ČKV 1880 - Czech Velocipedists’ Club 1880

November 16, 1880 was a date of fundamental importance; on that day, the factory of Jan Kohout was the scene of a gathering of a number of young men who became enthralled riding high-wheel bicycles and decided to establish the Velocipedists’ Club. Its founding is dated to that day, although it received official approval on January 2, 1881.  The founding meeting with 23 members present was held in February of 1881. Jindřich Cífka was elected as its first chairman. It was the first club in Bohemia and the second in Austro-Hungary. The other club was Villacher Velocipedisten-Club (1878-1880). Villacher cyclists rode for a short time twenty tricycles manufactured by the local constructor Josef Erlach.

         The Czech club began to hold joint outings. The first one was on April 24.  It was a whole-day trip to Loděnice which was the residence of the chairman of the club. This was followed by many more of which the most important was to Chrudim and its surroundings on July 23 to 26, 1881.   18 cyclists participated. A great many riders set out independently during the year. The longest trip was by made Jan Kohout to Upper Austria and Bavaria. The members of the Velocipedists’ Club rode a total of 45,000 km that year.

ČKV 1880 - Czech Velocipedists’ Club 1880

In the following year, 1882, the club changed it’s name for the last time to the Czech Velocipedists’ Club (CVC).   The members built a club house on the property of the Smíchov Brewery of which Jan  Kohout was a shareholder. Josef Kohout, František Kohout and Dušan Popovič participated in the cycling races at Vienna on June 11, 1882 which were held by the editor of the Viennese Sportzeintung, Victor Silberer.  This was an important event. These were the first races for high-wheel bicycles in Austro-Hungarian Empire and also in Germany. Josef Kohout (3 min 41.3 s) won over František Kohout and T. H. S. Walker in the one-mile race.  It should be pointed out that Walker withdrew because of the unsportsmanlike behavior of the Kohouts who kept crossing his track.  This was reported in the Austrian press at the time. František Kohout won the two-mile race over Dušan Popovič.  The big 10-mile race was also won by František Kohout over Walker and his brother Josef, who apparently suffered from a spasm in his leg. The triumph was seen at home, not only as a sporting success but, in the stirred-up atmosphere of the national awakening and competition with everything Austrian and German, as further proof of the growing importance and position of the Czech element in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The sympathy and respect that the club thus obtained and also the joining of new members (CVC had a total of 104 members that year) were both positive consequences of this success.  This also contributed to better acceptance of cyclists amongst the general public although there was no lack of slights and malice especially outside the cities. Arnošt Count Wratislav of Mitrovice was elected to head the club.

         The high-wheel bicycle infection began to spread and further clubs were established. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a second club was established in Vienna (Wiener Bicycle-Club 1881), and a third (the second in Bohemia) was the Velocipedists’ Club in Královské Vinohrady (July 24, 1882), followed by the Prague Velocipedists’ Club (April 20, 1883), the Vrdy-Bučice Club of Bicyclists (April 1, 1883), and then others.


On September 28-29, 1883, the Club held the Great International Races of the Czech Velocipedists’ Club. This was held in Prague – Karlín, where an improvised track was created on the Invalidovna military training grounds.  The most important race was over 10,000 meters, won by Julius Huber from Munich who defeated Josef Kohout.  Huber thus became the first Champion of Bohemia. This was to the disappointment of the spectators.  His racing machine, Invincible, has been preserved and is now part of the collections of the National Technical Museum. The two-day championship ended with a deficit but greatly contributed to the popularity of cycling sports. A different track was created in Prague in the Royal Hunting Grounds in 1887.  Once again this track was built by CVC. Towards the end of the 1880’s, the club had tracks in Pardubice (1889), Roudnice (1889), Žižkov (1890) and Kroměříž (1890).

International races of the CVC were held at Invalidovna in 1884.   Here all the races were won by domestic riders.  Josef Kohout came into his own and was first in the 10,000 m race (23 min. 25.8 s). The founding of the Czech Central Unit of Velocipedists (CCUV) in the same year was an important event which was initiated by CVC and was founded by the then-existing four domestic clubs.

         In 1885, Antonín Jál won the 100 km race in Munich, with participation by nine riders. Josef Kohout went on a trip to France, England, Germany and Switzerland on a high-wheel bicycle. Two months later, he triumphantly returned home, where the distance he travelled in 24 hours was celebrated. Under the supervision of the Leipzig club, he travelled exactly 400 km, only 28 km less than the world record at that time.

         In 1886, there were almost a thousand cyclists in Bohemia, mostly riding Kohout bicycles. The Club held an outing to Moravia (July 29 – August 10), with local riders joining along the way.  This further promoted cycling.  Important progress was heralded by Regulation No. 92 890 of November 3, 1886.  This Regulation permitted a rider to travel through Prague on a velocipede under the stipulations that the machine be fitted with a number plate and the rider underwent a test.  If successful he would be granted the police permit.s


         1887 was important in that CVC withdraw from CCUV. The club defended its right to hold international competitions without participation by the central unit which, to the contrary, was of the opinion that it was the only authorized organization. Who was right? Thirteen years later (1900), CVC stated its opinion in its jubilee edition as follows: “Now we look back at this destructive battle with wonder and don’t understand how so many intelligent men, who all had the same common goal, could carry out a battle with substantial financial and other losses, for such a negligible thing which was, at the time, magnified out of all proportion. The main reason for this battle was personal antipathy, which has so damaged our sport and, unfortunately, continues to do so.” Thus, CVC held the IIIrd International Races (May 13, 16 and 17, 1887) and then immediately withdrew from CCUV. Today, we can draw an advantage from the situation at that time: the offended CVC decided to publish a very epical illustrated magazine, the Velocipedista (1888-1890). The first number came out on January 15, 1888 and the biweekly was edited by Josef Kohout. Thereby, CVC wanted to hurt the publisher of the Cyklista magazine (from October 15, 1884), i.e. CCUV.

