Help us find decent touring bike rentals in Amsterdam or a better plan!
April 26, 2007 1:05 PM   Subscribe

$700+ to fly with our bicycles? Help us find decent touring bike rentals in Amsterdam or a better plan!

My girlfriend and I are planning a bicycle tour of the Netherlands for the month of May (Hooray!). We leave NYC May 1 and arrive in Amsterdam. Our original plan was to buy bikes (neither of us currently have bikes suitable for touring) and check them as baggage on our flights. Unfortunately, Northwest/KLM recently changed their policy for checking bikes and are going to charge us $150 (going) and €150 (returning) apiece if we bring bikes. Yikes! Pleading for mercy via phone and email has gotten us nowhere.

So we're thinking it may make sense to rent bikes in the Netherlands or possibly even buy used bikes and sell them before we return. While it's quite easy to find bike rentals in Amsterdam, almost every site we've found is geared toward the city tourist offering heavy beach cruiser type bikes. We're looking for touring bikes. We're not concerned with brand so much as just wanting sturdy but light reliable bikes that we can gear up with fenders/racks/panniers, etc. We're not doing any camping. We're planning on mostly staying in residences via "Friends of the Bike" (or "Vrienden op de Fiets" in Dutch) an organization that hooks up bikers and people willing to host them for a nominal fee.

We called a couple of bike shops in Amsterdam and have come up dry. Navigating the Dutch websites has proven difficult as AltaVista's Babelfish translation service has only gotten us so far.

Our main questions are:
Does anyone have any idea how we can go about renting touring bikes in Amsterdam?
Does anyone know of a good bike shop in Amsterdam where we can buy new or used touring bikes and won't get ripped off? (We know the dollar is weak.)
Does anyone have any Dutch connections they could ask?
Should we just bite the $300+ bullet and check the bikes?
Is there something we're missing?
Any general advice about bike touring in the Netherlands would be nice, too.

Thanks!
posted by funkiwan to Travel & Transportation around Amsterdam, The Netherlands (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think maybe you should take a few steps back in your thinking here...Check out other airlines. AMS is a major European hub - alot of international airlines fly into it. Find out their policies. Check out www.bikeaccess.net for more info.
posted by jacobean at 1:17 PM on April 26, 2007


A college friend of mine lived in Amsterdam for a while and frequently used Mac Bike, can't speak to the elite-ness of the hardware, but from what I understand the service and locations are great.

http://www.amsterdam.info/transport/bike-rentals/macbike/
posted by French Fry at 1:24 PM on April 26, 2007


When my friend flies with her bike, she dismantles it a little bit (takes off the front and back wheels, handle bars, seat, any baskets, and so on), sticks it in a big box or two, and flies with it as checked luggages. AFAIK, she's never had any problems as long as it conforms to the checked luggage rules.
posted by muddgirl at 1:25 PM on April 26, 2007


I flew Lufthansa/United from the US to London just after Christmas with a bike packed as muddgirl describes. It wasn't a problem at all at check in; they just counted it as 1 of my 2 allowed items of checked baggage. Unfortunately I changed plans in Frankfurt and they did manage to lose it for a day. It was delivered to my house the next day, in one piece fortunately.

Looking at the KLM website they say "a bicycle is considered 1 piece of baggage." I interpret that to mean that a bike box would count as 1 of your 2 allowable checked items.

Btw, before I flew I called United and they told me they would charge me as well, but when I showed up at the airport all was fine -- no additional charge.
posted by rsk at 1:38 PM on April 26, 2007


I wouldn't assume the box trick will work, though. My brother tried it once, and on one leg of his trip they asked him "Is that a bike in that box?". He said yes, they charged him the (not insignificant) fee.

He got into a bit of an argument with them - it's an awfully silly rule, but unless you are willing to lie if need be, you might have trouble.
posted by wyzewoman at 1:46 PM on April 26, 2007


Airlines can be pretty arbitrary about charges and boxing requirements, even in my limited experience. Some airlines will sell you a box (for a lot) some require you bring your bike boxed. I had one trip where the airline sold me a box on the outbound leg, but I just handed the bike unboxed to a baggage handler on the return (same airline). I really wouldn't make any assumptions about what you can get away before showing up at the airport. If you have a reasonably nice bike, it would pay to box it yourself (or have a bike shop do it) with pipe insulation over all the tubes, etc.

