6 tips for cycling in Amsterdam

The Dutch are easygoing about most things but poor cycling habits isn't one of them. Russell Shorto tells you how to bike like a local... and stay out of trouble

8 mins

1. Don't cycle on sidewalks

However, note that the bicycle paths in the city (where you should cycle) look a lot like sidewalks. The difference is the bike paths are red, or rust-coloured, or sort of the colour of a typical Amsterdammer who has spent five hours in the Mediterranean sun.

2. Use your hands

Signal turns clearly. It can be a casual gesture, and you'll notice that people have developed distinctive ways of using their arms in traffic, almost as if bicycle etiquette has become an extension of personality.

3. If you come to the Rijksmuseum, cycle right through it

After ten long years, the museum's wondrous bicycle tunnel is again open. There is nothing that speaks to Amsterdam's elementally bike-friendly culture so much as the fact that its grand and imposing art/history museum lets you roll right through it.

4. When you're done, chain your bike to something fixed, preferably a bike rack

Though most Amsterdammers are probably unaware of it, it is actually technically illegal to chain your bike to anything other than a bike rack: for example, to the rail of a bridge. Periodically the police will enforce the law and sweep an area of all bikes not properly chained.

5. Protect yourself

Note that you will discover many Amsterdammers who ignore all of the above dos and don'ts. Laxity is part of the culture (see, eg, the coffee shops and the red light districts). But, seriously, in a city where 40% of all transport takes place by bike, where bicycle parking garages hold thousands of bikes and morning rush hour can be as maddeningly choked with bikes as with cars, you gotta protect yourself.

6. Observe how Amsterdammers do just about everything on a bicycle

I once saw a woman who had five kids attached to her bike, flying down the road. My favorite thing to watch someone carrying on a bike is... another bike!

Amsterdam - Russell ShortoRussell Shorto is an American author with a deep, abiding love for Amsterdam. His latest book, Amsterdam: A history of the world's most liberal city, can be ordered now on Amazon.

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