Our trip to Amsterdam—cycling thoughts

It’s been months since we got back from our first visit to Amsterdam. It’s safe to say that both Dottie and I loved the city even more than we expected to, and not just because of the biking. We were impressed by the city’s beauty and charm, the friendliness of its people and the deliciousness of its food. But first things first: Here’s a little bit on how we felt about biking in the City of Bikes.

To start, if you are wondering whether Amsterdam’s reputation as such has been overstated, I can tell you emphatically that it hasn’t been! Bikes are literally, absolutely everywhere. Drivers are in the minority and in general act accordingly.

One of Amsterdam's beautiful bikes

One of Amsterdam’s beautiful bikes

When your bike is one of many, it seems even more important to make it stand out. Many Dutch bikes were decorated or had custom baskets, etc.

A Mac Bike rental

A Mac Bike rental

Sunflowers seemed to be a popular theme.

Amsterdam bike

Amsterdam bikes

Henry at WorkCycles set us up with bikes (more on that in another post) and our first ride in the city was with him and his family, including 2-year-old Pia and 4-year-old Pascal, who rode his own bike alongside us through a light rain.

Henry and his family

Henry and his family

 

Dottie's bike was called Bonnie!

Dottie’s bike was called Bonnie!

Hug a bike today!

Hug a bike today!

My WorkCycle

My WorkCycle, who was sadly nameless! I propose “Trisha.” ;)

Dot & Bonnie

Dot & Bonnie

The infrastructure was pretty much a cyclist’s dream—lights, turn lanes, bike paths, signage.

Bike sign graffiti

Bike sign graffiti

Bikes get their own signals

Bikes get their own signals

Bike path!

Bike path!

Bike keys

Bike keys

But we thought that the most bike-friendly thing about Amsterdam was the terrain. Neither dully flat, nor obnoxiously steep, in general the terrain seemed to be made up of  what felt like gently rolling hills, which give you opportunity to coast without ever seriously taxing your legs. It really seemed like we could have biked forever.

The city

The city

Dottie on one of the city's beautiful bridges with her WorkCycles bicycle

Dottie on one of the city’s beautiful bridges

We did find the city’s circular structure and canals slightly tricky to navigate at times, but biking in Amsterdam never felt less than completely safe.

I check the map for the 10th time.

I check the map for the 10th time.

But it wasn’t entirely stress-free. Coming from a city where bike parking is not exactly at a premium, at times it was frustrating to spend as much time trying to find somewhere secure to park the bikes as I might have to spend stalking a parking spot at the Green Hills Mall on Christmas Eve!

Sometimes bike parking was frustrating—no empty spots on the rack!

Sometimes bike parking was frustrating—no empty spots on the rack!

A lot of Amsterdam cyclists seemed pretty sanguine about the whole thing, often just parking their bikes  on the sidewalk and locking the wheel to the frame, à la Sheldon Brown. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that with our WorkCycles, so often Dottie and I would split up and head in opposite directions to find our spots.

bike parking spot

Bike parking without bike racks

Bike parking along the canal

Bike parking along the canal

So much bike parking.

So. much. bike parking, but it’s still hard to find spots!

Bike Parking!

Despite the parking issues, bikes are absolutely the most efficient and economical way to get around a compact city like Amsterdam. We did take the tram and the subway during our trip. While both were convenient and easy to figure out and use, they were extremely expensive: 2,70 Euro for one hour of transit, or 7,50 for 24 hours. While I’m sure residents have the option of buying less expensive monthly or yearly passes, riding your bike is free and probably takes about the same amount of time, if not less.

The Amsterdam Tram

The Amsterdam tram

The tram map

The tram map

One tip, if you do take the tram and buy your ticket on board: Don’t try to buy it from the driver! There’s an entirely separate person in the middle who dispenses the tickets. Ah, to live in a country where public transport was sufficiently valued as to pay two separate workers per vehicle . . .

The tram payment person—not to be confused with the driver!

The tram payment person—not to be confused with the driver!

Basically, biking around Amsterdam is easy, fun and makes you feel like a local (well, if locals had to consult maps every five seconds). It lived up to everything we imagined, and then some.

More Amsterdam posts on the way in the next couple of days!

