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10 Observations About Bicycling in Amsterdam 51

Cycling in Amsterdam

Bicycles in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

While visiting Amsterdam on my recent trip to Europe, I made some observations about cycling around the Dutch capital. Here are my top ten observations:

10. The locals have little patience for tourists walking on the cycle path

Cycling in Amsterdam

Bicycles in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

The locals of Amsterdam would like their sacred cycle paths to be treated like roads, not like sidewalks. Rightfully so, they fought hard to get those cycle paths, so they aren’t about to let pedestrians take them over.

Thus, if you are a wandering tourist and you don’t look before stepping on the cycle path, you will most likely get a dirty look, a bell, or a comment from a passing cyclist.

9. Nobody wears helmets or neon vests

Cycling in Amsterdam

Bicycles in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

This is an obvious one, but worth re-iterating. Cycling in Amsterdam feels safe enough that people don’t feel compelled to wear helmets or neon vests.

The only exception to this is the odd cyclist out on a training ride. These cyclists do exist, but I only spotted about two or three of these compared to the thousands of children and adults riding in regular clothes and helmet-free.

If helmets and “cycle clothing” were a pre-requisite to cycling in Amsterdam, there certainly wouldn’t be as many cyclists in Amsterdam. Amsterdam cyclists dress for the destination, not the journey.

8. Marc from Amsterdamize is a good tour guide

Cycling in Amsterdam

Marc from Amsterdamize – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Our friend Marc from Amsterdamize took my wife and I out on a Sunday morning for what I called the “Amsterdam hangover bike tour”.

Indeed, the tour was enjoyable, and it included a skinny bridge, a windmill and delicious Dutch apple pie…

7. Cycle path etiquette is important

Cycling in Amsterdam

Woman with dog in basket signalling before turning in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Hand signals are part of the riding etiquette that most cyclists seem to follow in Amsterdam. There is also an expectation from other cyclists that you will keep clear of the cycle path if you are waiting at an intersection, allowing other cyclists to proceed unimpeded.

The common sense etiquette that appears in Amsterdam helps ensure riding in Amsterdam is smooth and conflict-free.

6. Age Is Not An Important Consideration

Cycling in Amsterdam

Woman in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

In Amsterdam, age doesn’t seem to be an important criterion for determining whether to use a bicycle or not. There are young children, elderly folks, and everyone in between who ride bicycles in Amsterdam.

5. Cyclists Get Direct Routes

Cycling in Amsterdam

Amsterdam direct passageway for cyclists’ convenience – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Cycling in Amsterdam

Amsterdam direct passageway for cyclists’ convenience – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Cycling in Amsterdam

Amsterdam direct passageway for cyclists’ convenience – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

In Amsterdam, cyclists and pedestrians are often granted direct routes that are inaccessible to cars. There are countless examples of these direct routes all over the city which help ensure that cycling is the most convenient mode of transportation in Amsterdam.

4. Not all streets allow passage for cars

Cycling in Amsterdam

Car-free street in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Streets that don’t allow cars are often important arterial roads for bicycles and public transit, and are often popular tourist destinations too. People naturally gravitate to car-free areas. The air smells better, it is quieter and safer.

Having said that, not all streets need to be car-free. Cars are important too, but Amsterdam seems to have a nice balance of streets that allow cars and streets that don’t.

3. No Dutch bike is built for just one person

Cycling in Amsterdam

A couple employing the side saddle position in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

In Amsterdam it is a common sight to see two or more people on a single bicycle. Adult passengers often do the “side saddle hop”, while young children most often use child seats or ride on cargo bikes.

Watch this instructional video from Amsterdamize on how to do the side saddle hop.

2. Talking on the phone or walking your dog while cycling is O.K.

Cycling in Amsterdam

Woman walking her dog in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Cycling in Amsterdam

Man talking on his phone in Amsterdam – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

In Amsterdam, talking on your phone while cycling is not frowned upon.

Unlike talking on your phone inside a car, doing it while cycling does not put people’s lives in danger. Especially when you ride cautiously like most cyclists who talk on their phones do in Amsterdam.

1. Scooters on cycle paths are bloody annoying

Cycling in Amsterdam

Scooter on the bike path – photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

Those smelly, loud, two-stroke scooters are all over Europe – especially in Italy where they seem to “own the streets”.

But nowhere are these machines more annoying than when they fly along the cycle path in Amsterdam at 40km/h dodging cyclists by mere centimetres.

Stay tuned for more articles in the coming days detailing my Amsterdam experience.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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51 thoughts on “10 Observations About Bicycling in Amsterdam

  1. Reply Octavian Mar 29, 2012 9:42 am

    We’ve got a long way to go. Gas prices are on the rise again though, which might bring more people out of their cars, if only for the summer months.

