Vienna: it conjures up images of schnitzel, strudel and Johann Strauss waltzes but a new book from a tradition-rich publishing house in the Austrian capital reveals another aspect of the city now nearly forgotten: the construction of bicycles, often in tiny workshops and to a surprisingly high technical and aesthetic standard. The book “Wiener Mechanikerräder 1930-1980” confirms its authors’ contention that “Vienna is big but the range of its bicycle manufacturers was once even bigger.”
In 1930 Vienna had more than 100 makes of bicycle and for the next half-century brands would come and go. The marques in this book, teutonically organized from “Alpenrad” to “Ziel” by the four (!) authors, have been painstakingly researched and the heading of each chapter indicates when the company existed, who owned it, how long the brand was in production, the location of the workshop, whether the firm produced its own bikes or brought in bikes under its own name from elsewhere and sources of information. The effort to uncover all of these things must have been daunting and indicative of the fanatical obsession of collectors of which the authors are representative. One of them owns 85 racing bikes. Reference is made to the “tide of bikes” occupying basements and that during research for the book the authors managed to accumulate 16 more bicycles and eight frames!
"Wiener Mechanikerfahräder” has a charming, personal touch to it, perhaps because the companies and framebuilders really were so individual. One is struck by the brand names. Some, such as “Williams,” “the Champ,” “Sussex” or “Champion” were meant to convince buyers that they perhaps reflected the glory of English manufacturers. But a larger group used the names of the builders, usually taking the first two initials of the first and last names. Hence: BBW (Bruno Beranke Wien); Capo (Otto Cap); Elan (Eduard Lachnit); Er-We (Eduard Reininger); FAB (Fahrradhaus Adolf Blum); FH (Franz Hrabalek); Frado (Franz Dorfinger); Frigo (Friedrich Gollerstepper); Friha (Friedrich Hamedl); Geoga (Georg Gartner); Igro (Josef Grosstab); JoWi (Josef Wilfing); Mipf (Michael Pfeiffer); and so forth.
The subtext of the book is “From Zero to One Hundred to Zero.” Of the 100 different brands described only one company, Capo, still exists. Yet there is hope as there is a brief chapter on the brave few framebuilders who are working in Vienna today, including Peter Gross although another, Hans Pöllhuber, who operates a store and workshop, has given up framebuilding himself as uneconomic.
Many of the builders and brands in the book are known only from a single frame and the authors present a number of mystery frames they have found and invite readers to send them any information about them they might have. Another personal touch.
“Wiener Mechanikerfahräder 1930-1980” might be about an obscure era to anyone outside of Vienna but this book is a true labour of love and a source of great entertainment if you like old bicycles and want to dip into a different world around them. “World-famous in Vienna” deserves to be just world-famous and would make an excellent gift, ideal for browsing through on those long winter evenings while enjoying a Café Melange mit Schlagobers.
For more information and to order the book or calendar go to:
“Wiener Mechanikerfahräder 1930-1980”
by Michael Zappe, Walter Schmidl, Martin Strubreiter and Werner Schuster,
with photos by Philipp Horak
347 pp, ill. With text in German
Verlag Brüder Hollinek, Purkersdorf, Austria, 2013
59 Euros, plus shipping