If you ride a PF long enough, you’ll fall. Everybody that I ride with- including myself– has had a fall. Maybe some other road user will cause you to have yours, maybe you’ll fall due to your own screw-up. But you’ll dump at some point for whatever reason, so better to think about ways to fall that reduce injury in advance.
Falling Options: Sore vs. Broken
Falling off of a Penny-Farthing due to its’ height is like falling off a horse, but only onto tar. I’ve been mowed-down by a Jeep SUV driver whom I thought was yielding to me but out of habit merely paused before continuing on without actually seeing me. Although I was sore for a few days, I didn’t break any bones. I’m a former military parachutist so learning to fall is a key skill for that endeavour. Learning how to fall paid dividends many years later riding a PF. So broken bones isn’t necessarily a guaranteed outcome if you learn to fall in a way which mitigates the potential for damage.
(6) Ways to Reduce Damage From a Fall:
One should be cycling defensively and avoid situations that place them at risk of falling. But sometimes doo-doo happens even if you do everything 200% right: if a motorist is doing 90 MPH in a 30 MPH zone they could appear after you checked the juncture or roundabout was clear for instance. So yeah, you checked & did everything right but you’ve now got a problem some idiot gave you.
1. Wear Protective Padding: This is discussed in the “Gear” section. Skateboard/snowboard wrist guards and mountain bike padding like Fox’s “Titan” jacket are definitely recommended when you’re learning and most likely to dump.
2. Reduce SPEED: Speed is a huge factor in determining the seriousness of an injury. If you see that you’re going to crash/fall, reduce speed as soon as you realize you’re in trouble. The slower your speed before dumping, the greater that you can proportionately reduce the risk of serious injury.
3. Reduce HEIGHT: Height- like speed- is another major factor in determining the seriousness of an injury from a fall. The higher the fall, the more serious the blunt-force trauma to bones, organs and soft tissue. If you see that you’re entering an area which might require a sudden stop, then move from the saddle to the mount pegs and coast into it. This gives you options: if the risk doesn’t materialize, just re-mount the saddle and continue pedalling. If it does, then you can apply the rear brake to step down to halt. But if you do fall from the mount pegs, you’re now just 1 foot off of the ground rather than 5 feet were you still sat on the saddle. By standing on the pegs, you’re in a more stable position and braking is more effective than when sat on the saddle.
4. AIM FOR THE SOFTEST LANDING: If a crash/fall becomes inevitable, then aim for the least painful option of things to hit- barring of course pedestrians. My choice would be slamming into a bush were one available vs a parked car(s). If for whatever reason you can’t avoid a collision don’t get so blinkered that you don’t consider alternative landing zones to minimize injury.
5. PROTECT YOUR HEAD!: Never allow your head to strike the ground first, EVER. If you’re sat about 5 feet off the ground, then your head is going to be about 8+ feet above the road. If you have to suffer an injury, sacrifice any other part of your body than your head. If injury is unavoidable, you must protect your head at all costs even if wearing a helmet. Although they look good, wearing period headgear like top hats, bowlers & boaters offers zero protection so always protect your brain-bucket with a helmet.
6. DON’T THROW YOUR ARMS OUT: Although it’s instinctive to throw an arm out to brace for a fall, if you do this on a PF your arm will be shattered. I’ve been able to escape injury on my few dumps by drawing my forearms into my chest as much as possible rather than reaching out. I fell at 12-13 MPH in the roundabout without protective pads and I suffered severe blunt trauma to my forearms & hands. Another time a motorists forced me into a pothole, I was wearing pads and suffered zero injuries- and the force of the impact was so severe it bent the spine of my 50″ Penny-Farthing. But in both instances, I never threw an arm out to brace for the fall. I’ll never say “never”- if the situation is such that an arm is your only option to protect your head then use it- but as much as possible avoid throwing an arm out in anticipation of a fall.
7. CLOSE YOUR MOUTH! Any fighter will tell you that if you chin somebody with their mouth open, they’re going to lose some teeth and/or damage their tongue. If you are falling- from a Penny-Farthing or anything else– try to have the presence of mind to close your mouth to prevent serious dental injury.
These are some simple- but very effective– ways to mitigate injuries from a fall/crash. And once again, if you ride a PF, at some point you will have a fall. Better to have a plan for dealing with it in advance.