Most visitors are still shocked, however, by the vast numbers of bicycles, and the wide variety of cyclists: from students to police officers and from bank staff to couriers, cycling is the most egalitarian mode of transport. The Mayor of Amsterdam and City alderpersons also cycle. Even King Willem-Alexander cycles regularly with his family.

Building Amsterdam's cycling infrastructure

The popularity of cycling in Amsterdam is undoubtedly aided by the fact that Amsterdam is flat, compact and densely populated and the climate mostly moderate. But Gerrit Faber of the Fietsersbond, or Cyclists’ Union notes that “It’s not what we have because of our genes. We built it – and other cities can, too.”

He is referring to the investment in cycling infrastructure that began in earnest in the 1970s, following a post-war boom in auto reliance that led to unacceptably high death rates for cyclists. In 1971, more than 3,000 people were killed by cars, 450 of them children. “At that moment, people decided we don’t want it and we built what we have today,” says Faber.

Today there are some 400 kilometres of bicycle paths criss-crossing the city, with an estimated half of all city journeys taking place on two wheels – pretty impressive for what began as an ‘elitist pastime’ in the 1890s.

Rolling rebellion in wartime

Cycling remained the main mode of transportation in the country’s pre-World War II days and even played a role during the Nazi occupation of the city in the 1940s. “The Germans hated Amsterdam cyclists,” says Pete Jordan, author of In the City of Bikes, with “their attitude full of bravado, like it is today – running red lights and being anarchistic.” As Amsterdam cyclists purposely slowed up convoys and refused to give way to German vehicles, cycling, says Jordan, became “the biggest expression of resistance to the Nazis… It gave ordinary people satisfaction that they were hindering the Nazi cause.”

With the car replacing the bicycle after the war and even the city’s mayor tolling the velo’s death knoll in 1965, urban planners rushed to accommodate four-wheeled vehicles. One thankfully nixed 1960s plan was even to pave over the city centre’s historic canals to make way for cars. Today, however, those cars that five decades ago haphazardly filled the city’s most famous squares – Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein – are gone. In their place are thousands of bicycles.

Looking to the future

The Fietsersbond’s Michel Post has a vision for the Amsterdam of the future: the city’s car traffic will decrease to the point where there won’t be a need for cycle lanes at all, as bicycles move off the curb and claim the streets. "Cars will consider themselves guests," he says, elevating Amsterdam’s status as the world’s biking capital to new heights.

Bicycle facts and figures

Number of bikes

881,000

Number of kilometres cycled by Amsterdammers each day

2 million km

Percentage of Amsterdammers that cycle daily

58% older than 12

Number of pedal boats/canal bikes

120

Total length of cycle paths and bike lanes (Amsterdam Bicycle Network)

767km

Dedicated cycle paths

513km

Two-way cycle paths

275km

One-way cycle paths

236km

Bicycle shops

140

Bicycle parking spots around Amsterdam Central Station

10,000

Secured bicycle parking garages

25 (including 8 free bicycle garages)

Number of bicycle racks

200,000–225,000

Number of bicycle hire businesses

29

Ready to get on your bike? Find out where to hire a bike in Amsterdam, and get tips on cycling safely in the city.