By Cycle EXIF’s Technical Editor, Richard Gearing: A short while ago Festka had one of their team, Dany, here in Australia for some of their Festka Society work, running rides and shop sessions with local dealers, customers and fans.
Unfortunately Dany and myself were unable to synchronise diaries such that we could meet to chat about Festka face-to-face. Instead we resolved that I would hold a Skype interview with Festka Founder, Michael Moureček.
What follows below is the information I gleamed from Michael in the ninety minutes he and I spent chatting.
The Festka story begins four years after Michael quit racing, during which period he didn’t so much as touch a bike. It took his family to encourage him back to it, giving him some money to buy a bike – however, he couldn’t find what he wanted.
Michael was looking for a custom steel frame. In his search he found builders who could weld superbly, but their bikes were not finished to a good standard. Others could paint a beautiful bike, but the welding underneath that paint was terrible. The all-round quality he was seeking simply didn’t exist.
With a close friend, Ondrej, Michael started a project to disprove what he had been told: “nobody wants a bike like that!”. The answer they arrived at was, perhaps inevitably, to do it themselves. They now head up Festka and have around twenty-five staff, along with an extensive list of bikes they produce and materials they produce those bikes from.
It should be noted that, bike production aside, the pedigree of rider at Festka is quite impressive. Michael himself is an ex-pro who raced on the road and the track. Only recently at the 2016 Track World Championships in London, staff member Volta Hačecky placed 6th in the Scratch Race Final; and he also has a medal from previous Championships. Michael showed me on the call that there is quite a stash of medals hung up at Festka HQ.
Whilst most custom bicycle companies are named after their founder, Michael didn’t use his or Ondrej’s names in setting up Festka – primarily because they aren’t frame builders, but also because they consider Festka to be a team.
Members of that team include the ex-CEO of Czech Ti company, Morati (a name which will no doubt be familiar to many), who is now head of Ti at Festka. At their main facility, the focus is on their carbon and titanium work.
For steel, they have a separate location manned with their best welder; and the Festka-owned paint shop is a short journey away from HQ. In all of the work they do, Festka are working with a local university to continuously develop, test and improve.
It is through this relationship that they found the carbon company they now work with for their tubing. That company now spend thirty percent of their time working on carbon tubing for Festka and, as a result of this relationship, ninety percent of the carbon company staff are now cyclists. Festka consider both of these organisations to be a wider part of their team.
Through the development work with the carbon producer and the university, Festka have settled on ten different specs of carbon tube to make carbon frames. The tube specs are chosen based on the bike model being built, the intended purpose of the finished bike, the rider weight, the finished bike size and other factors.
One thing that Michael was quite clear on — and honest about — is that robots make tubes, but people assemble bikes. Again, referring back to their testing, their results have shown that frames produced from woven tubing perform much better than hand-laying carbon sheets into moulds to produce a monocoque frame.
Such is the level of their intrigue about the performance of their bikes, Michael has commissioned a test where sensors have been built into a frame – both internally and externally – to better understand what happens to a frame under typical riding forces.
This will allow Festka to better understand their own tubing, weaves and construction methods and serve to further enhance their product based on their findings. These tests are being run by scientists, not cyclists, to ensure that no factor or data point is missed.
I asked Michael what the split of customer choice was with regard to materials. It was a surprise to learn that it varies quite a lot (I thought there would be a consistent split between steel, carbon and Ti), but it is currently swaying around 60% towards carbon.
This led to me questioning Michael about my favourite of their bikes, the Doppler – a bike produced from carbon and titanium. The reason for my question being that Festka produce the Doppler differently from other companies who produce bikes from these two materials in that they use the carbon for the lugs and the titanium for the tubes.
I asked whether their take on this combination was purely to be different, or for more genuine reasons. He replied saying that at Festka, everything has to bring an advantage. They use a carbon head tube on the Doppler for lighter weight and to help manage down tube flex.
They employ a titanium down tube and top tube for ride feel. Their carbon bottom bracket is mostly for weight saving, as is the carbon seat tube and integrated post. They finish the bike off with carbon chain stays for stiffness, and ti seat stays for comfort.
At this point, Michael shared that Festka have been developing a new bike – the ‘One Classic’ – which is intended to be a cheaper entry level carbon option. His reason for sharing was to highlight that this bike has been a massive surprise to him, in that they have found it incredibly hard to develop.
However, the resulting ride quality is so good that Michael finds himself reaching for that bike more than any other when he goes for a ride. It sounds too good to be true, and I personally look forward to seeing the fruits of these efforts.
As a fan of Festka’s paint, I had to ask what was in the pipeline with regard to any new designs. All Michael would say is that they are planning new designs as their Pablo and Dazzle finishes are ageing, and have now been copied too much. I guess we’ll all have to watch this space to see what they come up with…
With the currently ground-swell surrounding disc brakes on road bikes, I raised this topic and challenged Michael on his thoughts. He feels the pro peloton will drive the eventual standards, but that it will be a while before ‘the best’ solution finally emerges.
He believes there is currently too much variation and said he thinks some road bike categories are lacking definition to determine the right solution – the example being that the definition of a ‘gravel bike’ is currently still different things to different people.
When pressed for his thoughts on other new technologies and standards, Michael said that he considers the new T47 bottom bracket standard to be the perfect solution as it combines the best of both worlds, allowing larger crank axles to perform at their best on bigger bearings whilst maintaining the integrity of the threaded BB.
He raised the topic of 3D printing – giving special mention to Aussie brand, Bastion, in doing so – and shared that it is something Festka are looking into, hinting that their own new dropout designs may also be 3D printed.
We finished off by talking about NAHBS. Adam, Cycle EXIF Editor, had asked me to ask Michael what his favourite NAHBS bike had been from what he has seen of the 2016 show. It was a surprise to learn that Michael hadn’t seen any of the show coverage.
His reason was that he prefers to focus on their own methods and refine their own solutions without getting distracted by other ideas. He offered that he is a fan of Instagram and follows lots of frame builders on there, sharing that he loves seeing details, but sees many as creations rather than ‘the right solution’ – much like concept cars.
To close the call, Michael was very keen to highlight the Festka Society. They have done a lot of work to get this started and intend to establish hubs globally for this to flourish. The Festka Society already exists in Prague, Australia and Miami; and they consider this to be an ‘owners club’ that is not restricted to owners, but is to be shared with fans of Festka who share their values and mindset.
In their eyes, the purchase is only a connection – their intent is for that connection to become a friendship. Festka want to help new people find the right bike. Michael asked me to share the message that if you like what they do, let them help you.
My thanks to Michael for his time, insight and enthusiasm.