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Dos and don’ts of riding a bicycle in the Netherlands

Riding a bicycle in the Netherlands is THE main reason why I’m so happy here. But there are some rules you need to get used to.

For 26 years, I lived in a big Mexican city with no biking infrastructure. Riding a bicycle to work was basically asking for a shorter life, and being stuck in traffic in my car was as common as breathing. But alas! Those days are behind me, and now I go back and forth everywhere with my trusty bicycle!

I love biking (and having money to eat) so much that I even deliver food on my bicycle on the weekends for spare money. After a year of biking for leisure and work, I have learned firsthand the do’s and don’ts of riding a bicycle in the Netherlands.

Some surprised me, others made me go “well duh…“. But all of them, without a doubt, I wish I knew from day one.

Here’s a handy guide of things you may already know, and some that may surprise you, about riding a bicycle in the Netherlands.

In a country that built its cities with bikes in mind, you won’t be surprised that the legal system has also been shaped around cycle culture. Here are some legal requirements to note to avoid getting a hefty fine.

Don’t ride under the influence (RUI)

dutch-cycling-funny
dutch-cycling-funny

Boy, did this surprise me back when I first started living here. One of the first things I erroneously thought when I first got here, is that if you’re drunk, you could always ride your bike back home. Like a walk of shame, but on wheels.

Rule of thumb: don’t get on your bike if you can’t drunk-call your ex at 3:00 AM.

But, despite what most Dutchies do, it is actually illegal to ride your bike drunk or stoned. If caught, you can get a hefty fine of up to €140! Riding drunk is dangerous, no matter what type of bike you’re on. So, no drinking and biking!

Get yourself a bicycle bell

Are you familiar with Ivan Pavlov’s experiments on classical conditioning and all that? Well, that’s me with bicycle bells. I turn around and look out for the impending bike when I hear the “tring-tring” of a bell.

Every bike should have one, it’s compulsory. They let you know when someone is behind you and wants to overtake you, or if you’re in the way. It’s very handy and much more polite than being yelled at by an angry Dutchie.

If you’re like me and enjoy being annoying but also safe on the road, you can get a bike horn. It’s just as good as a bike bell, but 100% more hilarious.

Use your bright lights

netherlands-Cycling-sofa
netherlands-Cycling-sofa

Using a properly attached white or yellow light on the front of your bicycle, and a red light on the back, is required if you’re riding at night. Not having a light can result in a fine. Also, worse, it can result in a car running you over.

Bicycle lights are very easy to find, and you can purchase some very cheap ones at Hema or Action. If you get detachable ones, make sure you take them with you when you park. Stealing bike lights is the top Dutch national pastime right after getting cheap groceries.

Signal before you turn on your bike

I think the first time somebody yelled “lul!” at me, was when I did a tight turn with 10 high schoolers behind me. At first, I thought it was the Dutch variant of “lol.” Naturally, cause I am hilarious.

But then, I realised I was called a d*** because I didn’t signal before I turned.

After being the cyclist behind someone that doesn’t signal a couple of times, I understood how important it is!

If you want to go left or right with your bike, stick your left/right hand accordingly! It lets non-psychic people know what direction you’re turning towards. It makes traffic more fluid and prevents any name-calling that hurts your feelings.

Do not text and cycle

cycling-with-kid-netherlands
cycling-with-kid-netherlands

Much like how you shouldn’t text while driving, you also shouldn’t text while cycling. At first, this was only discouraged amongst Dutchies — have you seen them cycle?

They can do almost anything on those bikes! — But now it’s illegal. If you’re caught even with your phone in your hand whilst cycling, you risk getting fined €95. So send those memes later and focus on the road.

What’s good to know when cycling?

That’s enough on law, let’s discuss some helpful tips for things like not getting your bike stolen. 😉

Put a lock on it — properly!

Bikers-In-Amsterdam
Bikers-In-Amsterdam

It’s surprising how many people get their bike stolen because they don’t know how to put a bike lock on properly. Now you might say “c’mon that’s easy! Besides, nobody steals anything in this country.” Well, that’s where you’re wrong.

Stealing bicycles in this country is like eating tacos in Mexico. It happens every. Single. Day.

Although there are many types of locks out there, U-locks and sturdy chain locks are the best.

If you want to cheap out on something while living here, it better not be your bike lock! Bike thieves in this country are also like taco stands in Mexico. They’re everywhere. (I’m from Mexico. I can make that joke).

Also, most people ignore it, but there is a proper way to lock your bike. You should lock your bike on a pole or biking rack, and your lock should surround your frame and your tire.

Don’t buy €10 bikes in alleyways

Who doesn’t dream of buying a cheap bike days after moving to an expensive city? But, any bicycles you buy from shady guys in the inner city are probably stolen.

