11 Jun Cycling skills in Amsterdam

Bike crossing tram rail. Image: Flickr free photo (

Although most Dutch people are used to riding a bike all the time, cycling in Amsterdam is much more challenging than in your parents’ hometown. I can imagine that for international students, who are not used to biking anyway, cycling in Amsterdam can be even more intimidating. Especially because cyclists in Amsterdam can be, how to put it, not very patient with tourists on bikes or with new citizens that need to get used to this typical Dutch way of transportation. But after a while, you, like almost all Amsterdammers, will feel most comfortable on your bike in the big city. You probably feel safer on your bike than without it! I once caught myself taking my coat off and putting it in the plastic bag hanging on my steering wheel while I was crossing the busy crossroad at the Van Baerlestraat, next to the Stedelijk Museum. You want to know why I needed to take my coat off? Read on to find out!

The classic country boy/girl mistake
Not many Dutch cities have trams. So, when you cycle through Amsterdam for the first time, odds are you’re not used to crossing tram rails! Those track grooves are treacherous, because they are a trap for your wheel. Once stuck, you have two options: falling hard on the ground or falling less hard on the ground. So, remember to always cross the tram rails as right-angled as possible. Also, when it is cold and slippery, don’t brake when your hind wheel is on the rails: you will make a pirouette.

You cycle drunk
When you ride your bike after midnight, you are probably drunk. Research in two Dutch cities showed that about 90% of the cyclists that are cycling after midnight have drunk too much. I’m pretty sure that it’s also true for Amsterdam. So, don’t trust your fellow road users to pay absolute attention to what is happening around them at this time. And be careful, because taking the tram rails when you’re drunk is, let’s say, a whole other story!

A certain reluctance to use your brakes
Your bike has brakes on it, but you rather wouldn’t use them. Meaning that you usually don’t brake for: red traffic lights, ghost drivers, tourists, carrier bikes, cars or pigeons. No, you avoid all obstacles by cycling around them and keeping your loss of speed to a minimum. This made you develop the unhealthy tendency of knowing exactly at which crossing you should take the traffic lights seriously, and on which crossings they can be ignored.

Selectively giving priority
This one is closely related to the brake thing. If you have to cross a busy road and you don’t want to wait, you act like you don’t see the cars, forcing them to stop for you. It’s not pretty, but it does work. Yes, cyclists are well protected in Amsterdam. Watch out for taxi drivers though: they never stop.

You speed up!
People living in the city have a higher ‘pace of life’ than people living in small towns or on the countryside. That means that people living in cities basically walk, cycle and live faster. A study found that the highest ‘pace of life’ in big cities was measured in Singapore (walking 6.1 km/h), compared to the lowest in Blantyre (Malawi) (walking 2.1 km/h). So when you wonder: why am I all sweaty and red-faced when I arrive at the Faculty (that’s what I was what I was thinking when taking my coat off)? It’s not because student life with all its drinking, bad food and late nights are getting to you (OK, maybe it is). But you probably speeded up your cycling rhythm since you moved to Amsterdam. Your body needs to get used to it!

I’m very curious whether you guys can relate to those things or developed additional skills, so let me know!


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WTF lotte

WTF lotte

Master student Biomolecular Neuroscience
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