The New Old School

The Tour de France attracts bike fans from around the world, many of whom come with bikes. At the start of this year’s Tour, many Dutch fans flocked to the roadside on their city cruisers. And when the Tour hits the mountains, thousands of fans will ride the climbs on their own racing bikes. But for the past five years, only one fan has dared to follow the Tour on a historic Draisine bicycle.

Words & images: James Startt
From: Namur, Belgium

Ivan Krivanek, who grew up in the former Czechoslovakia, is quite the history buff. For him, the purest form of the bicycle remains the first, the Draisine. Preceeding even the Penny Farthing, the Draisine first appeared in 1817 and is essentially two, wood-rimmed wheels, attached by a plank of wood. Absent of even a chain drive, the cyclist simply sits on the plank and pushes it along with his feet.

“Why do I ride a Draisine, you ask? Why do you drive a car!” says Krivanek. “It just speaks to me. “I never ride a modern bike. This is my bike. There is so much freedom with it. It doesn’t go very fast, but it is very satisfying. Plus it is sturdy and easy to repair.”

And if Krivanek doesn’t stand out enough among the Tour de France spectators, he applies an added touch by dressing in period-correct attire of a Grenadier soldier from Napoleonic French army.

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“You know I come from Austerlitz, the site of one of Napoleon’s great battles. In my region Napoleon is a great hero. He freed us from the Austrians and the Russians.”

Krivanek seemed little concerned that, one this day, he had chosen to watch the Tour pass from the heights of the Namur Citadel, only about 40 miles from Waterloo, home to Napoleon’s greatest defeat.

A retired baker, the 58-year-old pushes his Draisine around the world and can ride up to 140 kilometers in a day. “That’s the world record,” he says proudly. But while he has been as far as Japan on his nearly 200-year old machine, he never misses the Tour de France.

“You know the greatest thing about the fall of Communism was that we finally had the freedom to travel. Finally I had the chance to come and see the Tour de France. The Tour is the greatest. There is so much atmosphere. The people are fantastic, and traveling around France all month just gives you such a feeling of freedom.”

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