Cycling in Amsterdam: How to pedal like a local

It’s pancake flat, it’s riddled with cycle tracks and almost everyone gets around on two wheels.

There are so many bikes it looks like — hard though this may be to imagine — the Tour de France for normal riders.

In reality, it’s a nightmare, or at least it is until you grasp the rules of the road — and then it’s a blast.

Within seven minutes of taking possession of my Dutch rental bike, a motor scooter nearly rams me into a canal.

By the time my first hour is up, I’ve been verbally abused for halting abruptly in a cycle lane, and been loudly tooted at by a tram after getting my tires stuck in its tracks.

I’m not the only one.

All around Amsterdam hapless bike-borne visitors can be seen wobbling into the paths of furious Dutch cyclists.

“Tourists think they’re in Disneyworld,” says Geert Gelissen, who runs FietsConsult, a side-street cycle hire and repair shop in the Dutch capital. “And Dutch people think they’re God on a bicycle.

“It’s a problem. As soon as summer starts, I sell more of these things than anything else,” he adds, brandishing an enormous brass bike bell the size of a clenched fist.

The city does have pedestrian zones, though, so sometimes it’s best to get off and walk.

MORE: Insider Guide: Best of Amsterdam

Give your bike a name

This is somewhat random parting advice from Shaffer, particularly as her gold-sprayed bone-rattler doesn’t have a name, until we both agree it should probably be called Melvin.

“If you name your bike, you become one with the bike,” she adds, sagely.

And then if you wind up in a canal, at least you’re not alone.

Got any more good tips for cycling in Amsterdam? Let us know in the comments.

Barry Neild is a freelance journalist based in London. He’s a longtime contributor to CNN and other major international news organizations.