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Richmond welcomes the Dutch with NS-supplied bikes
Olympic host city shows orange (and blue)
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
RICHMOND, BC - Over 650 people took to the streets recently in a sunny, almost spring-like, multi-sponsored biking event in this 2010 Winter Olympic host city. Roads and lanes around the Olympic Oval, the Holland Heineken House and through some of the spectacular scenery were blocked off by police, making the flat course safe and easy to navigate.
Many of the participants - the majority of them Dutch immigrants and expats - brought their own bicycles, adding to the variety of styles and brand names. Those without a fiets, about 400 enthusiasts, borrowed one of the bikes especially brought in from the Netherlands by event co-sponsor NS (the Dutch Railways).
Four hundred bicyles. Dutch bicyles. Modern ‘omafietsen’ in a bright yellow-and-blue paint job. Biking would be an environmentally green and healthy way to ride around Richmond from the Olympic Oval (the speedskating venue) and to places such as the Holland Heineken House.
Customer-friendly NS-employees handed out the bikes - with the deposit of one’s driver’s license as security. The few dozen mostly uniformed NS’ers are on loan for the duration of the Winter Games to a well-stocked Richmond ‘fietsenkelder,’ adjacent to the Holland Heineken House. Helmets, not particularly popular with the Dutch, but a legal requirement in B.C., were supplied as well, as were bright-orange safety vests, with the name of co-sponsor Martin van Keken’s MVKA Productions.
A long ‘peloton’ of orange bike-riders then set off for the official starting point, some of them taking it easy - or even walking - to get familiar with the ‘terugtraprem’ (peddle brake). Richmond’s mayor, decked out in an orange vest as well for the occasion, got the crowd’s spirits going with his speech, followed by Dutch Consul-General Hans Driesser who in sharp contrast, had not gone orange in attire. Many of the bike-riders were decked out with hats, wigs, facepaint, shawls, glasses, t-shirts and other vestments often seen at speedskating, soccer and other popular sporting events in the Netherlands and around the world (including the Richmond Oval during the first speed skating event, the 5K, won by Sven Kramer).
Major intersections and other road accesses were closed by police - and blue-uniformed VANOC volunteers (nicknamed ‘smurfs’) - to allow the bicyclists to pass through. The pack cycled along Richmond’s waterfront dike, giving them a view of some yachting pavilions and Olympic artwork. Coming down from the dike caused some minor spills, primarily among the age-challenged and the inexperienced, of whom some probably had not biked in years. However, the prospect of hot chocolate-and-stroopwafel (or a piece of koek) made everybody aim for the finish. Salvation Army volunteers doled out the goodies, Martin van Keken handed out mementoes and gifts, and people met, reacquainted, mingled, snapped pictures and in general chatted about the ride, the weather, the Olympics, being Dutch and anything and everything else.
Handing in the bikes to NS’ volunteers went as smooth as picking them up. Those waiting for their turn could cheer the (Dutch) workers setting up the Holland Heineken House, the venue’s chefs and staff and any other (Dutch) volunteer walking by the crowds. Then it was for many participants a return home with memories of a Netherlands-type leisurely bike-ride.
Gift hits snags
The bikes are available for use in Richmond throughout the games. They are the same type as those the NS rents out by the day or by subscription for a nominal fee at numerous railway stations in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the bikes will be returning to the Netherlands, in spite of the original plans. The NS had intended to donate the 400 bikes to the City of Richmond, but ran into unexpected bureaucratic complexities. Unfortunately, Revenue Canada insisted that the NS pay import duty on the 400 (then used) bikes if they were to stay in Canada. The potential NS-gift, which has a value of over $400,000, instead will return home.
For more information on the bike program in Canada visit www.gogreengodutchgobike.com. The (Dutch) website http://www.ov-fiets.nl/ has all the information on how and where to rent an OV-bike for the day at railway stations in the Netherlands.