WORDS & PICTURES: Frank van der Sman
Opening the door on your way in you think about all the Dutch champions that had walked through here. Suddenly this train of thought gets interrupted by the loud clanging of the cowbell hanging above the door. Then complete silence. Sometimes the silence can continue for several minutes before Mr. van der Kaaij walks out of his workplace into the shop. Meanwhile you stand there surrounded by pictures of legendary cyclists and bikes that belonged to Peter Post and Leontien van Moorsel.
Wim (or Willem) van der Kaaij is now 75 years old and up until about two months back was doing what he loves most, building steel frames. He is one of those guys that doesn’t like to talk to visitors because it keeps him from working. But when you are there, he can rattle on-and-on about all sorts of random tales. Often he would tell stories about how things had changed over time: ‘Carbon bikes are like plastic rocking horses’; ‘the banking system became too complex’; ‘youngsters work strange magic on their computers’… He wasn’t complaining but he clearly remained old school, this seemed to make it difficult for him to run his business.
Brothers Joop and Willem Bustraan founded RIH-Sport in 1921. The brand was named after an ink-black horse from the books of Karl May, a horse that was ‘faster than the wind’. They started out from a small shop in the Amsterdam working-class Jordaan neighborhood, growing out to be a household name in the Netherlands.
One day Wim van der Kaaij came into their shop as a young boy to get some handlebar tape. It was the Monday after Gerrit Schulte became pursuit world champion beating the invincible Fausto Coppi on the old Amsterdam Olympic Stadium track. Wim met the freshly crowned champion Schulte in the shop. That afternoon in late August 1948 changed the course of his life.
He fell in love with the ambiance of the place and never left. In the early seventies he ended up taking over the business. Throughout the course of the years their frames won a mighty 63 Olympic medals and world championship titles combined making the RIH-Sport brand arguably the most successful Dutch frame-maker of all time.
Sadly on June the 1st the doors of this amazing shop on Westerstraat 150 closed, the end of an era. Legendary brands like Presto, Zieleman, Aandewiel, Peka and Bergh-Sport already stopped building frames within the city’s borders an age ago. Mr. van der Kaaij was the last remaining of Amsterdam’s true craftsmen. Even though there are plans to re-launch the business in a different part of town (without a shop) to pass down his experience to future generations, it will never be the same again.
‘De mooiste fietsen komen uit de Jordaan’.
(the most beautiful bikes come from the Jordaan)
Pictures taken at the RIH tribute ride on the 20th of May.