Iconic Czech beer brand Budweiser Budvar and BOLT motorcycles – the UK’s coolest custom bike workshop and apparel store – have completed an epic European road trip from London to Budweis in the Czech Republic on a custom-built, beer-inspired motorbike.
The 1000-mile road trip, Budweis or Bust, saw BOLT owner, Andrew Almond, and custom builder, Simone Fiore, travel from BOLT’s headquarters in Stoke Newington, London, to the Budvar brewery in Budweis, South Bohemia, via Amsterdam, Hannover and Prague.
The six-day ride out followed the building of the ‘Budvar Bike’, a custom JAWA CZ 250cc, created by BOLT earlier this year. This saw the team transform a boxy, 1980s Czech bike into something extraordinary: a motorcycle that echoes the classic bikes built in the Czech Republic between the 1940s and 60s. Inspired by a visit to its brewery in Budweis, Andrew and Simone made sure the bike’s design wove-in cues from Budvar’s heritage and brewing story, such as hand-painted vintage logos and hand-tooled whole-cone hop leatherwork.
But the real challenge was always going to be riding the finished motorcycle across Europe. Not least because the engine is a two-stroke, 250cc with a top speed of 50mph. But according to Andrew Almond, that was all part of the adventure:
“It was exciting to ride the Budvar bike. It immediately reignited my love of the stripped-back to basics feel of classic vehicles, rough, ready and perfect for a road trip. It actively encouraged adventure.”
Joined by a crew of friends riding a mix of classic bikes, the Budweis or Bust team set off from BOLT in Stoke Newington on 31st July and rode to Harwich where they took a ferry to the Hook of Holland. Then it was a 60-mile ride to Amsterdam where Zoran from legendary motorcycle shop Rusty Gold, was laying on a welcome party.
The following two days saw some intense riding through Germany’s northern plains, then via the pastoral back roads around Bad Essen to Hannover, travelling in full sun and 30-degree heat. But after a few hours of sleep, it was back on the road again, this time to Prague via Leipzig and Dresden.
Arriving in the Czech capital in the dark, the team headed to Denim Heads apparel store in the Old Town where bottles of cold Budvar and another welcome party were waiting for the exhausted riders. But there was a problem to fix too, as Andrew explains:
“During the ride, the JAWA had developed a problem. Hardly surprising with a vintage bike being put to this kind of test, but we needed to find a new clutch and gearbox fast. After a phone around, we struck gold. The best JAWA garage in the country, on the outskirts of Prague.”
Despite the founder of MCH garage, Milan Chalupnik, passing away just three days before, his son-in-law and grandson agreed to help after hearing the story of the Budvar Bike and the epic journey to the brewery.
“It turned out that Milan had worked for JAWA as an engineer and raced in their race team, competing in the local races and Grand prix from the 1950s. Frantisek “Franta” Stastny was a close friend and a formidable road racer in the JAWA team, a real legend in motorcycling history. Following an accident in the 1970s, Milan gave his racing JAWA to Franta who raced it in the classic classes and numerous TT races on the Isle of Man. And that bike was there in the workshop!” Said Andrew.
We were showed around their entire collection, with room after room filled with immaculate motorcycles. And we weren’t allowed to leave until we were shown how to squeeze every inch out of our engine. It gave us a renewed sense of the bike’s history and the Czech passion for doing things the right way.”
Back on the Budvar Bike, Andrew and the team set off on the 90-mile ride into South Bohemia, crossing into beautiful rolling fields and mountain scenery, reaching the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site of Český Krumlov. The JAWA museum in the town had provided inspiration for the Budvar Bike build so it seemed only right to return to show the curators the finished motorcycle. Then the team rode through winding forest roads to spend the night in a tipi and swim in the cool Vltava river, before sharing some beers and stories around a campfire.
Their last stop was České Budějovice or ‘Budweis’ – home of Budweiser Budvar. The team entered the town and its breathtaking market square to cheers and applause as locals spotted the ‘Budvar’ painted tank. Then it was up to the home of Budweiser Budvar for the riders’ reward: a tour of the brewery and tasting.
As well as getting to have a go at making Budvar themselves, helping tip the whole-cone hops into the copper brew kettles, the Budweis or Bust team took a late-night tour of Budvar’s famous cellars with master brewer Ales Dvorak, where the beer is matured in conditioning tanks for 90 days.
“All the riders had seen the Budvar bike come to life, and seen the time and attention to detail that had gone into the build. So, it was great to show them the dedication Budvar put into the beer.” Andrew said. “I’d been promising everyone that they’d get to taste fresh, unpasteurised Budvar in the cellars all the way. And it didn’t disappoint.”
“It was great to get there. We made something really special with the Budvar Bike and for all involved it was a real labour of love. This was about craft, dedication and the spirit of adventure as well as honouring tradition. Beer and motorcycles inspire passion, they bring people together.
A short interview with Andrew:
Tell us about the project. What was the ethos behind the collaboration between Bolt & Budvar?
We were commissioned to build a bike that reflected the craft and tradition that goes into brewing Budweiser Budvar, the original Czech lager. This was a great starting point and we created a bike that both reflected the heritage of the early Jawa motorcycles from the 30s-50s but that also remained a contemporary build overall. We hand-fabricated the frame and worked with our network of collaborating artists for finishing craft touches, such as hand painted vintage logos and a tooled-leather tank strap.
You used a Czech bike, a Jawa, what kind of challenges did that create?
Sourcing a suitable bike was the first challenge as they are rare and the later models were very utilitarian in appearance, and not very interesting for a custom build. The next issue was that they only made small capacity engines beyond the 60’s and the race tracks, but this all fuelled our creativity. We like a challenge.
Talk us through some of the highlights of the build itself?
As well as the craft touches, I was really pleased with the geometry and style of the bike; it has a bar hopper style that really puts the fun back into motorcycling.
What elements of Budvar’s history and process inspired the bike?
We worked with the original Budvar logos for the paint work and also brought in their hop motif on the hand-tooled tank strap to highlight their use of whole-cone hops in the brewing process.
So the road trip – a thousand miles across Europe – that must have felt like a challenge?
I had some anticipation but to be honest as soon as that Jawa hit the road, I was loving every minute of it. It may have been small, loud, and more rudimentary then I was used to, but it was a lot of fun to ride.
Tell us a bit about who came and their bikes? How do you know them?
It was a close group of five friends who met through BOLT. We have taken many an expedition with before. This was the perfect opportunity to bring them back together on a momentous 1000-mile journey.
First stop was Rusty Gold in Amsterdam, how’s the custom scene over there?
Yeah, its vibrant. Amsterdam is a creative city anyways and the motorcycle scene is unique to Amsterdam: laid back, a bit kooky and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
You had issues with the clutch in Prague, what happened and how did you fix it on the road?
We had a few minor issues along the way, which you can expect from such an old engine design, but Simone was able to fix them on the roadside. Then the clutch gave way in Prague – but we managed to find a garage to help with that. MCH in Prague. It’s a garage with long links to Jawa with many immaculate models collected inside, so we couldn’t have stumbled on a better place.
How was the reaction to the bike in South Bohemia where the brewery is?
Amazing. It was a great response from locals and the Budvar guys, which made the trip all the more worthwhile.