Penny Farthings in Production

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Most visitors to a bike show go expecting to see what is new and cool. The arrival of the “Standard Highwheel” at the Berlin Bike Show (or Fahrradmesse) must have struck the archetypal cyclist as “old” rather than new, but this is a 2013 startup, founded by Swedish architect Per-Olof Kippel. I guess it comes down to individual taste as to whether they are cool, but they certainly attract attention.

Per-Olof explained that he had read Christopher McDouglas’ bestseller “Born to Run” (about long distance running, in which a character invites friends to participate in an “anachronistic” Ironman, using equipment from the 1890s. This got Per-Olof to thinking whether you could ride 180 miles on a Penny Farthing – which is also known variously as a Velocipede, High Wheeler, High Wheel Bicycle, or Ordinary. He discovered that there were a couple of places around the world where you could buy one, but the prices were high. This led to his vision of producing his own for a price tag of €1000. After a load of research and tests, he joined forces with Lee Gwang-Hyun, a South Korean enthusiast who had already done a lot of work in the area; his Cheonan based factory now hand builds the bikes, before the final assembly and testing in Sweden. In the end, Per-Olof’s goal of quality had to take priority over the target price, and the product ended up at €1400.

Some of the main parts are made specifically for the bike: the complete wheel with its chrome plated steel hub, the powercoated steel frame, the powder coated aluminium forks, and the stainless steel shaped handlebars. Other items are carefully selected and sourced from other suppliers: the stem, the headset, cranks, pedals, saddle and optional brake – don’t panic, there is a built-in “brake”, with a braking action in applying backward pressure on the pedals.

Per-Olof explains that “the larger the front wheel, the faster you go. The problem is not, as you might imagine, going uphill but keeping control while coming downhill at breakneck speed.

He also points out that on a High Wheel bicycle you are going to stand out from the crowd – in both senses. You can look over hedges and can look down on motorists – many cyclists do that figuratively, here you can do it literally! The company’s clients are individualists who want to diverge from the pack. They have to have a certain agility to climb on to the bike – you put your left foot on to a “mounting peg” and scoot with your right foot. Once moving, you then perform a slightly acrobatic move up on to the saddle and get your feet on the pedals. Riders also need great balance to stay in the saddle and it’s a long way down. Most people learn to ride a high wheeler within the hour.

highwheeler raceThe pedals are fixed to the hub and so are in constant movement – the ultimate “fixie”. The addition of the optional calliper brake on the rear wheel helps in particular when dismounting.

Many cycle factories sponsor racing teams. Per-Olof does it himself – he came 4th in the European Penny Farthing championships in Belgium in 2014.

 

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