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Amsterdam: 10 tips to bike and blend in like a local

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Amsterdam biking
Getting around Amsterdam by bike is not only the easiest way to see the city, it's also a lot of fun. Photo: Marc van Woudenberg

Amsterdam is a biking paradise, and there’s no better way to experience it than pedaling through the historic streets. Previously, we’ve shared some helpful tips on how to bicycle safely throughout the city, the best bike tours and how to navigate the roads in winter.

Now it’s time to get local about it. In Amsterdam, you’ll notice a certain city style biking about. Follow these ten tips and ideas to blend in or stand out, but above all, make things interesting.

Related: Stay at the eco-friendly Bicycle Hotel in Amsterdam

1. You’ve got a bell, so use it!

While I don’t condone the “use and abuse” of bicycle belling in Amsterdam, don’t be afraid to ring someone over and out of your way. Whether it’s a slowpoke cycler, or a tourist who’s aimlessly wandered into the bike lane, a few bring brings can make a difference. I keep my finger on the bell trigger while biking down some of the more crowded streets.

A Three-Act: The Dutch Side Saddle Hop from Amsterdamize on Vimeo.

2. Learn how to ride “Dutch” side saddle

There’s something very endearing about riding on the back of someone’s bicycle, watching the city slowly pass by as the cyclist does all the work. Notice how locals here ride side saddle on the back of a bicycle, facing to the side with their ankles crossed and away from the wheels. It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but it’s definitely doable. Watch this video from Amsterdamize for a slow-mo demonstration.

3. Learn how to bike someone side saddle

This applies for ladies and gents, as I’ve seen all combos you can imagine of people chauffeuring other people sitting side saddle on their back wheel. It’s not so much about your passenger’s weight as it is about your right amount of balance and speed for a smooth easy hop on.

Amsterdam Bikes

Most bikes in Amsterdam are more old-fashioned and dependable than fancy. Photo: Audrey Sykes

4. Ditch the handlebar breaks and fancy gears

The majority of bikes here are an old-fashioned design. Instead of handlebar breaks we use backpedal breaks. And rarely do we use gears: this is a country that’s entirely flat. Flashy mountain bikes are a rarity here, so don’t go for the deluxe model at the rental shop. A Simple Simon style is best.

5. Just cruise it

Being in a hurry doesn’t work well in this capital city. There’s just too much congestion of people, trams, taxis and other cyclists. Don’t fly like Superman down the streets—make enough time to look both ways, always. Soak in the cycle.

6. Make some noise

Is there a rattling in your chain? A squeak in your cycle? A creak in your crank? I hope so. A Dutch bike isn’t the real deal unless is has a little noise to announce your presence to the other bikers around you.

Amsterdam bike

To blend in, choose a normal looking bike from the rental shop. Photo: Marc van Woudenberg

7. Blend in

At the rental shop, opt out for the vibrant yellow, in-your-face red and neon green frame colors. Unless you want people to know you’re a tourist, which can be a good thing for beginner bikers. There are plenty of rental shops offering options that blend in with the others, giving the average biker a more of a local feel.

Related: Cheapest bike rental shops in Amsterdam

8. Know how to fix your bike

I don’t know if it’s in the Dutch blood or just a mandatory class in third grade, but everyone here can fix a bike. Whether it’s putting the chain back on, patching a flat, or pumping air for a little more speed, knowing the basics is a must. Rental shops usually dish out reliable and sturdy bikes, but it doesn’t hurt to know where your closest repair shop is. Even snagging a small air pump at the nearby market for €2 is not a bad idea.

9. Get a heavy-duty super lock

Make sure you have two locks, a back tire lock and a heavy-duty chain lock. The running joke in this city is that we pay more for our lock than our bike. In a lot of cases that’s true. Bike theft is normality here, to a point where most of us think an unlocked bike is fair game and a glowing sign that yells “Freebie!” Lock your bike to something cemented to the ground, like a bridge railing.

Amsterdam biking

With such a strong, safe and stylish bike culture, very few locals wear helmets. Let loose and get a little wind in your hair! Photo: Max Mayorov

10. Don’t wear a helmet?

I know that sounds crazy to those who have yet been to Amsterdam, but bicycle helmets never made it to The Netherlands. Isn’t that nuts? In most places yes, but bicycle culture has been around Amsterdam since the 1800s. There are more bikes than people in this country, and two wheels is certainly the main mode of transport here. Take into consideration the designated bike lanes, the slow place, and the rule that bikers have the right-of-way – it breeds a lifestyle always aware of the bike. Plus, we really like the wind in our hair.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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2 Responses to “Amsterdam: 10 tips to bike and blend in like a local”

Claude says:

A nice piece but actually bike helmets have not made it to most of Europe. A Council of Europe report on mobility in Europe last year noted that, taking Europe as a whole, less than 1% of bike riders wear helmets. Talking of ‘Europe as a whole’ whatever has happened to Eurocheapo? You guys used to blog about all sorts of stuff. Now it is just lists and more lists from a dozen big cities which represent just a tiny fraction of Europe. I work with Council of Europe. Our continent stretches over several time zones. Take a look some time, and why not more reports from places beyond the tourist magnets so beloved by US visitors?

Hi Claude,

Thanks for your comment about bike helmets and your question about EuroCheapo.

Regarding the site, it’s true that we primarily focus on ways to save when visiting about a dozen major destinations in Europe that are especially popular with English speaking (and reading) guests. This is, obviously, a business necessity, as we’re publishing a travel site with a fairly small staff of writers. However, in the past few months we’ve also reported on smaller destinations, including Strasbourg, Scottish isles, Glasgow, Serbia, Crete, and more. We’re always looking for suggestions for additional destinations to write about–please share!

Tom Meyers
Editor

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