The History of the Penny Farthing bike

Penny Farthing is a term used to describe a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. 

It was popular after the boneshaker, until the development of the safety cycle in the 1880s. They were the first machines to be called “bicycles”. The Penny Farthing became a symbol of the late Victorian era.

An important and unfortunate attribute of the original Penny Farthing was that the rider sat high and nearly over the front axle. When the wheel struck a rock or rut the rider could have been pitched forward off the bicycle headfirst. This was called “taking a header” or simply “a header”. Headers were relatively common with the original Penny Farthing, and was a significant hazard.


Even so, bicycling remained the province of the urban well-to-do, and mainly men, until the 1890s, and was a salient example of conspicuous consumption.

The well known dangers of the penny farthing were, for the time of its prominence, outweighed by its strengths. While it was a difficult, dangerous machine, it was simpler, lighter, and faster than the safer velocipedes of the time.