Having been with Festka since 2016, Josef "Pepa" Kabeš knows a thing or two about carbon. And he is not shy of experimenting. The bike he rides is probably the lightest Festka ever made thanks to the integrated stem and handlebars as well as the saddle and seatpost he designed and made himself. Lately, he’s turned his attention to making the lightest cycling shoes - a mere carbon shell weighing next to nothing. Josef’s other passion is a vintage American he has been painstakingly restoring the last couple of years. But Pepa's life on two wheels precedes his time at Festka by many years so let's talk to him...
You and bikes, what's the story?
I've always loved cycling but I never fancied becoming a racer. It just didn't attract me. I started riding a BMX bike as a schoolboy when everybody else was skateboarding. The next step was roaming the forests on mountain bikes, filming, jumping and the lot. Then I went fixie. I bought a steel road bike and converted it myself. And when I started to work for Festka, I got round to riding on the track and on the road on a proper road bike. The only cycling discipline in which I ever competed was amateur cyclocross but I did very little of it so it was full of suffering. But I love bicycles and I'm interested in the technical side of things.
How did you and Festka meet?
I met Mauri (Michael Moureček, Festka's co-founder) at some alleycat race and then saw him at a couple of events organised by BajkAzyl where I worked at the time. He asked me to join the Festka team at the Rapha Race in Flanders. I think I was a last-minute replacement for someone else who couldn't come. It was 190 kilometers, by far the longest distance I ever rode. I didn't have my own road bike then so I wasn't familiar with the shifting system. They told me to try and not lose the wheel. It was a rough way of getting to know Festka and road cycling but it was fun.
How did it come about that you went to work at Festka?
I had been working for BajkAzyl* for six years so I was ripe for a change. I wanted to move on and Festka was at the top of my list of options as the best bike thing happening in the country. I went to see Mauri and asked if they would take me on and they did. That was 2016. I gradually went through all the production stages from mitering to bonding to sanding but I eventually ended up doing the laying-up of frame joints.
Rapha Prestige 2015, Limburg. From the left: Lubo Sedlačik, Michael Moureček, Michal Kesl and Pepa Kabeš.
Has Festka changed in those five years?
Like anywhere else people came and went. The quality and volume of the production had grown significantly. The desire to improve the product is constant. As is the search for what's the ideal number of frames for the company to make.
As a person who enjoys the technical side of things, how would you say Festka has progressed as a manufacturer?
To an uninitiated eye, the progress would seem very subtle. The overall look of Festkas hasn't changed all that much. But with carbon composite bikes, it's what's happening below the surface that matters. The productions methods have improved, become more efficient step by step. The carbon fiber composition has developed as research and testing provide valuable data. Although it's hardly visible, the shapes of tubes Festka builds its frames from have changed. It may all sound like minute details but they have a huge impact on the performance and riding qualities.
What form of cycling do you enjoy best at the moment?
I've been riding exclusively on a road bike for a while. I felt it was time to calm down after all I had done on two wheels. But I must say that sometimes I realise my interest in the machine equals or perhaps even exceeds my interest in riding.
No more fixie, then?
Yeah, I got rid of it. I don't have the nerve to ride without brakes anymore.
Do you use your bike for commuting?
I do! I ride to and from work every day. The bike is my prime means of transport around the city.
Riding around Prague - what's your take?
You'll have heard all this before. You can do it but it's far from ideal. And it's more about the people in the cars and on the pavements and less about bike lanes. I'm pleased to see the city biking community growing and congregating around centers such as BajkAzyl and Automat. Getting organised is necessary to progress. The more people will ride around the city, the bigger the share of calmer, nicer behaving individuals. And perhaps more importantly, the city will look better. But there's a long road ahead of us.
What are your favourite places to ride your road bike?
I rarely go on long rides so my riding radius is limited to Prague and its environs. Whichever direction you go there are nice places: Slapy, Karlštejn, Beroun, Křivoklát – we're spoiled for choice.
What's your average annual tally?
Not much, actually. Between three and five thousand kilometers. I would like to ride more and farther but my mix of hobbies is a bit bigger nowadays. When the bike was my only passion I rode more but I never counted the kilometers in those days so I don't know what the numbers were.
Do you follow professional cycling?
Not in terms of riders, teams and results. But I will watch a stage every now for the aesthetics and the scenery.
What would your dream bike look like?
You know what, I've already made one. It's exactly the way I wanted it now that I've spent some time perfecting it. I might switch to disc brakes and electronic shifting one day, though. One thing I don't lust after is an aero frame.
You've made it yourself?
I have. That's that interest in the technical side of things we were talking about earlier. And the experience I gained during my earlier years at Festka.
Proud of his creations.
So how does your bike differ from a regular Festka?
I made my own carbon saddle. I used an existing saddle as a mould but my version is lighter. Also, I integrated it with the seatpost and the seat tube so I saved a lot of weight. The drawback is that I can't easily change my position, crank lengths etc. because that would require some carbon work. I also made my own stem and integrated it with the handlebars. Obviously, I could only do all this on account of me working at Festka.
What else did you fine-tune and what is the final weight?
I made the whole pulley wheel system including the jockey wheels. I even tried to shed some weight by drilling the derailleurs. I made my own carbon cable stops. I basically seized every opportunity to play. I got the weight down to 5.5 kg. I was pleased to achieve such low weight using my own hands and invention without throwing loads of money at it. It was like tightrope walking with the weight and functionality loaded on the opposite ends of the balancing pole.
Have you applied your carbon lay-up skills to anything else?
I made a pair of carbon cycling shoes inspired by Adam Hansen's. It was my winter project this year. I got one of my colleagues at Festka to encase my feet in plaster. Then I turned the negative impression into a silicon model which I dressed in carbon fabric and fitted with a ratchet buckle. I can ride in them but they're far from comfortable and every time I do I swear it's the last time. I would have to add some sort of lining to make it more bearable. And I should have left more space for the toes to give them some room for lateral expansion on the downstroke. But the transfer of power is amazing!
And what do you do when you're not working or riding your bike?
I'm working on another project – a vintage car. I bought a 1978 Plymouth Volare with a view to restore it but it soon turned out it was beyond saving so I got a 1976 Dodge Aspen which is pretty much the same car and now I'm building one car of the two by combining the better preserved or repairable parts.
What led you from bicycles to cars?
I have always liked cars and – after all – I trained as a car mechanic. But I never had a car and I never wanted an ordinary one. It's a personal project. A desire to try something else, something exciting. I'm not doing it as an investment or with profit in mind. I'm doing it for fun. I learn stuff as I go. The great thing about old cars is they're very simple. Plus these days you can find everything on the internet because pretty much everything has been done and recorded. So I don't have to invent the wheel over and over.
Back to Festka. It's the company's tenth birthday this year. What would you wish her?
I wish her to maintain the momentum and remain a great place to work. To avoid stagnation and keep improving.
Would you like to see a World Tour team ride Festka bikes?
Not really, although I realise it would be great for brand awareness. But I like the fact that it's a small operation where you can talk to everybody and every bike is unique.
written by: Jan Krofta
photos: Jan Krofta, Tom Hnida, Josef Kabeš’s archive