Biking in Amsterdam
Being an advocate of utility cycling and a promoter of biking as regular transportation I’m certainly biased in writing this, but I believe that even with Amsterdam’s excellent system of trams and pedestrian friendly streets biking really is the most efficient method of getting around. With a bike you can cover a lot of ground in a short time – turning a 25 minute walk into a five minute ride.
When blessed with good weather the network of paths outside of the city can make for great day trips to outlying towns. Signs clearly label bike routes, or “fietspads,” and the distances to towns, cities, and landmarks. While some paths parallel busy motorways others traverse quiet farms or provide extensive views from atop dikes.
Considering costs, renting a bike for a weeks won’t run much more than you’d pay after using up several “strippenkaarts” hopping on and off trams and buses.
As most know the Dutch don’t see cycling as recreational pastime or hobby restricted to sunny weekend mornings. Biking as transportation is a regular part of life, anytime of day, rain or shine. When watching bikes filled with groceries and kids swoosh down streets it appears cute and utopian – but visitors are well served to respect this method of transportation and follow basic traffic rule. Being mindful of bike right-of-ways and keeping your head on a swivel will keep you and your fellow cyclists safe.
The majority of streets have bike lanes on the sides, or adjacent to the street buffered by parking or medians. If lacking a designated lane then bikes share the road with cars. Along the smaller brick streets that hug the canals space is a bit tighter and shared with pedestrians. However if you prefer a slower pace then following the canals will give you beautiful views of the city, and you’ll be tempted to stop for a picture every time you crest the small bridges.
It may sound harrowing; but anyone skilled in basic vehicular cycling will do just fine. Motorists and tram operators are observant to pedestrians and cyclists. Many local intersections don’t even have signals or stop signs – rather they allow cars and bikes to decide for themselves via eye contact or the “give to the right” rule.
One infrastructure rule I quickly learned was that the bike signals are located on the posts directly in FRONT of you. I and even other locals tended to pull PAST the signal – and have to crane our necks back to watch it turn green.
On one busy intersection I mistakenly pulled into the street because I was watching the signal on the NEXT sign post. This netted me some well deserved honks, but lesson quickly learned.
There are many of bike rental establishments including the popular chain Mac Bike. Any place is fine for a spin around Vondelpark or jaunt outside of town – however if you plan on keeping a bike for an extended period as I did you’ll garner a bit more respect on the streets if you blend in with a regular bike, rather than one garnishing the logo of a rental company.
“Bike City,” was recommended to me as a good place to rent. They’re in the Jordaan neighborhood at Bloemgracht 68, near Westerkerk and the Ann Frank House. I rented a solid bike seven speed with a wheel lock and heavy chain for about 75 Euro for the week. It served me perfectly in the city and outside of town too. Like their site says their bikes are inconspicuous so you won’t be noticed as a tourist – and with their heavy duty locks you can use your bike as a regular means of transportation – running errands and seeing the sights.
Unlike cities that are overwhelmed with the noises of honking taxis and smoke spewing buses Amsterdam is remarkably quiet. And so is their transportation. Trams glide along tracks and bikes breeze by you – which means it’s important to be vigilant of your surroundings. But with those cautions I can’t think of a better way to see this beautiful city and experience it as the locals do.
-Whether biking or walking – keep your head on a swivel.
-Don’t walk on designated bike lanes.
-Cross tram tracks at a 90 degree angle.
- You don’t want to get your wheels caught in them.
-If you need to stop (or stop suddenly) to check your map and get your bearings pull out of traffic.
-Lock your bike. Always.
Next post: Day trips by bike outside of Amsterdam.
Above and Below: For the kids
Space For Bikes on Trains
Kid at a Market
by James Van Dellen