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, but the Penny-Farthing’s operation is more complex than a standard bicycle and less forgiving if you make an error operating it. Even just a moment of inattention or a misjudging traffic or other potential hazards can result in serious injuries or death. There are many dynamic 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 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 not by choice. Googling I saw a FB group “League of Ordinary Riders” but being a FB refusnik, I couldn’t see any of the content or communicate with them so I had to earn my bones training alone. But I’d connect with them and see if there are any riders in your area that will help you learn the fundamentals. Seriously, learning alone is significantly more dangerous than training with experienced riders.
How Dangerous is Riding a Penny-Farthing?
Riding a Penny-Farthing isn’t very dangerous once you get au fait mounting & dismounting. No, really! But what *IS* dangerous is riding a Penny-Farthing on busy roads due to the dynamic, ever shifting risks posed by inattentive or aggressive motorists. Therefore few sports have the potential for death or injury as cycling on roads does. And I’ve played sports where you have to save your life at the end of the game: BASE jumping & Skysurfing. So I can say unequivocally that cycling a Penny-Farthing on England’s busy roads can be quite dangerous.
I hold a Master USPA Freefall Parachutist’s License and am also a Skysurfer, Freeflyer & B.A.S.E jumper. The HIGHEST that I’ve freefalled was 30,000 feet. The LOWEST I’ve freefalled 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, configuring & operating my equipment correctly and knowing its’ limits & characteristics. For instance, I knew given the speed I was falling, how I packed my parachute (nose open, mesh slider) I could get away with three seconds: but everything had to be right. A snivel or bad body position could change the dynamics of my risk assessment. But everything was within the scope of my ability to control: not so being a road cyclist- Penny-Farthing or a standard bike.
Riding a Penny-Farthing requires full concentration and continuously assessing dynamic risks posed by motorists; one cannot be “surprised” by the actions of a motorist. And riding a Penny-Farthing also requires greater fitness than riding a standard bicycle as there’s no gearing. Generally, poor fitness reduces one’s mental agility. So 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.
Amat Victoria Magnus Rota