Everything you need to know before riding away on your Dutch bicycle: Dutch cycling rules, safety locks and how to rent or buy a bike in the Netherlands.
Bicycling is the preferred Dutch way to experience the Netherlands and by far the most popular form of getting around. The frenzied flow of bike traffic can intimidate visitors though, so before you hop on two wheels, read these tips for keeping you and your bike safe when cycling in the Netherlands.
A true bicycle 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. 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, more than 30 percent of all journeys are made by bicycle and virtually all Dutch children cycle to school.
If you’re from abroad, one of the things that might surprise you is the near non-existence of helmets. The segregated bike lanes, which are usually reddish-coloured paths, make city cycling quite safe, not to mention that most city bicyclists are not travelling at Tour de France speeds.
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 kids on the back or in the front (while making phone calls and holding an umbrella).
Cycling rules and safety in the Netherlands
Be sure to take note of the following rules and precautions when hopping on a bike in the Netherlands for the first time.
1. Many Dutch bicycles feature old fashioned back-pedal brakes instead of brake levers mounted on the handlebars. If you’re not used it it be sure to practise first.
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.
3. Trams always have the right of way. 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. If the triangle is pointing at you, it means 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 pointy decorations on the streets.
5. 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 this 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, although in some places you might find that cyclists don’t use the formal hand signals. To do so, 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 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 centre 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 police or just get yelled at by an annoyed walker. The exception is some parks, such as Vondelpark, where it is not technically legal to cycle but everyone does. Keep in mind that people on a walking path have the right of way, so please don’t ring your bell at them or speed by.
9. Maybe the most important rule of all is to always lock your bike, 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 such as a tree, traffic sign, 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 thrown in the canals. It’s not uncommon for a lock to be more expensive than the bike itself.
Renting a bike
Bicycle rental shops can be found all over the city and mainly in tourist areas, for example in Amsterdam at Central Station, Dam Square and Leidseplein. Day rates vary from EUR 5–12 with some multi-day rates as low as EUR 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 EUR 2.50–4 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 EUR 50 and EUR 200 per bike.
Locks are included, and it can’t be stressed enough to always use them.
Some bicycle rental places offer helmets as an option for adults or kids although you might be the only person wearing one. 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 in places with fewer bikes. But if you feel more comfortable, by all means 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 such as 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 recognisable MacBike sign on the front, hopefully locals will know to be careful around the newbie. There are several locations in Amsterdam.
- Yellow Bike: These bright yellow bicycles are also noticeable. The companies 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. They have several locations in the centre of Amsterdam and comfortable bicycles with or without handbrakes. They also do goofy tourist costume photos.
- Black Bikes: For those who prefer to blend in, these folks rent more understated bicycles that don’t scream ‘I’m a tourist!’ You can find multiple locations in Amsterdam.
- Starbikes: Conveniently located near Central Station, these guys have traditional black bikes available. They also offer picnic baskets.
- Orangebike: As most other rental shops, Orangebike offers guided bicycle tours.
- Frederic RentABike: Offers incognito bikes, and insurance is included in their EUR 10 daily rental fee.
- Bike City: Well-maintained bikes that will blend in with the locals.
- Mike’s Bike Tours: 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: offers a wide selection of bicycles. Be sure to print their discount ticket.
- Velox: offers vintage folding bicycles, and is definitely one of the most unique bike rentals in Amsterdam.
- Spinlister: is an international peer-to-peer bicycle sharing program that offers rentals around the Netherlands.
Share your experiences and recommendations of rental shops in the comments.
Buying a Dutch bicycle
When you’re going to live in the Netherlands for study or work, owning a bicycle is a must. Most Dutch residents 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 the Netherlands
Most bicycle shops sell refurbished trade-ins. They can be the best place to buy used bikes, as their bicycles should technically be already 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, Amsterdam. Get there early in the day for a good selection. Marktplaats.nl (in Dutch only) is also a great place to search for used bikes.
Don’t 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 EUR 60–EUR 120, and EUR 150 or more 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 but keeping it is another story. Bike theft is a huge problem, particularly in Amsterdam, so make sure you have a decent lock even before you get a bicycle. In Amsterdam, merchants at the Albert Cuypmarkt and the fleamarket at Waterlooplein sell a wide range of locks. Abus and Axa have good quality stainless steel chain locks and will set you back about EUR 15 and up.
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