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 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. It’s not impossible to gain competence learning on your own- I did, but not by choice. There’s a FB group called “The League of Ordinary Riders” where you can find experienced riders who will (generally) be happy to pass on their experience to beginners.
How Dangerous is Riding a Penny-Farthing?
Street cycling a Penny-Farthing- with the obvious exception of mounting & dismounting is the same as riding any bicycle on busy urban roads. You must have 100% concentration and cycle defensively by avoiding debris/potholes, monitoring the traffic far ahead as well as pedestrians & unleashed dogs on sidewalks. Although the risks are the same as a regular bicycle, the degree of harm from any resulting accident will of course be greater falling from a height of 5 feet. As long as you moderate your speed so you are able to respond to risks, you should be fine. That’s to say never cycle faster than you could stop if you had to.
Penny-Farthings do however have slightly different characteristics than a standard bicycle which you must always keep in mind: never turn sharply on them, and never cycle over any debris. But otherwise, the same survival skills regular cyclists use to stay safe are transferrable to the Penny-Farthing rider.
The difference between riding a Penny-Farthing vs a standard bicycle might be compared to skydiving vs skysurfing. Given the millions of jumps made each year, worldwide skydiving fatalities are tiny- I suspect much less than cycling fatalities perf miles cycled. But skysurfing has a comparatively high rate of fatalities due to the complexities introduced by a skyboard. My own skysurfing instructor Jerry Loftis went-in because he allowed insufficient time to unwind a malfunction; everything is difficult with a board strapped to your feet. A skysurfing friend from Skydive AZ Rob Harris was killed in a skysurfing accident. (2) Fellow skysurfers I personally knew died and we are a tiny subset of skydivers. The greater the technical complexity of equipment, the the greater complexity of responding to an emergency. Like pulling higher to allow more time to resolve more technically challenging faults while skysurfing, reduction of speed cycling a Penny-Farthing is the equivalent of “pulling higher”. Dismounting a Penny-Farthing is a 2-step process: never cycle faster than you could dismount it given the prevailing conditions.
As you gain skill and have time in the saddle, you’ll be much more able to both assess risk and respond to it more quickly & effectively. Be bold and consistent in signalling any direction changes, wear bright colours and keep your head on swivel. If you do, you’ll enjoy riding Penny-Farthings for many years.
Amat Victoria Magnus Rota