Bicycling is the preferred Dutch way to experience Amsterdam and by far the most popular form of getting around. Read these tips for keeping you and your bike safe.
Amsterdam’s Cycling Culture
When you get off the train at Central Station in Amsterdam and see the plethora of bikes for the first time, it will surely strike you as a unique aspect of Dutch culture. Check out our fun facts about bicycles in Amsterdam!
Amsterdam has been ranked as the most bicycle-friendly city in the world! The reason why Amsterdam has one of the lowest bike accident rates is because of its well-developed infrastructure for bicycles. There are many paths, signs, signals, and traffic lights designated solely for cyclists. In the Netherlands, over 30% of all journeys are made by bicycle and virtually all Dutch children cycle to school.
If you’re from somewhere else, one of the things you may be surprised to see is the near nonexistence of helmets. The segregated bike lanes, which are usually reddish-colored paths, make city cycling quite safe. Not to mention that most city bicyclists are not traveling at Tour de France speeds. (plus in Amsterdam helmets are perceived as uncool)
Because cycling is such a popular form of transport in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands, you’ll see every type of person on a bike. Business people in tailored suits, elderly people, couples holding hands, and parents with their two kids on the back and one in the front (while making phone calls and holding an umbrella).
Amsterdam Cycling Rules and Safety
The frenzied flow of traffic can intimidate visitors and newcomers, so before you hop on two wheels check out these tips. Be sure to take note of the following rules and precautions when hopping on a bike in Amsterdam for the first time:
1. Most bicycles in Amsterdam feature old fashioned back-pedal brakes, instead of brake levers mounted on the handlebars. If you’re not used it it be sure to practice first to get the hang of it.
2. Although the local bicyclists may run red lights, ignore traffic rules, make phone calls, send text messages, ride on the sidewalks, and daringly weave in and out of traffic, it doesn’t mean it’s okay. Obey traffic rules; police do monitor and ticket occasionally. I’ve been pulled over by the Police for running red lights. 🙁
3. Trams have the right of way. Always. Pay special attention to tram tracks; they are just as wide as a bike tire and they are perfect for getting your wheel stuck. Always cross them at an angle and you’ll be flying over them in no time.
4. See those white triangles painted on the ground? Those signs point to whomever is supposed to stop or yield. That means if the triangle is pointing at you then you have to yield or stop to let traffic pass. If the triangle is not pointing at you still use caution as many ignore these signs as merely decorations on the streets.
5. Also, give right of way to traffic approaching from the right if no other rules apply (thus, traffic approaching from the left should give you right of way). Taxis and buses often push the limits on this rule, so be careful.
6. You must have a white light on the front and a red light on the rear of your bicycle after dark. Police actively enforce the bike light requirement. A two-pack set of LED lights is just a few Euros at the markets or at HEMA.
7. Use hand signals to let other people know when you are turning right or left, or stopping. In Amsterdam cyclists don’t use the formal hand signals. Instead, just stick your right or left arm out in the direction you plan to turn. You can also use this signal to warn others when you are pulling over to stop. This is especially important in areas with a lot of bicycle traffic going in all directions.
8. Don’t ride your bicycle on the sidewalks or in walking areas. These are denoted with blue signs showing a tall and short person walking hand in hand in white. You’ll mostly find these on small streets in the center of Amsterdam, but you’ll also notice them in parks. You might see others doing it, but that does not mean you should too. You could get a ticket from the Po-Po or just get yelled at by an annoyed walker. Keep in mind that people walking on a walking path have the right of way, please don’t ring your bell at them or speed by!
9. Maybe the most important rule of all is to lock your bike. Always. Even (or especially!) when you’re leaving your bike for a couple of minutes to get some groceries. Use two locks if you can and lock your bike to something solid like a tree, a traffic sign, a lamp post, or one of the many bike racks. Bike theft is a serious problem in Amsterdam where thousands of bikes are stolen each year or end up pushed into the canals. It’s not uncommon for a lock to be more expensive than the bike itself!
Renting a Bike in Amsterdam
Bicycle rental shops can be found all over the city, mainly in tourist areas like Central Station, Dam Square and Leidseplein. Day rates vary from € 5 to € 12 with some multi-day rates as low as € 4.
Most rental shops in Amsterdam offer discounts for groups or additional rental days. We advise you to get the optional insurance against theft (for an extra € 2,50 to € 4 per day), especially if you choose a non-touristy model. Usually, rental shops require a copy of your ID or credit card, and/or a deposit between € 50 and € 200 per bike.
Locks are included, and we can’t stress enough to always use them.
Some bicycle rental places offer helmets as an option for adults or kids, but you might be the only person in Amsterdam wearing one. Practically nobody wears helmets here. Of course, bike accidents happen, but serious ones are rare. Motorists are well aware of the fact that they are greatly outnumbered by bicycles, so the risks here aren’t as high as they are in places with fewer bikes. But if you feel more comfortable, by all means feel free to wear a helmet.
