The Tanglefoot Trail has seen two-wheel bikes, three-wheel bikes, recumbent bikes, elliptical bikes and even one-wheel bikes but this past week there was something new.
People at the Trailhead Plaza were able to see their first Penny Farthing bike go down the trail.
A Penny Farthing may be better known to some as a high wheeler, because it has a very large front wheel with a very small rear wheel, whimsically compared visually to an British penny coin beside a farthing.
A little selected history from Wikipedia:
“The penny-farthing, also known as a high wheel, high wheeler and ordinary, was the first machine to be called a ‘bicycle.’
“It was popular in the 1870s and 1880s, with its large front wheel providing high speeds (owing to it travelling a large distance for every rotation of the legs) and comfort (the large wheel provides greater shock absorption). It became obsolete from the late 1880s with the development of modern bicycles, which provided similar speed amplification via chain-driven gear trains and comfort through pneumatic tyres, and were marketed in comparison to penny-farthings as ‘safety bicycles’ due to the reduced danger of falling and the reduced height to fall from.
“Although the trend was short-lived, the penny-farthing became a symbol of the late Victorian era. Its popularity also coincided with the birth of cycling as a sport.”
The rider visiting New Albany was Tim Gordon of Carthage, who had wanted to ride the trail since last year. He was aware of the trail partly through friends of his here, Danny and Linda Temple.
Gordon is a professional bike tour guide.
“I was working in Scotland in 1990 leading bicycle tours,” he said. It was a summer job, he was just out of the military and had been working at ski resorts.
“I was based there in Marine Corps in ‘80s, and fell in love with Scotland,” he said.
One of tours coincided with bicycle rally. “A guy about my size had an original (penny farthing) from about 1870 or so,” he said. “I had a curious look on face, he said do you want to have a go on it.”
“He got me started and I was like a 34-year-old child on my first bicycle,” he said. “The next year, 1991, I got my own.”
Many enthusiasts have antiques but his is contemporary, with a 60-inch front wheel with a solid rubber outside. The bike size depends on the height of the rider.
Even in the old days the bicycles were made in sizes according to the rider’s height, he said, and it would be nearly impossible to find an original because he 6 foot 3 inches tall.
“The average height in 1870 was about 5 feet 8 so a 52- or 54-inch was common in that era. This is 60 inch
High wheelers such as his cost about $3,000.
Getting on is a bit tricky, and stopping quickly even trickier. The wheel size means the bike needs a large space to turn and the rider’s head is about eight feet above the ground so limbs can be a problem.
Gordon said he can get up to 10 or 15 miles an hour and the large wheel circumference eats up a lot of ground quickly.
He has only crashed once, on Daytona Beach where they race cars. “I hit a soft patch of sand and went over the front wheel,” he said.
The penny farthing does have a sort of friction brake.
“But the brake is basically ineffective unless you are already going slow,” he said. “You have to reverse pressure on the pedals, which are like pedals on a tricycle. When the wheels are turning the pedals are turning. Sometimes going down steep hill you just have to kick your feet out of the way.”
Getting on or off is the tricky bit, he said. There is a single mounting peg but the rider has to jump up, maintain balance and get his or her feet on the moving pedals.
Surprisingly, perhaps, he said the balance is just like that for a regular bike “once you are up there.”
“It is tough on hills up and down so sometime times you have to walk,” he said, and because of the big wheel he needs a large area in which to turn around.
Probably his longest ride has been the length of the Natchez Trace from one end to the other. He said it took him five days, going 80 miles a day. “There are not really any other trails like this,” he said.
Last year he did 100 km or 62 miles on his 62nd birthday. “I have done 100 miles in a day but it’s been a few years, “ he said. “I am working back up to 100 miles.”
But he is in no hurry.
“I’m just toodling along, not doing the Tour de France,” he said. “I stop and smell the flowers, probably just go about 10-12 miles an hour.”
His next goal? “Whatever comes up.”