Czechs may not shine so much in the world's professional cycling scene, but they love biking as a leisure activity. On weekends, there is a typical view of cars with bicycles on the roofs leaving cities for the countryside. Surprisingly, the dreaded coronavirus pandemic did not stop this, but instead gave it a boost of unprecedented proportions. What happened here?
Although the Czech government was one of the first to take strict measures with the onset of the disease, it was not as strict as in many other countries. The Czechs were advised not to travel, not to visit each other. Business centres, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, all outdoor playgrounds, gyms and fitness centres closed. Initially, people could only buy food and medicine – but there was something else. They were allowed to walk outside and make trips to the countryside, although at first maximally in pairs and wearing masks.
That incomplete "lockdown" had an almost miraculous effect. With the exception of households, cycle paths, parks and open air have become the only space for physical activity. "People stopped having fun sitting at home, and when they couldn't go anywhere else, it forced them to go out, walk, run, exercise and especially ride bicycles. What I find interesting about this is that even families who don't play sports eventually started doing something,” notes journalist Tereza Robinson.
"As the action radius became extremely shorter, people started looking around. Almost the first thing they found were discarded bikes in garages and basements. And it began to show in full force that we are not a nation of footballers, but cyclists. I read somewhere that up to 6 million people in our country have a bike,” emphasises Martin Huleja, an expert in marketing, communication and sports management.
Many people returned to local mini-retailers and bicycle repair shops, either out of solidarity or simply because large shops were closed longer. While many traders are worried about how they will run their trades, sports and especially bicycle shops are suddenly having a field day.
"We are experiencing a large increase in customers, from whom we learn that they have not ridden a bike for years and now they want to return to it. Many more bikes are even being sold in the "cheaper" recreational category from EUR 450 to 600. Whole families are getting equipped and thus a lot of children's bicycles are sold,” confirms Lukáš Princ, co-owner of the large Prague sports and bicycle rental store Ski and Bike Centrum Radotín, which focuses on bicycles in summer and on skis in winter.
It is similar with many other large bicycle retailers. Already at the beginning of May, they reported that they did not have time to replenish stocks, and if it went on like this, soon they would not have anything left to sell.
In addition, Czechs and foreign visitors have the advantage that the Czech landscape offers thousands of suitable and beautiful terrains for all categories – trekking, mountain and road bikes. And almost in all parts of the country. In the mountains, which surround the Czech Republic from practically all sides, there are, for example, challenging terrains for mountain bike lovers or e-bikes. On the other hand, the plains in the pond area in South Bohemia, around the Elbe River east of Prague or in the wine region in South Moravia near the Austrian border are ideal for relaxing trips. Romantic trails along the Czech rivers are also very popular.
Many people in the Czech Republic now question whether the current eruption of bicycle trips is only a temporary or more permanent phenomenon. Could it be a great renaissance for spending free time with the family in the countryside, either for walking or cycling? Much evidence suggests that at least in part.
"In my opinion, a lot of people will return to their gyms, dance halls and sports halls over time. But it will not be such a quick return and certainly not for all people. There are also still quite a few limiting factors on sports grounds – closed changing rooms, showers... Maybe a lot of people will also appreciate the magic of family trips together," thinks the President of the Czech Roller Skating Association and a member of the cycling association Martin Máčel.
"The positive thing is that even children start moving and do not just sit at home, so maybe this could even last, at least for some of them, after all restrictions are lifted. Many adults then realise that they could ride a bike to work,” says an enthusiastic cyclist Lukáš Drvota and continues: "Perhaps people in general could learn a little to slow down, and not keep rushing forward for just money and performance."
So where can you go like a local when you get to the Czech Republic?
Tip No. 1 Along the Sázava River
You can start and end on the beautiful route along the Sázava River a little south of Prague, in Luky pod Medníkem. Travel along the old mining galleries, the railway viaduct, through the old tramp settlements and discover dozens of beautiful views of the Sázava valley along the way.
Tip No. 2 Across the pond region of southern Bohemia
The route around many South Bohemian ponds is suitable for truly chilled people and water lovers. Head east from Lomnice nad Lužnicí. The highlight of the trip are the beautiful dikes of the Nadějská pond system, which was founded in 1577 by the then well-known pond builder Jakub Krčín from Jelčany. You will pass ponds with special names like Act, Love, Goodwill and Faith.
Tip No. 3 Around the châteaus of Haná
This Moravian route, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, begins in Náměšť na Hané and leads through the areas of Haná and Drahanská vrchovina. You will see the châteaus in Náměšť, Čechy pod Kosířem, Plumlov, and the old fortress, and you will end the trip at the beautiful Kopaninka lookout tower, where you can take in the magnificent views of the Jeseníky Mountains or Hostýnské vrchy in good weather.