Ever since moving to Amsterdam I have been amazed by the cycling skills of those living there. Bringing your groceries, your two children and your bag through the whole city while wearing high heels and under the rain is no joke. Ever since then I have always wondered, how are there not many accidents with all these bikes going up and forth? Simple, there are cycling rules. Among the most common cycling rules there are in Amsterdam we have:
- Stay in your lane
- No bike lane? Follow the cars
- Never cycle on the pavement
- Turn on the Lights
- Give a Sign to Turn
- Bikes Have Priority
- Keep An Eye on the Traffic
- No Phone
- You Can Play Music
- Hands on the Handlebar
- You are Allowed to take Passenger on the Bike
- Bike Bell
- No Helmet
- Park it Right
There are many more urban rules you may want to know or questions about all the ones I have mentioned in the list. Cycling in Amsterdam can be scary, but once you get used to it you will end up enjoying it, adrenaline is addictive!:)
Keep reading this post if you want to get to know the cycling Amsterdam rules and my tips to make it smoother.
Cycling Rules in Amsterdam
I guess the same rules that would apply in Amsterdam apply to all the Netherlands. I have experience with my bike in several other parts of the country and the rules are pretty universal, but one thing is for sure, in order to survive in the jungle you should follow the rules. These are some of the basic ones:
Stay in your lane
When you arrive in the Netherlands you will see that between the road and the pavement there is a third line, a bike lane, made only for them. If you want to know more about when these lanes were constructed or why I recommend you reading my article on Why there are so many bikes in Amsterdam. This bike lane is broad enough for two cyclists, generally, it follows the same idea as cars. If cars ride on the right side of the roads, so do bikes. If there are two-lane stay on the right one while you are cycling. In your own right lane there is normally enough space for two bikes to circulate, so you should always stay the closest to the right you possibly can to allow other cyclists to go faster. Just like driving a car! It has been proved that having bike lanes reduces the number of accidents and also encourage cyclist in Amsterdam to grab their bikes because they feel safe!
No bike lane? Follow the cars
If there is no bike lane on the road you are cycling on, there is no need to change the road. This is going to happen in most of the small streets in the center of Amsterdam and probably you will see cyclist just going through them. This is because you have the right to circulate on any road following the same rules cars follow. Take into account that only one bike at the time can go on a road, always following a line, even when there is more space.
Never cycle on the pavement
Imagine if all the bikes in Amsterdam would just start circulating on the pavement. This would be any pedestrian’s nightmare. Of course, there are some very few exceptions but the general rule is NO bikes on the pavement, no excuse. This would be a reason to get a fine, something Dutch police takes very seriously.
Turn on the Lights
Yes, you do need lights. This is another one of those rules Dutch police takes seriously. You are expected to have a white or yellow light hanging on the front of your bike and a red one on the back of it. Of course some people don’t have them, but police make regular checks on strategic parts of the city and you may be fined 55 euros for each missing light and 35 euros for not having reflectors. One of the many reasons you get fined in Amsterdam. You can buy these lights almost everywhere. The easiest way would be getting them on an AH, HEMA or one of the many drugstores such as Kruidvat.
Give a Sign to Turn
This is compulsory if you don’t want to generate an accident. If you know you want to stop or you need to turn right or left on the road, like cars, you should indicate it. How? With your hands or extending your arm in the direction, you want to turn. Simple and efficient!
Bikes have Priority
This is how it works: first bikes, then cars, then pedestrians. If you are cycling you have to be respected by cars, who always have to stop for you to cross, but you don’t always have to stop for pedestrians, unless you want to. This can be shocking at the beginning because being on a bike is not a priority in most countries in the world, but you have all the right in the Netherlands.
Keep An Eye on the Traffic
Even though you have priority, you don’t have to forget to respect all the traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and the rest of the traffic in general. It is very important to be aware of everything that is going on to avoid an accident. At the beginning can be a little confusing, having so many traffic lights, so many signs, so many individuals walking, streets under construction and someone who is on a rush and makes you feel extra nervous. But like driving, in the end everybody can handle it, so can you.
To be aware of what is going on you should probably avoid checking your phone while cycling. It is not only a friendly advice but a law. Since earlier this year you are breaking the law if using your phone while cycling. The fine for mobile-using is 95 euros. For years it has been illegal to use your phone while driving for safety reasons and now that happens also when using your bike.
You Can Play Music
As long as you are not using your hands and holding your phone, you are allowed to play music. In several countries it is not allowed to drive with headphones, but in Amsterdam you are fully allowed to cycling with your headphones on. You have to be extra careful to hear the bells and other signs but it is allowed. If you have headphones you can also be on a call, as long as you have your hands free to cycle and indicate if you are turning and so on, that is not a problem.
Hands on the Handlebar
If you are like me it may surprise you that Dutch don’t seem to need their hands to use their bikes. If you are like me not using them is not an option. However, if you are very brave and good at cycling, it is still not allowed to go hands-free on your bike. You may also be stopped by the police if you are caught doing it: they tend to be on bridges and strategic positions where they can make you stop without interrupting the traffic and most of the times you will be able to convince them that you are innocent. At least by speaking English they will believe you didn’t know about Dutch rules!