In 1888, international races were held by both CVC (in Prague) and CCUV (in Plzeň).  In Prague, Vojta Náprstek, a philanthropist (generous patron of science, the arts and all endeavors of modern culture) accepted the position of chief referee.  In the same year the famous American High Wheel trick cyclist, Nicholas Edward Kaufmann, visited Prague and CVC.

CVC returned to CCUV in 1889, although the cold relations did not unfreeze yet. The Vth international races (June 29, 30 and July 7) were held that year with support from a great many important personages amongst whom, in a place of honour, was His Most Royal Highness Franz Ferdinande d´Este who was the successor to the throne.   He donated an honorary prize to the organizers for the winner of one of the races. Unfortunately he never fulfilled his destiny because of his assassination in 1914.

 Disaster and loss of fame

         All the races, outings and successes of 1890 were thrown into shadow by the unprecedented floods that affected all of Bohemia and especially Prague on September 3 – 6. Considerable damage was caused to the Charles Bridge. The CVC clubhouse, a short distance from the left-hand bank of the Vltava, was destroyed.  The archive, library and all the equipment were gone. The water rose so fast that no one managed to remove even one of the ninety bicycles stored there. The end of the year brought the cyclists at least one piece of good news. On November 13, the Government Assembly approved (in the second reading) a supplement to the Highway Act, in which the Velocipede became an officially recognized means of transport. The relationship between CVC and CCUV was finally settled when the elected chairman of CCUV became Josef Kohout (until he left for Russia).

         In 1890, the international races under the patronage of the CVC were not held because the Royal Hunting Grounds, where the track was located, were being prepared for the Jubilee Land Exhibition which was planned for 1891.

         Nonetheless, the CVC held other international races during this exhibition, on May 16 – 18, 1891. The club built a track for this purpose in the close proximity of the exhibition grounds. This was on the property of the Märky, Bromovský & Schulz company. A propos – in 1889, this company built an automobile with an internal combustion engine. This was according to the plans of Siegfried Marcus in its factory in Adamov in Moravia.  This was one of the first automobiles in the world.

The track was 405 m long. It was banked in a ratio of 1:10 and its surface was formed by a mixture of clinker, cinder, ash and soil, which was then covered with tar. The track in Paddington, England served as it’s inspiration. There were also spectator stands, a platform for the referee and a room for competitors. For the first time in Bohemia, machines with pneumatic tires appeared on a race track in a race. It was found during the race that the riders of CVC were no longer capable of competing with foreign competitors. It was necessary to wait for a new generation of domestic competitors.

  CVC revival

In 1892 the CVC held two international races on the newly built Bubenská track. This was CVC’s swan song. It was the last race it held. This was quite understandable as the organizing committee had a deficit of 6000 gold pieces over the previous two years. For comparison – at that time a high-wheel bicycle cost approximately 100 gold pieces. The activities of the club in 1893 were characterized by the following sentence in the annual almanac: “This year, the club devoted itself to the enjoyment of rational tourism.” Thus, instead of races, they rehearsed theatrical productions, such as the comedy “Husband in Jail”.

In 1894, the club had to abandon its clubhouse.  The property on which it stood was sold. In the same year, they built a new clubhouse which had a small house for the club servant.  The CVC had 107 members that year. In the following years the club organized outings, entertainment and meetings practically every week.  It also organized a spectacular ball at Žofín in 1897. It is worth mentioning that CCUV announced its last race on high-wheel bicycles in the same year and also held the last race on tricycles. Safety bicycles definitively took over.

The club’s activities slowly settled down and were limited to outings and trips. Young sportsmen joined new clubs as the CVC was considered an archaic club of founding fathers. New members tended to be relatives of older members. The club retained this atmosphere throughout the first half of the 20th century. Following the Communist coup in 1948, it just lingered on until it was involuntarily incorporated into the single sports organization, the Czechoslovak Federation of Physical Training (CFPT) in the mid-1950’s. The club archive was stored away in a forgotten cupboard of the gymnasium in Smíchov.  There it remained forgotten for forty years.

         Purely by accident, it was discovered by Mrs. Libuše Máchová, a former archivist.  She happened to hand it over to Jan Bejšovec in 1992. Thus, the documents mapping the activities of the club from its founding to its disintegration found their way into the right hands. Logically, this led to renewal of the activities if the Czech Velocipedists’ Club in 1993. Jan Bejšovec was elected Chairman and held this position for 17 years. This is a record election period in the entire history of the club. The modern activities of the club in themselves would warrant a separate publication.

Jan Králík, Robert Šterba, Jaroslav Vožniak


Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung 1882-1884

Bartleet, H. W.: Bicycle Book, reprint, 1983

Bicycling News, 1887

Cyklista, magazine, volumes for the years 1884 -1890

Kohout company catalogue, 1883

Jubilee exhibition of the Land Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague 1891, Prague 1894

Listy průmyslové (Industrial Journal), 1879

A Hundred Years of Work, Prague

Václava Sedláčka, Dějiny Smíchova (History of Smíchov), Part II, manuscript, undated

Velocipedista, magazine, volumes for the years 1888 -1890