Penny Farthing is a type of bicycle that has a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. Penny Farthing was extremely popular after the boneshaker. However, it survived until the early 1880’s when it was replaced by safety bicycle. They were technically the first machines to be called as bicycles.
The word ‘Penny Farthing’ comes from the British word ‘penny’ and ‘farthings’ coins. It means that one is much larger than the other and it means a penny leading farthing. Penny Farthing were commonly were also called as high wheels, high wheelers and ordinary. They were called as ordinary when the ‘safety bicycles’ were introduced. However, today they are referred as ‘Hi Wheel.’
Eugene Meyer, a Frenchman, the father of high bicycle, produced the classic high bicycle design until the 1880’s. One of the reasons for the death of this bicycle is that it was described as unsafe. They were dangerous due to the risk of headers. There was also danger of being thrown backwards when riding uphill. As it used a larger wheel, the speed was high except on steep hills. To add up, the large wheel rolled even more on cobbles, stones and so on. The rider’s comfort zone was not something penny farthing provided. In those days, the roads were not smooth but rough and edgy. Using such bicycle on roads like these, only lead to ups and downs and big bumps. The worst attribute of Penny Farthing is that the rider sits high and nearly over the front axle. When the bicycle rolls over a rough road or stone, there are high chances of the rider to be thrown over, head first. Such accidents were very common in those days. They were called as ‘header,’ or ‘taking a header.’ Riding downwards of a hill, the rider often took their feet off the pedals and put them over the tops of the handlebars. In such cases, the rider would be thrown off with its feet first than the head.
Penny Farthing was made from cast iron frames, solid rubber tires and plain bearing for pedals, steering and wheels. They were extremely durable and required very little maintenance. Though people called it a dangerous machine, it was light in weight, durable, simpler, faster than the safe velocipedes.