Veteran Cyclists Club: penny-farthings, period clothes and a lot of fun
The town of Vysoké Mýto was always a sports town. One of the first tennis clubs in our country was established there, but long before that the Association of Czech Cyclists and Travelers was organizing regular group trips around the country on penny-farthings and veteran bikes.
According to historical records and the association’s own chronicle the Association of Czech Cyclists and Travelers was established in 1895, in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when cyclists in baggy knickerbockers and sports jackets and ladies in skirts and straw hats undertook trips to memorable places in Czech history.
A few years later, a convention of cyclists from all over Bohemia and Moravia - took place in Vysoké Mýto, when hundreds of members of cycling associations congregated in the town to celebrate the cycling tradition.
The present-day Veteran Cyclists Club in Vysoké Mýto was inspired by the Association of Czech Cyclists and Travelers from the era of the First Republic. It was established in June of 2007 by the head of the regional museum Jiří Junek.
"We are a group of active people who love history, especially the period of the First Republic, we love veteran bikes and this hobby is a change to socialize and have a lot of fun. The very first Association of Czech Cyclists and Travelers was established in 1895 still within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was a short break and then the tradition was taken up again in 1922 – so you could say it is one of the oldest sporting clubs in the region.”
The club’s members in the years of the First Republic left a detailed chronicle about their activities with charming period photos taken during their trips around the country. Jiri Junek says he was intrigued by the detailed historical records.
“The chronicle we are looking at now is from 1928. And, to tell the truth, it was this chronicle from the days of the First Republic that inspired me to establish the Veteran Cyclists Club in Vysoké Mýto. Our predecessors kept detailed records of their trips and social events –we can see that that year the clubs members undertook ten longer trips - one of which even led to northeastern Bohemia and lasted for six days. The chronicle contains information about each trip including such details about when a trip was spoiled by rain, and where the cyclists found shelter in a pub."
Today anyone interested in joining the club must acquire their own penny-farthing or veteran bicycle and period clothes. Finding an old bike in good condition is not always easy, Jiri Junek says.
"Times are changing, and while fourteen years ago veteran bicycles were much easier and cheaper to find – occasionally even in a scrapyard for peanuts - today it is much harder to get a veteran bike. They are collectors’ items –like cars and motorbikes – and you have to get them in an auction or search for them on the Internet. Occasionally someone will post a message on social networks saying I have an old bike in the attic that I’m looking to sell and then there is a scramble for it. There are not many old bicycles in good condition today –especially with a factory mark from the manufacturer, which is what we all want. So it is not easy to find a good veteran bicycle, but it is possible.”
The Veteran Cyclists club –in which membership fluctuates – organizes long and short trips throughout the year as well as various gatherings along the lines of its predecessors.
The most popular and biggest annual event is the autumn Memorial to Carpenter Levinský, when the cyclists set out on a route that’s over fifty kilometers long. The memorial was established in memory of an old member of the historic cyclists association who in 1926 made a bet that he would cover the distance fom Přelouč to Vysoké Mýto by bicycle in an hour. According to a chronicle entry he won the bet and even managed to get there in less than an hour, but he paid for the victory with his life, dying of exhaustion soon after.
Jiří Junek says that –leaving out the breakneck deadline - this distance is not hard to cover on an old bike.
“I have to say that the bikes from the years of the First Republic are very solid, very good bikes, they have very good bearings and if you are in shape they will give you a comfortable ride even for long distances. In fact I would even dare to say some of the veteran bikes are better than the new ones and you can cover one hundred, two hundred kilometers on them without any problem.”
And finally –is the present day veteran cyclists club keeping a record of its activities that may one day inspire future generations?
“Yes, I have been keeping quite detailed records of the clubs activities from day one. What is particularly well documented are the annual Levinsky memorials. So when I look back today I can see that in the year of the club’s founding it was snowing on the day of the Levinsky Memorial ride, so only three cyclists finished the ride. But the very next year we had glorious weather –unseasonably warm for October at around 22 degrees – and all ten participants crossed the finishing line. So that was wonderful.”
In addition to the Levisky Memorial ride you can also see the cyclists at the popular event Lázně ducha in Litomyšl and, of course, they never miss the Sodomkovo Vysoké Mýto festival.