• FA-108497 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Traffic & Transport
Road Traffic
1850 - 1899

Rudge penny-farthing, made in England, 1885

Penny-farthing riders were the “kings of the country roads”. Indeed, riding these high wheelers required a good sense of balance and a degree of courage. Falling off a penny-farthing was not to be encouraged.

The advantage of a large radius front wheel was that a greater distance could be travelled with one revolution of the wheel. Penny-farthing riders were also at eye level with all the carts and horses on the road. The main drawback was the risk of a falling from a height of almost 1.60 m.

Injuries and fractures were all part of the risk of riding a penny-farthing – not to mention the risk of breaking one’s neck from “taking a header”. Mounting a high wheeler also required a degree of skill. The rider would place one foot on a peg above the smaller back wheel and then swing the other leg over the high front wheel – without falling off.

Riding penny-farthings was mainly the province of young, well-to-do men, who had the time and money to afford such an expensive hobby. On the roads they were not always a welcome sight. Horses would take fright at the soundless vehicle, and drivers of carts and passers-by would be irritated by these fast and hazardous riders.

The penny-farthing manufactured by D. Rudge of Coventry, England, was a meticulously made touring model with exclusive features. While the lamp was manufactured by Messrs. Joseph Lucas & Son, the saddle was by Brooks, the bicycle saddle company still known today. The solid rubber tyre was a “Hancock’s patent non-slippery”. Coventry was the hub of the bicycle industry at the time. English makes dominated the high-wheeler market, affording the sport of cycling a certain cachet.

The decline of the penny-farthing began in the early 1890s with the emergence of the “safety bicycle” with its identically sized wheels. With a chain-driven rear wheel and pneumatic tyres these safety bicycles were much safer – and faster – for riders to use.

Inv.Nr. 480
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