Kids on boneshaker bikes -- photoset

Alex sez, "This is a Flickr set taken by me of a group of kids and their dad riding on their five Victorian bicycles with the one big wheel in the front and the small wheel in the rear, which are known as Penny Farthings, High Wheels, or Boneshakers."

The Penny Farthing Bike Gang (Thanks, Alex!)


  1. there’s an old velodrome in Herne Hill, south London, and every spring, there’s a vintage bike rally where they race these. there’s even a kid’s event. kids! in top-hats! ON PENNY FARTHINGS! RACING!

  2. Oh dear, now I feel like the most colossal bore, but I think the ‘boneshaker’ was the precursor to the high-wheel/Penny-farthing, and not the same thing. The wheels were more or less the same size, not unlike a modern bicycle.

    <note to self>

    Try to be less pedantic

    </note to self>

    Great photos, though!

  3. I’m not normally a helmet yob but hfs! Imagine the velocity of your head when it hits the cement!

    Looks like fun, though I wonder if you have to dress like a nerd to ride these bikes?

  4. These bikes are also known as ordinary bikes. They are not the new-fangled safety bikes, therefore they are ordinary.

    In Tucson, we’re blessed with a bike shop called The Ordinary Bike Shop. They have a couple ordinary bikes, although they are modern reproductions.

  5. Any bicycle (excluding old rusted walmart specials) is beautiful, but these are just great. All the gear ratio taken up by the spokes, the only moving parts are the wheel bearings.

    Someday I hope I get a chance to ride one. I also hope it is not a fiasco like my unicycle experience.

  6. RE#2 – Yeah I’m confused.

    boneshaker = velocipede ≠ penny farthing?

    Wikipedia is not being terribly clear on this subject. I always called these things velocipedes, after having learned the word from 100 Years of Solitude.

  7. just out of curiosity, are these folks some brand of fundamentalist christian? the two teenage girls are dressed very modestly/frumpy, not to mention bicycling in long skirts…

  8. There are tricks that you can do with the old bikes that you couldn’t do with the modern ones. All of the weight is on the front wheel, making them almost like unicycles with a training wheel.

    At a bike event I once watched three riders come up beside each other and link up with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Then one pedaled back and another forward so that they pivoted together.

    There were also front mounts and dismounts. If you’re riding slowly, left your right leg over the handlebars and stand on the front wheel. The bike slowly flips over towards the front and you land on the left foot. On some models the handlebars are under yous seat so that your legs are always in front.

    To #9: The odd dress is just clothing from roughly the period

  9. #17: Helmets weren’t worn for cycling (other than by racers) until the late 20th century, so it would be anachronistic to ride an ordinary in a helmet. A top hat would be more appropriate.

  10. the coolest thing ever would be to take one of these to a bmx park. preferably in a top hat, monocle, and handle bar mustache

  11. Seriously, can someone explain what the genesis of these bikes were.

    Who in their right mind would design a primitive bike with one wheel massively larger than it ever needs to be, when two moderately sized wheels of the same size makes infinitely more sense?

  12. @ Jay Acker #25:

    Who in their right mind would design a primitive bike with one wheel massively larger than it ever needs to be, when two moderately sized wheels of the same size makes infinitely more sense?

    If you put pedals on a normal-sized bicycle wheel then you would only cover about the same distance per stride that you would if you were walking. It’s the innovation of gears and chains that made modestly-sized wheels practical.

  13. I’m with the helmet brigade on this one. They’re compulsory where I live, but that’s not why I wear one. I’m hoping to work with brain injured people in the future and would prefer not to become one myself.

  14. To #26 comment on #25: yes, precisely. Without gears a bike with small wheels would more or less suck.

    The key with the penny-farthing larger wheel in front bike is that for every turn of your legs you go forward a fairly large distance.

  15. @ Brainspore and Voiceofreason,

    Thank you so much for making me look like a complete fool. I couldn’t be more pleased, because the answer is so simple now but was unfathomable to me before.

  16. I have ridden one, A home-built job. Very true to old design, all hand made, including tyres. Nearly busted my arse, was too close to some old train tracks in the ground and when I went to turn, I couldn’t help hitting them. These things require a big turning circle. They race them and ride them on rallies and even some ride them to work in Oamaru, New Zealand. I believe they even have an uphill race on them once a year. They are pretty mad in Oamaru.

  17. 27: Do you wear a helmet while walking along the street? You already own one, so you might as well. If you drive a car, you could wear it then too.

    At least where I live (England), you’re about as likely to benefit from wearing a helmet while cycling as while walking.

    I own a bicycle helmet, but I only wear it when I’m doing something above normal risk — like cycling down a mountain. Going to the shops doesn’t require a helmet.

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