I don’t own a bike at home so I never thought that biking—or cycling as they call it—would be my main mode of transportation when I visited the Netherlands (in fact, it was the best part of the trip!). See, when you’re riding a bike in a country where separate roads for bikes are everywhere and cars actually wait patiently for bikers to pass, it’s literally a foreign experience. I felt protected; it wasn’t scary at all to ride alongside cars, but I honestly didn’t enjoy biking in Amsterdam since it’s a more heavily trafficked city—lots of people, lots of cars, lots of bikers. I spent more time in The Hague where it was less crazy.
Did You Know? Cycling is a common mode of transportation in the Netherlands and there’re more bikes than people in Amsterdam.
As a pedestrian:
Look both ways before crossing the bike lane.
It’s not the cars that you have to watch out for, it’s the bikes. Look both ways before crossing the bike lane and then look again because sometimes those bikers can come out of nowhere with the speeds that they’re going (it ain’t tourist cruising speeds). This is especially true in more heavily trafficked areas like Amsterdam where throngs of bikers dominate the roadways.
Don’t stand in the bike lane.
Ring! Ring! Get out the way! There’s a place for pedestrians and that’s on the sidewalk, not in the bike lane. You’ll know what a bike lane looks like because it’s marked with lines and a bike symbol between the main road and sidewalk. In some areas, all you’ll see are straight lines of tarmac. Don’t walk in the bike lanes or stand in the bike lane trying to figure out where you need to go because someone will get hurt if you don’t pay attention.
As a biker:
Bike on the “right” side of the road.
Bike paths are generally one way and follow the flow of traffic (the Dutch drive on the right). Sometimes you’ll find two-way bike lanes that’ll be marked with arrows in opposite directions. Make space and bike in single-file to allow mopeds (there’re allowed in the bike lanes) and faster bikers to pass.
Follow the bike lane signal.
In some busy intersections, you’ll find separate signals for pedestrians and bikers (I never figured out why they don’t go at the same time if they’re going the same direction). Pay attention to tram signals that alert bikers to stop for oncoming trams crossing the road ahead.
Learn hand signals.
Avoid altercations involving other bikes by learning basic bike hand signals. Stick your left arm straight out to your left with palms down to turn left and your right arm straight out to your right with palms down to turn right. If you need to pull over onto the sidewalk, point down at an angle to let others know where you’re going.
Watch out for tram lines.
If there’s one thing I was scared of, it’s those tram lines that’re the perfect fit for your bike tires to potentially get stuck in and fling you off your bike and onto oncoming traffic. The tip here is to ride over them in an angle.
Lock your bike (and remember which one is yours).
Locking your bike is a two-step thing and someone at the rental shop will show you how it’s done. One, you lock the wheel and two, you chain it to something. Don’t leave your key in the lock and be mindful of where you locked it.
Where to Rent Bikes
I know a lot of other travel blogs say to “blend in” with the locals and avoid those red, touristy MacBikes you’ll find in Amsterdam, but I have no shame in my tourist game and proudly rode one in a “watch-out-for-me, I’m-new-here-and-I-apologize-in-advance-if-I’m-doing-this-wrong” kind of way. And if you’re exploring The Hague, I recommend Rijwielshop Centraal (Lekstraat 21-25, 2515 XA Den Haag, Netherlands) near the train station.