There are quality bikes you can get specifically for travelling. Bike Friday makes compact, take-apart bikes where you can even get a suitcase that converts to a trailer. S and S make a coupling system that framebuilders use on more conventional-looking bikes. Either of these options will be more expensive than a conventional bike, but if you travelled a lot, you'd make it up in reduced baggage fees and hassle. I'm kind of a bike snob, and I'd be happy with either of these options.
posted by adamrice at 1:51 PM on April 26, 2007


jacobean: Yeah, we thought about canceling our tickets but they are non-refundable and the terms a very restrictive: $200 cancellation fee and the $603 credit has to go toward a flight of equal or greater cost. For the sake of any MeFites who have not yet bought their tickets, here's a helpful link detailing each airline's policy. Thanks for the tip about Bike Access. I'm going to do some digging around.

muddgirl: Unfortunately, a standard bike frame exceeds Northwest's dimension limits of 62 linear inches (length + width + height). We are considering just taking them with us and hoping the person who checks them let's us squeak by but since the policy has recently changed we're wondering if they're going to be stricter.

rsk: It's good to hear someone's personal experience. My reading of the link seems like we will get charged. There's this: "Taking along a bicycle always involves a charge." and this: "The standard excess baggage rate will apply."

wyzewoman and adamrice: Yikes! That's what we're afraid of.

Please keep the suggestions coming.
posted by funkiwan at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


A lot of it will just depend on who you're checking the oversized bag with. This happens a lot with kayakers who try to check whitewater boats, and you just pray that you get a benevolent ticket agent.

Aside from that, I'd see if you can find a local cycling club. They should have an idea of where you can buy a bike, or maybe if you're lucky you can find someone to borrow one from.

As for personal contacts, try a couchsurfing search.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2007


I live in Amsterdam, but I ride your standard city bike (no gears, foot brakes, ride upright etc) so I am no use as far as telling you where to hire rather than buy a touring bike (plus I know bloody nothing about bikes really).

However, it must be possible to hire one somewhere. I suggest that you contact Bike City, as I know they speak great English (yes, most younger people here do, but writing is a different matter) and ask them your question politely (as I'm sure you would anyway). There's a contact form on their web page. Don't forget to ask them not just if they can help you out with suitable bikes, which they probably can't, but if they can give you a tip as to where you could rent one.

If that's a no go and nobody else has a better idea, then post again and I'll think a bit harder :-)
posted by different at 2:38 PM on April 26, 2007


Rent a bike Damstraat has touring bikes (and bike bags).
But if you're staying for a whole month, just buying second hand bikes will probably be a lot cheaper. I bought mine at Groeno (2’de hugo de Grootstraat 12-18, they have a website but it's not really working right now) and was really happy with them, they have a big selection of used bikes in good condition for about 75-125 Euros.
If you rent from Macbike don't get a red one with macbike stickers/signs on it unless you want everyone to assume you're a tourist and have no idea what you're doing.
posted by snownoid at 2:39 PM on April 26, 2007


I rented "daily driver" bikes in Amsterdam for a week. No problems and cheap. But my college roommate is a dutchman and we were in his (non-touristy) neighborhood. And he made the arrangements (in person, in dutch). This means that bikes are available to rent and are not (only) for stupid-tourist-types. I think that you'd have fine luck setting up a rental in advance and skipping the annoying fly-with-bikes thing altogether. It'd probably be about the same price since you need bikes for a month.

Most bikes in Amsterdam are of the heavy (steel frame), commuter (yes fenders, no pannier mounts, sometimes a basket up front) style. I didn't see that many road bikes while I was there, but the country is very serious about their cycling. So surely what you want to rent/buy is there.
posted by zpousman at 2:40 PM on April 26, 2007


(Hoi snownoid, wij zijn buren!)

Snownoid is right about Groeno, they have a fab range and they don't sell stolen bikes (very important if you ever get stopped by the cops) but I'm not sure if they would have the right sort of 'touring bikes' that you're looking for. Their number is +31(0)20 684 42 70, not sure if they speak English but probably someone there does! My friend bought a bike there recently and they were really nice people, so I recommend them too if they have what you're looking for.
posted by different at 2:54 PM on April 26, 2007


No personal experience with them, but De Baron Fietsen & DutchBike Amsterdam (Overtoom 45) explicitly states they have touring bikes for rent, along with accessories as panniers. They also sell new and used bikes, as well as accessories.

