Ride Bicycles Like An Amsterdam Native

Author with infant son on his bicycle

Author with infant son on his bicycle (photo: M. V. Halm)

I’m a local and I ride my bike daily through the Amsterdam City Center, and I have some tips for tourists and out-of-towners:

  1. Unlike most cities, Amsterdam has dedicated bicycle paths that are easily identifiable by the bicycle painted on the road surface. The bicycle paths are for cyclists only! Walking on the bicycle paths marks you instantly as a [stupid] tourist.
  2. Amsterdam has a lot of one-way streets, but most of them are only one-way for cars [and sometimes motorcycles], which means that you still have to look BOTH ways when crossing a one-way street in Amsterdam, because bicycles can come from BOTH sides.
  3. Amsterdam has laws that protect the weaker traffic participants, so in an accident between a motorized vehicle and a bicycle, the motorized vehicle gets all the blame, unless they can proof that the cyclist disregarded all the rules. This makes driving a vehicle in Amsterdam incredibly risky, because a bicycle can come from any direction and you’ll be blamed for any accidents, even when they’re not your fault. By the way, a testimony by your passengers is often regarded immaterial by the police.
  4. If you’re staying in Amsterdam for several days, or if you visit Amsterdam regularly, don’t rent a bike. Yellowbikes yellow frames and MacBikes red frames immediately mark you as a tourist. Instead, go to a bicycle shop and ask for a secondhand bicycle. There are loads for sale, ranging from 25-150 euros, depending on the type [regular, ATB, racing] and amount of gears. Don’t choose a bicycle with more than three gears – Amsterdam is mostly flat, so you won’t need more than three to cruise comfortably. Don’t buy a bicycle on the street, they’re most likely stolen and if you get caught you’re not only perpetuating bicycle theft, but the bike will be impounded by the police and you will get a steep fine.
  5. If you ride a bicycle in Amsterdam, keep to the right. Don’t weave all over the road like a drunken monkey. If you want to gawk at something, don’t do it while riding. And get yourself a heavy padlock and a length of industrial cable so you can lock your bike to lampposts and bridge railings. Make sure your cable never (accidentally) ties up another bicycle, because the police will cut your chain/cable and impound your bicycle.
  6. Don’t ride on the sidewalks. Yes, I know you will see some cyclists ride the sidewalk, but it is prohibited and the police will fine you if they catch you. To talk your way out of a ticket, you have to speak fluent Dutch and be very persuasive. So keep to the bicycle paths, or if they are absent, keep to the utmost right on the main roads.
  7. Be extremely wary of mopeds! Most mopeds and scooters ride as irresponsible as cyclists, only faster. And since they’re heavier than a bike, the crashes often result in more damage.

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