A Penny-Farthing cyclist must be able to moderate their speed in relation to hazards; this is absolutely a key skill. If you are cycling faster than you could respond effectively to hazards, 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. I’ve actually had a 3 foot wide board on the roadway around a tight, sharp bend that appears to have fallen off of a truck. Were I going fast, I’d have almost certainly been seriously injured or potentially dead. If you cannot assess the road ahead for potential hazards, you MUST reduce your speed!
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?
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 will 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. This is an ideal position to enter busy roundabouts and junctures as it gives you options: if traffic is too busy, you can brake to a complete halt and step down, and if not, you can just remount the saddle from the pegs and continue pedalling. Also, by applying the rear calliper brake while stood on the mount pegs, your weight is driving down on the small wheel thereby increasing stability & efficiency of the brake. 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 😉
But in order to be competent using the rear brake while stood on the mount pegs, you must have first mastered mounting & dismounting. You must be able to instinctively find the mount pegs by muscle memory.
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 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…
Undertakers & Overtakers:
Being able to respond quickly to passing vehicles overtaking and undertaking requires the ability to quickly reduce speed. I’ve had cars overtake me and then the passing motorist it surprised by a speed bump causing them to brake sharply. These aggressive drivers are deadly to a Penny-Farthing cyclist. When a vehicle overtakes, you cannot take it for granted they will continue at a constant speed and must be weary of them braking sharply without notice or you will go into the back of them and worse still- legally it will be your fault striking another vehicle in the rear. No matter how rude or bad their driving, you must increase your following distance immediately and be prepared to brake & dismount.
Truckers are more likely to undertake when passing, due to the imprecise nature of judging distance between you and the end of their long truck. I’ve had a tanker truck pass right in front of me going up a sharp hill. When you see a long truck, make allowances that there is a greater chance of being undertaken and again, be prepared to reduce speed. 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! So expect that from truckers when grunting it up a steep hill.
Even if you’re cycling in a straight line and not changing directions, circumstances might nonetheless require you to quickly reduce speed.