Unusual Features Of The Penny-Farthing Bicycle

A Victorian pennyfarthing c.1880, with an unusual
A Victorian pennyfarthing c.1880, with an unusual from www.invaluable.com

A Glimpse into the Fascinating History of the Penny-Farthing

The penny-farthing bicycle, also known as the high-wheel or ordinary bicycle, was an iconic mode of transportation in the late 19th century. It featured a large front wheel and a small rear wheel, giving it a distinctive appearance that was both fascinating and unusual. Let’s delve into the unique features that made the penny-farthing stand out from other bicycles of its time.

The Extreme Wheel Size Difference

One of the most remarkable aspects of the penny-farthing was the extreme difference in wheel sizes. The large front wheel, typically measuring around 48 inches in diameter, allowed for greater distance covered with each revolution. In contrast, the rear wheel, often only 18 inches in diameter, provided stability and support. This wheel configuration gave the bicycle its characteristic high seating position, with the rider perched atop the large wheel.

The Lack of Brakes

Unlike modern bicycles, the penny-farthing lacked the convenience of brakes. Stopping the bicycle required the rider to either pedal backward or use their feet to come to a halt. This braking method was not only cumbersome but also potentially dangerous, as sudden stops could cause the rider to be thrown forward over the handlebars.

The Challenging Mounting and Dismounting

Getting on and off a penny-farthing was no easy feat. Due to the significant height of the front wheel, riders had to perform a skillful mount by stepping on a peg or a step located on the rear wheel, then quickly climbing onto the saddle while maintaining balance. Dismounting was equally tricky, often requiring the rider to jump off the moving bicycle and land on their feet.

The Uncomfortable Riding Position

The penny-farthing’s design offered a less than comfortable riding position. The rider’s weight was positioned high above the center of gravity, resulting in a more unstable ride. Additionally, the lack of suspension made the bicycle vulnerable to jolts and bumps on uneven surfaces, making for a rather uncomfortable journey for the rider.

The Limited Steering Capability

Steering a penny-farthing was a delicate art. The large front wheel, combined with the small rear wheel, made the bicycle less maneuverable compared to modern bicycles. Turning required the rider to lean into the desired direction while maintaining a delicate balance to prevent toppling over.

The Risk of Header Accidents

Header accidents, where the rider is thrown forward over the handlebars, were a common risk associated with riding a penny-farthing. Sudden stops, hitting an obstacle, or even slight miscalculations while mounting or dismounting could result in a dangerous header accident. This risk made the penny-farthing a daring mode of transportation.

The Advent of the Chain-Driven Safety Bicycle

The penny-farthing’s popularity started to decline in the late 1880s with the introduction of the chain-driven safety bicycle. The safety bicycle featured equally sized wheels, a lower center of gravity, and a chain-driven mechanism. These advancements provided a safer and more comfortable riding experience, ultimately leading to the demise of the penny-farthing.

A Symbol of an Era

Despite its unusual and challenging features, the penny-farthing remains an enduring symbol of the Victorian era. Its distinct design and association with the spirit of adventure and innovation make it a fascinating piece of cycling history, capturing the imagination of enthusiasts and historians alike.

A Collector’s Item

Today, the penny-farthing has become a sought-after collector’s item. Its rarity and historical significance have made it a prized possession for antique enthusiasts and bicycle aficionados. Owning a penny-farthing not only provides a glimpse into the past but also serves as a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of a bygone era of cycling.

In Conclusion

The penny-farthing bicycle stands out as an extraordinary invention of the past. Its extreme wheel size difference, lack of brakes, challenging mounting and dismounting, uncomfortable riding position, limited steering capability, and the risk of header accidents all contribute to its unique and unusual nature. Although its time in the limelight was short-lived, the penny-farthing remains an iconic symbol of a remarkable era in cycling history.