Kohout - výrobní číslo 404

The oldest known preserved Kohout with English Aeolus ball bearings has production number 103. This 56” high-wheel bicycle is exceptional in that the company used ball bearings only on a few bicycles at a later time. Thus, it is assumed that the early Kohout was made for a prominent rider. It was either for one of the younger Kohouts (they were tall boys) or possibly for Karel Schultz, who became the Czech consul for the English Bicycle Touring Club for the Czech lands in 1882. Rebuilt bicycle production number 404 has an appearance leading to a similar conclusion. It has a number of components that deviate from the concept of standard Smíchov bicycles.

The use of English Aeolus ball bearings is not, in itself, particularly unusual. They are present on a number of preserved Kohout bicycles for two reasons. The first is that there was no question of them making their own ball bearings in Smíchov because of the technological capabilities of their manufacturing plant. They purchased Aeolus products which had the advantage of easy adjustment of play. J. H. Hughes had them patented in 1877 and the patent was purchased from him by William Brown. This was a good business deal for Brown. With the exception of renowned manufacturers, which had bearings of their own patented design (e.g. BSA, Rudge, Coventry Machinists Co., Bayliss Thomas, etc.), Aeolus bearings were supplied to all of Europe. Hundreds of thousands of these bearings were manufactured.

The Kohout - serial number 404

The second reason was the likelihood that an ever-increasing number of bicycles were imported into Bohemia. Imported bicycles were more expensive because of the import duty which protected domestic production.  The imported bicycles excelled in technical quality. Any new feature that appeared on these imported bicycles forced Kohout to improve its own machines to better meet the competition. In 1885, advertisements began to appear for renowned English brands.  Almost simultaneously personal ads began to appear for used foreign bicycles at lower prices.  Kohouts became increasingly hard to sell. Equipping them with ball bearings was one of the ways of improving competitiveness.

The William Brown company offered an assembly set containing not only Aeolus bearings for the front wheel, but also a complete rear wheel hub with ball bearings and similarly designed pedals. This bicycle is equipped with these kinds of components. The quality of Brown’s products was proven over time. The pedals and both hubs can still be adjusted without any play. 

The attachment of the handlebars to the head is also unusual. Most Kohouts have handlebars with threading. Only in some are they also fixed with two pins.  Here, the handlebars are fixed in an unusual way with one pin with a thread. This design is extremely demanding on exact machining. The grips of the handlebars are numbered 1 and 2 to facilitate assembly as are a great many other components. They are not made of normal wood like all the other known Kohouts but are rather made of brightly coloured tropical wood.

The pride of the manufacturer in this bicycle is reflected in the double label “J. Kohout – Smíchov” on a name plate, fused onto the rim of the wheel and on the pivotal casing of the seat spring. The mounting of the flat seat spring is one of the minor details that changed during production. In principle, two methods were employed. The first consisted in that a small rider at the end of the spring moved along a profiled track. The second principle was simpler – the end of the spring inserted in a casing that moved when compressed, as on the described bicycle. Brass and bronze were used to produce sliding components on the older types and casings on the newer models. A number of components on this bicycle are numbered. The frequently deeply stamped numbers facilitated orientation during assembly. For example, each crank has a number stamped on one side. The one that has the number on the outside belongs on the right and, with the number stamped on the inside, on the left. The hub also has a stamped number so that it is possible to distinguish the direction in which it is to be inserted into the bearing in the fork. The round pins on the cranks are a modern feature of this machine. Kohout very frequently employed flat cranks combined with a cut-out shape on the crank at the place where it was fitted on the hub. The conical pins on this machine also have different stamped numbers. On one pin this is along the main axis while on the other it is across it. This manner of labelling is actually a code for rapid assembly.

So far, we have talked only about precision and perfection. However, it is sufficient to simply measure the diameter of the front wheel and a mystery appears which the bicycle will probably never reveal. In all known Kohout bicycles that have the size stamped somewhere (there are a number of these bicycles which have the diameter of the front wheel in inches) the stamped value corresponds to the actual value. This bicycle with production number 404 has stamped wheel size 56” (142.2 cm) in two places – on the hub of the front wheel and on the fin of the frame at the site of fitting into the head of the fork. However, the diameter of the front wheel equals 145 cm, corresponding to size 57” and not 56”. Why? We have no idea.

The discrepancy in the size of the wheel, together with a number of unusual details, indicates custom-made production, probably for a particular customer. Maybe the customer changed his mind at the moment when the individual components were completed, numbered and prepared for final assembly. The workers at Kohout could meet his demands, but they didn’t bother to change the stamped wheel size. 

We know from correspondence between the Kohout company and its customers that, when ordering machines, riders designated wheel size in both centimetres and inches. For example, Arnošt Count Wratislav of Mitrovice, one of the chairmen of the Czech Velocipede Club in Prague wrote to Jan Kohout on February 24, 1883: “I am completely satisfied with the 130 cm bicycle supplied to me.” On the other hand, A. Horler, a member of the Vienna Bicycle Club wrote in his letter of July 19, 1882: “As I already notified you, the 56” bicycle was delivered to me on Monday and immediately underwent thorough testing.”

The whole of bicycle production number 404 has been preserved in exceptional condition. The polished components have a beautiful patina without any major corrosion. The paint on the frame and fork is original in many places, but has been repeatedly repaired over the years. This happened for the last time during the latest renovation and conservation in 2003. In addition to minor technical differences, the entire bicycle has a number of completely typical features of Kohout bicycles, such as the massive front hub with hollow screws for tightening the spokes and with nuts, the forged back fork with a unique shape at the site of connection to the frame, the shape of the handlebars and the front brake including its attachment. Altogether, it is a very well-made machine.

Technical data:

  • Brand name: J. KOHOUT – Smíchov   
  • Model: not mentioned
  • Manufacturer: J. Kohout – Továrna na mlýnské stroje (Mill machinery factory), Smíchov, Bohemia
  • Serial number: 404
  • Size of the front wheel stamped 56”, actuall size 57”, number of spokes: 54
  • Size of the back wheel: 19”, number of spokes: 24
  • Weight: 21.5 kg
  • Renovation:        Jano Rečo and Robert Šterba, 2003
  • Origin: from the privat collection