedestrian zones if someone else is biking there. You can be fined for this behavior as it’s disruptive.
Lock your bike up properly with two locks
The bike thieves in Amsterdam are ruthless and every Amsterdammer has had a bike stolen. You MUST lock your bike properly, preferably to a permanent object. I recommend having a wheel lock in addition to a chain lock that should go through the frame of the bike that attaches the bike to a solid object. If you only have a wheel lock, thieves can just pick up the bike by the back and wheel it away. On a related note: never leave your keys in your bike and/or your bike unattending without locking it, especially in Centre.
For a laugh, watch this video about the European bike stealing championships. Be sure to put your bike somewhere decent with a bike rack as the city of Amsterdam occasionally rolls away bikes that were illegally parked.
If you have the option to park your bike indoors, take it. On a related note, if you bike is stolen, don’t try to track down the thief yourself: this is dangerous and you should notify the police. If you have the bike stolen, you can provide the engraved bike number to the police (done for free by the police on legal bikes).
If you’re looking into buying a bike lock, do not purchase a U-lock under any circumstance as they’re well-known to the bike thieves. I recommend VIRO locks (which start at 40 euros; found at most bike stores). AXA and ABUS are decent locks, however the master key to some locks were leaked a while ago and the steel isn’t as thick (for the cheaper locks).
If you lose your bike key (a common issue), you can contact any of the bike repair services that will come to you to cut the lock question. They will ask for ID, but I’ve used fietssleutelkwijt once for this reason. Similarly, the neighborhood bike shop should able to help cut open the lock if you can carry the bike there.
Be prepared for the rain in Amsterdam
You’re visiting Amsterdam; what did you expect? It’s fairly rainy although that rarely stops people from biking. Many people who want to protect their clothes wear special “biking” outfits that you can slip on over your clothes while tourists simply wear a rain poncho. (Click for my Amsterdam packing list.)
Carry a bike seat cover/plastic bag with you
I usually carry a bike seat cover and/or a plastic bag around me as it’s handy to have and it prevents the bike seat from getting wet. If you leave your bike overnight outside, you can put the bag over your bike seat.
Don’t bike and drink (even if others do).
Although drinking and driving is highly stigmatized in the Netherlands, drinking and biking isn’t. Many young Dutch people believe it’s okay to bike after drinking, however the odds of getting into a bike accident while biking drunk increase by 500% compared to biking sober. It’s also illegal.
As someone who has been living here and still is not comfortable doing it, I really encourage any tourist who is planning on visiting Amsterdam’s coffee shops or going out to NOT cycle back. It’s far more dangerous for you and others than you may realize.
If you need a taxi, save this number +31 (0)20 777 77 77 into your phone; it’s the phone number for the largest (and most reputable) taxi company in Amsterdam. There’s also night buses that run after one a.m.
Don’t use selfie stick or your phone while biking
This is so simple, but I see this all the time. Even as a new resident to Amsterdam, I dropped my phone in the middle of Vondelpark while trying to check my directions. My phone screen shattered and since then, I have had an Otterbox screen protector on my phone just in case.
I now keep my phone in my bag and I’ve connected my headphones to them, so I can listen to Google Maps directions without checking the screen. If you want to take a photo, bring your gopro and mount it on your bike.
Although you’re likely to see people biking while on their phones and/or texting while biking, it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea for you as a new biker in Amsterdam and you’re likely to cause an accident if you try to text while biking. Trust me when I write that it’s better just to wait until you find a good place to pull over to see your phone. Most people can wait for a response to your text. 😉
I’ve seen a lot of accidents and near-accidents in Amsterdam due to tourists trying to take photos OR a selfie-stick while biking. Typically, they were the ones who fell off their bikes, but in a couple of cases, people tried to swerve around them unsuccessfully—and it wasn’t good. As a result, save your selfie stick for when you’re walking around.
Safety for kids biking in Amsterdam
If you’re visiting Amsterdam with kids, I recommend getting a bike that your kids can sit in. Although your kids can bike near you, city biking is very different and I often even see Dutch parents holding onto their kids while biking in crowded areas to ensure they’re safe. You can check the bike rental companies for family bikes that look like they have a front container. There’s seat belts in there for kids.
This is super simple, but I love Google Maps for its bike-friendly directions. It’s sometimes a bit more conservative than it needs to be and there’s really an easier route that can be taken, but I find Google Maps one of the best biking apps. That said, you need internet for it to work and Maps.me is a good offline option for biking directions. If you’re heading to Amsterdam Noord, you’ll need to bring your bike on the ferry to get there.
Amsterdam has clear signage that means that if you’re heading to any of the major tourist attractions, you can often follow the signage that you’ll see on interactions along bike paths towards your destination. If you’re in doubt, follow the signs towards Amsterdam Centraal, which will bring you back to Centre. These routes tend to be on more major roads and might take you a less direct path, but it’s much harder to get lost.
What happens when you get into a bike accident in Amsterdam?
If you hit someone with your bike (or vice versa), you’re obligated to stop. Exchange information with them and if they’re Dutch, they’ll get in touch with you (or the bike rental company) to settle the damages. If they’re seriously injured and you did something wrong, you may be held responsible for their injuries.
Most Dutch bikers have something called personal liability insurance. It’s similar to what you’d find in most countries, however, it generally covers bike accidents (check first) IF you’re not at fault. Most bike rental companies include insurance as part of an extra fee.
Where to rent a bike in Amsterdam
On my first trip to Amsterdam, I rented a bike from Macbike. These rental bikes are big, red, flashy, and in great condition. The downside? They scream tourist. This bothered me immensely on my first trip to Amsterdam, but I actually think that it’s a helpful signal as the bright red rentals signal to anyone who sees your bike to be careful around you as you’re probably newer to biking. If you have a normal bike, you’re more likely to get cursed out.
Usually, I give a pass to those on a bright red Macbike as I know that they’re newer in Amsterdam and they may not know what they’re doing. Similarly, I think it’s less appealing for bike thieves to steal these bikes as these bikes are so iconic that they’re hard to sell online and they have built-in trackers.
This small bike company has one of the best rates that I’ve seen for bike rental. Their bikes are a bit quirky looking although the bike rental shop can be a bit tricky to find. If you’re looking for a non-touristy bike rental on a budget, I recommend Star Bikes as my friends were really pleased with the condition of the bikes that they rented from there.
Have you biked in Amsterdam? Anything else that you’d add?
Looking for more tips for Amsterdam? Read tips on the best neighborhoods in Amsterdam, where to eat in Amsterdam, the best photo spots in Amsterdam, dos & don’ts for tourists, or browse all my posts on Amsterdam.
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