Cycling in Amsterdam is as natural as eating, sleeping or breathing. This makes the humble bicycle an essential tool used every day by everyone to get where they need to go.
Still, the process of buying a bicycle can be a minefield for the uninitiated. If you don't have the right information, you might end up buying a piece of junk, or worse, needlessly spend endless amounts of money on repairs. I've been there.
This is especially the case for expats who are new to the city, so to make things easier, I've put together a comprehensive expat's guide for buying a bicycle in Amsterdam.
First: Crash Course of Dutch Words for Bicycles
A lot of the resources I mention below are exclusively in Dutch, so it's good to get a grasp of the most common terms first.
Types of bicycles:
- Fiets/en - Bicycle/s
- Stadsfiets/en - City bike/s
- Elektrische fiets/en - Electric bike/s
- Racefiets/en - Racing bike/s
- Mountainbikes - Mountain bike/s
- Transportfiets/en - Transporter bike/s
- Abonnementsfiets/en - Subscription bike/s
- Herenfiets/en - Men's bike/s
- Damesfiets/en - Ladies bike/s
- Omafiets/en - Grandma bike/s
- Opafiets/en - Grandpa bike/s
- Kinderfiets/en - Children's bike/s
Dutch is similar enough to English that you'd have a good chance at figuring out what means what, but if all else fails, Google Translate / DeepL is your friend!
How to Buy a Bicycle in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, there are a lot of ways to buy a bicycle: Facebook groups, local markets, flea markets, supermarket notice boards, Marktplaats, and to some extent, Craigslist. You can also find brick and mortar shops all around Amsterdam that stock both new and second-hand bicycles.
Then, there are online retailers such as Bol.com who have recently started offering brand new bikes at second-hand prices (and the quality seems pretty good as well!), which is a gamechanger for first-time bike buyers. My best value pick would be the Progress Bike Stadsfiets 28 Inch (50/56cm variants) which costs 159€. You can also pick up a bike lock or two at the same time (I prefer and recommend Abus locks).
Unless you're being really picky, it shouldn't take you more than a couple of days to find yourself a bicycle.
My first bicycle took me less than three hours from first contact (through Facebook groups) to handing over my hard-earned Euros. It turned out to be a huge headache and I had to buy a new one in the end - but hopefully, this article will help you make more educated decisions than I was making when I first arrived in Amsterdam.
Facebook groups are one of the best ways to buy a bicycle in Amsterdam. The two main groups I've used are Bike Marketplace - Amsterdam and Second Hand Bikes, but I've also had some luck with the general "buy and sell" groups such as Buy & Sell Amsterdam. As you can imagine, these are typically second-hand bikes.
It's also worth checking out Amsterdam Second Hand Marketplace and Expat Republic Amsterdam.
If you want to "go local", Marktplaats is the local equivalent of Craigslist or Gumtree. You'll want to search for keywords "fietsen" or "fiets, which is "bicycle" in Dutch. The typical bicycles you'll see around Amsterdam are called "omafiets", which roughly translates into "grandma's bicycle" - cheap, comfortable, and almost indestructible.
If you want to buy your bicycle from a local market, your best bet is the Waterlooplein Market (open Monday to Friday between 9am and 5:30pm, and Saturdays between 8:30am and 5:30pm) near the centre of Amsterdam. As soon as you arrive, you'll see a number of second-hand bicycles that are lined up for sale.
Then, there's also the Albert Cuyp Market (open Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm) which is well worth a visit anyway, as it's Amsterdam's largest market with plenty to see and do.
Amsterdam loves its second-hand flea markets, and these can also be a great option for finding a great bicycle for cheap. If you can time it right, the best market to go to is the monthly IJ-Hallen Market that's held in Amsterdam-Noord (North Amsterdam).
It's 5€ for entry, but you'll have access to a huge selection of second-hand and vintage items, from clothes, furniture, and of course, bicycles. This is the biggest market in Europe, so it's worth checking out regardless!
