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“Cycling Is a Beautiful Sport”: L’Ètape 2019 Interview with Vladimír Vidim

By Frantiska Blazkova

If you’re reading this article, there’s a fat chance you’re already familiar with the l’Ètape du Tour but a little refresher never hurt anyone. Since 1993, the race provides a chance for amateur cyclists worldwide to experience the real Le Tour atmosphere, complete with closed-off roads, medical attention, supporting vehicles and more, and the vast majority of contestants boost their chances by using state-of-the-art gear and bicycles. But there are some, like Vladimír Vidim, who have a different motivation to enter – such as the pure joy of resurrecting and riding a piece of solid and genuine craftsmanship, namely a legendary bicycle model first released over 120 years ago. Follow his progress on our Instagram account!

How big of a gap do you think there will be between a racing bike designed at the end of the 19th century and the latest tarmac killers?

A life-long avid cyclist, construction designer, and trained locksmith, Vladimír Vidim (54) can’t imagine his life without bicycles – so much that he learned how to build them, from a sketch to a functioning product, with focus mainly on period bikes and their spitting replicas, including “boneshaker” bikes and the well-known curious penny-farthings. Besides tending to his passion for constructing bicycles in a small workshop in Roztoky near Prague, the Czech capital, Vladimír used to be an active racer in the local UAC (the Amateur Cyclist Federation) events and nowadays also teaches kids under 17 how to cycle properly at the Prague Dukla club and fixes their bikes. Last but not least, he has a few peculiar records under his belt, like the one time he rode a penny-farthing for 23 hours straight without getting off and covered 470 km – an accomplishment he achieved with the help of his friends who rode ahead and warned him about closed-off roads, active railway crossings and similar things.

His latest feat is a near-perfect replica of the original Laurin & Klement Slavia bicycle he created literally from scratch. But there’s more to this unique piece as it isn’t just destined for display in a museum or a private collection – it’s meant to race (and finish) nothing smaller than the l’Ètape du Tour. The Laurin & Klement bicycle workshop was founded in 1895 by two namesake businessmen, Václav Laurin and Václav Klement, in the then Kingdom of Bohemia. Their first bicycle model was the aforementioned Slavia and, over the years, the small workshop expanded and eventually transformed into the world-famous car manufacturer we know today – Škoda AUTO – that stayed true to its cycling roots till this day and supports and sponsors many cycling events.

Vladimír (on the right) riding his Slavia bicycle.

So, why Slavia and why the l’Ètape? It’s only natural that when Vladimír meets his friends over beers, the conversation tends to gravitate towards bicycles and the hot races of the season, the Tour de France being, obviously, the topic at hand. And that’s how everything clicked together one day, during a casual chat. “We said to ourselves that if Škoda sponsors the Tour de France, it would be awesome to recreate this legend [Slavia] and use it to ride one stage of the Tour,” says Vladimir about his brave plans for the summer.

On paper, it all sounded glorious but the road to bringing the famed Slavia back to life was everything but easy. Opposed to initial opinions of Vladimír’s friends and experts, it proved impossible to find even one specimen of the original bicycle neither in museums nor with bike collectors, so he could use it as a template. “In the end, it became apparent that nobody knows about any surviving Slavia and our work came to a deadlock.”

Vladimír ended up measuring the dimensions and angles from historical photographs, which was a challenging task because the grainy black and white snaps were obviously lacking detail. With his own hands, he cast the frame and used a lathe to create the wooden handlebars, etc. It took him three months to put the bicycle together and another three weeks to just do research on the most suitable construction method, including the time he broke his wrist and had to work one-handed for six weeks. “Luckily, I can operate the lathe and the miller with one hand,” laughs the naturally good-spirited Vladimír. But all that pain was well worth it – the bicycle is about to be finished and works perfectly. He claims that a museum-destined piece would take much shorter to produce as it would not be intended for racing but for this special occasion, the reborn Slavia had to be not only a looker but fully functional and able to withstand extreme strain and its 90-kg rider for about 135 km of the alpine stage of the Tour de France.

“We were thinking about equipping the Slavia with brakes, for security reasons, but that would mean a deviation from the original and it just wouldn’t feel right,” explained Vladimír, who has a rigorous training schedule planned out with the 18-kg bicycle ahead of the l’Ètape race.

You can follow the progress of Vladimír’s story and the race’s outcome either on We Love Cycling or at Škoda Storyboard. We wish him all the luck in the meantime!