I wrote an introduction to this topic a while back. Now that I’ve established sort of a blog framework, highlighting the essence and cherries of cycling in Amsterdam (and the Netherlands), I’d like to actually act on what I promised: giving the out-of-towners a few handy (and probably life/face saving) tips before they hop on and venture into the city on their own.
However quaint and lovely this Amsterdam looks, don’t be fooled. When it comes to riding around town, you need to be overly aware of all modes of traffic that swiftly move around everyday and share this extremely compact city:
Ok, the first rule of this series obviously has to do with you, the newbie, the guest, the cycling visiteur being among others. Those ‘others’ would be us, the locals, going from A to B, to C, D, Z and back, ziggedyzag. Day by day, for every errand, for every task, for any venture, we take our bikes and we rule. Mind you, it’s in our blood, we don’t consider it a culture or something quaint. It’s there, we use it, period. We don’t know any better.
First, there’s one important thing I’d like to get out of the way. When you visit and you decide to cycle around, do me and yourself a favor, forget ALL that you think you know about (city) cycling. Why? Because your preconceptions and experiences from home will cloud your judgement. Open your mind, get a grip, try to understand this…in this town you are Nr 1. Yes, YOU, on the bike, are Number 1. Not just for ‘green’ coolness and efficiency, no. 99% of the time you have right of way, cars will be mindful, stop, etc, because drivers are cyclists too. Plus, by law, no matter what mistake you make as a cyclist, you can not be faulted. Aka, in any circumstance, no matter what happens, the car driver will be liable for prosecution for not being careful enough. How’s that, huh? (Just be aware of the speedy trams)
I’m well aware that Amsterdam has its perks and while you’re pumped up about being in this mythical and notorious town, nothing’s seems more fun than mixing up some doobies with a few drinks and then ride the red monster. For argument’s sake, let me disregard that daring prospect for now and deal with it later in another Unwritten Cycle Rule.
Rule #1 is aimed at those that are:
For most tourists Amsterdam can be overwhelming, disorienting, strange, weird/quirky, unexpecting and a lot of other things. And that’s fine, would be weird if it was anything else, right? The last thing you want to do, as a newbie Amsterdam cyclist, is not appreciate these facts and let them sink into your brain. Unfamiliar grounds, people, traffic, situations, sounds, smells, etc etc.
So, before you mount the (rented) bicycle, be honest with yourself:
If you think you didn’t score that well and you’re still being honest, then we’re on to something. A lot of those millions of tourists that have been so bold to discover this town by bike weren’t so honest. I’d know, I’ve seen them fail, put themselves in harm’s way and basically give tourists a bad name (among the locals).
But I don’t want to spook you…because that would be bad, there’s enough bike related fear mongering going on in this world already. I want you to have fun, without having to worry too much about whether it’s safe or not. The activity of biking in itself is harmless, you’ve just been brainwashed and violated a lot in the course of your life, because nobody provided you with the habitat to do so.
When I talk about Amsterdam’s bike infrastructure, I don’t mean we painted a few lines on the road. No, I’m talking about actual bike lanes, signs, traffic lights, roundabouts, intersections, parking garages, designated hubs, the works. All part of making a city for the people, not cars. And, no, we didn’t implement that for tourists, what did you think this place is, Disneyland? :-)
Hence, regarding biking in Amsterdam, you could take these easy pointers to heart:
What I’ve tried to address in this first rule and its pointers is the fact that you need to be aware of 2 important phenomenons:
Amsterdamizer Alan added his words of advice as well:
As a non-native that has lived and obviously cycled in Amsterdam, can I add a couple of points?
However much youâ€™ve looked at a map or Google Earth the reality on the ground can look confusing with the compact, concentric layout and bits of water everywhere:-)
If youâ€™re not going to be following the Amsterdamizer around (or even if you are..):
Wander around on foot with a map for a while in the area youâ€™re going to first cycle in, and watch how the practical bits of the bike structure works. Try and memorise a little route round for a first run, itâ€™s one less worry if you vaguely know where youâ€™re going.
Then off you go, and remember thereâ€™s probably a lot more zigging and zagging than in any other city youâ€™ve ever cycled in.
Oh, and make sure the bell on your bike works properly, and keep your thumb near it. Youâ€™ll soon discover why!
Now Iâ€™m even more envious Iâ€™m not back there..:-(
Thanks, Alan! And as a final ‘instruction’, watch this ride:
Stay tuned for Amsterdamize’s Unwritten Cycle Rule #2!