You are Allowed to take Passenger on the Bike
Also children! So, you are allowed to bring anything anyone you want on your bike, as long as it fits. Adults have no specific rules but there are some requirements when taking children. If you have a child on your bike it has to be in one of the specific seats that have seat bells and that are designed for children, either on the front or on the back of your bike. If the child is on the front, you will need a wind cover in front of the bike. You can bring up to two children according to the Dutch law but I have seen brave moms with three of them. Incredible, right?
It is not compulsory but very recommended. If you are going to adventure on the bike jungle of Amsterdam, you may want to get your hands on a bell. They have them on most souvenir shops, supermarkets and in any of the hundreds of bikes shops you will find all over the city. With tourists walking and taking photos everywhere and bikes coming from every corner, I can tell you by experience that you will end up using your bike A LOT.
If you insist, you can wear it, but I haven’t seen one cyclist wearing a helmet on my three years living here. It is not compulsory and it is not necessary. You are not allowed to speed up and if you do it is you taking your own risk. Streets are flat and there are traffic regulations, no need to wear a helmet if you are an adult. Children may or may not want to wear one, also not compulsory.
Park it Right
Throughout the whole city there are hundreds of parking spots for your bike. The bike parking loads are strictly and steadily fixed and restored for cyclist to have an easy access to them. A lot of shops have their own, there are public parking in front and inside all the train stations and streets have special spaces for bikes to be left there. The better park your bike is, the lower the chances for it to be stolen or removed. If your bike is properly parked, there will be cameras around those streets and parking spaces, so less chances to tempt anyone who wants to get your bike. If your bike is parked in the wrong place you also take the risk of it being removed by the Gemeente (City Hall). There are special squads who check bikes, give fines to those bikes parked in the wrong place or for a long period of time and remove the the bikes if they need too. This means that tif you want to claim your bike you will have to pay for it, same as a car. When in doubt, follow the rest.
My Experience as a Cyclist
As I was saying, I have cycled all along the Netherlands and Amsterdam has been without a doubt a real challenge. It is true that it is fun and the best way to go around but also stressful and dangerous if you don’t follow the rules. I have learned a couple of things since the first time I cycled there, so here they are for you:
- Careful with trams: I know everybody says that you have priority if you are on a bike, but trams are a real dangers enemy. Trams are all over the city centre of Amsterdam and their drivers have to constantly be taking care of pedestrians, tourists who are taking photos in the middle of the street, traffic lights and also bikes. Be careful with them!
- Also careful with tram rails: this is something very silly but very true. Tram rails have the perfect size for your tires to get stuck on them. It is something to consider when crossing them or cycling along the rails. I have heard of some accidents happening because of this, something to consider.
- Avoid peak hours: avoid them or live the whole true experience! I would recommend you not to go for a ride between 7am and 8am or between 5 and 7pm if you don’t have to. Cycling on peak hours is a real nightmare, everybody is busy, on a rush, not being careful and angry for no reason.
- In case of doubt, imitate the Dutch: this is my best tip. Do this with absolutely everything, if you don’t know what to do, how to cross, there is no indication and you have no clue, wait for a Dutch to arrive and follow them. This is how I learned all these rules and many more useful things.
- Careful with tourists: no, they are not gonna move because you rang the bell and no, they don’t care if they are walking on the bike path, they probably didn’t even notice them. It is something very stressful but a reality of living in such a touristic city.
- Avoid theft: the only thing likely to be stolen in the Netherlands is your bike. In any case, since Amsterdam is a big city, you have to be careful with everything, but more so with bikes. I recommend you getting two locks, or a lock and a chain. It is a little bit of an investment but there are certain areas of the city where you would be grateful to have locked your bike twice.
- Careful with scooters: they believe they are bikes but they are not. You have to keep an eye on them. Even thought there is a new legislation that doesn’t allow scooters to circulate in certain bike lanes in the city, some of them keep doing it. So be extra careful with them.
Dutch Cycling Signs
In the Netherlands you will find as many signs for cyclists as there are for drivers. Some of them are pretty international and will ring a bell to you for sure, but some others have some special Dutch connotations. I have never studied them and like most traffic signs, they are pretty intuitive. However, if you want to get to know them or you are curious about them, take a look at them:
The more sort of “Dutch” signs that you will see on every bike lane and almost every corner of every street in the Netherlands are for a mandatory use of the bike lane, where there are also scooters allow to circulate there, where you may or may not use the bike lane, where bikes can enter and cars no, where you can park your bike and where not and who has priority when.
To Sum Up
In case of doubt when cycling in Amsterdam, stop the bike to check your phone and read this article, we don’t want you to get a fine. If you are cycling just follow someone who looks Dutch and do what they do unless it looks dangerous. Careful with tourists, they are everywhere! And, of course, use your bell as much as you need it, follow the traffic signs and take traffic lights for bikes very serious (those that tend to be closer to bike lanes and bike shaped).