The record-breaking ride of Mark Beaumont at Herne Hill yesterday inspired me to get my penny-farthing out again today. I initially got interested in modern-day penny-farthings when I came across this video about the London Nocturne by chance. I did a bit of online research and was – by design – most fascinated by the Standard Highwheels manufactured in Sweden.
I got in touch with Pelle, the guy behind Standard Highwheels, last year and arranged a test ride. Pelle picked me up at the train station in Tomelilla and then showed me around his shop floor.
After the tour, he chose a bike of suitable height and provided me with a hands-on introduction into how to ride a penny-farhting. There are a few very particular points about mastering a penny-farthing which amazed me back then and which still provide me with a unique sensation every time I ride my penny-farthing now.
First of all, it’s amazing to ride at that height, sitting on top of a wheel with a diameter of more than 1.4 metres, literally looking down on the rest of the world. Then the stability, with a rotating wheel of the size of the front wheel, a penny-farthing is incredible stable. One can almost come to a stand-still without falling over.
People riding fixies might be used to it, but for me, it was completely new, riding a bike without brakes where the only control of the speed is via the pedals. And then, when you take a turn, the front wheel and with it, the pedals, turn as well. This is really awkward at first and prevents you from taking tight turns, at least until you get used to it.
All in all, a completely different experience from riding any other bike but one that I wouldn’t want to miss any more. A penny-farthing provides you with a unique sensation. I can only urge anyone interested in cycling to give it a try.
But I usually ride my bike at leisurely speeds of about 20 kilometres an hour as I think that’s most enjoyable. Going much faster than that seems crazy to me. I certainly can’t imagine going at Mark Beaumont’s speed covering 35.3 kilometres within an hour. Kudos to him.