Buying a bike is one of the first things to do when you arrive in The Netherlands.
Without a bike, you just wouldn’t be Dutch at all (there are more bikes here per capita than anywhere else in the world except China) and you’d be missing out on a cheap, easy and fun way to get around. After all, you can do anything on a bicycle. Just watch the locals.
There they are, talking on the phone, driving the kids home from school and balancing a TV on the back all at the same time. Star-crossed lovers cycle effortlessly while holding hands by the canals. Perky teenagers pop wheelies on impossibly heavy bikes.
So, now that we’ve convinced you, here’s your primer to buying a Dutch bike…
What to get: Unless you have a lot of cash to spend, the basic theme is always the same. Dutch bikes tend to be heavy, retro-looking affairs with 1-3 gears, a big seat and handlebars that let you sit upright as you ride. They might not have handlebar operated brakes and the most common ones go by the name Omafiets (or Opafiets for men) – literally ‘Grandma Bike’. It’s something like the Cadillac of bicycles, a real cruiser, and the weight doesn’t matter so much on the flat land of Holland.
A back rack is generally included with the bike and if you’re willing to splash out you can get a Bakfiets – a bike with a large wooden cargo area in front for carrying children and groceries around. These bikes in particular hold their value and are always in demand.
At the same time as you buy your bike, pick up the best lock you can find. Bike theft is practically a national sport and having at least one bike stolen is almost a rite of passage here. The little lock that comes standard with most Dutch bikes and fixes the back wheel in one place just isn’t enough, especially for the big cities like Amsterdam or The Hague. Happily there are guarded bike parking areas in the cities but with the generally small house size, you may not be able to store your bike inside at night.
The cost: New bikes start around €150 euros but can, of course, easily top €1,000 if you want something fancy. Contrary to what you might expect, the used selection in bike shops isn’t great and when you do find a few used bikes in stock the price tends to be heftier than you’d expect – generally around €150-200.
Where to buy: A great way to find a used bike is to scour the classified ads online at Marktplats (the Dutch version of eBay) and posters at places like your local grocery store. Find out where the local second hand store is – they often have great buys. That’s where we ended up getting our bikes, for €75 each and with a 6 month guarantee! Ask your friends and colleagues too if they know of any bikes for sale and ask if the local police department will be holding an auction anytime soon.
If you want to check out shops, there are a few worth visiting. Try:
- Bike City – 68-70 Bloemgracht, Tel. 020 626 3721
- De Fietsenveiling – 214 Westerstraat, Tel. 020 638 6294
- Fietspiraat – Spaarndammerstraat 83, Tel. 062 034 0098
- Holland Rent-A-Bike – Damrak 247, Tel. 020 622 3207 (very close to the train station, open 7 days a week)
- Recycled Bicycles – Spuistraat 84a, Tel. 065 468 1429
- Eerste Hulp Bij Fietsproblemen – Mient 160, Tel. 070 323 9451 (we passed by this shop by chance, seems to be a small one-man operation with a few bikes under €100)
- Fietsverhuur – Noordeinde 59, Tel. 070 326 5790
- Mammoet – Stationsweg. 36, Tel. 070 389 8964
- Reva Fietsen – Newtonstraat 234, Tel. 070 362 2184 (call first to see what’s in stock)
- Rijwielshop Hollands Spoor – Stationsplein 29, Tel. 070 389 0830
- Second-hand shop – Fahrenheitstraat, near the post office (many bikes for the cheapest prices we saw anywhere, with a 6 month guarantee)
Road rules: There aren’t any! Just kidding. Of course there are rules, but sometimes it’s hard to believe when you see cyclists going every which way. The main one is that you must have front and back lights for night riding. Helmets aren’t mandatory and definitely aren’t fashionable. If there’s room you can ride two abreast but be prepared to pull over and let other cyclists past. They’ll ring their bells if they want to get by.
Beware the thieves: Watch out for stolen bikes. If someone is offering you a bike for a few euros in a busy downtown area, chances are it’s someone else’s and a junkie is trying to sell it for the next hit. It’s illegal to buy a stolen bike and the police can charge you if they see it happen but more importantly, do you really want to perpetuate the cycle of theft and the drug addict’s bad habit?
Once you get a bike, consider parking it in the Biesieklette – guarded enclosures found in cities. The cost is quite cheap, less than €1 a day and only about €50 for a whole year of peace of mind.