All You Need to Know About Cycling
There are certain legal requirements for bikes in the Netherlands that you have to make sure that you’re obeying. If you don’t, it might result in a fine if you’re caught. Thankfully, they’re straightforward and easy to follow.
The first is that you need to have a working front and back light when biking in the dark or when visibility is low. The front one should be white and the back one red. As they’re bound to eventually run out of power, be sure to keep spares on hand in case you don’t have time to go out and buy new ones before going out. For every missing light, you risk a 55 euro fine.
Another requirement is a working bicycle bell. This is so other traffic users can hear you in case you need to signal your presence. It also makes it easier for you to pass on the roads when someone blocking your path hasn’t noticed you. You’ll probably already have one when you buy or rent your bike, but if you don’t, you easily buy one at hardware shops..
You should also consider sticking reflectors for the front and back of your bike, as well as your tyres. These fit with the color schemes of the bike lights – white in the front, red in the back – with the tyre reflectors being yellow.
A bicycle helmet is not a requirement in the Netherlands. While not wearing one will be followed with a fine in many countries, this is not the case here. Whether you wear one or not is thereby a personal choice, so go with what’s the most comfortable to you.
These requirements may be seen as a hassle, but they’ll make it easier for you to traverse the roads. Overall, bike rules in the Netherlands aren’t strict, and they’re meant to secure both your and others’ safety in traffic.
What to Do in Traffic
When on the road, there are a few rules you’ll have to make sure you follow. These are both for your own safety as well as that of others. They’re also usually easy to remember, so learning them shouldn’t take too much time.
A crucial rule is that you have to signal when you turn. Simply stick your right or left hand out, depending on which direction you want to turn, and the people around you will have an idea of where you’re going, making traffic safer and more fluid for everyone. It’s one of the most important rules to follow in trafficked areas, so don’t skip it if you don’t want to risk getting into an accident.
Another rule is to always keep to the right of whatever road or bike lane you’re on. This is so vehicles and other cyclists wanting to pass you can do so freely on the left. If you want to pass someone, do so from the left and then go back on the right side.
You’re not allowed to cycle on the pavement in the Netherlands. It might be tempting to quickly go on it to reach your destination faster, but it’s strictly reserved for pedestrians. You have to stick to either the road or bike lane.
In the Netherlands, the right of way is not always indicated, but there are general rules about it. Unless it’s specified, the rule of thumb is that traffic coming from the right – including cyclists – has the right of way, meaning that others have to give priority for them.
This also means that many times when you’re at a cross and have to turn right, you can do so without waiting for your turn, as long as you don’t get in the way of other traffic. In smaller cities, this tends to be the general rule, but you’ll probably see a specific sign indicating such in larger cities.
Traffic also has to give way to people crossing in front of them if there are “shark’s teeth”. These are white triangles on the street with their pointed end aimed towards the side that needs to yield.
Some vehicles automatically have the right of way: buses and trams. As these are large public transport vehicles, following a specific route, they should be prioritised. When you see them, keep clear and make sure you don’t get in their way; nothing is more terrifying than cycling on a street too narrow for you to pull in on with a bus right on your tail.
If you’re in doubt about what to do at a certain junction or don’t know if you’re allowed to cycle somewhere, look at what other cyclists are doing. The locals who’ve lived in the city for far longer than you and know most of the rules instinctively. Knowing how to cycle in the specific circumstances in the Netherlands is as much a skill as anything, so take your time learning it.
Dutch Alert: Fietspad means bicycle path
One thing to remember when you’re out and about is to lock your bike whenever you leave it. Even if you’re just going into a shop for five minutes, you face the risk of walking out and realizing that your bike is gone. Getting a good chain lock should be a priority when you first get your bike.
Another thing is to make sure that you park right. Many areas don’t allow parked bikes, so if you leave yours there, it might have been moved somewhere else or just taken when you get back.
Look out for any signs indicating that you have to park elsewhere – and never park somewhere it might block others’ way, like in front of a door.
If your bike is removed, all hope might not be lost. Try contacting your nearest bicycle depot and ask if they have your bike, telling them where it’s parked, what brand it has, as well as its model, colour, and frame or serial number. You can usually find the numbers on your bike receipt.
Also, be sure to remember where exactly you parked your bike. It may sound obvious, but if you don’t really take notice of it, you could end up spending hours searching the streets for that one spot you left it at.
Frequently Asked Question – Am I Allowed to…?
It varies greatly what is and isn’t allowed to be done when you cycle. Here’s an overview of different scenarios you might come across and whether they’re legal or not in the Netherlands:
Am I allowed to cycle while drunk?
No. This might be a country where people are said to cycle from their birth to their grave, but it’s actually illegal to cycle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medicine. However, you will be surprised by how many people cycle while drunk, especially students.
Am I allowed to cycle with other people on my bike?
Yes! You’re welcome to do so, and you’ll no doubt see others doing the same. Whether it’s on the front or on the back, feel free to give a friend a lift. Just be careful with the extra weight.
Am I allowed to cycle while listening to music?
Yes, but it’s not recommended. It can certainly make the ride seem quicker and more enjoyable, but studies have shown that listening to music while cycling increases the risk of accidents. Therefore, if you do it, please take extra care of your surroundings.
Am I allowed to cycle while using my phone?
No. You aren’t allowed to look at or have mobile electronic devices in your hand while you cycle. Put it in your pocket or get off your bike if you need to use it. Otherwise, a 95 euro fine just might find its way to you.
Am I allowed to cycle with no hands?
No. Again, you’ll definitely see many other people doing this, especially youngsters, but it’s actually not allowed. Unless you’re signalling a turn, you should have your hands on your handlebars at all time.