Riding high in world record bike attempt

Festival of cycling
Festival of cycling

IF you think of a penny farthing, you are probably imagining a sepia photo of a Victorian gent sitting proudly atop one.

You’re probably not expecting to see one on the roads around Bassetlaw in 2013.

But not only are penny farthings still being ridden by diehard fans, they are still being made.

Pennies, as they are known affectionately by those who ride them, are the rather odd-looking bikes with the giant front wheel, and small back wheel.

The wheels were likened to the different sizes of the old penny and farthing coins, hence the name.

British Cycling track coach Graeme Waters, of Retford, has two pennies at his house - one for himself and one for his 18-year-old son Matt.

Not only that, Graeme has organised an attempt to beat the world record for the biggest penny farthing race next weekend.

He said: “The last time the record was attempted was in 2003 in Leicester when 132 took part.”

“We have got 80 registered so far but we’re confident that a lot of people who have pennies will come along on the day.”

Graeme, 52, said penny farthings were invented around 1872 and were popular until 1885 when the safety bike was invented.

He said the rather odd looking design came about because having a bigger wheel made the bike go faster.

The front wheel of Graeme’s penny is 54ins, putting the saddle height at a lofty 60ins.

“It’s just like being on a normal bike, the height doesn’t make a lot of difference,” he said.

“We race without brakes because it can be dangerous if you apply the brake at speed, it can flick you over the handlebars, which is what’s known as taking a header. People have been killed doing that.”

He said it was possible to get up to speeds of 16 to 18mph.

Once the safety bike with gears was invented, the penny became obsolete, although they were still being raced in the early 1900s.

The penny farthing race on 18th May is part of the Thoresby Park Festival of Cycling.

It will start on the evening of Friday 17th with a talk by Joff Summerfield, who rode around the world on his penny, clocking up 22,000 miles in two-and-a-half years.

Graeme is a member of Retford Wheelers and his personal achievements on two wheels include finishing eighth in the European Masters track championshops and 12th in the team sprint at the World Masters.

He said: “When I go out on the penny people stop to take pictures and turn around in their cars when they pass.”

This will be the second festival of cycling and events will include a paper boy race and tandem race.

Graeme said people were welcome to camp on the site for the weekend.

Admission and parking are free and specatators are welcome. For more information go to penniesinthepark.co.uk.