The first time I ever saw a pair of JOSEF BAYER’s wheels was this summer at the Favorit Velodrome in Brno. They were a 3-spoke and a disc wheel. They were all black and aggressive looking, but they had a small green symbol on them, very speedy, very romantic. They made a strong impression on me and I asked the man responsible for the Velodrome about them. He replied by telling me about a certain JOSEF BAYER, builder of fantastic rims from the south of Moravia, but beyond that he knew little. The more I thought about it the more I realised that I needed to find this Mr. JOSEF BAYER, even if nobody knew how to help me, nobody had an address or contact.
My internet research also yielded no results. Then one day I decided to ask for some information from the TUFO brand, they could have known him, I reasoned, their base was in the south of the Czech Republic and perhaps some old mechanic there would remember a Mr. JOSEF BAYER. My decision was a lucky one, that very morning Mr. BAYER had visited them and I was able, finally, to get his email address.
I wrote to him immediately, telling him that I would very much like to meet him, that he must certainly be a very interesting person and that a trip to see him would be worth my while.
After about a week I received his response and we fixed a meeting for mid-December.
The trip there was anything but simple. Slusovice is a small town south east of Brno, near Zlin, about 350km south of Prague, impossible to reach by train, but by car the trip is very nice.
Up until Brno the highway went in and out of an enormous forest of firs and pines, and extremely long expanses of fields and impossible birch woods. In the end I arrived, after many difficulties, very late, in the middle of a snowstorm, at Mr. Bayer’s house.
Our meeting was immediately very cordial, JOSEF BAYER was a kind-tempered and open person. The first question that I wanted to ask him was how it even occurred him to build rims and wheels from carbon fibre in village which even Google maps has difficulty locating.
That JOSEF BAYER was something of a genius I had already understood the moment I saw those rims at the Velodrome, but the more time that passed, the more Josef Bayer recounted stories and showed me drawings and photographs, the more I became aware of his great passion, of his refined intelligence, of his disproportionate imagination, all this in addition, obviously, to his infinite knowledge.
His passion for bicycles led him, at the age of 14, to elaborate and modify a Campagnolo derailleur, he perfected and improved it, he lightened it by about 50g. And while Josef tinkered with bicycles his brother Frank built remote-controlled aeroplanes, amongst the first to be made from fibre glass and carbon fibre.
His progression was logical, always in search of different and aerodynamic wing forms, Josef’s brother asked him to develop carbon fibre wings. Shortly after this Josef intuited the great potential for using carbon fibre in the manufacturing of bicycle rims.
He left his charge as director of the R&D of the JZD’s Slusovice which under his direction had become the best and most technologically advanced Centre for Social Collective Farming of the Soviet sector, bringing fame and the motto “improvement of Slusovice” to his town, and together with his brother, in the garage of their home, they decided to begin their own production of rims. Through Slusovice friend of his who had moved to Switzerland he acquired early disc wheels for his Professional Team Slusovice, of which he was founder and director. He studied the wheels and, obviously, modified them; they became 890g lighter.
He acquired patents for his designs and began production.
The carbon he used came directly from Japan, it was the best available, with the best structure: Russian carbon wasn’t as stable and the German produced material did not guarantee the same high performance of its Japanese counterpart. In the early-90s Josef opened his third factory, by then the factory employed more than 200 people and its production had reached 5 million rims. From his ingenius mind will be born the rims of Mercedes’ and Porsche’s folded bicycle production.
But as is often the case he who is a genius does not always have control, first an Italian manufacturer proposed a joint-venture to him and commissioned a large order of aluminium rims which he never paid, then another Czech company acquired shares in the company, promising to expand the business and buy a third company, but it was soon to file for bankruptcy and banks and creditors forced Josef’s company to close.
At the end of the 90s JOSEF BAYER decided to close his business and retire.
He now lives with his daughter, amongst mountains of designs, sketches, projects, photographs, dreams and old memories. But he made me a promise, with those shining blue eyes of his…
Photo and text: Antonello Tabarelli de Fatis ©aerodinamica