Amsterdam: Top Tips for Cycling in the Bike Capital of the World

by  Blane Bachelor | Feb 10, 2011
Canals in Amsterdam
Canals in Amsterdam / KavalenkavaVolha/iStock

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I just spent a long weekend in Amsterdam, and as an enthusiastic, if not avid, cyclist, exploring this enchanting city – known as the bike capital of the world – on two wheels was an unforgettable  experience.

And an adventurous one, too, even though I consider myself a moderate-level rider. The city's infrastructure includes 249 miles of bike lanes, which constantly flow with the traffic of thousands of fellow riders. Add in trams, scooters, oblivious tourists, and a no-helmet philosophy, and intimidation can easily set in.

But here are a few tips to ensure your Amsterdam cycling experience is a smooth one, which you should definitely celebrate with a few beers in a canal-side cafe. Happy riding!

Don’t get distracted. You'll be surrounded by Amsterdammers who, while pedaling, can talk on cell phones, weave through traffic, run red lights, transport one or two additional human passengers, and balance multiple bags and groceries – sometimes all at once – with virtually no effort. Don't even think about trying to match up; just focus on getting to your destination safely. And your fellow cyclists are just part of the landscape: Be careful not to over-ogle the enchanting views of canals, bridges, and houseboats (photo above at left courtesy of Flickr/Andrea Schaffer). Instead, park your bike and wander on foot to really let it all sink in.

Follow the rules. Stay in appointed bike lanes – they're recognized by their brick-red pavement and/or painted lines – and in areas where there aren’t any (like the canal district) follow the flow of traffic. Also heed traffic signals for cyclists; if there are none, follow those for cars.


Ring your bell. I'm still earning props from my husband for "parting a group of tourists like the Red Sea" (his words, not mine) with a few cheerily urgent rings of my bell in a touristy section of town. Whereas hard-core Stateside riders might think a bell smacks of sissiness, it's a must-have for an Amsterdam bike.

Lock it up. There's a good reason locals use locks and chains that look like they came from the World's Strongest Man competition: Bike thieves in Amsterdam are among the swiftest and savviest in the world. Do not, even for a minute, lock your bike just through the front tire, or you're likely to come back to the rest of the bike missing. Also make sure to use the back wheel lock; they come standard on most rentals. And forget about buying a used (and likely stolen) bike on the street: It's illegal, and highly frowned upon by locals.

Watch for the tracks. Tram tracks have snagged many a front tire and toppled many a rider. If you have to cross them, make sure to hit them at a sharp angle – perpendicular, if possible – to avoid a similar fate (photo above courtesy of Flickr/Gabriel Rodriguez).

For general trip-planning information, see our Amsterdam Travel Guide.

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