“The locals hate tourists on bicycles.” It is a discouraging introduction from our Amsterdam cycling guide, as the rain pelts down mercilessly on our waterproof ponchos. 

“Whatever you do don’t stop in the middle of the bike path and get in an Amsterdam cyclist’s way. They are on their way to work or home and they mean business. They hate tourists who get in their way.”

Yes I think you mentioned that previously.

Amsterdam Cycling

How bad can it really be? We smile at each other thinking our Amsterdam cycling tour guide is exaggerating. After all we are experienced cyclists, having ridden bicycles in countries like Peru and South Africa. 

The Netherlands capital has over 515 kilometers (320 miles) of cycling paths. Isn’t Amsterdam considered one of the most bike friendly cities in the world?

Interested in learning more about Amsterdam? Read this. 

Crooked Amsterdam Buildings – To Lean or Not to Lean

Amsterdam Cycling – Stay in your bike lane

Our Amsterdam bike tour group huddles near our leader, listening intently, as water drips steadily from our cold fingers, clutching bike handlebars. 

“Now I want the tallest person in the very back so I will be able to see where the group ends.”

Possibly just before a tram or irate Dutch cyclist runs him over.

“Whatever you do don’t get your bicycle tire stuck in a tram track.”

If you do prepare to abandon ship, or bike in this case, and run for your life, is my interpretation of the instructions. 

“Stay in the cycle lane and don’t go out of it. Just watch for the signs.”

That seems easy enough. Unless buckets of water fall from the sky, turning my gigantic hood into a blindfold. 

Forget the hood. I think I will need to be able to see to survive.

Cycling in Amsterdam rain

There are several types of designated cycling lanes (fietspad) throughout the city. Our Amsterdam cycling tour weaves from the paths marked on roads, to those separated by a barrier, from the pavement.

I am a big fan of having more than six inches of space between myself and impatient drivers of vehicles. 

There is no waving or smiling at Amsterdam bikes being ridden by tourists. More like eye-twitching tolerance. 

Our guide rides the maze of Amsterdam bike routes seamlessly. We drenched cycling ducks follow as best we can, trying to stay out of the way of muttering local Amsterdam cyclists.

The leader of the soppy group glances backwards frequently. Likely looking to see if the tallest rider at the end of the line requires an ambulance.

Amsterdam bike tour

Amsterdam bike tour

Should I wear a helmet cycling in Amsterdam?

When searching for bike rental Amsterdam, may we suggest this be one of your first questions. 

“Excuse me does your Amsterdam bike shop include helmets with bike rentals?”

For many of us in North America, the concept of keeping our brain intact while cycling is a standard practice. Not so here. Amsterdam bike routes are the busiest we have witnessed in the world. Not a bicycle helmet to be seen.

Our advice is this. If Amsterdam cycling is in your future, wear a helmet. You may have to bring your own. We did not have helmets with us and made the assumption the Amsterdam bike shop would have them for rent. 

Amsterdam Bike Theft – Hang on to your ride

Amsterdam traffic

Estimates are that 200 bikes a day are stolen in Amsterdam. 

Our guide tells us no local would ever park an expensive bike in a public area.

“What about using a lock?” I ask.

“Oh they just cut it off. That’s why you see such ‘junky’ bicycles everywhere. That way they won’t get stolen, and if they do no one cares.” 

Our guide goes on to tell us her expensive bike was stolen the previous year. Months later she sees her bike. When she confronts the thief, he quickly apologizes. Explaining how he has fixed a problem with the bicycle chain, as if that might appease her, he also offers to buy her a beer.

She declines.

“A lot of bikes also are thrown in the canals.” 

Over 12,000 a year I read later. That seems like a serious mischief problem.

Did I mention I thought I understood Amsterdam to be one of the friendliest cycling cities in the world?

Don’t drink and ride your bike in Amsterdam

Amsterdam may be known for its liberal views on lifestyle choices, but riding your bicycle while under the influence is illegal. 

Our guide surmises that some of the Amsterdam bikes in the canals are courtesy of riders  who are so drunk they accompany their bikes into the water.

Do not pee sign on canal

Besides the legal issue, managing to stay in the correct lane, without running over selfie snapping tourists or being flattened by an electric scooter, requires one to be alert.

I suggest saving the beer for the celebration that you lived to tell the tale of your bike ride in Amsterdam.

Tips for Cycling in Amsterdam

It is not often we suggest to avoid an activity, but rather than cycling in Amsterdam, we suggest you book a guided tour with a bike shop in Amsterdam, for a bike tour outside of the city. Think tulip fields and windmills rather than hissing locals while weaving through the mobs of pedestrian tourists.

If you truly want to do a bicycle rental within the city, research out Amsterdam guided tours. At least the guide will be watching for you should you have an altercation with a pedestrian, cyclist, automobile, tram or all of the above.

city scene Netherlands

Amsterdam guided tours are the best way to cycle busy streets

Unless you are having a heart attack do not stop in the middle of the path. 

Don’t wear headphones. You will need to hear what is going on around you. This includes the irritation in the voice of the local Amsterdam bike riders.

Stick to the designated cycling lanes. No exceptions.

Do not buy a bike off the street. If a deal is too good to be true you are likely buying a stolen bike. Amsterdam bike theft is big business.

Cross any tram track at an angle so your Amsterdam bicycle doesn’t wedge itself between the tracks as if instantly super-glued in place.

Keep smiling. Your Amsterdam bicycle experience will be one to remember.

Smiling cyclist

Bike ride Amsterdam style

Have you visited Amsterdam?