Many supermarkets around the Netherlands have free noticeboards for locals to advertise things for sale. Bicycles are fairly common on these noticeboards, so have a peek at the noticeboard on your next visit to Albert Heijn. You might find better bicycles here, since they tend to be locals who aren't going to sell you a dud bike and disappear from Facebook.
Craigslist isn't very popular in the Netherlands, but you'll still find a few bicycles for sale here - usually by expats who haven't figured out Marktplaats yet. The upside is that not a lot of people are on Craigslist, so you have less competition. It's possible snag a great deal here that you might not find otherwise.
Bicycle shops are typically more expensive, but this is the safest way to make sure you don't get ripped off while buying a second-hand bike. They have a reputation to uphold, so the bicycle they sell you won't be a piece of junk and they should be able to address any issues you spot.
Some bicycle shops even offer 2-3 months of warranty, which is nice to have since most problems occur within the first couple of months. Expect to pay upwards of 100€ at a bicycle shop for a second-hand bike - realistically, around the 120-250 mark.
If you're buying a new bike, you'll find better prices online.
In fact, you can buy a brand new bike for less than 160€ (see next section), so at this point, it's seriously worth considering if you want to spend the extra time and effort to find a second-hand bike at this price point.
For everyday bikes, the online retailer Bol.com (sort of like Amazon in the Netherlands) is a surprisingly great place to pick up a quality new bike. I've spent some time looking around and have picked out the Progress Bike Stadsfiets 28 Inch (50/56cm variants) which costs 159€.
At this price point, it almost doesn't make sense going through the hassle of finding a second-hand bike, unless you're looking for something very particular. I'm personally a little annoyed that I didn't know about this option when I was looking for my first bike - it would have saved me from a lot of headaches.
As a retailer, Bol has a pretty good reputation in the Netherlands, so you're in safe hands. They also stock a huge selection of bicycle accessories, such as bike locks - so it's not a bad idea to get everything at once with one up-front purchase.
Subscription Bikes (Swapfiets)
Subscription bikes are an interesting addition to Europe's cycling scene, which has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years. In short: it takes away all the hassle and headache of searching, buying and maintaining a bike of your own.
The biggest player in all this is Swapfiets, which costs 19.50€ per month.
This fee includes:
- On-call customer service between 8am and 10pm, every day
- Bike sizing tailored to you upon pickup/delivery
- Small repairs and/or free bike swap within 48 hours, wherever you are in the city
- Same-day repairs if you bring your bike to one of their locations
- Flexibility to cancel whenever you want (pay month by month)
- Replacement bike for 60€ if your bike is stolen
Basically, Swapfiets handles delivery, repairs, theft - literally everything for a small monthly fee. Plus, you can cancel anytime.
Bonus: a one-month Swapfiets subscription also happens to be on sale on Bol.com for a discounted price of 10€ (normally 19.50€). Check it out here.
Buying Second-Hand Bikes in Amsterdam - Yay or Nay?
Second-hand bikes are a great choice in a city such as Amsterdam. For starters, second-hand bikes are cheaper and tend to look "used", which can be a theft deterrent. Many also feel more comfortable with second-hand bikes as this means that they're not worried about getting that first scratch or dent. It's already been done by the previous owner, leaves the bicycle free to be used as a functional tool, the way it's intended to be.
If it's an older bike, the previous owner might have upgraded a few things (lights, tyres, etc.) while keeping the old frame. This is great for a city beater, as it should work and function perfectly without being too desirable for potential bike thieves. We'll get to that in a second.
When buying second-hand, one thing to keep in mind is to understand why people are selling their bikes in the first place.
Good reasons (for you) include:
- They're upgrading
- It doesn't fit them (too big/small)
- Selling their boy/girlfriend's bike
- They're leaving the city
Bad reasons include:
- The bike has ongoing issues such as rust, a bent frame or wheels
- It's in poor condition and repairs are too expensive for it to be worth repairing
- The tyre tubes keep puncturing (I had this problem before) because of something stuck inside the wheel
For obvious reasons, they probably won't be upfront about the bad reasons.
If you want to avoid the hassle altogether, buying a new bicycle might be a safer bet. Although you'll be paying more, the peace of mind might be worth it. Nothing is as frustrating and annoying as a bike that continues to break down and get in the way of your everyday life.
