Penny Farthing Test Drive

The main difficulty in driving penny farthing is the lack of pedal free play and the fact that the steering wheel, pedals and wheel make up a rigid structure. On an ordinary bicycle with a chain drive, pedaling does not affect steering, in penny-farthing you press the left pedal - the steered wheel will lead to the left, and to the right - to the right. You need to learn how to hold the steering wheel, constantly monitoring the car, not allowing it to wag. And this is more than a meter and a half above the ground, despite the fact that the rider’s center of gravity is practically on the axis of the front wheel — you gape a little, over-brake and roll forward. Scary!

The first ever bicycle race took place on May 31, 1868 in the Saint-Cloud park, Paris, at a distance of 1200 meters. The Englishman James Moore won her in a classic bone-shaker. He also became the winner in the first long, 123-kilometer cycling race between Paris and Rouen, held on November 7, 1869. Already in the 1870s, riders moved to penny farthing; Pictured is a race at the Hearn Hill Velodrome in West London. The velodrome, by the way, functions to this day.

Nevertheless, we managed to go to the penny farthing almost immediately. First, like on a scooter - standing on the bandwagon, clutching the steering wheel and pushing off the ground with your foot. Then with the pedals, a little wagging, but overall quite tolerable. “You are the third person in my memory who succeeded the first time, ” Andrei Myatiev told our editor in chief. A reason for pride, not otherwise!

Extra large wheels

The term "penny-farthing" refers to the size of the wheels. The difference between them is about the same as between the two English coins. Interestingly, in the period of popularity of such bicycles, they were called ordinary bicycle, that is, “ordinary bicycle”, while barely appeared bicycles of modern configuration were called safety (“safe”). Penny-farthing Victorian giants called some cunning journalist in the early 1890s - when their century has already passed.

The fall from penny farthing is both beautiful and scary. The pose in which the fallen is after a somersault through the head sometimes looks very strange. This gave rise to a whole genre of bicycle photography, quite popular in the 1870-1880s: "Fallen from Penny Farthing." Photographic equipment of that time did not allow to qualitatively catch the moment of fall, and therefore most of these pictures are staged. The cyclist lay in an outlandish pose, he was “covered” with a bicycle and the result was shot.

In Russia, such bicycles became popular under the name "spiders"; abroad, this term surfaced in the early 1870s, but did not receive distribution. The direct ancestor of penny-farthing was the so-called boneshaker - "shaker." Its design was determined by the patent of the French inventor Pierre Michaud, who invented a direct pedal drive on the front wheel. The bones were incredibly heavy, their front wheel was slightly larger than the rear.

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The latter fact was due to the need to ensure a comfortable fit: the distance between the seat and the axis of the front wheel was dictated by the length of human legs. Andrei Myatiev’s collection contains three bone-mowers of the 1860s (out of a total of four or five surviving in Russia); we tested a copy of 1868 - it weighs probably fifty pounds. Cast frame, heavy wooden wheels, extreme difficulty when cornering ...

We learned to ride the American penny farting of 1887. Our consultant's collection also includes the legendary Eugene Meyer of 1870, one of the first penny fartings in history. The difference between the wheels is still not so striking, and a strange-shaped cross is clearly visible in front of the steering wheel. At the time of the bone-shakers, legs were laid on it, rolling down the hill by inertia. At penny-farthing, such an equilibrium is impossible, but the constructions were not immediately rid of atavism.

The end of the era of boneworms came in 1869-1870, when the French engineer Eugene Meyer came up with a new design. Bicycle manufacturers had several tasks: firstly, to organize normal serial production, secondly - to lighten the car as much as possible, and thirdly - to increase its speed. The solution to the latter problem arose by itself: the larger the wheel, the higher the speed with similar efforts of the rider.

Starting on the move To take a penny-farthing, you should disperse it, moving a little behind the bicycle, then stand with your left foot on the special step and jump onto the saddle. While the bike is still moving by inertia, you need to have time to put your feet on the pedals and stabilize the movement.

In addition, with increasing diameter, shaking also decreased. Simultaneously with Meyer, the British engineer James Starley came to the same conclusion. His company started producing boneworms in 1868, and since 1870 switched to spiders. Most importantly, Starley made many changes to the bike design, which made it possible to seriously lighten and reduce the cost of the car. It was not possible to reduce the weight right away - at first the heavy wooden wheels were replaced with thin metal with a radial spoke (this was invented by Meyer), then they simplified the frame, turning it into a thin-walled tube of variable cross-section (this is Starly’s development). In principle, Starley laid the technological foundations of modern bicycle construction.

The first penny farthing, which appeared in 1870, carried multiple “atavisms” of bone-shakers. For example, in front of the steering wheel, leg supports were used, which were used when the cyclist rode downhill and had to remove his legs from the pedals. But if it was a routine on bone shakes, then such a balancing act on a penny-farthing could only lead to an accident.

Brake system In penny farthing there is no pedal free play, so the brakes only perform a safety function. The graceful lever at the steering wheel is directly pressed against the large wheel, reducing the speed of the bike.

