Rule #1: Never Cycle faster than you can stop!

Speed moderation is a key skill to master when learning to ride a Penny-Farthing. If you cycle faster than you could respond effectively to hazards, then you’re going too fast. This particularly applies to sharp bends or turns with obstructed views: can you be certain there won’t be a thick branch, big pothole or debris in the roadway, or even a stopped vehicle while you’re steaming around a blind turn? Thus, you should moderate your speed even for potential UNSEEN hazards.

Another reason a PF cyclist needs to be able to successfully moderate their speed is to stage their approach to joining traffic at busy roundabouts and junctures to assess whether it’s safe to join traffic. For junctions controlled by a traffic signal, if you can moderate your your speed by slow pedalling- just enough speed to remain upright– you can (hopefully) reach the juncture at the point the signal turns green. Ideally you don’t want to be mounting & dismounting in busy junctures between both trailing & approaching motorists.

But how do we moderate speed?

Leg Breaking:

On modest hills you can brake with your legs by applying negative resistance on the pedals. If it’s a really steep gradient though like 8%+, leg breaking will be ineffective unless you’ve got very powerful legs. Leg breaking must be commenced at the TOP of the hill. Once the Penny-Farthing has gained too much speed, you become a passenger at that point ;-). And even if you start leg-braking at the very top of the hill, if it’s a really steep gradient you won’t be able to continue to apply negative resistance on the pedals. 

Rear Calliper Brake:

This should NOT be applied while sat upon the saddle or if so, very, very lightly. When the calliper brake grips hard, the small rear wheel can judder and the PF will lose stability. Ideally the rear calliper brake should be intermittently applied while stood on the mount pegs while free-wheeling. Try to avoid mashing-down the brake and holding it. The rear tire will be worn flat where it was locked in place. And that will be a bumpy ride until you change the tire 😉

Rear-Wheel Plunger Brake:

Some Penny-Farthings are fitted with a plunger style brake over the rear wheel. While riding on the mount pegs you depress the spring-loaded plunger which applies a spoon brake to the rear wheel. Effective and less likely to damage the rear tire than the calliper brake. However, more challenging to use for a novice.

Foot Brake:

Every Penny-Farthing is equipped with one of these: it’s called your foot: you stand on your mount pegs and press your foot on the small rear wheel. Like leg breaking, ideally you want to apply this at the TOP of the hill before the PF gains to much steam. The friction will definitely trash the sole of the shoe you’re using if you do this enough. But in an emergency, it might be the only brake you have so this is actually a skill worth being familiar with.

Before cycling on busy roads you should be able to successfully moderate your speed using one or more of the above methods to an appropriate level to react to road traffic & hazards.

Steep Hills, PF with No Caliper Brake:

Unless you’re comfortable with standing on the mount pegs using your foot as a brake on the rear wheel or have such powerful legs you can apply resistive pressure on the pedals, you should walk a Penny-Farthing which is not equipped with a mechanical brake going down the hill. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself a passenger on a Penny-Farthing you can’t stop and if you enter a busy juncture or roundabout, it will not end well. Remember Rule Number 1 about never cycling faster than you can stop…

Undertakers & Overtakers:

Being able to respond quickly to passing vehicles overtaking and undertaking requires the ability to quickly reduce speed. Motorists will speed past you 1 second before stopping to turn right across traffic. If you can’t moderate your speed to respond to this crisis, you’re going to go into the back of the aggressive driver. And not only are you going to get busted-up, the aggressive driver will pursue you for damages for the accident THEY caused.

Truckers are more likely to undertake when passing, due to the imprecise skill of judging distance between cyclists and the end of their long truck. When you see a long truck, make allowances that there is a greater chance of being the trucker finishing his pass too soon right in front of you and be prepared to reduce speed to increase your following distance. And Truckers WILL pass you on steep hills as they need to keep momentum or they will not be able to get up the hill!

Even if you’re cycling in a straight line and not changing directions, circumstances might nonetheless require you to quickly reduce speed. Never cycle faster than you can stop on a Penny-Farthing and you’ll exponentially reduce your chances of having an accident.