Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Crash Your Pennyfarthing

So, this isn't really a bike history blog, but being a historian in "real" life, I can't help but be drawn to bicycling history. Today, the Blog Gods (Bloggods?) smiled upon me with a happy coincidence. Last night, I saw this image of Pennyfarthing trick-riding at BibliOdyssey, which made me smile:
And then this morning, I saw this video posted at The Bicycle Diaries, which brought history to life:
Taken together, I suppose they're a cautionary tale against thinking that our early cycling forefathers were a bunch of dandies and fops. No sir, they were hard-core. 


  1. I hope he wasn't hurt too badly. While it's great fun to ride these bikes, the "safety bicycle" was invented for a reason !

    In the velorama museum there are photos of someone doing some of those stunts.

    They also had a video rolling in the cafe in which a stunt man demonstrated some of the many ways of falling off a penny...

  2. Cool video. It's unlikely that the cyclists of yore would have attained such speed in the days before paved roads, though. Looks like the tire came off from centrifugal force.

  3. @ drpaddle: you're right, of course, but I bet some bunch of crazies managed to find a smooth stretch and gave it a try at least once!

    @ David: thanks for the link, great stuff!

  4. Hi Guys,
    The rider was Jack Castor ... on the South Island of New Zealand in November 2000 as I recall. I was there. We were doing a Ride to the Meet ... to Omaru, New Zealand... for a Victorian Weekend Event. Lovely Victorian Town, Omaru. You should see it. This was a very steep downhill. Jack is a slender whisp ... and long time rider. So he can go down steeper hills than many of us, who walk them. At 225 lbs, I was walking this one ... and Jack came whipping by me with the Video Documentary station wagon in front of him. The back gate was open and the Videographer was lying on the read floor with his camera running for Jack's descent. Well, this bike was new (made in Christchurch, New Zealand by Robin Willan) and jack submitted it to a more agressive test than he should have. His speed reached around 50 KPH (31 MPH) when the tire started to stretch too much for his health.
    It is quite unusual for an accident to be so well recorded, but this was. Yes, he was OK ... but scuffed up a bit. If there would have been a car coming the other direction when he crossed the road (Left to right - this is a Brit "Drive on Left" country) he would have been in real trouble. However, with his legs over the bars (the only safe way to descend ) he had his feet hit before his head.
    I have hit a recorded speed of 37.4 (unintentionally) on a down hill at the start of my 2000 Transcontinental (SF - Boston). I miss judged the grade. I do keep my tires VERY TIGHT, however so I was OK. Trip diary is linked from my web page for that trip as well as my Across Europe trip.
    As to the trick riding, the best was Horace Greeley Kennedy ... who was a Denver rider. My Bike Museum has a Victorian Bike Photo Gallery which features 25 of his positions ... mostly track stand wheelies in a host of different positions with the bike together or apart and some with a young lad on his shoulders.
    He was very impressive.
    Also, in my Victorian Bicycle Library, I have found (in the 120,000 pages of pre-1900 bicycle journals) reference to a 1887 Colorado mountain cyclist who descended on a winding dirt road by the light of the moon for a couple thousand feet. He had a heck of a ride. To DRpaddle ... it was an unpaved road.
    You guys would be very suprised to know all of the stuff that they did in the old days!
    Steve Stevens

    Golden Oldy Cyclery

    The Sustainable Museum of Sustainable Transportation.

    Carbon Negative home of Zero Carbon Transportation.

    Where the Motto is
    "Cycle Recycled Cycles"

  5. Hahha.. Wow.. Farthigns are so easy to crash though.. They are toguh ride.. Love the post!