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28 thoughts on “Our trip to Amsterdam—cycling thoughts

  1. […] Amsterdam’s Bike-Friendliness Is Not Overrated (LGRAB) […]

  2. Gladys says:

    Wow. It looks absolutely beautiful. I wish our city of Chicago can be more like this…

  3. Oldbikerider says:

    Great Post.
    Do you speak Dutch (Hollandish?)
    Do many of the natives speak English?
    Why are European Cities so cool? Is there some part of our dna they just tickle?

    • LGRAB says:

      I (Trisha) tried to speak Dutch a couple of times. But then the people spoke back to me in Dutch and all was lost. :) Most everyone speaks English, so it didn’t matter much, but I would like to learn more before I go there again!

  4. JulioGAtlas says:

    Been there too. We rented nice bikes from our hotel, one of the doorman’s duties. Bikes rule over cars. US cities should be like Amsterdam!

    • Dottie says:

      I love that the doorman arranged the rental bikes! All they do in Chicago is hail taxis and assist with valet parking. Although once a kind doorman stored Betty in the secure luggage room for me. :)

    • Dottie says:

      I love that the doorman arranged the rental bikes! All they do in Chicago is hail taxis and assist with valet parking. Although once a kind doorman stored Betty in the secure luggage room for me. :)

  5. Katrina says:

    I love this! My husband and I were lucky enough to live in Amsterdam last year, and we completely loved biking around the city every day. SO easy. We’re from Portland, and now that we’re back even that bike-friendly city just doesn’t compare! So glad you enjoyed Amsterdam!

  6. A ticket sales booth right on the tram! How wonderful! Strange as it might seem, there are people who aren’t used to public transit, just like there are people who aren’t used to bicycling for transportation. Having a real live person to buy the ticket from makes the whole experience so much more accessible.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Frits B says:

      I think you’re overlooking the dual function of this employee. He or she is located at the entrance of the tram where every passenger is supposed to check in with his/her travel card. People who don’t pay that way (no audible signal) can be caught on the spot. Selling tickets to non-natives is just a sideline.

  7. Scott Sanderson says:

    Good post! I am familiar with the circular street problem. You start out by saying, OK I am going to go south for 3km to get to my destination, and before you know it you are riding east. Not a big deal when the cycling is so pleasant.

    Did you visit any coffee shops?

  8. ladyfleur says:

    For navigation downtown we memorized the order of the semicircular canals and the major roads that bisected them, which helped immensely.

    • Dottie says:

      Impressive. I couldn’t even figure out how to pronounce the street names. So many consonants!

      • ladyfleur says:

        For sure. Here’s what we did: cut off the “gracht” at the end of the canal name and you get easier names to remember like Heren, Keizer and Prinzen. Heren is men, Keizer is king and Prinsen is princes. So I remembered “men, king, prince.” That didn’t cover all the canals but it really helped.

        • Frits B says:

          What Dottie means is that Amsterdam has a lot of hopelessly complicated street names: Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Reguliersbreestraat, Sint-Antoniesbreestraat and Tweede Goudsbloemdwarsstraat, to name but a few. But not complicated enough to keep the tourists away, obviously :-).

    • Dottie says:

      Impressive. I couldn’t even figure out how to pronounce the street names. So many consonants!

      • ladyfleur says:

        For sure. Here’s what we did: cut off the “gracht” at the end of the canal name and you get easier names to remember like Heren, Keizer and Prinzen. Heren is men, Keizer is king and Prinsen is princes. So I remembered “men, king, prince.” That didn’t cover all the canals but it really helped.

  9. Jennifer in Scotland says:

    I love this post! Thanks Trisha. I remember well the joy of cycling in Amsterdam.

  10. Fred Smith says:

    The best bit is that Amsterdam isn’t even the nicest place to cycle in the Netherlands – the North Sea coast is great and the trip from Amsterdam to Utrecht is the nicest cycle I’ve ever done and only takes an afternoon – countryside, castles, picturesque villages and stately homes along the river. It’s great to see pictures, I must go back there this summer!

  11. Frits B says:

    It looks like Trisha rode a Gr8 bike, the somewhat shorter and lighter version of the Fr8. If so, what are her impressions?

    • LGRAB says:

      I think it was an Gr8. I liked it! It didn’t feel especially light, but it was nice and short. :) Very sturdy, smooth ride, not very different from Dot’s Oma, though maybe a bit easier to turn. In all honesty, I didn’t have to think about the ride very much—the sign of quality.

  12. aalya finch says:

    trip to amsterdam was one of my best expereince i would prefer to hire car from the service provider.We booked a car from car hire official website and enjoyed our journey in beautiful amsterdam

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