Amsterdam, 1921. RIH Sport is found by two brothers, Willem and Joop Bustraan. The brothers began making lugged frames, no mill or lathe to be found, everything done by hand. The production process took its manufacturing cues more from the artisanal guild practices common throughout Europe before the industrial revolution than from the methods unearthed during the revolution itself.
1928 brought the addition of Willem’s son, Willem Jr. Through WWII, surviving Nazi occupation, the trio continued building frames for racers and riders despite the oppressive conditions, going so far as allowing racers to get frames on a layaway program. While we combed the office admiring photographs of champions who have ridden RIH frames through the years we found the register from the 1920’s which still resides collecting dust on one of the shop’s workbenches, a testament to their commitment to the community and their craft.
Photo by Michiel Rotgans
When the time came for the founding brothers to pass the business on to Willem Jr, he quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to meet demand on his own. Willem Jr was exceptionally fortunate to have Wim van der Kaaij, who had wandered into the shop at 10 years old and never really left. Wim met the current World Champion, Gerrit Schulte, at the RIH shop, and began work the next day.
From the moment that he stepped into the shop, Wim was enthralled. Although he couldn’t have known it at the time, this would be his first, last, and only job. He started his career sweeping the shop floors and gradually learned the tools of the trade by helping out where he could. Once he began working full-time, Willem Jr and Wim worked together building bikes well into the latter half of the 20th century. Willem Jr later retired while Wim continued building frames into his 70s for a never-ending backlog of customers. Wim estimated that throughout his career he had built over 5,000 frames by hand.
Photo by Michiel Rotgans
Finally Wim recognized that he couldn’t build frames forever, which is where the current RIH owners come into light, Lester and Lorenzo. Lester is RIHs prodigal son, apprenticing under Wim, then taking some time to travel. Lester returned to RIH with Lorenzo in tow. These two have a passion for bicycles and an understanding of what it will take to make RIH’s commitment to craft appreciated by contemporary consumers. They had spent hours convincing Wim of the benefits of threadless headsets and even a social media existence. Slowly but surely they are bringing RIH cycles into the modern era, while Wim’s skepticism and questioning instilled into the Lester and Lorenzo a concrete sense of what truly goes into making a RIH.
Recently, after Wim passed away, Lester shared a thought Wim had years prior: “When God needs a framebuilder, he’ll let me know.” Wim quite literally worked in the shop until his last day, leaving pressure along with intense pride of craftmanship with Lester.