If you ride a PF long enough, you’ll fall. Every other PF cyclist I ride with- including myself– has had a fall. Maybe some other road user will cause you to have one, maybe you’ll fall due to your own screw-up. Better to think about ways to reduce injury in advance.
What’s Falling Off A Penny Farthing Like?
I’ve had several falls and can say that dumping of a Penny-Farthing is akin to falling off a horse, but only onto tar. I’ve been mowed-down by a Jeep SUV driver whom I thought was yielding to me but out of habit merely paused before continuing on without seeing me. Another time I went over the handlebars after hitting a pothole to avoid a motorist in my lane. And the most recent (I won’t say “last” ;-> ) was when I was cycling about 12-13 MPH in a turn. This time too, I hit a rough patch of road at the optimal angle of lean while going around a roundabout such that it interfered with my front wheel and I was launched with great force over the handlebars. Lots of blunt force trauma to my forearms & hands, bit not a single broken bone. But I was sore for about 2 months after that dump.
So a bit of discomfort was the worst of it for (3) falls, any of which could have been quite serious. It’s thus that I know about falls and trying to mitigate the damage from them.
(6) Ways to Reduce Damage From a Fall:
One should be cycling defensively and avoid situations that place them at risk of falling. But sometimes doo-doo happens even if you do everything 200% right: if a motorist is doing 90 MPH in a 30 MPH zone they could appear after you checked the juncture or roundabout was clear for instance. So yeah, you checked & did everything right but you’ve now got a problem some idiot gave you.
1. Wear Protective Padding: This is discussed in the “Gear” section. Skateboard/snowboard wrist guards are always recommended. And when you’re beginning to gain competence, I’d suggest wearing mountain bike pads like Fox’s “Titan” jacket. You’re more at-risk of dumping when you’re getting the basics down. However, I’d suggest wearing the wrist guards even when you’re more experienced as they take 2 seconds to put on, are not very cumbersome but could save you from getting benched for 6 months with broken hands & wrists.
2. Reduce SPEED: If you see that you’re going to crash/fall, reduce speed. The more you can reduce speed before dumping, the more proportionately that you can reduce the risk of serious injury.
3. Reduce HEIGHT: The higher the fall, the more serious the blunt-force trauma to bones, organs and soft tissue. If you see you’re entering an area which might require a sudden stop, then move from the saddle to the mount pegs and coast into it. This gives you options: if the risk doesn’t materialize, just re-mount the saddle and continue pedalling. If it does, you can apply the rear brake to step down to halt. But if you do fall from the mount pegs, you’re now just 1 foot off of the ground rather than 5 feet were you still in the saddle. By standing on the pegs you drive your weight down over the rear wheel making the calliper brake on the small rear wheel much more effective enabling you to stop quicker .
4. AIM FOR THE SOFTEST LANDING: If you’re in a situation where you’re going to crash/fall, aim for the least painful option to hit- barring of course pedestrians. A friend that I cycled with lost a pedal going down a very steep hill. He had no mechanical rear brake and was heading for a junction. Thinking quickly and considering his options, he aimed for the bushes (there was no kerb on the road’s edge) and only his pride was injured ;-). If for whatever reason you can’t avoid a collision- in this case it was a mechanical failure- don’t get so blinkered that you don’t consider alternative landing zones to minimize injury. In this particular case this cyclist managed to escape injury entirely by using his head and not panicking.
5. PROTECT YOUR HEAD!: Never allow your head to strike the ground first, EVER. If you’re sat about 5 feet off the ground, then your head is going to be about 8+ feet above the road. If you have to suffer an injury, sacrifice any other part of your body than your head. If injury is unavoidable, you must protect your head at all costs. And this includes wearing a helmet. Although it looks good, wearing period headgear like top hats, bowlers & boaters offers zero protection.
6. DON’T THROW YOUR ARMS OUT: Although it’s instinctive to throw an arm out to brace for a fall, if you do this on a PF your arm will be absolutely shattered. I’ve been able to escape injury on my dumps by drawing my forearms into my chest as much as possible rather than reaching out. The fall at 12-13 MPH in the roundabout without protective pads I suffered severe blunt trauma to my forearms & hands. The other headover hitting a pothole, I was wearing pads and suffered zero injuries- and the force of the impact was so severe it bent the spine of my 50″ Penny-Farthing. I’ll never say “never”, but as much as possible avoid throwing an arm out in anticipation of a fall.
7. CLOSE YOUR MOUTH! Any fighter will tell you that if you chin somebody with their mouth open, they’re going to lose some teeth and/or damage their tongue. If you are falling- from a Penny-Farthing or anything else– try to have the presence of mind to close your mouth to prevent serious dental injury.
These are some simple- but very effective– ways to mitigate injuries from a fall/crash. And once again, if you ride a PF, at some point you will have a fall. Better to have a plan for dealing with it in advance.