The first cycling paths in Europe were established at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, as interest in bicycles and cycling tourism, and later everyday cycling transportation, grew. This was also the case in the Czech lands. The very first documented cycling path was opened on August 26, 1900, between Uherský Ostroh and Moravský Písek train station. That was 123 years ago.
Although the history of cycling in the Czech lands is well-mapped in terms of sports and the history of individual cycling clubs, little emphasis has been placed on the history of cycling as a common means of transportation and related topics, such as the construction of cycling infrastructure or the impact of the first cycling clubs on the use of bicycles as a means of transportation. This may be one of the reasons why the topic of the first cycling paths in our country has not received wider attention. However, it should be noted that the first cycling paths were primarily created for recreational purposes, as part of the expansion of cycling tourism, and their use for transportation purposes came later.
This text is part of a private research project on the history of cycling transportation in the Czech lands, initiated by Jiří Motýl, the editor-in-chief of the magazine „Městem na kole“. More information about the project can be found on the website www.mestemnakole.cz/historie.
This article is being published in collaboration with the magazine „Český les“, and an adapted version of this text was released concurrently in its current 21st issue.
The first cycling paths built specifically for this purpose can be documented in the Czech lands (and also in other European countries of that time) at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the first were the path in southeast Moravia near Uherský Ostroh and the path from Tachov to the heights of Český les in western Bohemia. These two cycle paths were created exactly 123 and 121 years ago, during the peak of the first wave of interest in cycling.
121 years ago, the cycling path between Hamr (Waffenhammer) and Lučina (Sorghof) in Tachov region was officially opened on Sunday, June 1, 1902.
The new path was meant to improve the cycling passage and the passage of hikers on the route between Tachov (Tachau), or Světce u Tachova (Heiligen), and Lučina. From here, cyclists could continue without problems along the district road towards Branka (Galtenhof) or visit the popular higher forest areas around Obora (Thiergarten), where the prince’s road continued from Lučina. The obstacle to the development of cycling tourism from Tachov towards the west and into the depths of Český les was precisely the short impassable section of the road in the Agláia valley (Aglaienthal) between Hamr and Lučina. Here, cyclists of that time had to push their bikes along a narrow path full of roots and rocks that made riding impossible. The alternative was a longer detour with significant uphill along the district road, which was not an attractive option.
At the time when the cycle path from Hamr to Lučina was built, cycling still carried a certain stamp of exclusivity, and due to its initial prices, it enjoyed the interest primarily of wealthier layers of society. The path was built by Department XXI „Tachov“ of the Austrian Touring Club (ÖTC, Österreichischer Touring-Club), a cycling tourist club that, after merging with the Austrian Automobile Club in 1946, laid the foundation for the common umbrella club ÖAMTC, whose activities as the largest Austrian automobile club can still be encountered by drivers when traveling in Austria. But let’s go back to the year 1902. The idea for the construction of a cycle path in the mentioned section came from the district governor and member of the Tachov ÖTC, Hans Dudek. The new path was built using rolled gravel, measured 750 meters in length, and was 1.5 meters wide. The path also included a new wooden bridge over the Mže river in Hamr. The path cost 420 crowns at that time, which in today’s prices corresponds to approximately 82,000 crowns. The Vienna headquarters of the ÖTC paid 340 crowns, and Prince Alfred Windischgrätz, the owner of the Tachov estate, contributed 80 crowns.
The grand opening of the cycle path was magnificent. The celebrations began at two o’clock in the afternoon at the courtyard establishment of the Tachov section of the ÖTC, i.e., at the Hotel U Černých medvědů (today’s building at Boženy Němcové 95, Tachov). A colorful company gathered there. In addition to numerous locals, representatives of the cycling club from Bor (Haid) also arrived, for example. The procession, accompanied by music, left the hotel and went through the square to the Agláia valley, where they stayed in Hamr and celebrated at Mr. Altenöder’s restaurant to the sounds of music. At five o’clock, the program continued with the grand opening of the path. Both princely officials and forestry administrators, as well as representatives of the municipalities of Lučina and Mýto (Mauthdorf), and the wider sports public, arrived.
The trail welcomed its first users with a floral archway with the inscription „Vítejte“ (Willkommen – Welcome – red.) at the new wooden bridge over the Mže river. A photograph of the whole group was taken here, and a grateful speech was given by the chairman of the Tachov section of the ÖTC, Alfred Wehmayer. Then, to the sound of trumpets and cheers of „Long live,“ the crowd set out to ceremoniously ride and walk the new cycle path. However, the music, dance, and fun did not end there. The celebration continued at Altenöder’s inn in Hamr, and the opening of the trail was celebrated until late evening.
Unfortunately, we can no longer see the places where this Tachov trail led. Most of the route was absorbed by the Lučina reservoir in the 1970s. Nevertheless, cycling is still popular in the region after 120 years. The cycle route number 2171 is marked from Tachov through Světec to the Lučina reservoir.
