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 a hazardous activity. 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 were the front wheel to be impeded even momentarily by debris, a sharp speed hump or a big pothole. 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.
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.
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 learn from. 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.
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. These would appear to be unreasonably dangerous sport, but I control most of the risks and can manage them. Safety in these sports is (mostly) dependent upon the participant maintaining, operating and knowing the limits & characteristics of their equipment- inclusive of both packing and piloting their canopy to avoid other jumpers and ground hazards to land safely. 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 risks I simply cannot totally control: motorists. And as you can see evidenced from the below videos, I’ve played some dangerous sports and I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a dangerous sport.
Riding a Penny-Farthing requires full concentration and continuously assessing dynamic risk posed by motorists; one cannot be “surprised” by the actions of a driver. And it also requires greater fitness than riding a standard bicycle as there’s no gearing. Generally, poor fitness reduces one’s mental one’s agility. When riding a Penny-Farthing on busy UK roads, one has to be at the top of their game, both mentally & physically. Apparently there are folks who’ve never previously rode a PF being taught to ride one in Central London; oh my… But with such little safety info about Penny-Farthings- most is entertainment- available on the ‘net these people don’t really understand the risks they’re taking and are woefully underprepared. And that was my main motivation for creating www.Penny-Farthing.org: to help others learning to ride a PF to understand the risks while gaining functional competence in a structured, safe manner.
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