In most cases you’ll get an omafiets (granny bike), featuring just one speed and a back pedal brake. They are heavy and sturdy and the single gear is all you need in the flat surroundings. Some rental shops offer bicycles with hand brakes and gears, and other two-wheelers like tandem bikes, kids bikes, transport bikes and mountain bikes.
Bicycle Rental Shops in Amsterdam
- MacBike: These reliable bikes can be seen all over Amsterdam. This company uses sturdy, comfy Batavus Personal bikes for their fleet. Painted red and with a recognizable MacBike sign on the front, hopefully locals will know to be careful around the newbie. Several locations in Amsterdam, check the website.
- Yellow Bike: These bright yellow bicycles are also noticeable. They’re open all year round and offer guided tours.
- Green Budget Bikes: If you’re not a fan of red or yellow, maybe you prefer kermit green? With two locations in the center of Amsterdam, they has comfortable bicycles with or without handbrakes. They also do goofy tourist costume photos, fun!
- Black Bikes: For those who prefer to blend in, these folks rent more understated cycles that don’t scream “I’m a tourist!” Find one of their multiple locations in Amsterdam by visiting their website.
- Recycled Rentals: Cool used bikes for only € 5 per day and no contracts.
- Star Bikes: Conveniently located near Central Station, these guys have traditional black bikes available. They also offer picnic baskets!
- Orange Bike: As most other rental shops, Orangebike offers guided bicycle tours.
- Frederic RentABike: Offers incognito bikes. Insurance is included in their € 10 daily rental fee.
- Bike City: Jordaan shop with well-maintained incognito bikes so you’ll blend in with the locals.
- Mike’s Bikes: Mike’s Bike Tours is known for their insider tours of Amsterdam, presented in a social, laid-back style. Their bike tours already include bicycle rental.
- Rent a Bike Damstraat: Offers a wide selection of bicycles. Be sure to print their 10% discount ticket!
- Velox: Vintage folding bicycles. Definitely one of the most unique bike rentals in Amsterdam! They offer great tours of Noord as well.
- The Humble Vintage: Don’t ride around on a tourist bike, get a cool vintage bicycle from Matt at The Humble Vintage. Book a bike online and he’ll meet you to drop it off.
- Spinlister: Not very popular in Amsterdam yet but we think it should be, Spinlister is a peer-to-peer bicycle sharing program.
Buying a Bicycle in Amsterdam
When you’re relocating to Amsterdam for fun, study or work, owning a bicycle is a must.
Most Amsterdammers have reasonably basic bicycles. As your cruiser will be exposed to the rigors of city life, our advice is to buy a simple, second hand bicycle without too many bells and whistles. The omafiets (granny bike) is the most popular specimen (also when it comes to theft). It’s a heavy, sturdy model with just one gear and a back-pedal brake.
Where to Buy a Bicycle in Amsterdam
Most bicycle shops sell refurbished trade-ins. They may be the best place to buy used bikes, as their bicycles should already be fixed up and legally procured. Of course, if you’re savvy you can get a better deal elsewhere. A good place to find cheap bicycles is the daily fleamarket at Waterlooplein. Get there early in the day for a good selection.
Don’t ever buy bikes offered by some random guy whispering to you on the street; they are invariably stolen. Buying stolen bikes not only encourages future thefts, it’s also a criminal offense.
A decent bike will set you back around € 60 to € 120, and € 150 should get you a mint condition omafiets. Gazelle, Batavus and Sparta are reputable brands.
Invest in a Strong Lock
Buying a bicycle is easy enough. Keeping it is another story. Bike theft is a huge problem in Amsterdam, so make sure you have a decent lock, even before you get a bicycle. Merchants at the neighborhood street markets sell a wide range of locks. Abus and Axa have good quality steel chain locks and will set you back about € 15 and up.
Pimp Your Ride
While a black bike may be the coolest and most understated color, we’d recommend considering a colorful bike or pimping your ride in some way to make it more identifiable. Imagine stumbling out of a bar at midnight to a sea of identical black bicycles or coming back from a weekend out of town and trying to recall where you parked your black bike among the thousands at Central Station. We’ve had friends just give up and buy a new bicycle! Add a splash of spray paint or a colorful accessory like a brightly colored bell. Or go totally wild and you’ll never lose your bike!
Have fun bicycling in Amsterdam, the most bicycle-friendly city in the world!
Read more about the history of bicycling in Amsterdam in the book In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist. A memoir that tells the story of Pete Jordan’s love affair with Amsterdam, the city of bikes, all the while unfolding an unknown history of the city’s cycling, from the craze of the 1890s, through the Nazi occupation, to the bike-centric culture adored by the world today.