As Easy as Riding a Fiets
By Melinda Kujawa
The city of Amsterdam is one of the most densely populated places on earth, but has considerably cleaner air than other European cities. Perhaps it is because of the number of bikes in the city. There are roughly 700,000 people living in Amsterdam, but over 1 million bikes (twice as many bikes as cars). So if you are coming to Amsterdam a bike may be your best mode of transportation. Knowing a few simple rules will help make the ride less dangerous and in more cases than one, less embarrassing.
1. If you have not biked in a while, the city streets might not be the best place to practice. Luckily, Amsterdam is equipped with parks like Vondelpark which is over 100 acres with paved biking trails and spectacular scenery. It is the perfect place to practice your balance and hand signals (point left to go left, point right to go right). Hand signals should be used before you start slowing down to allow those behind you to react appropriately.
2. All bikes come equipped with a bell. They should only be used to alert other bikers that you need to pass or notify walkers to clear the bike path to avoid harm. You will find this happens frequently as visitors of the city are staring up at the buildings or down into maps and generally not paying attention.
3. There are miles of tram tracks that stretch throughout the city that trams easily glide on. These tracks are also a perfect fit for the bike wheel. Getting caught in one may be a sure way to ruin your bike trip. Make sure to cross them at a sharp angle to avoid getting thrown free from the bike.
4. Because of the number of bikers in Amsterdam there are traffic lights made just for them. They are lower than the regular traffic lights, but have the same green/yellow/red color pattern. You can generally tell them apart by the bike stencil on the light. Not obeying these lights can get you pulled over by the police and ticketed, not to mention run over.
5. There are over 9,000 miles of bike paths (fietspad) in the Netherlands. Signs are usually posted to notify you it is a bike path, but be aware that mopeds are also allowed on these paths and they can catch you off guard in a moments notice. Also know that there are a few streets and squares in the city where bikes aren’t allowed including Leidsestraat and Rembrandtplein.
6. When meeting another bike or car in an intersection the person on the right has the right away. This rule is not always followed so just because it is right doesn’t mean it always happens so be cautious.
7. Amsterdam has a rainfall of over 30 inches annually. That’s only a few inches shy of Seattle’s average. Biking through the rain can be treacherous, but a few simple tips will keep you on the streets. Make sure you can ride one handed; the other arm will be in a locked position holding an umbrella. When going through puddles pull your feet up and tuck them in as close to the body as possible to ensure your shoes stay dry. Make sure you are going at a speed that will carry you to the end. Balance is important at this point because you will be riding with only one limb attached to the bicycle.
8. There are more bikes stolen annually in Amsterdam than in any other city in the world- about 80,000. An equally horrible fate for your bike is being one of the over 20,000 that are thrown into the canals per year. Lock your bike up with at least two locks, firmly attached to something sturdy.
9. In most places pedestrians have the right of way. Here in Amsterdam it is an unwritten rule that bikers reign supreme. With the use of your bell, you become the one in charge. Walkers jump to get out of your way for fear of being run over. Don’t be the rude biker, but feel confident that you are in charge.
10. Biking in Amsterdam can be a fun experience. The city is astonishingly flat which makes it rather easy. Pay attention to where you are and where you are going. Lastly, remember you are riding in Amsterdam; the city where cannabis is tolerated so many other bikers may not be paying attention…at all.