Penny farthing, the first speedster and still on the roads

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Costumed rider standing next to his penny farthing

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – Penny farthing and the costumed riders that offer a shock to modern bikes

“People are still racing these penny farthings. We had 26 Englishmen here last week for the European Championships. I have had mine going 56 kilometres per hour on a downhill. You drop your legs back onto the pegs and put your body into a racing position and just go.”


Notes: Actually not the first penny farthing I have photographed for this project. Saw one a year ago, or more, in a promotion in the Brussels downtown. They always make me smile. Incredible how far designs have come from the first versions.

The penny farthing was incredibly fast, in its day. There was no chain drive at the time, so speed was a matter of raw pedal revolutions as the cranks were direct to the hub. Having the monstrous front wheel, the drive wheel, meant the bike would go far faster than anything with a smaller wheel circumference.

The penny farthing would remain a dominant speedster until chains arrived and different cogs could be set to a wheel. Essentially, gears.

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