Böh­mer­land

Bo­hemian Rhap­sody

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos OBA Ar­chives

Over the cen­turies, Bo­hemia has had many rulers, so it is not sur­pris­ing that it suf­fers from some­what of an iden­tity cri­sis. For ex­am­ple, the lan­guage spo­ken could have been Ger­man or Czech, and many prod­ucts were mar­keted with names for both. Nowa­days, Bo­hemia is part of the Czech Repub­lic, bor­dered by Ger­many, Poland, Mo­ravia and Aus­tria, with around 6 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants. This poly­glot en­vi­ron­ment is how a mo­tor­cy­cle de­signed by Al­bin Liebisch came to be sold un­der two names – Böh­mer­land (Bo­hemian Coun­try) in Ger­many and Cechie in the Czech di­a­logue. Liebisch was born in Rum­burk, the son on a gar­dener, and in 1985 the fam­ily moved to Krasna Lipa in north­ern Bo­hemia where his fa­ther founded a very suc­cess­ful gar­den­ing busi­ness and built green­houses. Fight­ing on the east­ern front in WW1, young Al­bin was in­jured and af­ter hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion, trans­ferred to a job in war pro­duc­tion in Ko­priv­ice. In 1923, Liebisch, who had very fixed ideas on what a mo­tor­cy­cle should be, set about de­sign­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing his own ma­chine, which we shall re­fer to as the bet­ter known Böh­mer­land for the pur­poses of this story. His well-equipped and self­con­tained fac­tory was es­tab­lished in Schön­linde, Sude­ten­land, with a staff of around 20. Un­der­stand­ably, given the na­ture of the lo­cal ter­rain, Liebisch wanted his ma­chines to be strong and re­li­able, and to all ac­counts, they were. Other mo­tor­cy­cles of the time suf­fered bro­ken frames, col­lapsed wheels and me­chan­i­cal fail­ures due to the atro­cious roads, so Liebisch cre­ated the spec­i­fi­ca­tion he felt would en­dure th­ese hard­ships, even if it meant break­ing with most if not all con­ven­tional think­ing. Mind you, he had plenty of com­pe­ti­tion, with over 200 dif­fer­ent for­eign makes, plus do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion from the likes of Jawa, Premier, Bekamo, Praga, Griz­zly, B.D., C.A.S., Itar, Aeros, B.V., Wal­ter, Satan, J.F.K., Ve­lamos, Poustka, B.A.F., Koch, Sirocco, M.B., Orion, Met, Velox, and J.A.C. All th­ese com­pa­nies were much larger than Böh­mer­land, yet it re­mained in pro­duc­tion for 15 years. The orig­i­nal en­gine which was de­signed in 1923 was a 598cc over­head camshaft sin­gle with a bore and stroke of 79.8mm x 120mm. It was straight­for­ward and sim­ply con­structed, yet quite pow­er­ful for the day, pro­duc­ing 16 horse­power at 4,000 rpm. This was pro­gres­sively in­creased to 25 horse­power by the mid 1930s. A Ger­man Bosch mag­neto pro­vided the sparks, with a Bri­tish Amac (later Amal) car­bu­ret­tor, a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gear­box, Framo sad­dle and a

frame con­structed from Man­nes­mann tub­ing. The frame was highly un­ortho­dox, and came in two ver­sions. The shorter wheel­base ‘tour­ing’ model was called the Ju­bilee, with the fuel tank above the top frame tubes, while the ex­tremely long wheel­base “Tourster” had two sep­a­rate fuel tanks mounted on ei­ther side above the rear wheel. To add to the al­ready con­sid­er­able over­all length, a sub­stan­tial lug­gage box was lo­cated be­hind the rear wheel, sus­pended from ex­ten­sions to the top frame rail. This model was fit­ted with a dual seat for rider and pas­sen­ger, plus an aux­il­iary seat over the rear mud­guard for a third per­son. Be­lieve it or not, there was even a com­pe­ti­tion ver­sion – the Racer – which was a tuned and light­ened ver­sion of the Ju­bilee. The Racer, which was in­tended pri­mar­ily for hill climbs, was good for a re­puted 92 mph, while the Ju­bilee did 80 mph and the heavy Tourster topped out at 75. The Böh­mer­land was no­table for hav­ing cast al­loy wheels – the first pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cle to do so