15 years of excellence

Bike evolution was fast. The first penny farthing was still quite heavy, but by the beginning of the 1880s, racing bikes had reduced weight to 9-11 kg (!) - and this was at a height of up to 1.5 m. Given the fact that the first bicycle race in history passed shortly before the appearance of penny farthing - on May 31, 1868 in Paris - it was the "spiders" who became the first mass racing bicycles that reigned in high-speed races of the 1870-1880s.

Interestingly, the same person who was one of the first to start mass production “killed” penny farthing was James Starley. It was he who, in 1884, patented a safety-type bicycle with wheels of the same size and a chain drive to the rear. And with the advent of pneumatic tires, “safe” bicycles have finally occupied the market - and still occupy it.

Counterweights On the 1887 American, the pedals are quite modern, two-way, but on the older Eugene Meyer they are heavy and equipped with special counterweights so that the cyclist’s foot immediately hits the work plane.

But over the 15-year history of the development, penny fartings have undergone a number of interesting technological changes. Every year the front wheel increased and the rear wheel decreased, turning simply into a backup. The frame lost element after element until it turned into a tube of variable cross-section, at one end of which a front wheel-steering wheel coupling was attached, and a rear wheel on the other. The pedal for landing from a leg-comfortable leg evolved into a tiny pin welded to the frame. Radial knitting has given way to the tangent one used on bicycle wheels today (it was also invented by James Starley, by the way).

Interesting technical solutions were used for brakes and penny-farthing seats. Due to the fact that his pedals do not have free play, you can brake by simply scrolling the pedals at a lower speed. But there was a safety system even on bone shakes: the handlebars could be scrolled towards themselves, thus pulling on the cable leading to an ordinary mechanical brake. This system is used today - only modern brakes are pressed against the rim, and in those days the brake rubbed against the tire (it was solid, solid and almost never afraid of abrasion).


Andrey Myatiev

“All the technical solutions used on a modern bike were applied more than a hundred years ago, if not with bone shakers, then at least with penny farthing. These are stamped frames, and rim brakes, and many other elements. Only the materials have changed.

Moreover, all this came to Russia quite quickly. The same bone-shakers were brought to us in the late 1860s. The famous bicycle activist was Voronezh businessman Wilhelm Stoll. In 1869, he founded a factory of agricultural machines and in the same year brought several bicycles to Voronezh - then still bone-shakers. Subsequently, Stoll founded the “Voronezh Cyclists' Partnership”, taught skating for free and personally took part in the first Russian cycling race of 1883 at the Khodynsky field. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the process was similar.

Nevertheless, Moscow today remains one of the last giant cities in which there is no own bicycle museum. In my collection there are about 400 cars (and several thousand small exhibits), of which more than 60 are ready for exhibit even today - they are restored, on the go. Moreover, there are extremely rare bicycles - these are bone-shakers, and "spiders", and pre-revolutionary "Duxes" (I have five out of eight surviving in the world). The only thing missing is the room, and the exposure can be made extremely interesting. "

Andrey Myatiev provides his bicycles for temporary exhibitions, performances, filming, organizes historical bike rides, and takes part in international conferences of collectors and connoisseurs. We wish him good luck in creating a velomusey!

A penny-farthing seat was usually mounted on a spring to soften the fit. But this design did not allow to fit the bike in height - there was no steering adjustment either. The only way to correct the distance between the saddle and the pedals was, in fact, the rearrangement of the pedals. The connecting rods had not one hole, but several - the closer to the axis there was a hole in which the pedal was installed, the more a stunted person could control a bicycle. It is interesting that this system by inertia, in the form of atavism, also migrated to safety bikes, although there was already an adjustment of the saddle and steering wheel in height.

How we rode

Generally, penny farthing is terribly interesting. It is not perceived as an uncomfortable archaism. This is just an original sports equipment that requires special skills and delivers a lot of pleasure. To this day, penny farthing is carried out abroad, and races and bike rides are held there. Known, for example, the Czech company J. Mesicek & Synove, as well as the American Rocky Mountain High Wheels and Rideable Bicycle Replicas.

Finding penny farthing in Moscow was not easy. As a result, we turned to collector Andrei Myatiev, who had as many as three “spiders” in excellent condition: a French bike of 1870 from E. Meyer (one of the very first “spiders” in the world) and two “Americans” - 1887 and 1888 respectively. Meyer Penny Farthing is much lower and more convenient, although much heavier than later designs.

The test turned out to be entertaining - to ride a penny farthing is not easy, but it is possible, and takes this lesson seriously. The view from it is like from the cab of a truck, you look down on passers-by and feel like a real Victorian gentleman. Yes, it’s not immediately possible to get used to the fact that the steering wheel tries to jump out of your hands while pedaling, but in principle it’s not so difficult. According to Myatiev, at penny-farthing races it turns out to disperse to 30 km / h - very well. And taking into account the shifted center of gravity, sharp braking most often leads to a rollover through the steering wheel - so there is also an element of art in reducing speed.

As already mentioned, we had a chance to ride on the bone shaker of 1869 - it is so heavy that after a couple of hundred meters the leg muscles begin to whine. But that is another story. And we sincerely wish Andrey good luck in creating a museum of bicycle technology in Moscow - this is his dream and goal for many years - and we hope that penny farthing will return to the streets of cities. After all, they are so beautiful.

The article “Look down” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 7, July 2013). I wonder how a nuclear reactor works and can robots build a house?

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