Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Cycling in Amsterdam

The hoards of tourists are descending upon us in Amsterdam for the summer season.
Seven years ago, I was a tourist too, and I still have the scars. This year however, there seems to be more tourists than ever and, possibly, stupider than ever.
The stupidest tourists are the ones who walk. The second stupidest are the ones on bikes.

If you know how to cycle, or at least can keep your balance while you actually move yourself forward faster than walking speed, by all means - rent a bicycle in Amsterdam. It is the best way to see the town that really isn't that big. Cycling in Amsterdam is an experience. It is also beautiful.

If you do not know how to cycle, or you have not cycled since you were five - DO NOT cycle in Amsterdam. The traffic is not for for the faint hearted, and by traffic I mean cycling traffic. If you are attempting to drive in Amsterdam, remember you have no rights, no right of way, no right to pass, no right to the road, there are no demands that you can make. Cars in Amsterdam have only obligations! The primary obligation is that you must always let bicyclists pass regardless where they come from. (Cars other than taxis that is. We are all scared of the taxis.)

If you know how to cycle, and you also know general traffic rules, you will be fine.
By all means rent a bicycle, and get a really low bike so that we know from far away that you are an amateur bicyclist.  If you are German, do wear your bicycle helmet. If you are not, and not in full bicycle racing gear, don't. (Several people die in bicycle traffic in Amsterdam every year, so this social restriction is a bit unfortunate but there it is.)
But most importantly: follow the traffic rules. It is easy.

Cycle on the bicycle path.

That means cycle on the effing bicycle path and it includes that you only cycle on the bicycle path. You do not ever stop on the bicycle path. Don't walk on it. Not even with your bike. Don't ever stop with your bike on the bicycle path. (Also don't stop with your bike on a bridge, a corner, a crossing, a tram stop, or any other place where other bicyclists are trying to get past.) Don't even cross a bicycle path walking slowly.

Keep the speed when cycling on the bicycle path. If you want to cycle slowly, get of the bicycle path and ride on the foot path. (Yes, I know, but if you are that slow, people will manoeuvre around you.)

Look where the hell you are going! Don't look at your friend. Don't look at the view. Don't use the camera. Most importantly, don't look at your phone. Not while riding a bike. Not unless you know what you are doing. And you don't. You're a tourist.

Remember that the bicycle path in Amsterdam is actually a motorway. We cycle everywhere, in any weather, every day and we know where we are going. We are not enjoying ourselves. We are going somewhere and you are in the way. Yes, you are. Always. By definition.
You do not stop in the middle of the motorway to wait for your friend, do you? (If you do, don't be surprised if you get physically hit by other bicyclists). And if you do, you must stop to the right on the path, never on the left.
And for crying out loud, cycle on the right hand side of the bicycle path, also when narrow, so we can get past you without pushing you in the canal. Don't hang left, don't cycle in pairs, don't wobble, and never ever ride in the middle.
If you don't know where you are going, get off the bicycle path. Quickly.
And watch out for the buses, trams, tram tracks, and the never ending road works.
Simple rules really.

If you leave your bike somewhere, lock it. Lock and chain it. Through the front wheel, frame and something fixed. Use two chains if you need to. Don't ever park you bike in places where nobody else has parked their bike. If there is space for your bikes, is usually because THE BIKE IS IN THE WAY AND YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE STUPID ENOUGH NOT TO REALISE. Park in the bicycle parking stands. They are everywhere.
Oh, you think the bicycle parking stand is full? No it isn't.
An Amsterdam bicycle parking stand is only ever full for amateurs (or the ones with nice, expensive bikes). Our bikes are huge, steel framed work horses that survive anything. We usually just shove it in there. A bicycle stand always has room for one more bike - mine.
Don't chain your bike to the public urinals. (Or if you do - and I still know who you are - don't be insulted when somebody tries to tell you and then really do not be insulted when a drunk shoves past you to go piss on your bike from inside the urinal. While you still are sitting down working on the chain lock. Yes, you did!)

Sure, Amsterdammers also makes mistakes in traffic, but it is not these mistakes. There are many very tiny, sometimes invisible, small signs used between cyclists that enable fast cycling through town without hitting each others bike - not very often at least.

If you are so stupid that you walk on the bicycle path, or step out into the path, or cross it without giving way to the passing bicyclists, we will (and that is not only I and it is most certainly not that we may do it), WE WILL ride into you to teach you a lesson.
Or we will hit you with the handlebars as we pass you to teach you a lesson. Or with the bicycle cases or the huge crates we have attached on our bikes only for this purpose.
We most certainly will violently ring our bike bells at you. If that not clearly enough expresses how stupid we think you are for walking on or into the bicycle path, we might also shout verbal insults at you. They will wish you ill-health and be mostly in Dutch. However, most of us are multi-lingual and we may even stop and in your own language insult your lack of intelligence, just so you understand how stupid we think you are for walking on the bike path. Or shake a fist at you. (Less common, but not impossible if you are really stupid, you might be spit on.) Sometimes, we will ring the bike bells even if you have not even done anything, because we want to get your attention and stop you from walking out in front of us. Because you will. You all do. You are all stupid. And we don't have the energy to tell you. Not all of you. Not every day.

That is why the police who will fine you for causing bicycle traffic accidents. They also can take your bicycle away from you, also if rented, and ban you from cycling in Amsterdam. Or they should. Some of you are really not safe to let out into traffic on you own. And in groups you are even worse. 

Do come to Amsterdam, enjoy the rudeness and please don't leave until you have had at least one angry bicyclist ring the bell at you. At least that is what I think you all aim for.


  1. I guess I can cross "cycling in Amsterdam" off my bucket list.

    1. Practice a bit at home and then come third week in February. There are less tourists then. II'll take you around, protect you. It will still be beautiful.

  2. my goodness! I thought bicycling in the Atlanta, GA area was tough. People in cars really resent bicyclists and are pretty scary. My husband has been hit once; no injury to him, thank goodness, but his bike was totaled. If I am ever lucky enough to get to Amsterdam, I will print out this post to take with me, but I will be a walker, a very cautious walker!

    1. You could also just rent a little boat and see the town from the canals. No experience needed. Bikes rule the roads in Amsterdam.

  3. This post is everything. It should be in a no BS travel guide.

    1. It should be handed out at the airport.
      Also, don't cross the road on red. It is green from somewhere else and you don't know from where!