Faster than the Wind

Dutch? Bicycles? Bustraan? Two brothers, Joop and Willem Bustraan, started making RIH bicycles in Amsterdam in 1921. From their small shop in the working class Jordaan neighborhood, they became famous for their racing bicycles. Their bicycles eventually were ridden to 63 world championships and Olympic gold medals. Besides making winning bicycles, brother Joop was a successful “stayer,” the motorcycle driver in a race in which a bicycle drafts behind a motorcycle. Motorpace races were the most popular form of European bicycle track racing in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Up to now, I haven’t been able to trace how these Amsterdam cousins are related to the rest of us. Help!

Willem Bustraan

Faster than the wind. What does RIH mean? Contrary to what some believed, it is not an abbreviation for “Rijwiel Industrie Holland.” The brothers named their bicycles after a black Arabian stallion featured in a series of late 19th century adventure novels set in the Sahara desert written by the German Karl May. The protagonist Kara ben Nemsi’s horse was “Rih,” which is said to translate to “faster than the wind.” Not a bad name for a racing bicycle.

Cover of a Karl May novelRih, 150 Westerstraat, Amsterdam

Author May is, himself, an interesting story. Most famous for his tales of the American wild west in his “Old Shatterhand” series, May visited the United States only late in life (and then only as far west as Buffalo, New York!). Virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, May’s work was immensely popular in continental Europe, eventually selling over 200 million copies worldwide.

RIH today. Joop and Willem passed the bicycle shop down to Willem’s son, also named Willem. The firm was eventually sold to Cové Rijwielfabriek of Venlo (near Maastricht) in 1972. RIHs are now made in Venlo, but are now beautiful, top-of-the-line commuter bicycles. RIH, a class apart.The folks in Venlo are very nice people, having graciously sent me a metal head tube plate which still features the intertwined “GB” (Gebrouders Bustraan) on it. Hey, anybody have pre-1972 RIH they’d like to sell? I’m in the market.