Penny-farthings: an eye-opening experience

Sep 13, 2006
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Some of the folks I ride with are into the delightful insanity that is the high-wheeler bike. They are working with a builder in Sweden who is offering a buy-2-get-1-free deal, and they hosted a little demonstration/test ride session yesterday.
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Honest to goodness, they made it look easy.
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Now, I realize I am not the right shape to ride one of these, and I really did not go there intending to try one. I went because it was a beautiful day and a bunch of my friends were out playing with bikes nearby so why not? And then I guess peer pressure got the best of me. Sure, I don't really want to own one, but it'd be cool to be able to say I can ride one. So I let them talk me into trying it. (My pants are all cuffed up because I was warned that if you get your pants or shoelaces tangled in the fork, it can be a real party-ender.)
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You will notice there are no pictures of me actually riding. This is because I didn't actually get anywhere. I managed to haul myself up to the seat, but I didn't have enough momentum to get/keep moving, and I went over pretty much immediately. Nothing injured but my pride. I have come to the conclusion that I have a whole bunch of factors working against me: upper body strength (or lack thereof), agility/flexibility (or lack thereof), and BMI (certainly no lack of body mass, though). The experience has kind of lit a fire under me, however, to get my tail in better shape and try again. I have been given a few pointers to increase my chances of success.

Anybody else on the board have penny-farthing/high-wheeler stories?
 
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furyus

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Very cool and great pics. I’d love to try but I’m pretty certain I’d be on my 6 in no time.

furyus
 
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I have ridden next to Penny Farthings at the Chicago Invasion and they seem very cool. One gentleman just stopped still at a redlight and balanced, the light turned green and down the road he went. That impressed me more than anything else, although they are also surprisingly quick too. I'd try it given the chance.

Carl.
 
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This is a great post.
Aren't there modern versions with smaller wheels that actually make dis/mounting a bit easier? Also IGH versions? Is there a risk at flying over the bars if You have to brake hard? Would it be perhaps easier to try to mount it from the side? Like You know, some guys step on the left pedal and as the bike starts rolling they throw their right leg over the frame and land on the saddle?
It looks so cool though.
You definitely got me thinking, the fork might be the biggest challenge.
 
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This is a great post.
Aren't there modern versions with smaller wheels that actually make dis/mounting a bit easier? Also IGH versions? Is there a risk at flying over the bars if You have to brake hard? Would it be perhaps easier to try to mount it from the side? Like You know, some guys step on the left pedal and as the bike starts rolling they throw their right leg over the frame and land on the saddle?
It looks so cool though.
You definitely got me thinking, the fork might be the biggest challenge.
I agree- great post! I'm currently working on a "modern" version-kinda. I started with a 28" unicycle wheel and fork, and am using a 16" rear wheel with a caliper brake. Looks like the seat will be about 40" off the ground, which will be plenty for me- I'm 5' 7". My tall bikes are 44" and 55". Still thinking about how to mount the seat. The frame is made from 1" steel pipe which slips nicely over the front frame piece. Probably over-built with the two bars, they will be welded once I get the dimensions to my liking

Ride on
Fred
 
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Sep 13, 2006
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This is a great post.
Aren't there modern versions with smaller wheels that actually make dis/mounting a bit easier? Also IGH versions? Is there a risk at flying over the bars if You have to brake hard? Would it be perhaps easier to try to mount it from the side? Like You know, some guys step on the left pedal and as the bike starts rolling they throw their right leg over the frame and land on the saddle?
It looks so cool though.
You definitely got me thinking, the fork might be the biggest challenge.
The smallest one there, the one I tried, had a 48" wheel. I'm pretty sure that's the smallest one this particular company makes, though one of the guys there that day has built his own, and from what I understand you can buy straight lengths of rim material and bend them to whatever radius you want if you have the right tools. I asked a bunch of questions that day, and it seems like these are all direct drive fixed crank setups, which means your "gearing" is based on crank length and wheel diameter. None of these had brakes... you want to slow down, you push back against the pedals like on a fixie. (Edit: though they did mention that some people have mounted a brake on the rear wheel. There's a mounting hole that can be used inside the rear "fork".)

As far as mounting: if you look at the pic above where they are all riding side by side, you can see the peg on the left side of each bike just above the rear wheel. The accepted procedure is to put your left foot on that peg, reach waaaaay up to the bars, and scooter-kick along to build up some momentum. Then pull yourself up to the seat and catch the pedals. Getting off is kind of the reverse... while moving, slide your left foot back along the frame till you feel the peg, then stand on it and swing yourself over to the left side and hope you stick the landing. (One guy said you have to kinda "Superman" on the seat to find the peg, lololol.) This is all made a little more exciting by the fact that you have to stand on that peg with pretty much just your toes... if you get the ball of your foot on it, your toes will probably stick out far enough to interfere with the front wheel when you try to steer.

Just for reference: the guy hosting the demo recently sent me this. Pretty sure this is the directions that the Swedish company includes with bikes they sell in America.
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There is a bicycle club in the UK, Veteran Cycle Club, that does tours with these things. All collectables welcome and they were founded in 1955.
There is an annual race with them about an hour from where I live. Three of the four people in my pics have competed in it. I'm thinking it's a good bet that the fourth (the tall guy in black) will do so once he gets his bike. Oh, by the way, they wear period-correct clothes when they race. (It's not required, but some of these guys go real hard...)

https://www.visitfrederick.org/blog/post/from-high-wheels-to-high-heels/

If I'm not mistaken, the Swedish guy who won in this article is the manufacturer they work with.

https://www.fredericknewspost.com/n...cle_63d3f1b5-a9e8-5986-8ba4-29b739a1c36e.html

edit: Check out this photo gallery for a real taste of what this is like.
http://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/2014/08/high-wheeling-in-historic-frederick/#1
 
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Jun 13, 2015
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I've always wanted to try one. Such a cool visual example of how the desire for greater speeds drove the mechanical evolution of transportation.
 
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Unforgettable Big Wheel - $975 (Hillview)
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54 inch Unforgettable Big Wheel bicycle. You can see and buy this bike at the South Louisville Antique and Toy mall. Calls only will be accepted. NO EMAILS
https://louisville.craigslist.org/bik/d/louisville-unforgettable-big-wheel/6810780898.html

Here's one for sale on Louisville CL. I assume that "Unforgettable" is some sort of company that made replicas? This one appears to have some sort of brake.
 
Sep 13, 2006
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Could be hard to get tires for them.
This is true. For what it's worth, the ones I saw that day all had tubulars or sew-ups or whatever they're called, and I'm pretty sure I was told they all use either them or solid rubber tires.
 

LukeTheJoker

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Could be hard to get tires for them.
I have seen quite a few that are using a hollow rubber extrusion that you just cut to length, feed a wire through and twitch up tight around the rim. You could probably get away with a heavy rubber steam hose.

Or you can just buy the tires, or the extrusion by the foot from somewhere like this:
http://www.hiwheel.com/parts/index.htm
 
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