  2. Reply Octavian Mar 29, 2012 2:42 pm

    We’ve got a long way to go. Gas prices are on the rise again though, which might bring more people out of their cars, if only for the summer months.

  3. Reply Agustin Mar 29, 2012 5:52 pm

    How do locals deal with motorized scooters on cycle paths? We’re seeing that happening in Vancouver as well…

  4. Reply Agustin Mar 29, 2012 10:52 pm

    How do locals deal with motorized scooters on cycle paths? We’re seeing that happening in Vancouver as well…

  5. Reply D Web Mar 29, 2012 9:20 pm

    Hey James can you ask Marc when he’s going to update his website? His last post was before christmas.

    • Reply amsterdamize Mar 30, 2012 5:37 am

      Sorry for the big gap, D Web, it’s taken longer to finish building the new Amsterdamize platform (yes, not just a website) & other projects forced me to put postings on hold. I’m going to relaunch in the course of next week, so stay tuned.

  6. Reply D Web Mar 30, 2012 2:20 am

    Hey James can you ask Marc when he’s going to update his website? His last post was before christmas.

  7. Reply amsterdamize Mar 30, 2012 10:37 am

    Sorry for the big gap, D Web, it’s taken longer to finish building the new Amsterdamize platform (yes, not just a website) & other projects forced me to put postings on hold. I’m going to relaunch in the course of next week, so stay tuned.

  8. Reply Antinephalist Mar 30, 2012 9:32 am

    My wife and I went to Amsterdam last fall and we were just amazed by the cycle culture there. In fact, when we were cycling around the city and drivers were being polite and reasonable to us, obvious tourists on our rented Amsterdam cruisers, we found ourselves feeling suspicious and a little apprehensive. It’s just not like Toronto at all.

  9. Reply Antinephalist Mar 30, 2012 2:32 pm

    My wife and I went to Amsterdam last fall and we were just amazed by the cycle culture there. In fact, when we were cycling around the city and drivers were being polite and reasonable to us, obvious tourists on our rented Amsterdam cruisers, we found ourselves suspicious and a little apprehensive. It’s just not like Toronto at all.

  10. Reply Annie Mar 30, 2012 9:51 am

    My teens sometimes ride side saddle on the back of my bike if we’re on quiet streets. It’s easy and convenient and that way if I pick them up when they’re out somewhere we don’t have to walk the whole way back home. Wish it was legal in Toronto…

  11. Reply Annie Mar 30, 2012 2:51 pm

    My teens sometimes ride side saddle on the back of my bike if we’re on quiet streets. It’s easy and convenient and that way if I pick them up when they’re out somewhere we don’t have to walk the whole way back home. Wish it was legal in Toronto…

  12. Reply Bruce Apr 1, 2012 3:06 pm

    Seeing this makes one wonder why cycling infrastructure like Amsterdam’s is such a rarity. One question for you James: It looks like car ownership is pretty much an optional or lifestyle choice in Amsterdam. Assuming the cost of car ownership is similar to my city of Toronto, what are the people in Amsterdam doing with all the money they’re saving? Speaking for myself, living without the financial demands of a car have allowed me to buy a house on a single income and retire at 55. Amsterdam looks pretty affluent to me.

    • Reply James Schwartz Apr 2, 2012 8:50 am

      Hi Bruce,

      I’m fairly certain that owning a car in the Netherlands costs significantly more than in Canada. The average gas price in Amsterdam is $2.18/litre, and they pay high taxes on car purchases (45% of the list price of the vehicle according to this article: http://www.expatfocus.com/expatriate-netherlands-holland-driving – though I have heard it is much higher than that in the past).

      As to what the Dutch do with the money they save from driving less, I am fairly certain that the personal debt levels in the Netherlands are significantly lower than in Canada. Like the United States, Canada is swimming in personal debt. It’s quite scary and most people don’t even seem to realize how bad it has gotten. In Canada and the United States, the expectation is that if you can’t afford a car, it is your god given right to own one, so people will borrow significant amounts of money to buy cars.

      Also, a lot of those cargo bikes in Amsterdam would easily run $4,000 or higher, so the Dutch spend more on bicycles than people in other countries, but not needing a car makes it much easier to afford a quality bicycle.

      Cheers,
      James

    • Reply USbike Apr 2, 2012 7:41 pm

      I can’t speak for the Dutch specifically, but my good friends over in Denmark are car-free and every single year they travel to a foreign country for an extended vacation and then at least one other trip somewhere in Europe. Financially this is not an issue for them and with at least 5-weeks of govt-mandated vacation and it is being okay to take 3-4 weeks all in one shot in the summer, they can do all this. Very different living culture to NA indeed. And many of their friends and family members are able to do this. Education is also free all the way through grad. school so the kids won’t be spending a decade or two paying off loans and what not.

