For tourists, cycling in Amsterdam is like watching geese fly: they all seem to know what they’re doing, but you have no idea why they don’t bump into each other. Are there no rules for cycling in Amsterdam? Intuitively they know how fast the other bikes are going, whether the car has seen the and whether the other biker could possibly be an aggressive person you need to stay out of the way of. Their body language, a short glimpse of eye contact should be enough to settle the dispute on who takes preference.
When you are a tourist or an expat in Amsterdam and you want to ride a bike, it’s best that you learn the official rules of cycling in The Netherlands. Obeying the rules is a good and safe way to start cycling in Amsterdam.
The rules of cycling in Amsterdam and The Netherlands
- If there is a bike lane, you must ride on the bike lane. Most main streets have a red coloured bike lane.
- Most bike lanes are one way. Never ride against the flow on a bike lane. Seriously.
- Most one way streets in Amsterdam don’t have a bike lane. Bikes then go in both directions, for example along the canals. There is always an ‘exception’ sign (in Dutch: ‘uitzondering’), but people in Amsterdam, don’t need a sign and will ride any one-way street if there is no bike lane. ALWAYS STAY ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD!
- Many crossings with traffic lights in Amsterdam have a special section for bikes, in front of the cars. You may wait here for traffic lights to change. This ensures better visibility for cyclists and the possibility to leave first when there is a green light.
- When you want to turn left or right, (or stop at the side of the road), you need to signal by sticking out your hand. This is very important if you want to avoid an Amsterdam biker swearing in Dutch at you.
- The Amsterdam bikes go fast and you need to stay out of their way. That means staying as much as you can on the right side of the road/bike lane. I can’t repeat this enough!
- Driving next to each other is not illegal, but the Amsterdam bikers consider this a private option: only reserved for experienced cyclists!
- Officially, bikes and cars follow the same rules when it comes to preference. Cyclists must give preference to traffic coming from the right and they must obey all traffic signs.
- Just like cars, cyclists must stop when a pedestrian wants to cross at a zebra crossing, but I would not bet your life on it in Amsterdam. As a pedestrian in Amsterdam, don’t expect any courtesy from cyclists. Just wait.
- The ‘fietsstraat’ is a new feature in Amsterdam. It means that motorized traffic is allowed here, but cars and scooters (‘snorfietsen’) are considered ‘guests’. Cars are not allowed to take over cyclists in a ‘fietssstraat’. Speed is limited to 30 km per hour. Here, cyclists may use the entire road if it is a one-way street, and the entire right side if it’s a two-lane street.
How to stay safe while cycling in Amsterdam
- Tram rails are your enemy. Stay away from them. If necessary, cross them at a sharp angle.
- Trucks can’t see you when you are riding next to them. Always let a truck go first. Get out of its way when it turns. Many people die crushed by trucks.
- Dutch car drivers generally have a good awareness of cyclists. They will give way where necessary.
- Cyclists take preference when they are in a bike lane and a car wants to cross the bike lane (turn right). But always make eye contact. Being alive is more important than being right.
- Helmets are not obligated in Holland and nobody wears one, for practical reasons. People on a racing bike always wear one though. Wear one, just in case.
How to avoid a fine in Amsterdam
With so many bikes in Amsterdam, there are some rules that are so important (and likely life-saving), that the police will not hesitate to fine you.
In Amsterdam, to avoid fines (in Dutch: ‘boete’), follow these rules:
- Don’t ride your bike while holding your mobile phone (€95 fine).
- When dark, have a working light on your bike, front and back, (€55 fine).
- Always follow the detour for bicycles if there is one. (in Dutch: ‘omleiding’). (Fine: €55).
- Never ride a bike in a pedestrian area, like the pavement. Shopping streets like Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, but also De Hallen, are off-limit for cyclists. You will be fined immediately if you dare to ride a bike here, at least €35.
- Oh, and yeah, don’t be a jerk and buy a bicycle on the street. Cheap bikes of €10 are sold in the streets by junkies or homeless persons, but it is surely stolen. Buying a stolen bike is a serious crime in The Netherlands. If the police catch you while buying or they find out you are riding a stolen bicycle (many bikes are chipped), you will be arrested! The fine is at least €250 and the affair will give you a criminal record!
Parking your bike
Parked bicycles are one of Amsterdam biggest annoyances. There are just too many of them. That is why parking bicycles in Amsterdam is getting more and more restricted. However, most people in Amsterdam still find logic and happiness in parking their bikes within a maximum of two meters of the place where they need to be. That means on the pavement, blocking everything in its path, or leaning against the shop window.
The Parking Rules of Amsterdam
- Don’t imitate the bad habits of the locals. After parking, look at it: is it not obstructing a pathway?
- Don’t park and lock your bike to a bridge.
- Don’t put your bike in a parking space for cars. The bicycle may end up in the canal if you do.
- Use the bike racks and designated areas to place your bike in Amsterdam. Especially around Central Station, main squares and markets there are limitations. Look for free underground parking.
- Parking areas in the center often have restrictions on the time you may park your bike: from 2 to 6 weeks. It will be signposted.
The hated Bike Depot of Amsterdam
If you placed your bike where it is not allowed, your bike may have been taken away by the city council. Sometimes there will be a warning but usually, it will just have disappeared without a trace.
If you are lucky and remember what your bike looked like, where it was parked and on what exact day it disappeared, you may retrieve your bicycle (paying €22,50 or €56,25) at the Bicycle Depot (‘fietsdepot), far, far away, or, as Amsterdam people consider it: bike hell. It could also be stolen, of course.