How to (Successfully) Ride a Bike in Amsterdam

Biking is a dominant daily activity in the life of any Amsterdamian, and wannabes, like myself. So, biking in the city fittingly deserves a blog post all to itself. And if you ever make a trip to the Netherlands, you will now be aware of all the biking tips and customs from my 10-step guide to biking in Amsterdam, presented in a biased order of importance.

1. Mentally prepare yourself. No joke. During the first couple weeks of biking, I was in a perpetual state of stress. The feeling is comparable to the first time you get behind the wheel of a car – your whole being is focused solely on the act of driving. The same goes for biking in Amsterdam. Yet, here, you have to divert that attention to navigating through the winding streets, which are only occasionally marked by confusing Dutch street signs, while attempting to avoid hitting other bikers, running over pedestrians, or getting hit by a car.

2. Go with the flow of traffic. The bike lanes are like freeways: you do what everyone else is doing. If all the bikers slow down, you do too. If they speed up, follow suit. If they cross the street, cross with them. And if they bike off a cliff, bike after them. Just kidding, there are no cliffs in the Netherlands. But seriously, I’m convinced Dutch children learn to bike before they can even walk. They know what they’re doing. Even if bikers don’t have the right of way, they take it for themselves anyway, and drivers and pedestrians respect that (mostly because they are seriously outnumbered by the cyclists).  So, just follow by example (of a Dutch biker – not a tourist) and just act like you know what you’re doing.

3. Stay to the right – always. If you’ve every played a (serious) sport, you know what Indian Runs are; biking in Amsterdam is essentially the same. Everybody bikes in a single file line on the right hand side. But if you want to get to the front, you sprint ahead on the left side, and once at the front, move back to the right. The left is usually reserved for super speedy bikers and mopeds – which is odd because I think mopeds and motorcycles should be on the road, not in the bike lane, but as long as they don’t run me over, I’m ok with it.

4. Plan your outfit accordingly. Dresses are a no. Skirts are a no. Super skinny pants are a no. You can try, but it won’t be a very fun or comfortable bike run. Trust me – I tried.

5. DO NOT ride in the rain. A light mist inside is not a light mist while biking; it will turn into a rain that falls directly into your eyes. Your hood will not stay up. And you will be soaked the rest of the day. Just spend the €1.50 on the tram ride.

6. Hand signals! They’re just like blinkers. Use them because nobody likes that guy who never puts on their blinker.

7. Make sure you’re actually in the bike lane. Usually the bike lane is offset from the sidewalk and the road by its color (a dark red) and its height (lower than the sidewalk adjacent to it), but sometimes the bike lane changes, and it can get confusing at times. Make sure there is a bike symbol where you’re riding, and, hopefully, other bikes.

8. Don’t try biking tricks: you can’t do them. Even though the locals make them look easy, these “tricks” are not advisable for people who like to stay upright on their bikes. You want your friend to ride sidesaddle on the back of your bike? Your bike will tip over. That same friend rides straddles the bike instead? You will both be sore for days – it’s a serious workout. You want to ride with no hands? Ya, right. You want to hop on your bike while it is moving? Don’t even try. If you would like to gain this level of biking expertise, I advise you find a nice, soft area of grass to practice on.

9. Be prepared for sweat. Biking is a workout. Working out makes you sweat. Biking makes you sweat. It happens.

10. Have fun! Even though some of my tips have a hint of pessimism in them, they are mostly precautions for events that rarely happen. Biking in Amsterdam, once you learn how, is actually a lot of fun. It lets you see the city from a new angle. Plus, it’s cheap, convenient, and fast. And a good workout – which is a necessity considering the problem Dutch stroopwaffles pose (but that’s a story for another post!)

Happy reading, happy traveling, happy biking!