– which Liebisch claimed were far more durable, and su­pe­rior to the con­ven­tional spoked type on the lo­cal tracks and roads. The tubu­lar steel frame was mas­sive in con­struc­tion, with enor­mous and im­mensely strong lead­ing link forks con­trolled by coil spring and fric­tion dampers. The mo­tor­cy­cles were in­di­vid­u­ally hand-built to or­der, so the spec­i­fi­ca­tion was li­able to alter slightly be­tween ma­chines, and ev­ery com­pleted bike was rig­or­ously tested by the man who de­signed it. Only when Liebisch was com­pletely sat­is­fied with ev­ery as­pect of the prod­uct would the cus­tomer take de­liv­ery of his mo­tor­cy­cle. The com­pany had no dealer net­work; ev­ery mo­tor­cy­cle was or­dered and de­liv­ered di­rectly from the fac­tory. Liebisch had such faith in his prod­ucts that he com­peted reg­u­larly and with some suc­cess. Through­out its ex­is­tence, the 600cc en­gine changed lit­tle in ap­pear­ance, and al­ways re­tained open valve gear and ex­posed pushrods – any­thing but oil-tight. The connecting rod was hand forged, drilled from the bot­tom to the top with holes of dif­fer­ent sizes ac­cord­ing to the de­creas­ing width of the rod. De­spite the ‘Swiss cheese’ ap­pear­ance of the rod, the de­signer claimed to­tal re­li­a­bil­ity, even in the rac­ing en­gines which had even big­ger holes. “Liebisch-Mo­tor” was proudly cast into ev­ery drive side crank­case.

Al­though ded­i­cated to his big four stroke, Liebisch re­alised that the aus­tere times of the early ‘thir­ties re­quired a dif­fer­ent prod­uct, which he set about de­sign­ing. The power unit was a 350cc two-stroke, which he called the “Peo­ple’s Mo­tor­cy­cle”. It was re­put­edly a rea­son­able en­gine, but sad­dled with an­other un­ortho­dox and very heavy chas­sis. His patented pow­er­plant was eco­nom­i­cal to run, and ca­pa­ble of re­spectable per­for­mance, but it wasn’t pow­er­ful enough to haul such a weighty pack­age. In a con­ven­tional frame this en­gine could well have set the lit­tle fac­tory on the path to greater things, but Liebisch was an en­gi­neer first and a busi­ness­man sec­ond. Only a hand­ful of the two strokes were built, while the fac­tory con­tin­ued to churn out the larger mod­els. There was even a mil­i­tary model pro­duced as a pro­to­type, with twin Hurth gear­boxes. Iron­i­cally, it was the wors­en­ing po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion that led to the demise of the Böh­mer­land in 1939, with a to­tal pro­duc­tion of around 1600 mo­tor­cy­cles built. Liebisch had planned to re­sume mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion at the close of WW2, but fell foul of the

Sovi­ets and ended up in a labour camp in a Czech gu­lag at Ka­menice, when he and his son Richard were in­terred. They man­aged to es­cape in 1946 and ended up in Pas­sau, Ger­many, where Al­bin be­gan pro­duc­ing hand trucks, al­ways with an am­bi­tion to re­turn to mo­tor­cy­cles. Thanks mainly to Richard, the Böh­mer­land mar­que briefly reap­peared in 1952 with a stream­lined, low-slung model pow­ered by a 198cc Zun­dapp en­gine, but it failed to go into pro­duc­tion. Suf­fer­ing de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health in later life, Al­bin Liebisch died in Pas­sau in 1965.

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