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Rules to Cycle Amsterdam Like a Local

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Want to live like a local during your next visit to Amsterdam?

Ditch the taxi and tour bus, and instead rent yourself a bike to see the city in a way that not only saves money, adds a little exercise to your daily routine, but also gives the perfect opportunity to step into the shoes (or rather, the pedals) of a real Amsterdamian (yep, that’s a real word!).

You can see why everyone in Amsterdam bikes- the city is relatively flat, there are bike lanes everywhere and it is small enough you can bike in a short amount of time. To a visitor riding with the masses whizzing by may seem like a dangerous death wish! Once you get accustomed to the rules of the road, however, it can be a great way to get around. Here are the top 4 rules to cycle Amsterdam like a local:

  • Rule #1: Think of the bike lane like a highway

You wouldn’t stop in the middle of the highway to look at the cute little café or the ornate building you just passed, so don’t do it on the bike path. The majority of riders are not on a sightseeing tour; they have a place to go, which means they won’t be happy if there is something (or someone) blocking the path. If you see something you want to take a closer look at, simply pull over if possible. Just make sure you signal your turn by pointing you finger in the intended direction, so that the others behind you know they may have to slow a bit.

Sharing the bike lane with a mini car!
Sharing the bike lane with a mini car!

Also, as you will most likely be riding the slowest, make sure to stay to the right and be conscious of other vehicles (bikes, scooters, even mini cars) that will pass on your left. The golden rule is just to stay out of the way, and you’ll be totally fine.

  • Rule #2: Lock the bike carefully

Bike theft is a major concern in the city, with thousands of bikes going missing each year. Most rental shops will recommend and provide two locks, one for the back wheel and the other, a longer chain, to lock the bike to something.

You have a much lower chance of having the bike stolen if you lock it to a proper fixed secure spot, such as the bike parking spots provided. When locking the bike, make sure you loop some of the chain through the main body as well as the front.

Also pay attention to where you lock the bike. There have been instances where the authorities remove bicycles that are not locked to the designated areas. You can also pay extra for theft/damage insurance for a few euros per day to relieve some theft stress.

  • Rule #3: Try to blend in

Many popular tourist bike rental shops have bikes that are brightly colored and stick out among the used, run-down bikes that many of the locals ride. This could be a good idea initially, because riders may be more cautious around and it may be easier to spot your group in bigger crowds.

Locals biking in Amsterdam. Taken from PROschermpeter42 via Flickr.
Locals biking in Amsterdam. Taken from PROschermpeter42 via Flickr.

However, you may have a more pleasant experience, including not being shouted at by angry locals you almost get run over by, if you have a bike that blends in. You can find plenty of more “low-key” rental shops throughout the city that could offer black bikes or even a collection of different bikes for your group. The quality may not be as good as the big chains, but you’ll fit in perfectly with the locals, like these girls here.

  • Rule #4: Practice caution first

There is no reason to genuinely feel intimidated or scared about riding bikes in Amsterdam, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a cautious eye out at all times. Think of it as being a defensive driver.

Also, in a city that offers many opportunities to alter your state of mind, always make sure you ride the bikes sober and expect that at night other riders may be intoxicated. Getting in accident or in trouble with the law would really put a damper on your visit, and we wouldn’t want that!

Featured image taken from Julio Greff via Flickr.

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