Directional Changes ALWAYS Incur Risk!

Riding a Penny-Farthing in a straight line with no junctures/roundabouts is not terribly difficult. The risk of a serious accident really manifests when you’re merging into or passing in front of traffic making a turn. But the problem of directional change is really binary: you can either join the roundabout or turn onto the juncture safely, or the traffic flow is such that you cannot and cannot and must halt. And you must also be aware of trailing motorists that could mow you down from behind if you surprise them with an abrupt stop when you realize too late that you can’t join the flow of traffic safely.

Cautiously approaching busy Upper Dukes Drive on my pegs after competing in the 2022 Penny-Farthing Hill Climb World Championships up Beachy Head

Yielding Right-of-Way: Don’t Be the Rightest Guy in the Cemetery!

Yield right of way to aggressive/inattentive motorists even if you have the right-of-way. Or be the “rightest” person in the cemetery…

Approaching Junctures/roundabouts: (6) Key Procedures

1. LOOK!

When assessing traffic flow, be as equally trailing motorists as you are approaching ones. And don’t rely on only sound to inform you of the presence of trailing road users- LOOK!!! Cyclists & electric vehicles can be trailing quietly behind you. As a Penny-Farthing cyclist, I’ve had other cyclists drafting behind me just out of curiosity and also to film me on their phones or CycleCams. Had I not looked over my shoulder to avoid a pothole there would have been a serious accident with these curious cyclists. Pro Tip: Where I can see it’s safe for trailing motorists to pass me, I wave my arm in a circular fashion to invite them to do so when approaching a juncture or roundabout. If I can clear the risk posed by trailing motorists, I can be then be more focused on the risks in front of me 😉

But also be aware of the risk you present to others when turning: Don’t be so fixated on traffic that you’re not paying attention to pedestrians, wheelchairs or even the blind who might cross in front of you on the road that you’re turning onto! Making directional changes really requires your full attention and focus.

2. Signalling Direction Changes: NOT Optional!

After checking for trailing motorists and establishing it’s safe, signal. The Highway Code requires ALL road users to signal directional changes. So when approaching roundabouts/junctures, signal clearly and boldly– even if no vehicles are seen– your direction changes to both motorists you are approaching as well as those trailing you. And it’s in the cyclist’s interest to be unambiguous informing other road users where they’re going: any confusion and the cyclist pays the price. In addition to hand signals, I STRONGLY advise using electronic turn signals as these will continue to announce your directional intent even if you’re approaching a juncture half-mounted and both hands are planted on the handle bars. See the gear section of this site for the “Blinxi” helmet turn signals.

3. Correct Lane Position

If turning RIGHT, move to the INSIDE of the lane to avoid a trailing motorist colliding into you as they pass on the inside of the lane! And if you don’t occupy the inside of the lane I guarantee some rude motorist will ignore your signal and ram in the space creating a dangerous situation

4. Pace Your Approach

As you approach a juncture or roundabout, adjust your speed to enable you to merge into traffic safely. If traffic is too busy, just slow-pedal waiting for an appropriate gap allowing you to merge safely. Dismounting & re-mounting in busy traffic is to be avoided wherever possible. Thus, being able to slow-pedal- pedalling so slow that you’re only going fast enough to stay upright– is a just as key skill for a Penny-Farthing cyclist as mounting & dismounting.

5. Blind Junctures: Approach Half-Mounted

When approaching a blind juncture or roundabout on level or downward sloping ground, approach on your pegs (“Half-Mounted”) while continuously assessing traffic flow & pedestrians. If it’s safe to join the flow of traffic, re-mount the saddle and pedal. If it’s NOT, then brake either using your calliper brake or pressing your heel on the rear wheel with one foot and step off the pegs to halt. Then re-mount and join the traffic when a gap in the flow makes it safe to do so. NEVER approach a busy juncture mounted on the saddle at high speed. Making unplanned stops on a PF is asking to be a guest star on the next episode of “Helicopter Emergency Medics” ;-). If you look at the picture below, you can see the benefit of electronic turn signals on your helmet when your hands are planted on tour handlebars when cycling half mounted. What if a trailing motorist now appears after I signalled? How can they be certain of my directional intent without electronic signals? They can’t. Any confusion over where your going with other road users, you the cyclist suffer the consequences. My signals in this picture are integrated into the helmet.

Approaching a blind juncture Half-Mounted to enable a quick dismount if a vehicle is approaching unseen

6. Don’t Make Sharp Turns

If beginning the turn Half-Mounted because of obstructed view, continue it Half-Mounted carving a gentle & wide turn being prepared to step down and halt if necessary if pedestrians, potholes or other hazards present on the other side of the turn.

If turning mounted on the saddle, the faster and sharper the turn, the more likely that you’re going to go over the handlebars.  

If environmental factors are such that there’s no avoiding a sharp turn- I have one from a very busy main road onto a tiny country lane on my daily ride– then slow down to a crawl and lean back to counterbalance. And never forget that dismounting and walking is always an option until you have the experience to judge your ability to join traffic safely under various conditions.

In the below video- filmed by following Penny-Farthing cyclist (Essex Dougie)- you can see me approach the blind roundabout on my mount pegs while moderating the speed with my rear calliper brake. I see that a car in the roundabout is passing in front of the car to my immediate right enabling me to join the roundabout safely. So although I can’t see approaching traffic very clearly, logically I know that even were they, the car passing in front of vehicles to my right will block them for me.

Note that I don’t re-mount the saddle until I have a clear view of the traffic- and pedestrians- in front of me on the road I’m joining. Also note the perspective of the camera man joining the roundabout. This gives you a first-person perspective of the challenges of changing direction at a busy roundabout and why it’s so important that you master the skill of mounting & dismounting before venturing out on busy roads.

How to approach a blind, busy juncture on a Penny-Farthing

Turning Right: Turning Across On-Coming Traffic

Here in the UK, turning RIGHT means passing across on-coming traffic and is dangerous for regular bicycles, but even more so for a Penny-Farthing cyclist. It’s so important that you keep your head constantly swivelling and be prepared to halt if you cannot pass in front of on-coming traffic safely.

Turning Left: Your Ace-in-the Hole

Let’s say you do everything right: you moderate your speed, you swivel your head constantly assessing the road & sidewalks for hazards and it looks OK to enter the roundabout or juncture and some speeding lunatic appears. What do you do?

If some speeding motorist will make it unsafe to pass through a juncture or enter a roundabout, check nobody- even fellow cyclists- are passing on your inside and guide tightly to the edge of the road allowing you to turn left to avoid passing in front of the approaching motorist. It’s obviously better to make a complete halt, but if were on the cusp of entering the juncture when Mr. Speeding Lunatic Guy hosed that plan, turning left is now the least bad option. Just reverse direction at the next roundabout and continue on your intended path.

BUT: Turning left is only possible if there are no pedestrians, wheelchairs or blind folks who look like they’re about to cross in front of you when turning! So make sure you’re watching that sidewalk when approaching a juncture or roundabout!