Cyclists in Amsterdam – getting out alive

Because it amazes me every time how ill prepared people visit my lovely city, I write this guide. The other night, I almost ran over some Canadians, I stopped and lined out a few basics how to avoid collisions. They thanked me. I just thought, some 20 million visitors every year, that’s a lot of explaining to do. So, there this guide.

Voor Amsterdammers:
toeristen ontwijken en waarom lief voor ze te zijn.

Recognising bicyle lanes, to you, it all looks like sidewalk, but it isn’t.

  • The sidewalk is a bit higher than the bicycle lane, but not always.
  • If not, there is a clear white line
  • The bicycle lane is red, most of them are
  • It has – very hard to recognise – bicycle pictograms, see below
  • It’s crowded by cyclists
  • If you see cyclists on the sidewalk: tourist who didn’t read this guide
Pictorgram of a bike in Amsterdam Netherlands
Hard to recognise, this is the bicycle lane

A lot of people who are not from here or another very busy city, walk around, looking down on their (not so) smartphone. They only realise the red tarmac, when they are actually on it. Look ahead, your participating in highly dense traffic.

If you accidentally step on the bicyle lane, intending to cross it or not, keep walking in a steady pace! Don’t stop, don’t turn around, keep walking. We, good willing cyclist, will know what to anticipate on. Don’t worry, we don’t want to crash our iron horses. So clearly mark your direction, perhaps with your hand, and don’t make any sudden moves. Sudden moves, stopping or turning back, will cause the crash.

Same goes for crossing a bicyle lane, non-accidentally. So, you want to get accross and want to do it safely on a zebra. Waiting for us to stop. Sorry we won’t. Waiting at the zebra is, even for me, hardly a reason to stop. Here is why. We’re efficient, we want to limit stops to a absolute minimum. Really, I can cross from East to West and back with hardly any stops, maybe 5 tops.

If I would stop at every zebra where you guys are hestitating with cold water fear on the side line, it’ll cost a day to cross the city. No offence. So then what? Here’s wat you should do, and what not.

  • Don’t walk along the side walk, make a 90 degree turn and cross, because we’ve never seen you coming. Walk towards the zebra from the right (for us, we’re coming from the left) showing clear intention you want to cross. Steady pace, no stopping, keep going, no hestitation, you can even point your hand forward like a blink-man stick. Scary as hell man, but we – will – stop. Don’t worry. Or we’ll get around you, better for us, no stopping involved, better mapmyrun marks. If we get around you, don’t be scared, we don’t want to hit you either. (Oh and tell the other people waiting at the side, to read this blog, but tell them at the sidewalk).
  • If you want to practice this, head for the ferries at Central Station, you’ll find a lot of zebras to practice. Try 8-9 o’çlock or 17-18. See movie at the bottom of this article.
  • When zebras go fine, go to next level, the mixed zone. It’s so much fun, everybody owns the same rights, and right of way doesn’t count here. Again, steady pace for pedestrians, high level steering for cyclist.
  • Here is where you think: but I want to rent a bicycle in Amsterdam!

Really, you want to rent a bicycle in Amsterdam?

Cycling is nice, it opens your mind, it’s the best transport for the environment (it is) and it’s super-good for your health. Like with everything, cycling also comes in grades and levels. Have you ever heard of the Tour de France, Vuelta, Giro, Bastenaken-Luik, that stuff? Or look for veldrijden at your search engine. That is next level, right? It has nothing to do with you on a bike around the block when you were 5 years old. Well, that is my guess. Comment if you disagree (this part is closed to people from Portland (Keep it Weird!) and bike-couriers from NYC).

Comparison for USA citizens:

 Imagine: You’re on this weekend trip to Indianapolis (ok you can see this coming for miles), but here we go:

On the airport you rent a Chevrolet Spark or Aveo or what have you, it’ll get you around, dunnit? On Saturday morning you get up, after breakfast you hop on the tiny Chevy and…. drive right up to the INDY500 CIRCUIT! And you know what, when you get there, THEY LET YOU IN and you join the race in your cookie tin.

Welcome to Amsterdam on your rental bike, have fun.

Riding a rental bike in Amsterdam is like driving a Chevrolet Spark on the Indy 500 circuit

Really this is how it goes. Bike rental companies give, well give for a lot of money, a totally shitty China made bike = the Spark / Aveo thing. In the same ‘circuit’, actually called Amsterdam, you’ll meet us. And we don’t drive dammed Aveos.

We ride Iron Horses. The Real Thing. WorkCycles Monsters, Azor Friesians, Van Moofs, Bakfiets and these are just the human driven riders. There are even stronger ones, e-bikes. The Stromer ST2 LTD (30mph) and the monstertruck Urban Arrow (a cargo bike on electricity). And these are just the private ones, the commercial fleet rides electric bicycle trucs and power bikes of 12 year fearless pizza couriers.

Level 1 – Riding a bicycle in the Netherlands

Really, if you want to rent a bike in Amsterdam, go practice first. Go to Groningen, Heerenveen, Roosendaal, Maastricht, Goes, Gouda (if you want to pay way too much for cheese, go to Gouda), but you can also try Apeldoorn (palace too), all very very lovely towns and ride around. This is level 1, the pace is low, the traffic is friendly. If you manage to ride a bike there,  then you’re ready for level 2.

Level 2 – Riding a bicycle in Holland and Utrecht.

In my opinion, for level 2 following cities qualify. To see if you’re ready, compared to the towns above, in these cities:

the speed is higher, the tolarance is lower, so we’re getting towards level 10 Amsterdam already.

Try Utrecht, Haarlem, Leiden, these are among the most unique cities in Holland and Utrecht, even more beautiful than Amsterdam. I’m being honest, we’ve the best musea, but they exist longer and have lovlier towns. Good towns to practice.

Level 3 – Riding a bicycle in cities in the Netherlands

Ready for the next level? Really? Ok, you can do one more test on Level 3, go to Rotterdam. Our amazing harbour city and so totally different from the towns I mentioned before. They own the future, their Zuidas (high offices in the south of Amsterdam) is in the middle of the centre, worth a (good!) look. Normal for USA, but rare in the Low Lands. Rent an OV-fiets (for practically nothing at the station) and ride around. Remember, this is level three. Speed is still low, but there are lot of bike, trams, taxi’s and more. This is only level 3.

Level 10- Riding a bike in Amsterdam

On any of this levels, did you feel insecure, or even scared? Really, just get a tram or a boat in Amsterdam, or manage your way around walking. Don’t rent a bike. That’s what this guide is all about. Cycling is highly intense, I mean, I’ll invite NYC messengers to do a Sunday ride to my boys swimming class with me. Average speed 28 kmh on a cargobike.

Amsterdam is very, very small compared to other cities centres. We actually make a 12 million city, but centres are called Utrecht, Rotterdam, Zaandam, Leiden, Haarlem, Amersfoort and of course Amsterdam. I left some out to keep it short, all right. Everything is fine by public transport, walking (I’ll support you there) and taxi (real taxi’s, not Uber=evil).

Update: We always see ill bike riding tourist, that’s why we write this blog. But, we see you guys looking at your smartphone, while riding. Extremely dangerous first of all, but now also subject to a €95 fine if you hold you phone. Tuck it away while riding!

Link: Watch this movie:

Early morning, when still chill. Watch the movie Or busier: