Jan Veselý’s Perič bicycle - Introduction and Meeting
It is a well-known fact that an antique car with a well-mapped history and list of previous owners is far more valuable than an identical bicycle of unknown origin. This is also true for historical bicycles. In the middle of January 2014, we celebrated the rebirth of such a bicycle at the U Lasíků restaurant in Únětice. This is a road racing bicycle built by Antonín Perič for Jan Veselý, one of the key bicycles in domestic cycling and a bright moment in the life of the local community.
Robert Štěrba, who not only presented the Perič (production number 21 646), but also initiated the first and we are convinced that, in the future, to be repeated informal meeting of researchers in the area of historical bicycles, invited a number of interesting people and personages who were capable of appreciating such a gathering. František Babický, the legendary mechanic of the national team of the Peace Race, Dr. Jaroslav Cihlář, multiple national champion in all track disciplines, academic world champion, racing competitor, trainer of the national team of track racers, pedagogue and closest friend of Jan Veselý. The men from Repete Cycles, racing competitors, fans, journalists, collectors in all age categories ...
In the 1930’s, there were several small workshops in Prague, whose owners built good quality road and track bicycles from various components. The best known of these were Bóža Kubricht in Nusle, the Szekuj brothers in Karlín, František Štantejský in the New Town and Antonín Perič in Karlín. His bicycles were considered to be the best of all. In the 1920’s Antonín Perič repeatedly became Czechoslovak champion and was also successful as a functionary in the Czech Central Unit of Velocipedists and as a trainer. He had his workshop in Karlin in what is now Pernerova Street. He excelled as a master of his trade, but was also known as being somewhat eccentric, occasionally a grumpy and sometimes a choleric person. When a customer came in to order a bicycle and sat on his work bench, Perič drove him out into the street shouting that no one is going to put his bum where I earn money to buy my bread. When he was soldering a bicycle frame in the forge, it was perilous to open the door to the workshop and cause a draft; this fed the fire, increasing the temperature and the overheating the material, making it brittle. We should keep this in mind: it is important for our story. Otherwise he was a truly good-hearted person. If he noticed a talented cyclist, he simply gave him his bicycle. Jaroslav Cihlář was an example from amongst many.
Perič built bicycles from 1933 to 1967, as can be seen from the order book which he wrote with a ballpoint pen, apparently with dirty hands. The orders were only sporadic after 1948, especially because it became increasingly difficult to obtain good material. The last entry in the order book for 1967.
Peace Race - "Course de la Paix" 1948 - 2003
Favorit or Perič?
The most famous bicycle from the workshop in Karlín has number 21 646. Perič built it from Reynold tubes in 1949 for Jan Veselý, so that he could compete in the second annual Peace Race. Similar to 1948, one year later domestic representatives competed on their own bicycles. Veselý won the second annual Peace Race on his Perič bicycle and became a national hero overnight.
In 1950, he began building racing bicycles in the newly established Favorit national enterprise. The members of the national team were instructed to race on these bicycles from Rokycany. Jan Veselý however insisted on having his own way and raced on his Perič. He was required only to paint over the tricolour flag on the frame from the French (blue-white-red) to the Czechoslovak (white-red-blue) colours.
Veselý managed to have his way and also rode his Perič in 1951, but it was not enough to paint over the flag. The bicycle had to be repainted dark blue and had to bear the Favorit label. He competed again on this "debased" Perič in 1952. And the bicycle entered history this time. Not because Veselý won the race on it, but because the fork broke eight kilometres before the end of the race on the paving stones in Leipzig and he somersaulted dreadfully. This led to Veselý being forbidden to compete on his bicycle and to damage to Perič’s reputation. Perič fretted about this defect for a long time - he swore by his workmanship. He did not understand how this could have happened. Especially because he took special care with this bicycle and with the other one that he built at the same time. It had number 21 647 and he made it for his son Milan.
What happened? Had Jan given someone a ride on the frame? Had he ridden down steps? Had he jumped onto the road from a high sidewalk?
Jan Veselý knew where the problem was, but wasn’t brave enough to tell Perič for many years. He admitted the truth many years later: "In fact, it was very simple. The ball bearing cup was damaged and had to be replaced. I was supposed to take it to Prague, but didn’t feel like it; I had it repaired in Strakonice by a friend who had already repaired dozens of bicycle. He did it in the same way as all the previous repairs. He welded the neck of the fork with a normal oxyacetylene torch, heated it rapidly and cooled just as rapidly. It was made of thin, sensitive material that required quite a different approach, sensitive hands and especially patience." Thus it was described in Josef Pondělík's book Jan Veselý – life in the peloton. While welding the lower cup, his friend - repairman had overheated the tube of the fork, which became brittle and was an accident waiting to happen ...
Jan Veselý ended up in second place in the Peace Race in 1950 and was second once again, in 1955. In 1957 he gave up in the stage from Karlový Vary to Karl-Marx-Stadt (in normal times Chemnitz). For this the Communist Party accused him of betraying the working class and peace, removed him from the team and barred him from sports altogether. As a punishment, they made him drive a truck to make up for his betrayal of the working class and world peace by delivering cement and bricks. Just a tiny example of the paranoid thinking of that time.
Jan Veselý - Racer
And where did his Perič end up? Veselý wouldn’t stand for any criticism of it. He carefully kept the label that he had to remove from the head of the tube in 1951 and rode the bicycle to a ripe old age. It is, however, true that the bicycle had been changed so much that it was hardly recognizable. Jan Veselý gave it up in 1995 when Robert Štěrba built a new bicycle for him with the most modern fittings. In brief, they swapped bicycles. Robert Štěrba can tell us what happened next.
Perič 21 646 revival
"What I brought home was in no way reminiscent of the famous bicycle. The frame had been repainted repeatedly, the stickers of hotels were stuck on it probably as a joke, it was fitted with other than the original components, but it was still frame number 21 646 with that unfortunate, now repaired, fork. I received a few components and, what was the main things, that carefully cared-for label. First it was necessary to straighten the frame and repair a few defects in appearance. Then it was painted light blue and ... hung in the workshop from that time on. I didn’t feel like continuing, I didn’t feel that the colour was right.
In 2013, I finally decided to try again. Before Jan Veselý died, we talked about bicycles, tricycles, quadricycles and various details and I decided to take him back to conditions in 1949 when he won the Peace Race on the bicycle. We mixed together various shades of paint as close as possible to those in the available photographs and preserved materials. I used the original “transfer" stickers that I had obtained formerly from Perič’s last employee, Mr. Heider.
I painted the tricolour myself and sanded it with steel wool to give it a patina and to mask the brush marks. Of course, I didn’t have the experience of Mrs. Schlezingerová, the wife of the painter in Trhulářska Street in Prague, where Perič and all the best manufacturers had their frames painted. We mixed the paint with a little matte lacquer to suppress the bright newness. Then we applied just a thin layer of metallic coating, like this was done on sports bicycles during the war and after it. I used all the parts from that time; from period photographs it was easy to see what belonged where, where the bowden cables led, how the seat was fitted and other details.
All the components are in authentic condition, have only been cleaned without any basic renovation, nothing has been nickel plated or chrome plated and the duralumin parts were only lightly cleaned without a great deal of polishing, not to lose the period character of the bicycle.
The bowden cables, hand grips, bottle holders cages, the original bottle and the seat are in the original condition. They go surprisingly well with the new paint. I had to use Favorit wheel rims, seat post, one brake gripper, shoe clips and straps. I looked for them in a condition that would correspond to the other parts. We removed the spokes we needed from a different sports bike from the 1940’s. I tried to make the newly painted frame harmonize with the other components (it was the only option). I certainly didn’t want to use polish.
The only replica is the starting number made according to the photographs and the copied size and cross-section of the letters. Fortunately, I was able to use a different preserved period plate made of 0.05 mm sheet metal.
History was unintentionally repeated when the bicycle was being brought back to the condition in 1949. First I accidentally painted the French tricolour and then realized my mistake and repainted the flag to the Czechoslovak tricolour. History repeated itself."
Text Robert Štěrba, Jan Králík
Small Tasting of Renovation
Bicycle photographs Robert Štěrba, pictures from the restaurant Pavel Myška.