In a city where bikes outnumber people, it is no surprise that bike rentals are high on the priority list of every Amsterdam tourist. However, cycling the lanes in the Dutch capital is not as easy as it seems. Follow these simple rules and suggestions to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride.
Note the location of your brakes
Many of you will be familiar with modern mountain bikes or speed bikes where you will find the brakes on the handlebars of the bike. Most Dutch bikes do not have brakes on the handlebars. These bikes have the old fashioned pedal-backwards brake. Practice starting and stopping a couple of times before you head out. You’ll be thankful later.
Stay away from tram tracks – and trams
Trams are big, scary things when you’re on a bike. They always have the right of way when crossing an intersection, so if you see one headed towards you, be sure to yield. This is pretty easy and most tourists know it; but one common mistake is to get the bike stuck in the tram tracks. The size of a standard bike tire fits perfectly into the tram rails laid into the pavement. To avoid this, always cross the tracks with your wheels at an angle – you’ll fly over them with ease.
Follow the rules
While locals may flaunt red lights, stop signs, and other common sense rules of the road, that doesn’t mean you should. It is technically illegal to violate traffic laws on a bike, and you can get a fine if caught. (And yes, police do monitor and ticket on occasion.) But it is not worth risking an accident by ignoring traffic signs; locals are familiar with traffic patterns and flows, but you are not.
Lights are required at night
One rule that is frequently monitored by the police and that bike rental shops often forget to tell you is that lights are required at night. The lights are not for you to see your way – most bike paths are well lit, even in rural areas; it is very difficult for drivers to see bikes at night so a light on the front and back is required.
Don’t drink and drive
If you spend a night out in the city’s beer cafes or “coffee shops”, it is not wise to jump on a bike to head home or to the next destination. If you lose your balance, the best case scenario is you just get a few scratches. Worst case is you end up in a canal or underneath a car. Know when you’ve had enough and leave the bike behind if necessary.
Lock your bike when leaving it – Always!
Even if you’re going to be two minutes, or if you’re just walking a few feet away, lock your bike to the nearest stationary object you can find. If you don’t, your bike will vanish as quickly as you can say “goodbye”. Bike theft, along with pick pocketing, is the most common form of crime in Amsterdam. Your bike rental agency will explain this to you no doubt, so be sure that you understand how the locks work before you leave the rental office.
These tips and suggestions might seem a bit silly, as serious accidents with bikes are not that frequent-but they can happen. While the use of helmets and other protective gear is not common (nearly nonexistent), by taking a few precautions you can prevent a mishap that might ruin your holiday.