How Much Should I Pay for a Bicycle in Amsterdam?
Everyone has an opinion on the "right price" for a bicycle in Amsterdam, ranging from 30-50€ (probably stolen) to several hundred Euros. Personally, I'd say around 100-160€ is a sweet spot where you'll get a bicycle that works perfectly but isn't so flashy that makes it an attractive bicycle for thieves. For something a little nicer, be prepared to spend upwards of 200€ Euros.
Anything below that, and you're getting a great deal. Or...
What's This About Stolen Bicycles in Amsterdam?
As of 2019, over 300 bicycles are stolen in Amsterdam every single day. About 600 of those are formally reported to the police, while many shrug and move onto their next bike.
Unless you're buying from a bicycle shop, there's always the risk that you're buying a stolen bike.
Here are some signs that you might be buying a stolen bicycle:
- The seller looks a bit shifty or nervous
- The bicycle has been painted over, usually badly and in black
- Fake or new Facebook profiles (when buying on a Facebook group)
- If it's too good to be true, guess what - it probably is
- Something "just feels wrong"
All that aside, only surefire way to know if what you're buying isn't a stolen bicycle is to check the bicycle theft register. It's in Dutch, but you should be able to get a good idea of how it works by using Google Translate.
You can also register your bike at the same website if it ever gets stolen.
This is the reason why a lot of people say that buying a "nice bike" in Amsterdam isn't a great idea. I sort of agree - but realistically, you'll probably be fine as long as you take precautions such as locking your bike away indoors or in bike storage, combined with good bicycle locks (plural!).
Buying a Bicycle Lock for Amsterdam
I always buy Abus locks - they're a bit more expensive, but this is because they're the industry standard and they tend to last forever. I prefer combination locks as it's one less key to carry around, but this comes down to personal preference (and budget).
The best combination of bike locks is a U-Lock, Folding Lock and Chain Lock. Pick two. The reason for this is that it takes longer for thieves to break through two types of locks, and this is often enough to deter them from targeting your bike in the first place.
When locking your bike, be sure to lock both wheels to your bicycle frame. This prevents people from stealing your wheels or frame and selling it for parts.
Also, try to lock your bike to a fixed object such as a bicycle rack or signpost, as this prevents thieves from simply picking up your bike and walking away with it.
As for a more general tip: the best place to lock your bike is in a public space, right in the middle of a lot of bikes. The more conspicuous and uncomfortable, the better.
What's the Best Bicycle for Amsterdam?
As far as daily use bicycles go, the holy grail of second-hand bikes in Amsterdam (or even new ones, I suppose) is one that works perfectly but doesn't attract too much attention.
The general consensus is that the best bicycle for Amsterdam is an "omafiets" (grandma's bicycle) with the following features:
- Upright sitting position
- Step-through bicycle frame
- Black or similarly generic colour
- Pedal brakes (less maintenance than hand brakes)
- Working front and backlights
- Rear luggage rack with straps
- Enclosed chain guard to keep you dry
- Good tyres with new tubes
- A front rack or basket
Basically, something that looks like this:
A bicycle with all of these features can be hard to find on a budget, but even finding 70% of these features is a good buy.
If you want a brand new one, the Progress Bike Stadsfiets 28 Inch on Bol.com is a great buy at 159€.
The bicycle ecosystem in Amsterdam is a fast-moving one, and there are plenty of options when it comes to buying your first bicycle. It's best to try all the different channels to find a bicycle you like - whether it meets the criteria I've mentioned above, or not - and you should be rolling on two wheels in no time.
Personally, I'd go for a bicycle that's reliable, low-maintenance and understated (to deter thieves), but if you want a flashy new racing bike, that's totally up to you.
On a final note: once you have a bicycle, get yourself a good bicycle lock and a basic multi-tool and puncture repair kit. They really cost next to nothing, and in the long run, will be far cheaper than going to a shop for punctures (it happens to everyone!). And if you don't know how to fix a puncture... it's really easy - YouTube is your friend.
Good luck and happy cycling!