Although the first Dutch bicycles in the 1860s were actually French clones, Amsterdam soon emerged as the biking capital of the West by opening the world’s first rent-a-bike business in 1869.
Soon, the bicycle - or fiets - became the preferred mode of transportation for everyone from the clog-clad worker to the royal family. Today there are some 550,000 bikes in this city of approximately 800,000 people, with Amsterdammers collectively cycling an estimated two million kilometers each day. There are opportunities aplenty for visitors to make use of the dizzying array of two- (or one- or three-) wheeled vehicles. So when in the city, make like the locals and hop on one of the many options below.
Tours and rentals
Cycling tours can be divided into two categories: the guided and the DIY. Most of the city's rental agencies offer regular guided tours, from the traditional (canal houses, Red Light District, Royal Palace) to the more outlandish. For the latter, check out Orange Bike's Singing Guide Tour, where a local will sing you through the city's sites (not recommended for the easily embarrassed). Their other specialty tours include one for the snack food junkie (think Dutch pickles and cheese) and another for the beach bum, among others.
For those who want to go Dutch, the ultimate inconspicuous (as in all black, no branding) rentals can be found at Bike City, whose mission is to "blend in with the locals". Also try the laid-back and friendly Mike's Bike Tours. Although having a reputation as providing the "insiders" tour of the city, Mike's also offers a countryside tour that takes you up the Amstel and out into the nearby terrain of windmills, clog factories and cheese farms.
And for those who do not mind branding themselves as tourists, the popular MacBike offers locations throughout the city and even has bakfiets - or cargo bikes - for rent (great for hauling kids or souvenirs). In the DIY touring category, they also have a slew of inexpensive themed maps for purchase that encourage custom-made tours on topics like architecture, gay sites, Jewish sites, art and film (see where Sean Connery filmed 007's only Dutch adventure). If travelling with the children, Joy Ride Tours offers private kiddie-friendly outings to the Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest), while their more adult offerings include a Cannabis Tour and the Canal Boat and Bike Tour.
For the ultimate DIY bike tour, simply rent a bike from any of the above, hop a ferry behind Central Station to Amsterdam-Noord, and cycle back in time to the lovely villages of Holysloot or Nieuwendam, stopping at a typical brown café along the way.
Similar to a horse-drawn carriage, but with a cyclist instead of a horse doing all the work (well, most of it; they are aided by a small electric motor), you will inevitably run into these eco-friendly contraptions in the city's tourist spots, especially Dam Square. It is a lovely way to travel, if you are not in a rush. You can book one in advance via fietstaxiamsterdam.nl.
Canals and bikes - you cannot get more Dutch than that. Get more bang for your buck by combining the two: rent a waterfiets - or water bike - and pedal your way through the city's canals at your own leisure. More information is found at canal.nl/bike/en/.
Forget everything you ever learned about not drinking while driving: this bike was made to imbibe. While many of the rental agencies offer pub/brewery crawls, this specialty bike is itself a bar on wheels. Ard Karsten, the brains behind BeerBike.co.uk (do not be fooled by the URL - it is in Amsterdam), offers beer bikes that seat up to 18 peddlers around a central bar with a tap, allowing riders to drink while cycling their way through town.
After a slew of accidents (including one hen night beer bike excursion gone awry when the bike's roof smashed into the top of a tunnel it was trying to navigate), a court ruling in August virtually outlawed the beer bike by finding it too wide to legally classify as a bicycle. But no problem for Karsten, who merely chopped more than half a meter off his beer bike (making it the required 1.5 meters wide) and kept his venture afloat. "We're lucky the law was against us," said Karsten of his new streamlined, quicker beer bike fleet. "We made a better bike." Beer and a sober driver are provided with the rental.
When you are down to your last leg, so to speak, muster up your remaining pedal power and cycle over to the city's one and only Bicycle Hotel. Located on a quiet street in the residential de Pijp neighborhood, the 16-room hotel in a converted townhouse (you will spot it from the bicycles mounted to the front of the building) offers bikes for rent (including bakfiets) as well as storage space for your own vehicle (even if it is a car). Owners Clemens Kleingoldewijk and Marjolein Vos de Mooij, who opened the hotel more than 20 years ago after an inspiring trip to cycle-friendly China, promote solar powered lodgings and encourage independent explorations. "We give you the information to start and the rest you have to do yourself," said Kleingoldewijk. Their measure of success? The number of bum-based blisters upon on your return.