The secrets behind the bikes in the Olympic opening ceremony

We thought they were pigeons, but at least the 'doves' were riding bikes...

by Sarah Barth   July 31, 2012  

Olympic Opening Ceremony dove bike pic credt CarlosVanVegas Flickr Creative Commons

It was a bone of contention when the BMX scene was cut from the Olympic opening ceremony, so for many cyclists it was all about the dove bikes, the winged bikes that had been glimpsed in previews of the Danny Boyle spectacle.

We thought they were pigeons, actually, but it all became clear later on; releasing of doves has been a traditional sign of peace at the Olympics since the end of the First World War.

At the 1988 Games in Seoul, a number of the birds flew straight into the Olympic flame, leading Danny Boyle to stick with the safe option.

75 winged riders were aboard - we can reveal now that the strict pact of secrecy has been lifted - Dawes bikes that had been painted black to be invisible under the wings.

According to Bike Biz, Dawes supplied 85 of its Discovery 101 and 201 bikes to Paul Gage and Phil Magnus from The Bicycle Maintenance Company in Muswell Hill. Dawes's parent company Tandem Group is the official licensee for two wheel product for the Games.

There were a few modifications to the bikes, including a rear mudguard to avoid trapping the wings in the wheels, and the front bikes in each circuit were fitted with a cycle computer so the lead rider could maintain a steady 9mph pace.

The riders were all amateur cyclists who'd responded to a call for volunteers by British Cycling. They were dressed all in black, apart from a white cycle helmet and backpack-mounted white wings, that incorporated LEDs that were controlled via a handlebar switch.

It's not clear whether the helmets were an aesthetic or safety-conscious decision.

The rider-controlled lights meant that riders who got into difficulties could 'go dark', switch off the lights and ride off into the sidings to avoid holding up the display.

Andrew Dowden, 52, a barrister from Pimlico, south west London, who was one of the two lead out riders, told the Telegraph that  the riders had received an email from the creative team just after the finish of the ceremony.

He said: “I think it went completely to plan and without mishap. They were just so happy and I am sure they would have said if there had been anything.”





13 user comments

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No-one tempted to fly off with one?
Or was there someone that 'counted them out and counted them back in'?

Joselito's picture

posted by Joselito [167 posts]
31st July 2012 - 10:10

1 Like

They could have used used Golden Pigeons for a nice reference back to Beijing (though I believe they're a much rarer sight there now).

posted by steff [81 posts]
31st July 2012 - 10:31

1 Like

Pigeons are doves. Specifically, rock doves.

posted by Nick T [901 posts]
31st July 2012 - 11:41

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Big shout out to Nick B, Will H and anyone else on the bike fleet support crew who worked their butts off to make sure the doves flew!

harman_mogul's picture

posted by harman_mogul [191 posts]
31st July 2012 - 11:47


Came to say the same thing:

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [715 posts]
31st July 2012 - 12:59

1 Like

Gotta love that Seoul incident:

You can skip straight through to about 4min50sec for the roasting action.

andyspaceman's picture

posted by andyspaceman [243 posts]
31st July 2012 - 14:52


And it wasn't just BMX bikes that were chopped out of the programme, it seems. Jurek Blaszczak, otherwise famous on these pages as the London cyclist that set off's 'Spot Yourself riding on Google Street View' discussion a couple of years ago, appearing not just once, but twice just told me that that he was one of 180 cyclists cut when the Opening Ceremony had to be pruned by a full half hour. Needless to say he is "gutted" but taking a philosophical view: "I haven't a single regret about having been involved, I'm immensely proud to have had the opportunity, and I loved every minute of it - especially being in the stadium."

posted by nick_rearden [864 posts]
31st July 2012 - 18:41

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I was lucky enough to be a Dove Biker and it was a fantastic opportunity to perform in the Opening Ceremony. Auditions were held at Three Mills in March, we finally got our confirmation in May and started rehearsals in June, first at Dagenham and then Stratford. One of the issues was that whilst the Bike Ballet concept was developed a long while ago, it wasn't until BMX legend Bob Haro and stunt co-ordinator Paul Hughes came on board 2 months ago to actually turn it into reality. The Bike Ballet concept was four elements - Fire Bikes, Peloton, BMX and finally the Dove Bikes involving about 240 riders. When we started rehearsals it highlighted problems - the Fire Bikes were heavy and unreliable, the BMX ramps were made to the wrong shape and the huge variation in Peloton rider speed made timing difficult - it wasn't going to be helped by the 'dead time' in getting the ramps on and off the field of play. As the Doves are an essential element of the Opening Ceremony, with the decision to shorten all 7 performances, it was sadly inevitable to remove the Fire Bike and Peloton/BMX and Danny Boyle personally expressed great regrets. Whilst the bikes may have been lowly Dawes hybrids - spray painted black, including cables, chains and everything it was the dove wings that were a triumph of design and engineering:

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [423 posts]
31st July 2012 - 19:19

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I console myself with the fact that the reason you have rehearsals is to find out whether or not you can actually do something in the given time frame.

In our case (the firebikes) we found we could not.

What they were asking of us was quite demanding and difficult - even for experienced riders.

Had we the luxury of an extra four weeks we may've been able to make our section happen - as it is, this was never going to be the case.

If I wore a hat, I'd be doffing it in respect of the Dove bikes.

Awesome performance guys (and gals). Outstanding and not to be forgotten.


posted by Jurek [6 posts]
31st July 2012 - 19:51



You are so right and because Bob and Paul were brought in so late they had to made do with what little time was available - rehearsal space and time at Dagenham was limited and by the time we got to Stratford, time was against you.

Sadly, the casting team under-estimated the effort needed to propel about 80kg of steel up a steep ramp - not aided by a £100 BSO with flat tyres - the selection criteria for many was availability, not ability.

On behalf of all the Dove Bikers, we were performing for all bikers on Friday.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [423 posts]
31st July 2012 - 20:52

1 Like

I know you were.

Part of the beauty of what we were doing (from my angle, at least) is that everyone involved wanted to make it happen.


posted by Jurek [6 posts]
31st July 2012 - 21:23


I too was a Dove Biker and we all felt for you guys who were cut from the show. We all did it for you as well, and for Brad.

Did you notice that the flying Dove had a yellow face? That came from us, a yellow Dove would have spoilt the effect.

After marshalling the road races and the time trials today, I'm just floating around with pride at being a part of it all - paralympics road marshalling are up for me next, and its been a blast.

If you ever, ever get chance to do something like this, grab the opportunity and DO IT.

Dove no.55 Smile

posted by Dunlin [11 posts]
1st August 2012 - 21:47

1 Like

i thought they were butterflies Confused

posted by jamjam [61 posts]
1st August 2012 - 23:05

1 Like