Biking in Amsterdam – Not for the Faint of Heart

On the website of the official tourist office for Amsterdam, it states that “the most practical means of transportation in Amsterdam is still the bike”, which is true, but only for people who live here. This website, along with travel books, tv shows, and columns written by erstwhile travelers, tells the unwary tourist to “see Amsterdam by bike”. This is simply wrong advice. Really. Take my word for it. Don’t do it unless you have lived in Amsterdam for at least 3 months and have sat on the back of someone else’s bike to get the feel of things. Otherwise you are a danger to yourself and others.

Amsterdamers use their bikes to get to work, to do their shopping, to take their kids to school and bring them home. They bike to the movies. They bike to the gym. Biking is a means to an end. It is not done for pleasure or because it’s good to get exercise. Biking is simply the most efficient way to get around the city. Therefore, stay out of their way or you will get run over! This is especially true if you are a tourist, and is still true if you are a tourist on a bike.

Tourists bike slowly and are busy sightseeing or finding their way around. Nothing is more irritating than trying to get home from work and getting stuck behind someone on a MacBike who doesn’t seem to understand that they are supposed to ride to the right side of the road/bike lane so that others can pass them. They don’t understand that you shouldn’t suddenly stop in the middle of the bike lane to stare gap-mouthed at some old building. They are then run over by the 10 bikers behind them coming at speed. Tourists from the US don’t understand the right of way rules and run the risk of getting hit by cars and they also don’t understand that just because a road is narrow it doesn’t mean that there will not be cars on it (this goes for US people on foot as well). The really good thing about bad weather in Amsterdam is that there won’t be any tourists on the roads clogging up traffic and causing accidents.

The above might make me sound like an agressive biker, but honestly I’m not. I’m a FAST biker, that is true, but not agressive. I learned that this morning on my own way to work.

Normally I leave for work from the west side of the city around 8:00 in the morning, heading into the city center. I pass by the inner ring road, I bike through the 9 Straatjes, smack into the heart of the city. This morning I left an hour later than usual and man what a world of difference that makes. I’ve never seen such agressive biking on the streets before. Even after living here for 3.5 years and owning 3 different bikes, this came as kind of a shock. Bikers were cutting each other off at every corner; racing to be the first to cut between the trucks blocking the road; crashing into each other because neither one wanted to give up the right of way. At 8:00 the streets of the city are deadly quiet and I only have to contend with the occasional delivery truck. This morning I had to defend myself against the young women in business clothes who had no intention of slowing down at the intersection even though she had a red light. One man ran his bike into mine because he thought he should go around the parked truck before me, even though I was ahead of him and we were all WALKING our bikes at that point because there was so little space left on the road. What’s up with all this agressive behavior?

I bike home at the end of the day around 5 or 6 every evening. The roads are again crowded with bikers heading home, but it is no where near this hectic or crazy. I guess everyone has spent their energy for the day and can’t be bothered to fight each other for road space at that point. I think I will go back to leaving for work early. It’s easier on my blood pressure.

One thought on “Biking in Amsterdam – Not for the Faint of Heart

  1. dis_ease September 29, 2006 / 07:15

    Interesting story, and very true. I think that about 99% of the people in traffic, including people on bikes, are very, very selfish. (This makes the other 1 percent get angry.)
    Zebra-crossing? An excuse to put your foot firmly on the gas pedal – even when the pedestrian (me) walks with a baby. It’s about the only thing I really hate in Amsterdam. (OK my comment is not really about biking…)

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