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Ball and Bikes: The Rad-Ball Strikes Back Again

By Adam Marsal

I was just a kid but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. While crouching on the carpet on the floor of my granny’s flat, I was watching a cycle-ball match on TV. In the middle of the 80s’, it was one of the most popular sports in the communist Czechoslovakia. The reason was more than obvious – a small European country with not even 15 million people was represented by brothers Jan and Jindrich Pospisil who turned out to be almost invincible. During their career, the duo coming from the country’s second largest city Brno managed to steal 20 World Champion titles and became the real cycling heroes of my childhood. Although their achievements were mostly influenced by the fact that the game was played only in couple of European countries, it’s still a result that’s worth mentioning.

Today, the Pospisil brothers are getting older and recollecting memories from the better times. In the recent interviews, they regretted not to have any successful followers in their country as the Germans and Austrians are taking over. However, the game itself has not been forgotten. The latest World Championships were held in the Austrian city of Dornbirn and just a brief peek into the hall showed how many spectators can be attracted by four cyclists playing on a tiny wooden playground with a ball. The spectators watched local Patrick Schnetzer and Markus Bröll from the team RC Höchst defending the title for the fifth time. What a battle!

Only a few people know how old this game actually is. It’s said that cycle-ball was invented in the USA in 1888 by the German-American acrobatic performer Nicholas Edward Kaufmann. According to the story, Kaufmann was training a balanced ride when his beloved pet dog Mops ran directly into his front wheel and the stuntman moved him gently to the side in order to prevent any harm.

This way Kaufmann found out that instead of a dog, there could be a ball to play and developed his idea into a game with rules. Within five years, the first official match was held in the USA but after that the game disappeared from the state of its origin and moved to Europe. As Germany became the world’s superpower, the game transformed into “Radball”, the word Rad meaning a bike in German. And so, the game happened to have a double meaning for the English speaking audience today, as “rad” is often used as a short for “radical”. Despite the German roots, its popularity is growing worldwide in countries such as Japan or China.

The legendary brothers Jan and Jindrich Pospisil

When watching it on TV for the first time, you can find it a little bit confusing. It’s more of a football or artistic cycling? In fact, the game is comprised of both. Mostly, it’s played by two teams of two men cycling over wooden floor with two goals on the opposite sites. Similar to other ball games, they try to score but, in this case, using not only their legs but also the wheels. Only a goalkeeper can also use his hands even though catching a ball approaching speed of up to 60 km/h might be unpleasantly painful.

The most important artefacts of this game are the bikes. Specifically, heavier and equipped with only a single-speed gear, they are designed to be perfectly balanced and controllable. The price can raise to up to 2000 EUR but many young players start their careers on obsolete bikes from thrift stores. Mostly in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Japan, the number of newcomers is remarkably growing. Isn’t it the right challenge for your kids?