Hollywood superstar Orlando Bloom rides a Festka bicycle. A collector in Bangkok has just taken delivery of another with a white and cobalt-blue frame painted to look like fine porcelain. And, in a recent Forbes charity auction, a bid for an even more ambitiously arty version topped out at $100,000.
The auction was held in the Czech Republic, where Festka has been hand-building high-caliber road racing bicycles in Prague for nearly ten years. Backed by a billionaire, Festka makes “perfect bikes,” claimed company cofounder Michael Moureček.
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But these superbikes are not just bought by the super-rich:
“You may not be able ever to afford a Ferrari sports car, but [somebody on an ordinary salary] can buy [the bicycle equivalent],” said Moureček.
Festka bicycles start at €6,000, but “if you don’t want any compromises, you need to be ready to pay €10,000 and above,” remarked Moureček, a former professional rider.
Opt for lighter wheels, pimped out with ceramic bearings, and commission a highly-detailed paint job, and you could be landed with a bill for $35,000—that was the cost of the “porcelain” bicycle delivered to Bangkok-based bicycle collector Suratchaj Chenyavanij.
Chenyavanij, an executive at Thai contract cleaning company NAP, owns more than forty high-end bikes. They are proudly displayed in the apartment he shares with his wife and two young daughters. His bikes are not displayed on the wall as artworks—Chenyavanij rides them on Bangkok’s Sky Lane, a 23.5-kilometer bank-sponsored cycling circuit that loops around the city’s Suvarnabhumi airport.
The more-scenic-than-it-sounds four-lane circuit—with two outer purple lanes for faster riders—is a magnet for rich “roadies,” many of whom ride the latest luxury bikes from high-end brands such as Storck of Germany, Pinarello of Italy and Bastion of Australia.
Chenyavanij owns bikes from all three marques, as well as bikes from Moots of America and LOOK of France. But it’s the porcelain-a-like Festka that’s currently most impressing followers of Chenyavanij’s Instagram account—the frame, without wheels and handlebars, is shown on a stand in his bathroom, with the proud owner beside it brushing his teeth (hashtag: christmascomesearly.)
Czech illustrator Michal Bačák blended Portuguese Azulejo and English Churchill Blue Willow decorative styles to create the porcelain effect, adding embellishments of 24-carat gold leaf.
Chenyavanij discovered Festka through his local bike shop. The brand is popular with Bangkok’s wealthy riders. The Sky Lane—officially known as the SCB Happy and Healthy Bike-Lane—drums up good business for the most lustworthy bicycle brands.
Festka sells 200 bicycles a year, with 95% sold outside of the Czech Republic. Composite bicycle frames are usually formed by hand in molds, but Festka’s carbon composite bicycle frames are made from the joining together of composite tubes made by robots.
Most of the world’s composite bicycle frames are made in China not by engineers but by semi-skilled workers, often women, who are considered more dextrous than men. They stick strips of computer-cut carbon fiber sheets called “pre-preg” (fabric pre-impregnated with plastic resin) on to frame-like shapes with blowers. It’s time intensive.
Moureček pointed out the irony of people believing that Festka bicycles are more handbuilt than frames from mainstream manufacturers:
“The big brands are [more] handmade because they need to take like 500 or 700 pieces of prepreg [strips] and put them by hand inside a mold,” he said.
This production method is susceptible to human error, with the possibility of tiny but critical voids appearing in a small number of hand-laid-up bicycle frames. The manufacturing method used by Festka’s tube supplier largely eliminates such potential flaws.
“The robots are very precise; they are always in the same mood, they don’t have family issues or go out to wild parties,” joked Moureček.
“Every day, they produce the perfect job for us.”
The robots belong to Compotech, a composites manufacturer based in Sušice, 200 kilometers from Prague, close to the border with Germany. The firm specializes in making parts using one continuous fiber of tightly-wound carbon filament, thus eliminating voids. Each tube can have tailored axial and torsional stiffness, used for beefing up areas of the bicycle frame that must not bend—such as the thin “stays” on the bike’s back end, known as the rear triangle—but adding comfort-giving flex to those parts of the frame that don’t have to be so unforgiving.
Moureček founded Festka in 2010 along with serial entrepreneur Ondřej Novotný. The pair, who now employ 18 people, later attracted investment from Czech billionaire Michal Korecký, co-owner of the streetcar manufacturer Škoda Transportation.
“Festka” is the Czech word for “fixie,” the fixed-wheel—that is, no-gears—bike ridden in velodromes.
While it’s best known for its composite tubes, the company has also made steel bikes and currently sells a bike made from a mix of titanium and composites.
The company is also aiming to perfect the use of graphene in framebuilding. Other manufacturers have added this wonder material to their carbon frames, but its use is not yet widespread. One atom thick, 300 times stronger than steel, harder than diamond, graphene is too brittle to be used instead of carbon filaments, but adding a sprinkle of it to the mix could result in thinner, stronger, lighter frames.
Not that existing Festka machines are heavy—the company’s €14,000 Scalatore race-ready disc-brake-equipped road bike weighs just 5.6 kilograms (12.3llbs).
Korecký has been pushing for Festka to make more off-the-shelf bikes, but Moureček and Novotný are happiest making one-offs, crafting some of the very best bikes (lots of) money can buy and then finishing them with personalized wow-factor paint jobs.
“We fit perfect components on to perfect frames made from perfect materials,” stressed Moureček.
“Everything has to be perfect—that’s our niche.”