The Kohout – serial number 564

The famous success of Josef Kohout and the second place for his brother František in Vienna races in 1882 led to the name of the Kohout bicycles. From 1883, they were designated as the Champion Bicycle in all materials. This was a good commercial idea, where the success of riders was to promote sales of bicycles.

According to our estimates and in relation to the number of bicycles manufactured each year, bicycles with production number 200 and greater can be considered to be Champion Bicycles. It should be added that the bicycle with production number 650 is the lowest known example on which an oval brand name plate first appeared with a stamped cockerel (kohout = cockerel in Czech).  The stamped text reads "Champion Bicycle, J. Kohout Smíchov". Simultaneously, this label is not on all subsequent known bicycles, but only on those with numbers 699, 707, 752, 764, 771, 833, 839, 864 and 872. We didn’t manage to link any reason why some bicycles have labels and some do not. The labels were attached to the head of the front fork. Global manufacturers only rarely placed labels on their machines. Thus, it is now frequently difficult to determine the manufacturer of a particular bicycle. Even collectors and globally renowned experts are frequently at a loss. There are exceptional moments when a group of experts from around the world stand confused over a bicycle.  Each of them has a feel of the fork, backbone and handlebars, someone measures the axles and then they all shrug their shoulders. The most common defining features are the type of bearings, manner of attaching the handlebars, the fixing of the spokes in the wheels and then only intuition. None of this applies to Kohouts. With very few exceptions, all the bicycles are labeled “J. KOHOUT SMÍCHOV” on the backbone and some even have the mentioned label on the front fork.

The Kohout – serial number 564

The presented bicycle number 564 does not have a label on the head. On the basis of the high production number, this should be a machine with modern features such as ball bearings, shaped handlebars, etc. But this is not so. The machine has straight handlebars with a brake from the first types of Kohouts, primitive cylindrical roller bearings, pedals and flat cranks. It will probably not be far from the truth if we say that this was a machine put together from left-over components found somewhere under the workbench.  It was probably for a less well-off customer who was braver than he was rich.

The bicycle is quite complete. It is in beautiful condition and has the typical style of the Smíchov factory. The simple bearings, similar to the first types, are only supplemented by oilreservoirs. Only the pedals were not made in the Kohout factory. Either they were installed at a later time or the customer wanted (or somehow obtained) these.  At that time, Kohout imported a number of components from England and frequently mounted them on their machines.

Many of the components are denoted by the production number. Stamped numbers on bolts and nuts, cranks and a great many small components can also be considered to be a typical characteristic of these bicycles. The seat has beautifully aged leather, reflecting all it has been through. It should be pointed out that it is a rare thing to find a bicycle with the original seat. Leather is a fragile material and, if not destroyed during use, can decompose over time. Consequently, original seats are very rare today. Of those that have been preserved, we can conclude that they had various designs and were either manufactured in the Kohout factory or were supplied by a skilled saddle-maker. For example, Kohout bicycles with production numbers 482 and 815 have the legible lettering “ČESKÉ SEDLO” on the leather on the side of the seat and “KOHOUT” on the left and right at the back of the seat.

The paint on the bicycle is not original. One of the previous owners removed the original paint and then it was necessary to spray the frame and wheel rims during renovation. Decoration of Kohout bicycles is still an unresolved question. All the bicycles with original paint are black. Where it can be seen on period photographs, pictures in advertisements and where it can be viewd from the residue of paint on preserved bicycles, some machines were decorated on request.  Sometimes with red and green lines along the sides of the front fork and on the frame tube.

Complicated patterns on the side of the front fork, consisting of fine lines, are visible in the photograph from 1881, depicting Jindřich Cífka with his machine.  This was probably from the first year of production.

A small 48” bicycle with production number 439 was donated to the museum in Kamenice nad Lipou in original condition during the 1930’s.  The donation was by the family of the original owner.  It is a complete exception. It has a dense network of red lines on the frame and especially the front fork, forming ornaments more reminiscent of lace than lines on a bicycle.

This bicycle is exceptional for another reason. We know that all the shiny parts on Kohout bicycles were only polished. Machine No. 439 is completely nickel-plated except for the frame and fork. It is the only known bicycle finished in this way.  It is an exception proving the rule that it was undoubtedly made-to-order for a demanding customer. The bicycle apparently acted as a model design for some period Kohout owners who frequently nickel-plated their machines.  Nickel plating is not a typical feature of machines from Smíchov but rather they were characterized by course matte-shiny polished metal. In any case, you can see for yourself in the photograph of the presented bicycle No. 564.

Technical data:

  • Brand name: J. KOHOUT – Smíchov
  • Model: Champion Bicycle
  • Producer: J. Kohout – Továrna na mlýnské stroje (Mill machinery factory), Smíchov, Bohemia
  • Serial number:    564
  • Size of the front wheel 52”, number of spokes: 50
  • Size of the back wheel: 17”, number of spokes:14
  • Weight: 21.5 kg
  • Renovation: Jano Rečo and Robert Šterba, 2002
  • Origin:   Meissner & Neumann auction hall, Prague 2000