High Wheel in Somerville

This cool Penny Farthing is often left locked up outside a local bike shop, and a couple of days ago we had a chance to investigate it. I was surprised at how large this thing is - nearly the same height as the Co-Habitant.

We debated whether it was antique or a replica, and it turned out to be a replica, made by Rideable Bicycle Replicas in California. It's funny that the bike is locked to an outside rack with a u-lock; that makes it seem as if at any moment somebody will come out, unlock it and pedal it away down the streets of Somerville.

But as you can see, no one is riding this thing anywhere - the tires are broken into pieces, and other components look aged and weathered, most likely from keeping the bicycle outdoors during the cold seasons.

Penny Farthings are fascinating, because they are so distinct and old-fashioned looking. They are direct drive, and I imagine that riding one is quite challenging. I am not even sure how to get on and off it - let alone how the ladies used to ride these wearing skirts. But they would definitely provide great visibility in traffic!


  1. Hi Filigree
    I'm guessing Direct Drive means no chain at all - your pedalling drives the big wheel and the little one is there to balance the machine.

    It looks like you mount it from those little steps above the small wheel - but I'd never be game to try! For those of us with dubious balance it's a long way to the ground :-).

  2. Carinthia - Oh duh, of course - thank you, I have changed the post : )
    I can't imagine how to mount the bike while pushing off and keeping your balance at the same time! Maybe that's why the woman on this picture is riding a tricycle version!

  3. It looks so easy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-Ocy0SPgcM

  4. I think the pennyfarthing was from back in the day when bicycles were leisure objects for rich young men who liked to take a little risk here and there. The "safety" bicycle, which is essentially the European/Asian city bicycle, was the evolution of the bicycle that got the rest of the population on them - most famously, women (see vintage bicycle ads). I don't think too many women rode these in skirts :)

  5. Looks fun! Why Santa Claus was riding a Penny Farthing through my downtown just a short while ago. No really, I posted that photo just last week on my blog. Cheers!

  6. As for how to get on and off one, see Mark Twain's Taming the Bicycle:


    As for the issue of women riding these things in skirts, Portlandize is correct; not too many women did. They invented the Bloomer and Knickerbocker.

  7. Sorry for the frivolous comment, but I really love the co-habitant's style.

  8. Has anyone ridden one. they look really cool. Didnt someone recently cycle around the world on one ??

  9. Here is the blog of the gent who did the pennyfarthing tour:


  10. I notice those bikes are less expensive than many new bikes, though I can't imagine riding one daily.

  11. Thanks for the Mark Twain and the World Tour links; very interesting reads.

    Giffen - Thank you : ) I am proud to be his part-time personal stylist.

  12. That's pretty awesome!

    As for ladies riding them with skirts? well, they mostly didn't. That's one reason why the "safety" bicycles made in the late 1800s were so revolutionary -- they were an equalizer of the sexes. All of a sudden, men AND women could go around riding their bicycles. this popularized bloomers, without which any decent lady of the time wouldn't be caught riding a bike. Of course, bloomers soon became standard fare for many women. I've also read that the introduction of the "safety" bicycle help lead to women's sufferage!

    check out this book for a lot more info: "Bicycle: The History" by David Herlihy. It's great!

  13. - or to be completely frivolous:


  14. JP Twins - Ah shame on me! I have that book but haven't had a chance to read it yet, though I've looked at the pictures : )

    Emma - Oh I want, I want! Does it come as a surprise that I also like the balloon?

  15. I test rode a penny farthing once. Getting on and getting going was far easier than I had expected. The giant front wheel is a big gyroscope, and the thing just wants to roll forward.

    It doesn't want to stop, though. I reached the end of the quiet street I was on, and there was a highway. I couldn't turn on, and I couldn't stop, so I had to think fast. I made the bike fall over to the side, and I jumped off on the way down.

    When you decelerate this type of bike, you can pitch over easily, because your weight is almost right above the front axle. That's why they're unsafe.


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