Let’s Talk About…. Cycling in Amsterdam!

Last year when I lived in Utrecht, I had a great bike. It was an extension of my body. Everywhere I went, it went with me. I loved the freedom and independence it gave me. When I sold it on my final day, I was absolutely devastated. I felt as if I was giving my child up for adoption! It wasn’t expensive; it had working front and back lights, gears and most importantly, it had handbrakes! On Tuesday, I decided it was time to invest in some new wheels to (a) fit in with the rest of the Amsterdammers, and because (b) quite frankly I was a little tired of walking everywhere!

So off I went on Tuesday morning to become the proud owner of a fiets once more. Because I had such an amazing bicycle and cycling experience last year, I wanted to make sure I had that again so I asked friends and did my research into the best bike shops in town. De Stadsfiets in de Pijp was the fietswinkel that popped up again and again. Their level of customer service was apparently out of this world. And I have to agree. The man who sold me my bike couldn’t have been more helpful. I got a 6 month guarantee, four free service checks, a free back wheel lock and he gave me information on a free language exchange evening where I could practice my Dutch, all for a very reasonable price!

2014-09-09 18.57.55-2

You’d think that because I was a seasoned biker in Utrecht, that cycling would be second nature to me by now. Wrong! Cycling is scary in Amsterdam. More specifically, cycling without handbrakes can be absolutely terrifying. Let me explain to those of you who don’t understand the concept of no handbrakes. In order to slow down and ultimately stop, one must put pressure on the pedals backwards. The more pressure you place on the pedals, the slower you will move. Sounds easy, right? Again… wrong! Foot breaks are common in the Netherlands because those bikes are cheaper to maintain, and the Dutch love anything that won’t cost them more than is necessary! Before I purchased my new two-wheeler, I tried out the bike on a quiet residential street, and found I could brake, turn and come to a hault without any real difficulty. Success! I could totally do the whole no-handbrake thing. The real test, however, was cycling from the bike shop back into the centre of Amsterdam where I was meeting my friends for coffee.

Here’s where things got a little bit terrifying. Not having to worry about handbrakes meant that my hands were free for other uses, such as using my phone as a GPS so I could navigate my way with ease. Note to self: just because the test-drive went well, doesn’t mean you’re a pro yet. Your hand-eye-feet-break coordination is still very much in the early stages of development! Cycling on straight main Amsterdam roads is easy but the streets around the canals are a whole other story. Here you are contending with both car & bike traffic as well as tourists! That first day of cycling sans handbrakes, I almost knocked down several pedestrians AND almost got hit myself by several cars.

Picture this. When cycling over a bridge, there is a natural descent on the other side, so you automatically brake in order to slow your speed and come to a complete stop. Generally speaking, you would place one foot on the ground while still seated on the bike, ready to push off again once safe to do so. However, sometimes when you are a small human your feet don’t reach the ground while sitting on the saddle, and it is necessary for you to jump off in order to stop. Sometimes you don’t realise that you will keep rolling down the hill once you take your feet off the brake pedals. Sometimes this can be scary for you and pedestrians, and you can do nothing but ring your bell and hope they jump out of the way. Sometimes this can anger Dutch car drivers (who’s concept of slowly taking off is going from 0-40kmph in 2 seconds by the way!) and make them beep their horn rather loudly as you swerve manically to avoid them hitting you!

I’ve been successfully cycling in Amsterdam for six days now, and can honestly say that I’m not the biggest fan! I much prefer Utrecht as a city for many reasons, and cycling is definitely one of them. But I do love having a bike as a method of transporting myself around the city. One thing is for sure, it’s a lot quicker than walking!




10 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About…. Cycling in Amsterdam!

  1. I can only imagine cycling in Amsterdam. I live in a city that is quite close to the Netherlands and it is sometimes called “Fahrradstadt” (Bicyle-City), so I know a little bit about taking your bike everwhere you go, but cycling in a big city like Amsterdam is, must be terrifying indeed. Good luck, don’t get run over 😉
    x Lou


  2. Hoi! Sounds like you had a much nicer experience in buying a bike than I did! I also got a bike with foot breaks, too, which I haven’t ridden since I was probably 10 years old! It was cheap, in decent condition, and so far has gotten me around where I need to go in Utrecht! Glad you had such a lovely time with your mum, hope you get all settled quickly and love this experience as much as you did your last!!

    • Thanks Becca! Honestly, I’m not loving amsterdam as much as I did Utrecht, so I think I need to look at plan B,C,D etc now! It’s great, but it is missing the character that Utrecht had! I am actually looking into doing a second masters in. Utrecht starting either this February or next September!! I’m having a ball exploring the Netherlands though 🙂 Currently on a train on the way to Maastricht!

  3. Interesting idea of footbrakes, I would presume it would be difficult to do some upon hilly tops! All in all, a great insightful post to cycling in Amsterdam. I learn something new everyday 🙂 – Lena


  4. Oh this is very recognisable…, I haven’t cycled in Amsterdam too much, but it IS manic…. As for the handbrakes, vas the pedal brakes… I’ve gone through quite a lot of bycicles in my life, and several times I went from a handbrake bike to a pedal brake bike, and every single time it takes me a day or two to get comfortable on my bike again… So going from a handbrake bike to a pedal brake one is also an issue for dutchies who’ve cylcled for their whole lifes

    I am biases (I love my city Utrecht) but I also tend to agree with you on Amsterdam vs Utrecht… Utrecht has that little something that Amsterdam is lacking… But maybe that’s just because we both love Utrecht.

    Have fun in Maastricht! It’s a beautiful city, and has a LOT going for it… One thing though Limburgian the local ‘dialect’ (parentheses on dialect because it really almost it’s own language) can make things a bit confusing for people witnh only basic dutch language skills… Of course limburgers also speak ‘normal’dutch… But it’s just a heads up

    • I am very glad that it’s not just me who thinks that cycling in Amsterdam is a little crazy! And that I am not alone in my discomfort going from a handbrake bike to a pedal brake one 🙂

      Utrecht is my second home. There is just something so special about it. My Mum agreed with me though within 5 minutes of being in Utrecht, she much preferred it to Amsterdam.

      Masatricht is BEAUTIFUL! A close second favourite city in the Netherlands (first being Utrecht!) I heard the local ‘dialect’ spoken – little bit confusing is right, but it was still lovely to hear!

      • I agree it’s a nice dialect, and I actually understand it, due to my mother being from the province, and having spoken limburgian to me since birth…. A thing about Maastricht that may not be instantly apparent is that it has a lot of good restaurants, Limburg is more like belgium in cooking culture, which we call ‘Bourgondisch'(lit. Burgundian) which is to say it’s a culture that really love their food and drink

  5. I recognise so many things! I also can’t live without my bike and yes it’s sometimes very stressful to cycle in the centre of Amsterdam, especially when you are in a hurry. My bicycle has handbreaks, I think these are much better, but it has been a long time that I used pedal brakes. I am curious how it is to bicycle in other cities in the Netherlands.

Leave a Reply, I'd love to hear from you :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s