Although it may sound rather exotic and mysterious I had been to 3 previous rallies in Czechia (the preferred name for the Czech Republic these days, the Western half of Czechoslovakia) and knew that it was different enough for the country to be interesting but not all that different to the rest of Europe. The roads in the main are wide and smooth, in fact better than in the UK, largely litter free, the beer both very nice and cheap as is the accommodation. Of course the people are friendly and welcoming, they were very happy to see Ariel owners from across Europe, on my previous visits there had only ever been perhaps 10 non-Czech’s, this time there were almost that many countries represented. Poland, Austria, Germany, Eire, UK , Slovakia, Nederland, Switzerland, not forgetting one representative from Malta, (hello Ray).
The rally was held just outside the small market of Kácov midway between Praha (Prague) and Brno, about 670 miles from Hoek van Holland where the ferry comes in, which means either taking three leisurely days or two rather hectic ones on the journey. I chose the leisurely version on the way out and the hectic one on the return leg. On the way out, travelling through The Nederlands and Germany, I had time to look at points of interest on the way, known as culture pumps. After the re-unification of Germany most of the evidence of the hated iron curtain was understandably removed.
It seems that the authorities feel that enough time as elapsed since then that it is now history and signs have been erected where the old border ran. The route I took meant that I crossed the border four times, the final time at a point known as Alpha 1 where there had been an American Army base that is now a museum. Very interesting it was with re-creations of the various types of barriers used, demonstrating how they became more impenetrable as time went on. I also stopped to look at a stone pillar with an eulogy to a local benefactor that I had noticed the last time I came through here.
There were also two information boards that told the tale of a medieval king of Bohemia, this was on the border of Germany and Czechia and of how at the end of the second big misunderstanding all the local Germans had been kicked out of Czechia. Another board told how this was a crossroads of a ridgeway and ‘The Golden Way’, I don’t think I have ever travelled on a golden way before. The road was the best for an old bike cruising at about 50 mph, flowing round the bends, through the trees with little traffic. The boards were read using Google translate that works really well these days, just like having a fish stuck in one’s ear!
I arrived at the site at about midday to find lots of people already there including several friends. I signed in, received a goody bag and a welcoming beer, start as you mean to go on…. The bag contained the usual maps for the runs, a rather nice scarf, a blacksmith made horse’s head, a plastic beer mug but no programme. We later found out that the mug was to be used with free beer on the last night as the hotel wouldn’t let us use their glasses to drink our beer!
The following morning the 1950’s Skoda built coach you will have seen in the adverts arrived to take most of the participants to Praha. Fifteen bikes left on a short tour of the local countryside, this became 14 when Gernot’s New Hudson started making rumbling, or was it squeaking noises, anyway he went on the trailer and refused the laying on of spanners later that evening. Next to fail was a very nice black Ariel belonging to a young local lad, his beautifully restored tank with a new bottom, sprang an oil leak and a few miles later started to leak petrol. We drained the rest of the petrol out and it went on the trailer. He had only managed 20 kms since completing the restoration, mind you I left after covering 30 miles on mine after fitting a big end but the rest of mine is not newly built of course.
After dinner we all indulged in a bit of bench racing and drinking some very fine Czech beer, which no doubt contributes to the Czechs receiving the award for drinking the most beer per capita in the world. By the way, the Czech for beer is Pivo, not an easy language and we never really learnt how to pronounce the word for thank you, the other essential word in any language. Four nights of quaffing a reasonable amount of beer and the odd whiskey, resulted in a bar bill that was less than four pints on the ferry! The rally fee of £177 included 4 nights accommodation, entry fees and three meals a day. I shared a small wooden hut with Steve Carter that provided a bed, a window, one light and a door without a lock. The facilities were some distance away but we had a laugh. Many of the other softies stayed in a proper hotel and some camped.
Almost everyone went on the Friday run of 137 kms that included a visit to a museum of Skoda cars and another of Jawa motorcycles including prototypes. I was sorry to miss both of those due to a puncture that only took 20 minutes to fix but then I spent over an hour trying, without success, to seat the tyre properly, it just would not pop into place. In the end I rode slowly with the bike wobbling all over the place to a garage, the 80 psi I put in improved things but the bike was still shaking its head at around 30 mph. I didn’t ride it with 80, only did that to try and seat the tyre.
Friday night was a repeat of Thursday night.
Saturday’s run took us to the North with some more lovely countryside with another museum that I missed as I was trying to fix my tyre before the run. I had a nice fast run to catch everyone up before lunch. On our return there was a concourse competition, something that had been included because that is what is done at annual rallies. However the classes reflected the type of bikes to be found in Czechia – the Black Ariel class had at least 30 bikes from unrestored original to beautifully restored, half a dozen in the Sloper class, the Square Four class had 4 cammies and only one 4G and one MKII. The twins class had a few bikes and the rest were in the Red Ariel class apart from the lightweight where the full range was on display, a 1929 LF, a 1958 Colt and a very rare 1924 Blackburn 250cc. The young lady owner of the last bike received a trophy, I think because she was on the oldest bike, was one of the youngest riders and a young lady. After the concourse prizes were handed out Thomas made one award to a representative of each attending country as well as one to me, inscribed to ‘The Best Draganfly in the World’. I liked it a lot, clearly handmade it has pride of place on my mantelpiece.
The winners of the concourse were:-
Sloper – Tomas Kudinek, Czechia – 1931 SG
Lightweight – Jan Pokorny, Czechia – 1929 LF
Post war – Karol Burger, Slovakia – 1948 KG
Black Ariel – Jiri Simek, Czechia – 1928 D
Red Ariel (1933-45) – Milan Kejzlar, Czechia – 1939 NG
Square Four – Jaroslav Krutsky, Czechia – 1931 4F
Unrestored – Arie Kuiper, Netherland – 1956 FH
The Jubilee party began with live music and two barrels of beer in the marque. In the interval a bizarre presentation was made to Tomas Zikmund, the president who is obviously much loved, having started the Czech club 20 years ago. At the end of a ceremony that resembled that which takes place upon crossing the equator for the first time with many gifts including a throne made from horseshoes, a sceptre and orb both containing alcohol, a sheepskin crotch warmer, Tomas was declared to be the “Best Ariel President Ever”, just as well our real president wasn’t in attendance!
There only remained a two day blast back to the ferry and home, a long hot and for the last 150 miles rather boring journey. Steve left at about 5 am to take the fast roads as he had further to go than me. He stopped in Paderborn after 400 miles where two guys on modern bikes were amazed to learn that he had done in one day that which had taken them two. He then told them that I was doing 350 miles without motorways in the same time, apparently they collapsed in a heap.