Probably not what you are looking for, but StarBikes Rental (De Ruyterkade 105) rents a two person bike where you are seated alongside each other, how cool is that?
posted by lioness at 4:55 PM on April 26, 2007


Don't take fancy schmancy American hybrid tourers to Amsterdam. Buy local bikes. They're built for local conditions, and they're bloody good at what they do.

There's a reason Dutch bikes, in the main, are sturdy, well-protected from mud and snow and reliable, as opposed to super and duper and lightweight and hi-tech and zomg I am so cool check out my bike, and it isn't that Dutch people are stupid and backward :-)

I bought a wonderful Dutch bike in Berlin, and I really wish I'd got it together to bring it home to Australia.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on April 26, 2007


Thanks so much everyone! After reading all of your posts, fladablet's put the nail in the coffin. My girlfriend and I turned to each other and said, "Screw it, we're going local. Hi five!" and what had been the most stressful question of the trip had finally resolved itself. It sounds silly but a huge weight was lifted.

We've made a few calls and the responses have been pretty friendly. So far we've gotten one quote for €350 for the month. Figuring in the extra equipment that's included, and that we don't have to pay for bike boxes or extra cab fare, plus the reduced hassle of the whole import/export experience, we think we're on the right track. Thanks to all who contributed. We may end up posting back to this thread our experience when it's all done for posterity's sake.
posted by funkiwan at 3:04 PM on April 29, 2007


For those interested, we spent about two days in Amsterdam dividing our bike research time between three options:
  1. Finding shops that sell used bicycles. While there were a few, we decided that we wanted to feel confident that our bikes would be sturdy enough to carry us through for our monthlong tour. Most of the used bikes looked beaten up and very old.
  2. Searching Marktplaats, the local version of craigslist/ebay. Having little Dutch skills as well as limited transportation options, as well as those reasons listed above, we decided against this approach as well.
  3. Finding shops that rent touring bicycles. We had a couple of decent leads: Damstraat Rent a Bike and MacBike.
We ended up going with MacBike because they showed us the bikes they were going to rent and Damstraat didn't have theirs in the store. We also got a better vibe from them. Even though they are one of the largest renter of bicycles in Amsterdam, MacBike seem to be relatively new to renting touring bikes, and only do this from their small repair office on Marnixstraat. They rented us two hybrid bikes (Batavus Sioux and Cherokee) for 8.50 euro/day/bike. Rental included three locks (wheel mounted, loop lock which docks in wheel lock, and separate chain lock), two panniers with raincovers, one pump, bungies for the rear rack, generator lights and rear blinky lights.

The staff was not used to being in a sales position (all mechanics at the repair shop) but we appreciated their directness.

Some bike-related recommendations from our experience:
  • Do rent from MacBike. They were straighforward in all of their dealings with us. They installed my bike computer free of charge.
  • Do insist on getting a bike with a full chainguard. Grease tattoos are annoying, doubly so when you only have two pair of pants. If you can manage to get a step-through model, go for it. They only had one with a chainguard but we couldn't expect better having not made a reservation in advance.
  • If you can afford Ortlieb (or some other fully waterproof brand of panniers), it may be worth it. While the rainprotectors on our bags were fully waterproof, they didn't cover the back of the bags. So while biking in six hours of continuous downpour, our bags (and some of their contents) got wet. Alternatively, bring thick plastic bags and pack everything in your bags in them. This isn't a terrible option, since you'll likely want to separate your electronics/food/clean clothing/dirty clothing/etc. anyway.
  • Do develop a ritual for making sure you've removed your keys from the bike lock. On our penultimate day of our tour in Utrecht, I had the misfortune of either leaving the key in or near the lock. The bike was stolen and I was heartbroken (massive understatement). I filed a police report and had to explain to the folks at MacBike. Their response over the phone, "This is shit!" will always stay with me. They knocked over 100 euro off the price of the rental (only 100 euro instead of 212.50) and charged me 599 euro for a replacement (retail price found online from the Batavus website), with an offer of refunding any difference if I could find a better deal. I was able to find the bike for 480 online (including shipping) and was given the difference in cash. Had I purchased the insurance I would have been SOL because I didn't have the keys. My new Dutch friends consoled me that a) everyone has a bike stolen in the Netherlands sooner or later; b) everyone forgets their keys in their bike locks sooner or later; c) at least it happened at the end of the tour. Have fun!

posted by funkiwan at 2:10 PM on July 20, 2007


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