South West London DA: Sou' Wester Archive
London to Vienna by Bike

London to Vienna by Bike - (Mar/Apr 2001)

The DA's Award for the Most Adventurous Ride was given to Alex Forrest for his report on 'London to Vienna by Bike'. This edited version describes events encountered by Alex and his friend on leaving the former East Germany via the spectacular Elbe Valley to cross the border into the Czech Republic. Alex is a Transport Planner with the London Borough of Sutton. He has special responsibility as a Cycling Officer for the Borough. He rides on occasions with the Beginners Section and also assists in the training of children with the Sutton Cycling Club.


A culture shock was ahead of us when we saw conditions in rural East Germany and the Czech Republic. Stuck in a Communist time warp the scenes contrasted with those seen in the more prosperous developed west through which we had passed. Just over the border and into the Czech Republic life became much cheaper. A cacophony of stalls and traders, not to mention several scantily dressed ladies of the night seen lurking in the woods by the roadside, welcomed us into the Republic.

We were able to enjoy the cheap prices exploring attractive Czech countryside with its quiet lanes. We often stayed two nights in a village or town in order to explore without the burden of luggage. Our routes included interesting and moving visits to the infamous former concentration camp of Terezin and to Dvorak's birthplace.

We left this countryside to enter the city of Prague. Riding past the Castle and across the Charles Bridge was exhilarating. We had cycled across a large part of Europe and therefore felt smug about our achievement when we compared our journey to the brief flights above an invisible continent of Europe which the short-break tourists seen in the city would have experienced. We had arranged to stay in Prague with a Czech friend whom I had met while studying in Oxford. She lived near the centre of town. Dave and I locked our bikes together on the communal stairwell leading to her apartment. This would free us for our exploration on foot of the city of Prague. Disaster struck however when we came down one morning to find the bikes had been stolen.

We had failed to lock them to the balustrade. So stealing our two new shiny Dawes Galaxies was too much of an easy temptation. We sadly resigned ourselves to terminating the tour. We wandered despondently down Wenceslas Square when Dave spotted my bike being pushed across the Square by a man in a suit. We stopped him and explained that it was my bike which had been stolen. He said he had just paid the equivalent of £60 for it in a nearby second-hand shop. We were relieved when he agreed to phone the police to let them sort it out. It was not to be so easy however!

We did not appreciate what was ahead of us for there began a lengthy process lasting almost a full week to regain the bike. The police took my bike into their custody. I was required to present evidence that it was my bike. I was to provide photos of me, with my bike, taken earlier in our tour. I would be grateful during the next days for the valuable assistance given by my Czech friend Anna in her translating and skill in dealing with the officious Czech police. On one occasion, while waiting in a long queue I was surprised to spot a familiar English face, that of John Craven whose wife had just had her purse stolen. He was interested in the plight of a fan of his Countryfile TV programme in a Prague police station.

I finally regained possession of my bike minus it's front pannier racks which one of the police officers must have fancied. My friend did not recover his bike however and had to abort his trip and fly home. I decided to continue to Vienna. I set off a couple of days later from Prague. I was relieved to leave that city but sorry to say goodbye to Anna whom I had not seen for two years. When I left Prague to ride to Vienna I took with me in my pannier a newly purchased D Lock and carried in my mind the disturbing memories of the miraculous recovery of my stolen bike.