If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time you will be amazed by the number of bikes on the streets. Holland is a flat country so a bicycle easily gained its reputation as a convenient and reliable means of transportation. Going to work or to school by bike doesn’t involve here any hills to climb so the journey is not that exhausting. It all makes perfect sense but the extent to which bike riding is practiced in the Netherlands can surprise almost any tourist.
What is more, a Dutch cyclist can enjoy a perfect system of bicycle paths. The infrastructure is surely one of the best in the world. The lanes that bikes are supposed to use are clearly marked with red color and are strictly respected by local pedestrians and car drivers. Even the most complicated junction is not a problem and if you follow all the signs you can be sure that the motorists will pay attention to where you are going and usually give way to you. It is simple – they are cyclists themselves.
All parts of Amsterdam are accessible by bike. Even crossing the water is not a problem since the ferries are capable of transporting cyclists with their bikes. Also other Dutch cities can be easily reached by bicycle with an impressive network of bicycle paths connecting all villages, towns, and cities. Therefore, the Netherlands is a dream destination for people traveling Europe by bike.
Some say that a visit to Holland simply does not count if you have not experienced bike riding. It seems to be something essentially Dutch so you should find out for yourself what it is like. There are however a few things that you should keep in mind.
The pace of a tourist will be significantly slower than the speed at which the local people are commuting. This can be annoying for the locals and intimidating for tourists. You can imagine that stopping in the middle of the street in order to take a picture can not always be appreciated by your fellow cyclists. Make sure that you are not obstructing the flow of the traffic by stepping of the bicycle and moving it away from the bicycle path when you want to have a break. On the other hand, don’t be scared of the cars and people in bikes – they are used to the situation and have a lot of experience with this kind of traffic. Generally, you can count on their understanding.
The Dutch police is very strict about riding a bike at night with no lights. You will be fined even for not having one of them (rear or front one). To be safe make sure that the lights are not blinking as this is not welcome by the police either.
Finding the right place to park your bike is not always easy. Amsterdam is quite a dense city flooded with countless bikes that all have to be put somewhere. There are of course bike racks and railings all over the city but finding the vacant one near your destination may be a struggle. Be prepared for leaving your bike even a couple of blocks away. Also, be careful where you are parking it – illegally parked ones may be removed. To get yours back you will have to pay a fine first.
This is the biggest downside of having a bike here as thefts are quite common. You may not be a victim even if you are living here for a couple of years but the problem is there. Therefore, it is advised to always to fasten the bike to something firm (e.g. a lamp post or a fence). Dutch bicycle usually have at least two locks. Also, the locals are used to using old bikes on a regular basis and the new, expensive ones only during the weekend trips.
Don’t bother. Only police wear them because it is part of their uniforms. In other cases a helmet is very unusual even for children. It may seem irresponsible but the rate of accidents is low mainly due careful driving.
Renting a bike
If you want to get the taste of riding a bike in Amsterdam renting one seems like an obvious choice. Using a rented bike you can be sure of its condition and enjoy riding a well taken care of bicycle. Prices star from 5€ (for a couple of hours). All the companies have two rates – the basic one and one including insurance (against theft). Always bring proof of identity and 50 – 200 euros or a credit card that can be used as a deposit.
You can choose from different kinds of bikes for rent. The basic model is a town bike with back-pedal brake. If you are willing to pay a bit extra you can go for a luxury town bicycle with handbrake and gears. Some companies can also offer transport bicycle, tandems, bicycles with children’s seats and accessories. All the bikes have two locks.
Some bike rental companies in Amsterdam:
Rent A Bike Damstraat
Buying a second hand bike
If you are staying in Amsterdam for two weeks or more you may also consider buying a used bike and they reselling it when you will be leaving. By doing so you are getting a bicycle for your whole stay for the price of one or two days of renting one. Plus you will be able to say that you actually owned an authentic Dutch bike while visiting Holland.
What you need to look for is a bike shop that sells second hand bikes (in fact most of them do). Shops like that can be found even within the city center. You can get a basic one-gear model for around 100€ without difficulty. Later on you will get for it 70-80 €. Keep the recipe as the shop that sold it to you will be also eager to buy it back (feel free to ask in advanced about it – it is a common practice). Remember to buy also a decent lock that can be resold as well in your chosen bicycle shop or market at Waterlooplein or Albert Cuyp Straat.