      Car ownership is very expensive in that country. There’s a 180% tax plus another 25% VAT. They certainly have the means to buy one, as many people do in Denmark, but by not doing so they are saving a LOT.

    • Reply JaccoW May 13, 2012 3:10 am

      Just to give you a quick rundown of cost:
      Buying a car: at least +25% comparing to prices in the U.S.
      Parking permit Amsterdam: €400 per year (city centre)
      Road tax: depending on wight, but €1000 a year for a 1500kg car on petrol, twice that for diesel.
      http://www.belastingdienst.nl/rekenhulpen/motorrijtuigenbelasting/
      Fuel: 4-5 times as expensive as the U.S.

      So for €1400 you have a car standing in front of your house, which can buy you a pretty nice bike.

      Where does all the money go? Living in Amsterdam. Those cute canal houses ‘grachtenpanden’ go for prices between €400.000 and €2.500.000.
      People need their loans to buy these houses.

  13. Reply Bruce Apr 1, 2012 8:06 pm

    Seeing this makes one wonder why cycling infrastructure like Amsterdam’s is such a rarity. One question for you James: It looks like car ownership is pretty much an optional or lifestyle choice in Amsterdam. Assuming the cost of car ownership is similar to my city of Toronto, what are the people in Amsterdam doing with all the money they’re saving? Speaking for myself, living without the financial demands of a car have allowed me to buy a house on a single income and retire at 55. Amsterdam looks pretty affluent to me.

  14. Reply James Schwartz Apr 2, 2012 1:50 pm

    Hi Bruce,

    I’m fairly certain that owning a car in the Netherlands costs significantly more than in Canada. The average gas price in Amsterdam is $2.18/litre, and they pay high taxes on car purchases (45% of the list price of the vehicle according to this article: http://www.expatfocus.com/expatriate-netherlands-holland-driving – though I have heard it is much higher than that in the past).

    As to what the Dutch do with the money they save from driving less, I am fairly certain that the personal debt levels in the Netherlands are significantly lower than in Canada. Like the United States, Canada is swimming in personal debt. It’s quite scary and most people don’t even seem to realize how bad it has gotten. In Canada and the United States, the expectation is that if you can’t afford a car, it is your god given right to own one, so people will borrow significant amounts of money to buy cars.

    Also, a lot of those cargo bikes in Amsterdam would easily run $4,000 or higher, so the Dutch spend more on bicycles than people in other countries, but not needing a car makes it much easier to afford a quality bicycle.

    Cheers,
    James

  15. Reply USbike Apr 3, 2012 12:41 am

    I can’t speak for the Dutch specifically, but my good friends over in Denmark are car-free and every single year they travel to a foreign country for an extended vacation and then at least one other trip somewhere in Europe. Financially this is not an issue for them and with at least 5-weeks of govt-mandated vacation and it is being okay to take 3-4 weeks all in one shot in the summer, they can do all this. Very different living culture to NA indeed. And many of their friends and family members are able to do this. Education is also free all the way through grad. school so the kids won’t be spending a decade or two paying off loans and what not.

    Car ownership is very expensive in that country. There’s a 180% tax plus another 25% VAT. They certainly have the means to buy one, as many people do in Denmark, but by not doing so they are saving a LOT.

  16. Reply alexwarrior Apr 2, 2012 9:34 pm

    I found the motorized scooters kinda neat. Was surprised to see them at first, but got used to them buzzing around.

  17. Reply alexwarrior Apr 3, 2012 2:34 am

    I found the motorized scooters kinda neat. Was surprised to see them at first, but got used to them buzzing around.

  18. Reply Dottie Apr 7, 2012 3:47 pm

    This was interesting to read. No matter how many photos I see, especially the lovely ones on Amsterdamize, I continue to be fascinated by cycling in Amsterdam. Hopefully I’ll get around to visiting one day.

  19. Reply Dottie Apr 7, 2012 8:47 pm

    This was interesting to read. No matter how many photos I see, especially the lovely ones on Amsterdamize, I continue to be fascinated by cycling in Amsterdam. Hopefully I’ll get around to visiting one day.

