A short guide to biking in the Netherlands

You’ve probably either heard about or witnessed first hand how much people bike in the Netherlands. In fact so much that there are more bikes than people. It’s amazing because the whole infrastructure is basically made for cyclists, making a bike the most convenient way to get around. At the same time, there are a couple of things you should know when starting to cycle in the Netherlands to avoid accidents and fines.

Things that will get you a fine

The basics are the same as in most places – if there is a bike lane, use it, and respect signs and signaling that applies to cyclists. Pretty simple. A few things to take into account though that you might not know but might get you in trouble:
– Although very common, cycling drunk is actually illegal. Do what you want with this information, but know that if the police would stop you, they can give you a fine.
Don’t use your phone while cycling. Having your phone in your hand while cycling is also not allowed and if stopped by the police you will get a fine. This rule seems to be actually quite strongly enforced, or at least I have heard quite a few stories from people people around me getting fined. I always make sure to put my music on before getting on my bike and to stop when I need to check directions, paying close to 100€ for that just doesn’t seem worth it.
Remember to have lights on your bike when it’s dark. This is also a legal requirement. Specifically, the light at the front needs to be white or yellow and the one in the back should be red. If you’ve forgotten yours, every supermarket sells these small bike lights that you can just hang on your bike for very cheap.

Biking in the Netherlands

Rules of the road to pay special attention to

As mentioned, the majority of rules and signals on the road are very similar in most places, but a couple of things surprised me when I arrived:
Bikes can turn right at a red light if there is a sign saying ”rechtsaf voor fietser vrij”. Usually it’s pretty logical where it’s okay to turn right even with a red light, but if in doubt, look for this sign.
In some intersections, all bikes coming from all four direction will have a green light at the same time. Beware of this and don’t panic when you start pedaling and see that so do 20 people other people both on your left and your right. It is not total chaos – people are used to this and usually a look helps assess the situation for who goes first, but you need to know to expect this to happen. Sometimes (I am not 100% sure if this is the case in all such intersections), there are also ”shark teeth” painted on the ground for two of the directions. These are triangles aligned on the bike lane at the level of the traffic lights that play the same role as the yield sign for cars: if there are shark teeth in your direction, you should let other people pass first as they have priority.

Learnings from experience

– Because the infrastructure is so well built for bikes, there’s usually a bike lane on both sides of the street. Logically, you should in these cases always aim to bike on the lane to the right to keep the traffic smooth. I’ve received some nasty looks biking on the wrong side, even if I would have done it only for the distance of a few blocks because I need to turn the other way for example. So whenever possible, I try to always stick to the right side.
– This is quite a basic note, but it really is something you have to pay extra attention in a place with as many cyclists as in the Netherlands: signal with your hand before turning, keep on the right side of the lane to let people pass on the left, and always turn back to check the way is clear before taking over or turning. People cycle fast and it’s so easy to crash if you’re not extra careful.
– When parking, make sure to not leave your bike in a spot with a sign clearly stating bikes can’t be parked. That can be a traffic sign, a sign on the ground, a sign on the window of a house for instance, or in some cases a red mat on the ground particularly in front of stores.

And I think that was it, you’re all set for cycling in the Netherlands now. If you have questions, let me know, and there are also plenty of useful resources online. Don’t get scared by all these rules: you will get used to the local habits really quickly and you’ll notice how cycling is super convenient to get around, allows to see the place you live in or visit from a different perspective, and makes you feel like a true local.

Happy cycling!

Leave a Reply

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 )

Connecting to %s