Penny Farthing: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about the penny farthing.

  • The Penny Farthing was the first machine to be called a bicycle. Its name came from its large front wheel and smaller back wheel, which resembled the largest and smallest coins of the time.

  • It was popular in the late 19th century in Europe and the United States. Because the Penny Farthing, or high wheel bicycle, was expensive to make, it was usually only purchased by wealthy young men.
  • The front wheel often measured just over 2 metres in diameter. The machine had solid rubber tyres, a cast iron frame and pedals attached directly to the wheel hub.
  • The larger front wheel and small back wheel supposedly made the machine easier to ride. However, many riders found it difficult to get on and off the bicycle, and there were many injuries.
  • Some riders even died from falling off the bicycle, because of its height. When coasting downhill, riders had to take their feet off the pedals and put them over the handlebars.
  • The bicycle was designed by a British Victorian inventor, James Starley. In 1878, the Columbia bicycle factory opened in the United States, and the machine became popular there.

Penny Farthing

  • The Penny Farthing lost much of its popularity in the late 1880s when Starley’s nephew invented the Rover Safety Bicycle. Its most noticeable feature was a saddle much closer to the ground.
  • Around the same time, John Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre. This new technology meant that smaller machines with smaller wheels could be ridden safely and comfortably.
  • Today, several US cities have the Penny Farthing bicycle as their symbol. It also featured in one of the most famous television shows ever, The Prisoner.
  • In 2006, Joff Summerfield spent over two years riding around the world on a Penny Farthing. The national Penny Farthing championship races are held every year in Tasmania, Australia.

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