  20. Reply SueWithoutHelmet Apr 10, 2012 1:30 am

    one big ‘SIGH’ from me as I ponder my loss of driver’s licence and pending property seizure order over a lack of bicycle helmet and subsequent refusal to pay the Victims Compensation Levy because of aforementioned ‘lack of bicycle helmet’

  21. Reply SueWithoutHelmet Apr 10, 2012 6:30 am

    one big ‘SIGH’ from me as I ponder my loss of driver’s licence and pending property seizure order over a lack of bicycle helmet and subsequent refusal to pay the Victims Compensation Levy because of aforementioned ‘lack of bicycle helmet’

  22. Reply SueWithoutHelmet Apr 10, 2012 6:31 am

    oh goodie!!!!! x

  23. Reply James Schwartz Apr 10, 2012 2:49 pm

    Uggh, seriously Sue? Can you email me some details on what is at stake as it pertains to the “property seizure” portion of the charges? I’d like to get a post up on this to try to help raise some awareness on the ridiculousness of this law. james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com

  24. Reply the_lemur Apr 16, 2012 1:40 pm

    My understanding is that bike paths are generally open to mopeds or pedal-assisted motorbikes below a certain engine capacity. They are less of a problem on bike paths in less built-up areas.

  25. Reply the_lemur Apr 16, 2012 6:40 pm

    My understanding is that bike paths are generally open to mopeds or pedal-assisted motorbikes below a certain engine capacity. They are less of a problem on bike paths in less built-up areas.

  26. Reply Bestseo123 May 9, 2012 12:10 pm

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  27. Reply JaccoW May 13, 2012 8:10 am

    Just to give you a quick rundown of cost:
    Buying a car: at least +25% comparing to prices in the U.S.
    Parking permit Amsterdam: €400 per year (city centre)
    Road tax: depending on wight, but €1000 a year for a 1500kg car on petrol, twice that for diesel.
    http://www.belastingdienst.nl/rekenhulpen/motorrijtuigenbelasting/
    Fuel: 4-5 times as expensive as the U.S.

    So for €1400 you have a car standing in front of your house, which can buy you a pretty nice bike.

    Where does all the money go? Living in Amsterdam. Those cute canal houses ‘grachtenpanden’ go for prices between €400.000 and €2.500.000.
    People need their loans to buy these houses.

  28. Reply Kimberly Mullin Jan 3, 2013 1:31 pm

    I think having a machine-generated vehicle such as car or anything is a lot expensive to maintain cause you always have to see whether they are in condition or not. I actually admire Amsterdam’s cyclist society cause they were able to manage all the cyclists in the city. I’m really thinking of buying a bicycle as well cause recently, I just bought a mini chopper parts for my scooter cause I prefer it over a car.

  29. Reply Kimberly Mullin Jan 3, 2013 6:31 pm

    I think having a machine-generated vehicle such as car or anything is a lot expensive to maintain cause you always have to see whether they are in condition or not. I actually admire Amsterdam’s cyclist society cause they were able to manage all the cyclists in the city. I’m really thinking of buying a bicycle as well cause recently, I just bought a mini chopper parts for my scooter cause I prefer it over a car.

  30. Reply Vicki Tower Jan 10, 2013 5:20 pm

    I’m excited for roller derby time. We need to save space and resources now that’s why we acknowledge the fact that we use bikes and skates as a form of transportation.

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  34. Reply Steve Powell Nov 10, 2013 3:27 pm

    If only in London!!

  35. Reply Amsterdam-Velo May 20, 2014 6:53 am

    Savez vous quíl existe des visites guidees en francais a velo et dans les grands musees? Pour ceux qui on du mal a parler neerlandais.
    http://www.amsterdam-velo.com
    http://www.amsterdam-musee.com

  36. Reply Master of All I Survey Oct 19, 2015 3:03 pm

    The big cities here in the U.S. are the same as your European cities and towns, where it is financially wise to NOT own a car, and to use bikes, scooters, cabs, or public transit to move around.

    I live in San Francisco. For a few years I was teaching in a city about 30 miles distant. So I bought a car to use for those few years (MINI Cooper convertible). Although I paid all cash for the car, after I stopped teaching the cost to keep the car in San Francisco did not make financial sense. (Keep in mind this is NOT like 99% of U.S. cities and towns, where if you don’t own a car you’re either dirt poor or had your license suspended or revoked due to a drunk driving conviction.)

    Anyway, to drive about 5 miles monthly I was paying: $300 monthly parking; $300 annual registration; $800 insurance; $200 annual maintenance; and the car depreciated (simply because a car is a depreciating asset), mine at about $2,000 annually. I know fuel here in the U.S. is quite low compared to other nations, but here fuel was at an all time high of about $4 per gallon. I did not drive so fuel costs did not figure into my calculations.

    So as you can total, $6,000 to $7,000 annual cost to drive 60 to 100 miles total each year was below stupid. So one day I got off my lazy butt and sold it (it was “out of sight, out of mind” I simply paid the bills each month and did not stop to think about the overall cost for simply having the car, which was a very cool car, by the way).

    I suspect my experience is what Europeans go through. If you want a car in Europe, or here in San Francisco, it is going to cost you for the privilege. I have gone back to being car free and shaved a huge amount off my monthly budget. And after the first 30 days (with no bills for the car) I stopped missing my red MINI convertible.

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