Unicycle.com is proud to be one of the few venues where you can still find a very special, historically significant odd bike for sale - the penny-farthing.
These odd bikes, which have a very large front wheel to the hub of which the crank arms are attached, and a small rear wheel, were named after the penny and farthing, two Sterling coins in circulation at the time of their introduction.
Now that we’ve gotten some of our penny-farthings back in stock, it seems like now’s as good as time as ever to cover some things you need to know if you want to learn how to ride them.
First, it’s important to remember that the most important thing about these odd bikes is that they are for novelty and neighborhood fun.
With that said, they’re different from modern bikes in several ways, and you need to make sure you buy one that’s not too large for you.
Here’s what you need to know.
Tire Size and Crank Arm Considerations
The first and most important thing you need to know about penny-farthing bikes if you’ve never ridden one is that they lack a chain drive - this they share in common with most unicycles.
Therefore, the crank arms must communicate directly with the wheel’s hub axle.
It also means that the circumference of the wheel is the main determinant of speed, and the length of the crank arms will determine the power you have over the wheel in terms of speed and control.
Wheel circumference is a product of radius, so the larger tire covers more horizontal distance with each revolution.
With each turn of the tire, the 36” model will travel just over 113”, whereas the 29” version will travel just over 91” horizontally.
One consequence of this is that you must choose a penny-farthing not only with respect to how fast it can go, but whether or not it will fit you.
To determine appropriate size in a penny-farthing, just like with a unicycle, you must know your inseam measurements.
If you don’t know this measurement, it’s easy enough to take. You will need a flexible tape measure and a book.
Straddle the book, as if you were sitting in an imaginary unicycle/bike saddle. Then, drop the tape measure to the floor and measure the distance from the floor to the top of the book that’s between your legs.
This is your inseam measurement, and you will need it going forward when shopping for penny-farthings and unicycles.
Since you will need to reach the pedals at the bottom of the wheel’s revolution, you need to pick a penny-farthing that is not too big for you.
Consider the 36” model in the first link above. This one requires a minimum inseam measurement of 28”. If you don’t have an inseam measurement of at least 28”, this penny is too big for you.
As you might expect, the 29” requires a smaller minimum inseam, which means that it’s suitable for shorter riders. It comes with a minimum inseam measurement of 26”.
Note this as well: while there is a minimum inseam measurement, there is no maximum inseam measurement. While a penny-farthing can be too big for you, it can’t technically be too small; you’d just be cramped riding it.
This is why there is no “max” size for another one of our odd bikes, our clown bike. Anyone can ride it, however cramped, so the good news is you can’t be “too tall” for any penny.
You should also consider the fact that crank arm length impacts speed and control. The two pennies listed above feature steel standard cotterless cranks.
If you want to replace them, remember this. The shorter the crank arms, the faster you will be able to go, but the longer the crank arms, the more control you will have over the bike.
Keep that in mind if you ever replace the crankset.
Odd Bike (Penny-Farthing) Safety Gear
If you already ride a unicycle or a bike, there’s a good chance you already have the safety gear you need. Much of the same safety gear, like a helmet and knee, elbow, and wrist pads, are also suitable for learning to ride a penny-farthing.
A helmet is the most important piece of personal safety gear and you should always wear one when riding. Other than that, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist pads, and gloves are a good idea, as they will protect you against unplanned dismounts, especially when you’re learning.
Sturdy footwear is also a good idea. Beyond that, you just need to get out there, remember to have fun, and when you do experience an unplanned dismount, remember to get back in the saddle!