If you’re buying a stolen bike, you’re supporting and boosting the stolen bike market. This perpetuates the cycle (😉) and might even get your newfound stolen bike stolen, again. So, don’t do it.

The Netherlands is filled with second-hand bicycle shops. While a second-hand bike shop will not sell bicycles for €10 euros, there are many affordable and fair options.

Get your head in a helmet — maybe

Victoria-canada-cycling
Victoria-canada-cycling

Wearing a helmet while biking is important because it protects your brain in the case of an accident. And brains are important because — in my case — they hold a lot of 90s references, and the lyrics to R. Kelly’s “I believe I can fly.”

Although not compulsory, and although there’s this big helmet/no helmet debate, I recommend wearing a helmet if you cycle really fast.

I remember I had this conversation with a colleague who also works in the bike-delivery business. He is pro-helmet, and told me something that made me laugh and also stuck with me:

“Helmets are just like condoms, it’s better to have one and not need it, than to need one and not have it.”

It would appear that the traffic infrastructure and a superb biking culture are better than enforcing helmet laws, though, as the Netherlands (right after Denmark) is the European country with the least amount of accidents that result in cyclists dying. Maybe that’s why not a lot of Dutchies wear helmets.

So wear a helmet! Or not! It’s your choice.

Pay attention when wearing headphones

There are two things I love doing, but I know I shouldn’t do. One of them is having Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream for breakfast every damn morning, and the other is riding my bicycle while listening to music.

There’s something spiritual about listening to Queen’s “Bicycle Race” while you’re riding your trusty steed down Scheveningen’s pier. Or blasting Meneer Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” on your headphones when coming back from having a good “coffee”.

While it’s not technically illegal to ride your bike while listening to some Iron Maiden on your headphones, it can be detrimental to your health. By detrimental to your health, I mean not hearing a tram and getting run over by it.

I stopped listening to music while biking after I got a close call with a bakfiets full of adorable children. I still remember the exact part of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” I was listening to when I almost crashed into that bundle of adorableness.

So, like the helmet thing, it’s not illegal…but it is highly recommended not to listen to music while riding your bike.

Read and respect the traffic signs

cycling-in-netherlands-without-helmets
cycling-in-netherlands-without-helmets

Lastly, there are 3 things I always keep in mind when riding my bicycle: signs, pedestrians, and tram lines. There’s a wide range of road signs that you need to keep an eye out for. Four of the most important ones to recognise are: uitgezondered fiets; rechtsaf voor fietsers vrij; let op! uitrit bouwverkeer; and “pedestrian zebras”

I used to get intimidated when I saw the uitgezonderd fietsers signs because they are usually on “no entrance” signs. But uitgezondered fietsers actually means “except people on bicycles”.

So if you see a red sign with a white line in the middle (no entrance), but it is followed by uitgezondered fietsers, you may follow that road — if you’re on a bike, of course.

You’ll see the blue signs with white letters saying rechtsaf fieters vrij. These mean “right turn free for bikers.” So even if they’re next to a red traffic light, if you’re on a bike, you can turn right freely — just remember to signal!

Back in the day when I didn’t speak any Dutch, I used to hate the signs saying let op! uitrit bouwverkeer. When they are on signs with tiny construction man cartoons, it’s fine. But sometimes it’s just the words!

It means “watch out for construction traffic.” Ride carefully if you see one of these because they’re usually followed by mid-constructed bicycle lanes!

Zebras: pedestrians first!

It’s normal to feel super important when you’re on a bike all the time. Cars stop for you, and pedestrians fear your bicycle bell. But, in the traffic hierarchy, pedestrians crossing on zebra crossing go first.

So if you’re biking, and you see a zebra crossing in front of you, make sure you stop if you see any people trying to cross!

Tram lines: criss-cross

There are three things I have deep and crippling fears towards: spiders, that one scene in Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, and crossing a tram line while I’m on my bicycle.

No matter how many times I’ve done it, my pulse skyrockets when I have to cross a tram line. If you fall in one, it’s almost a guarantee you will fall embarrassingly.

The best way to cross a tram line while riding a bicycle in the Netherlands is to cross one as perpendicularly as possible. Here’s a handy picture to save your life in the future.

Well, that’s about it for the “do’s and don’ts” of riding a bicycle in The Netherlands. Hopefully, you’ll find this list useful if you’re new to this country. Riding a bicycle here is easy and incredibly safe.

But of course, if you keep these handy tips in mind, I’m confident your biking experience will be considerably better.

Maris Lopez
Maris Lopezhttp:////my-lifestyle.co
Hey there! I'm Maris, an American girl who is passionate about adventure, the outdoors and all things travel!
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