Although through training & education we can REDUCE risk of death or serious injury riding Penny-Farthings, we can never entirely NEGATE all the risks associated with them. Riding a Penny-Farthing on public roads is a hazardous activity. Indeed riding ANY type of cycle on the Public Roads is. There are many risks we cannot control such as careless or aggressive motorists.
Further, because the weight of the cyclist is over the large drive wheel, the risk of a “headover“- the Penny-Farthing was where the term was first coined- is ever-present. Where the front wheel to be impeded even momentarily by debris, a sharp speed hump or a big pothole the cyclist will rotate over the handle bars. A Penny-Farthing cyclist can suffer life-changing injuries up to and including DEATH even from a low-speed fall or collision.
The safety advice on this website can serve to minimize risks to the lowest possible levels, but never entirely negate them as there’s always risk riding a Penny-Farthing. Its’ operation is more complex than a standard bicycle and a moment of inattention or a misjudging traffic or other potential hazards can result in serious injuries or death.
The information on this site is not supplied in lieu of training with experienced PF cyclists, but in addition to. Obviously it’s highly advisable to ride with more experienced PF cyclists where possible. But we are few and far between- you might not live near any other PF cyclists to train with. It’s not impossible to gain competence learning on your own- I did. But I didn’t know anybody else who rode a PF until I had already earned my bones and had my share of knocks.
I’d suggest if you’re on FB, reach-out to the “League of Ordinary Riders” group members and being the nice folks they are I’m sure they’d be happy to help learn to ride a Penny-Farthing safely. If you’re a FB Refusenik like me and can’t see their group, contact me via the Telegram group “Penny-Farthing.org” and I can put you in touch with one of them. I’m self-taught, but this is not the ideal way to learn 😉
How Dangerous is Riding a Penny-Farthing?
As noted above, riding a Penny-Farthing is not very dangerous once you get au fait mounting & dismounting. No, it’s really the risk posed by motorists that makes road cycling- a Penny-Farthing or a standard bicycle– on public roads dangerous. Few sports have the potential for death or injury than cycling on roads does. And I’ve played such sports and can say unequivocally that cycling a Penny-Farthing on England’s busy roads is very dangerous.
I hold a Master USPA Freefall Parachutist’s License and am also a Skysurfer, Freeflyer and B.A.S.E jumper. The HIGHEST that I’ve JUMPED is 30,000 feet. The LOWEST I’ve jumped was 876 feet from the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia. The LOWEST that I’ve PULLED was 3 seconds off of the deck, also from the New River Gorge Bridge in WV. But I control & manage many of the risks in skydiving & BASE jumping by maintaining my equipment and operating and knowing its’ limits & characteristics. But due to the dynamic risk posed by motorists, the height and speed a PF cycles, I definitely rank riding Penny-Farthings as one of the most dangerous sports that I’ve ever been involved with, again, due to motorists driving aggressively or inattentively. And as you can see evidenced from the below videos, I’ve played some dangerous sports, so I’m not exaggerating when I say cycling a Penny-Farthing on busy public roads is a dangerous. But this is true of road cycling in general, but you don’t have 5 feet to fall onto tar on a regular bicycle 😉
Riding a Penny-Farthing requires full concentration and continuously assessing dynamic risk posed by motorists; one cannot be “surprised” by the actions of a motorist. And it also requires greater fitness than riding a standard bicycle as there’s no gearing. Generally, poor fitness reduces one’s mental agility. When riding a Penny-Farthing on busy UK roads, one has to be at the top of their game, both mentally & physically.
I don’t mean to put folks off riding Penny-Farthings- they are wonderful machines and provide great joy to ride- but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t appraise the reader of the risks associated with them. I hope this site helps folks gain the competence to be able to cycle confidently, safely and enjoy the sport while reducing the risks to the lowest possible levels. It is a great- no, AMAZING- thing riding a Penny-Farthing it has to be said. But there is no getting around it: riding a Penny-Farthing entails risk…
Amat Victoria Magnus Rota