The Penny Farthing
CHARLES LEE | 6th May 2017 | PRODUCT REVIEWS
If you think you are a worldly-wise cyclist who has ridden and conquered every type of bicycle, then you may be quite wrong. When bike-themed cafe Wheeler’s Yard knocked on the doors of Togoparts with a Penny Farthing, many of the cycling veterans in the office were ensnared by the bike’s peculiar design and.. ah-hem.. wheel sizes.
You see, the Penny Farthing is not your regular kind of bicycle. The Penny Farthing is a special breed of two-wheeler that is characterised with a large front wheel, a very small rear wheel and a “moustache” handlebar. Conceived and introduced in 1869 by Frenchman Eugene Meyer, the Penny Farthing – also known as a high wheel and high wheeler – can be a daunting ride to some, due to its high riding position and the likely risk of crashing head-first when the front wheel strikes a rock or road kerb.
The first to be called a “bicycle”, the Penny Farthing failed to gain popularity at the time of its debut. Despite the short-lived trend, it went on to become a cycling symbol during the Victorian Era (1837 – 1901). Today, this massive rig has somewhat ignited some interest amongst collectors of all things unique and beautiful, and of course, riders who desire a different ride.
The Penny Farthing is a love-hate affair. With two antithetical wheels, the fact that it can easily be mistaken for a sideshow freak means that it is not a bike for everyone. The model that we got our hands on comes with a colossus 36-inch front wheel. The rear wheel, on the other extreme end, is slightly bigger than those found in e-scooters. Weighing no more than 12 kilograms, the front-heavy Penny Farthing is a towering bike. When standing at an upright position, the handlebar almost reached the shoulder height of a 1.75 metres rider!
The vintage saddle is intimately positioned at the top part of the front wheel, a spot that is almost vertically above the front axle. Unless you are as tall as an NBA player, it is almost impossible to swing your legs over the seat from a standstill position.
Delightfully retro in old European style, the raw metal finishing is the hallmark of the Penny Farthing. The shape of the handlebar resembles the kind of moustache that one used to sport in the Charlie Chaplin days. The front wheel, which is attached with a traditional single pivot side-pull caliber brake, is powered by a fixed-gear drivetrain. The frills-free set-up adds to the nostalgia of the bike.
First Ride on the Penny Farthing
Due to its tall riding position, the Penny Farthing is not for those who have a phobia of heights. For the fearless ones, getting on the saddle requires a fair bit of skills.
Before mounting on it, the rider has to stand behind the bike and, at the same time, grab the handlebar firmly with both hands. Then, the rider has to place his left foot on the foot-peg that is found above the rear wheel and scoot the bike forward with the right foot before jumping onto the seat. The first few mounting attempts that we experienced were, in all honesty, clumsy-looking and hilarious. It took us a number of tries to perfect that mounting.
Due to the immensely-short reach, balancing on the Penny Farthing was no easy feat. The fixed-gear crank system that is attached to the front wheel added to the wobbling; The handlebar would instintively steer to the side whenever the pedal on that side was depressed.
That said, the Penny Fathing was quite a joy to ride on. Acceleration was surprisingly smooth and responsive, thanks to the fixie gear system. With a large front wheel, overcoming obstacles like humps and small kerbs was never an issue. Stopping the bike was a fairly-easy affair. The only caveat is that the Penny Farthing cannot be stopped like any other ordinary bike; The rider has to be prepared to “leap backwards” and land on the ground before the bike comes to a complete stop.
To buy or not to buy
The Penny Farthing is both a fascination and a marvel to behold. Even though it is no longer a bike that can serve the commuting needs of the modern rider, the Penny Farthing remains a gem in the history of cycling. To those with an artsy taste, the Penny Farthing is a worthy product to be kept.
To those who wants a different ride at the parks, the Penny Farthing is a head-turner which never fails to solicit some admiration.
The Penny Farthing is exclusively available at the Wheeler’s Yard at S$1,288! For more information on the Penny Farthing, visit the Wheeler’s Yard at www.wheelersyard.com and www.facebook.com/wheelersyard.