“So you want to buy a bicycle?” asks the opening chapter of The Complete Book of Bicycling (1970) by Eugene A. Sloane. The guide continues with the questions you might be wondering about at this very moment:
“Where should you buy your bicycle? A discount house or a bike shop? How about a take-apart bicycle? And how can you tell a top-grade bicycle from a piece of junk that will give you nothing but trouble and needless expense?”
Here in Prague, retro bikes have become quite the trend. Vit Hlousek, founder of Le Bikes, has turned his passion for bikes like the Eska-Favorit from 1960s Czechoslovakia into a career, by restoring and customizing them in his Žižkov studio/shop. “These bikes are better than new ones, because no factory could pay so much attention to them,” he says.
Le Bikes was born when Hlousek’s hunt for a cream-white bike yielded nothing. Inspired by 1930s bike design, he launched his service which pays great attention to every last detail, from color to the choice of the seat. The retro touch is not only in the way a bike looks – quality and safety are a top priority: “Everything I add is branded,” he says. Hlousek also takes pride in his 100-percent ecological, zero-waste work methods, taking the details for his two-wheeled creations from scrap yards.
“My bikes are for everyone”, says Hlousek describing his regular customer as 30 years old and middle-class. Of course, girls prevail – but 30 percent are still men, and not at all hipsters, as one would expect. He gets a lot of business from Eastern Europeans.
Hlousek is also quite popular among expats: “Czechs are going for more expensive pin-ups bikes,” he says, adding that “Expats prefer to pay roughly 3,000 Kc for a customized bike, which in worst case they can resell once they move to another European city on their expatriate journey.
Hlousek takes painting the frame to a new level of sophistication this spring as he will cover your bike frame with comic book designs. You can also paint your own frame as part of his workshop or cover a tube with a plain color base and the artwork of your choice.
Bike frames are a particular point of pride for the Czech company Festka, which offers customized bikes that begin with steel, titanium, or carbon frames. Founded by Ondřej Novotný and Michael Moureček (himself a one-time professional cyclists) Festka operates workshops all over the country with a Prague-based shop in Vinohrady. They want to emphasize, however, that their bikes aren’t just for “Muddy, sweaty creatures in a tight sports jersey.”
Festka’s aim is to “bring back the glamour and fame [associated with Czech bikes]. To show that a bike is a high-quality means of transport, fashion accessory and a demonstration of an individual personality tuned into the tiniest detail.”
To that end the company customizes each bike for riders in order to “mirror” the rider’s personality, spending a painstaking 50 hours on each frame and using local materials, of both traditional and new-age origin. They also sell messenger bags and accessories for the urban bike enthusiast.
“Festka is our chance to make things kick ass,” says graphic designer Tomáš Hnida.
Also manned by experts from the world of professional cycling is Bicycle Cafe which provides tailor-made mountuain and road bikes as well as full-service repairs.
Need some additional inspiration for pimping your ride? The bike-sharing initiative Rekola organizes regular bike-painting workshops at Radlicka 125; the new Kuráž Czech design store on Benediktska has brightly hued seats from Slovak label Retart.
The bike-loving population will not want to overlook Hyena Bike Labs, another local custom-bike service that also organizes regular rides and races and is currently developing a line of equipment and accessories. Among their topsellers are the Hyena cages, simple steel-tube racks with a vintage feel that are adjustable to fit any bike.
For those who want to take the retro bike thing to a whole new level, the English-friendly e-shop Štěrba Bike specializes in rare historical bicycles, components, cycling-related vintage posters and ads, and will also customize your bike.
That 1940s Raleigh lady bike you’ve always dreamed of? Yours for just 18,000 CZK. Or hop on a 19th-century high-wheeler for a cool 95,000 CZK. This Czech company imports vintage classics from England, Italy, and France and has provided historical bicycles for a number of Czech films.
If you haven’t yet committed to buying a bike, check out Green Lemon bike rentals (on Myslikova near Karlova náměstí) which hires lovely blue Manchester bikes – manufactured here in the Czech Republic – for tooling around town.
Get used to the sight of bikes in Prague; anything but a fleeting trend, the rise of urban cycling is in fact the result of a very determined campaign by pro-biking initiatives througout the city.
One of them, Auto-mat has been very active over the past years in the fight to create safer and more pleasant biking conditions for cyclists in the Czech capital. Most recently they have campaigned to make the stretch of the Vltava riverbank from Charles Bridge to the Rudolfinum, car-free.
This year Auto-mat continues its effort with their annual “To Work on a Bike” project which is popularizing biking as an ideal way to get to work. What’s your excuse? It’s time to honk, ring, and roll!
What do you think? Has the city of Prague become bike friendlier?
Don’t forget to check out our classifieds server for deals on classic Czech wheels.