Two years earlier, a cycle path was opened between the Moravský Písek station (formerly the Bzenec-Písek/Bisenz-Pisek station) and Uherský Ostroh. The ceremonial opening took place on August 26, 1900. This is the first documented cycle path in the Czech lands.
The ÖTC again built the path, this time it was the Eastern Moravia branch. The path started at the Bzenec-Písek station and continued along the right side of the district road through Moravský Písek to Uherský Ostroh, where it ended at the May brothers‘ mill (today’s address at Zamlýní 88, Uherský Ostroh). The path was 1 to 1.25 meters wide and over 7 kilometers long. The costs amounted to 2,300 former crowns, which in today’s prices corresponds to about 440 thousand crowns. The ÖTC headquarters contributed 1,000 crowns to the construction. In the following years, the cycle path was extended from the Bzenec-Písek station to Bzenec, reaching an impressive total length of 11 kilometers. The path was lined with linden trees that provided pleasant shade.
More than a hundred cyclists attended the festive opening on Sunday, August 26, 1900. Representatives of cycling clubs from Hodonín, Kyjov, Strážnice, Uherské Hradiště, and Olomouc were present. In addition, numerous individual cyclists who were not members of any cycling club also showed up. The festive procession departed at two o’clock in the afternoon after a speech by the chairman of the local ÖTC branch, Hugo Hikl, from the Bzenec-Písek train station towards Uherský Ostroh.
After the festive arrival in Uherský Ostroh, the trail was officially handed over to the commission for district roads at the mill. A representative from the ÖTC, Adolf Teller, and the chairman of the commission for district roads and also the mayor of Uherský Ostroh, Johann Huttula, gave speeches. Huttula promised the cyclists his favor in the future.
Then the celebration moved to a nearby city forest, where the fun continued. The town band from Kroměříž played for the dancing and listening people. There was also confetti throwing, generous refreshments, and other delights. In the evening, a lantern procession went to the courtyard restaurant of the local ÖTC branch, the Panzer restaurant in Uherský Ostroh, where they celebrated until the early morning hours.
From today’s perspective, these are some of the few documented sections of cycle paths from this period in the Czech lands. We have other reports of improving the edges of ordinary roads, publishing cycling maps, or improving traffic signs. Dedicated cycle paths themselves were still rather rare, also due to their cost and maintenance requirements.
As the president of the Austrian ÖTC, Adalbert Bartowski, stated in an interview in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt newspaper in 1903, the main goal of building cycle paths at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was to solve the problem of unsuitability of regular roads and highways for bicycles. However, the initiative and costs lay with the cycling clubs themselves, with the construction and maintenance of the paths being relatively expensive. Cycling clubs, in addition to building their own paths, often financed the modifications and repairs of regular roads, especially their edges.
To this end, the ÖTC itself established a charitable fund for the construction of cycling paths, to which non-ÖTC members could also contribute, and organized many fundraising activities. However, the club had to deal annually with damages to the paths caused by riders on horses, carts, and even vandals. All of this further increased the club’s expenses. Moreover, non-members of cycling clubs also benefited from these paths that were financed in this way.
The Czech Central Union of Cyclists (ČÚJV), one of the main Czech-language cycling organizations in the monarchy, was aware of these difficulties and – as its representatives declared in the Cyklista magazine – decided not to systematically initiate the construction of its own paths, but rather to push responsible representatives to improve the condition of public roads and highways so that they would be passable for cyclists.
In the Czech-language areas of the Czech lands, similar cycling paths in the early 20th century were thus rather exceptional, if they were created at all. Although it is impossible to rule out the possibility that evidence of other cycling paths from this period will be discovered, there are likely to be few of them. So far, we have some indications, for example, of a cycling path in Roudnice nad Labem from 1903, but direct archival evidence has not been found. In several places, however, we have indications of modifications to the edges of ordinary roads during the same period, for example, in Uherské Hradiště.
Thanks go to Mgr. Jan Edl from SOkA Tachov and Mgr. Magdalena Čoupková from SOkA Uherské Hradiště for their help with archival materials for this article. The main sources of the text include periodicals such as Der Westböhmische Grenzbotte, Neues Wiener Tagblatt, Club-Organ des Österreichischen Touring-Club, Cyklista magazine, as well as other archival materials and documents collected over the past six years.
Currency conversions were made using the online calculator of the Austrian National Bank. References to events abroad primarily rely on the works of experts such as Volker Briese, Henk-Jan Dekker, and Ruth Oldenziel.
This is an adjusted ChatGPT translation of this article: https://mestemnakole.cz/2023/03/prvni-cyklostezka-v-ceskych-zemich-se-otevrela-pred-vice-nez-120ti-lety/
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