A Penny-Farthing cyclist must be able to moderate their speed in relation to hazards; this is an absolutely key skill. If you are cycling faster than you could respond effectively to hazards, you’re going too fast…
Another reason a PF cyclist needs to be able to successfully moderate their speed is to stage their approach to joining traffic at busy roundabouts and junctures. And unless you like mounting & dismounting unnecessarily, you need to be able to pace your approach to a red traffic signal so you reach it when it turns GREEN. Otherwise, you’ll have to dismount & mount at every red traffic signal. You must therefore be able to pedal so slowly that you are barely moving, but enough to stay upright so when you reach the traffic signal it has turned green.
But how do we moderate speed?
On modest hills you can brake with your legs by applying negative resistance on the pedals. If it’s a really steep gradient though like 8%+, leg breaking will be ineffective unless you’ve got very powerful legs. Leg breaking must be commenced at the TOP of the hill. Once the Penny-Farthing has gained too much steam, you become a passenger at that point ;-). Be aware however that on really steep hills with steep gradients, unless you’ve got really strong legs, you will not be able to continue to apply negative pressure to moderate your speed for very long.
Rear Caliper Brake:
This should NOT be applied while sat upon the saddle or if so, very gently. When it grips, the small rear wheel will judder and the PF will lose stability. Ideally you should apply the rear caliper brake while stood on the mount pegs while free-wheeling. This is an ideal position to enter busy roundabouts and junctures as it gives you options: if traffic is too busy, you can brake to a complete halt and step down, and if not, you can just remount the saddle from the pegs and continue pedalling. Also, by applying the rear caliper brake while stood on the mount pegs, your weight is driving down on the small wheel thereby increasing stability and efficiency of braking.
However, in order to be competent using the rear brake while stood on the mount pegs, you must have first mastered mounting & dismounting. You must be able to instinctively find the mount pegs by muscle memory.
Every Penny-Farthing is equipped with one of these: it’s called your foot: you stand on your mount pegs and press your foot on the small rear wheel. Like leg breaking, ideally you want to apply this at the TOP of the hill before the PF gains to much steam. The friction will definitely trash the sole of the one shoe you’re using if you do this enough. But in an emergency, it might be the only brake you have so this is actually a skill worth being familiar with.
Before cycling on busy roads you should be able to successfully moderate your speed using one or more of the above methods to an appropriate level to react to hazards for the traffic conditions.
Steep Hills, PF with No Caliper Brake:
Unless you’re comfortable with standing on the Pegs using your foot as a brake on the rear wheel or have such powerful legs you can apply resistive pressure on the pedals, you should walk the Penny-Farthing which is not equipped with a mechanical brake down the hill. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself a passenger on a Penny-Farthing you can’t stop and if you enter a busy juncture or roundabout, it will not end well…
Undertakers & Overtakers:
Being able to respond quickly to passing vehicles overtaking and undertaking requires the ability to quickly reduce speed. I’ve had cars overtake me and then be surprised by a speed bump causing them to brake sharply. These aggressive drivers are deadly to a Penny-Farthing cyclist. When a vehicle overtakes, you cannot take it for granted they will continue at a constant speed and must be weary of them braking sharply without notice or you will go into the back of them and worse still- legally it will be your fault striking another vehicle in the rear.
Truckers are more likely to undertake when passing, due to the imprecise nature of judging distance between you and their long truck. I’ve had a tanker truck pass right in front of me. When you see a long truck, make allowances that there is a greater chance of being undertaken and again, be prepared to reduce speed.
So even though you are cycling in a straight line and not even changing directions, circumstances might require you to quickly reducing speed. The skill of moderating speed while joining a roundabout or juncture is discussed in greater detail in the section “Beginners” > “Changing Direction“.