Penny Farthing Bicycles Debunked

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When people see a penny farthing, the aspect which immediately draws their attention is the inclusion of the massive front wheel with a tiny trailing wheel.

One cannot help but imagine the rationalization behind why this bicycle was designed in such a manner.

Surely it would make more sense to have a bicycle which is easily mounted and ridden.

Besides explaining how the penny farthing works and why it was designed in such a manner, we will also go over the history of the bike’s development.

Being one of the forefathers of modern bicycles, it helps to understand exactly how far bikes have come in the past century. The penny farthing is the perfect example of a workable, yet unrefined design.

History of the Penny Farthing

Many people are under the mistaken impression that the penny-farthing was the first bike design ever. While it was certainly one of the first bike designs, it was in no way the first. The first bike looked quite similar to modern day cycles with a layout and frame which resembles your typical bicycle.

History of the Penny Farthing

To understand the rationalization behind the penny farthing, you must understand that the original bicycles did not make use of gears and chains.

For every rotation of the pedals, the wheels would rotate one time. This means that you would not be able to adjust the difficulty of pedaling so that you can get more speed out of a shorter pedaling distance.

Why the Large Wheel?

Since there is a limit to the amount that a person can pedal, bike designers searched for solutions to increase the top speed of bikes. The best way to enhance the speed of a bike without a gearing and chain system is to increase the diameter of the wheel so that it rotates further for each rotation of the pedals.


While it may be hard to believe, the penny-farthing was the fastest cycle of its time. It is quite funny to imagine someone outrunning a regular framed bicycle on a penny farthing since it just looks so unlikely to be fast.

Regardless of its unwieldy design, the penny farthing accomplished its task to be the fastest bike of its time. Due to the advancement in technology the best bicycle brands have been launched in the market that is comfortable and is available for every kind of person.

Death of the Penny Farthing

The end of the penny-farthing came along when the bicycle chain and gear mechanism was invented. Since riders could then get the wheel to travel further for each rotation of the pedals, the penny farthing's oversized wheel was rendered obsolete. Now they are simply novelty bicycles.


We hope that this article was as interesting for you to read as it was for us to research. Even we, who pride ourselves on bicycle knowledge discovered some new things about penny farthings. The 1800s were certainly an exciting time for bicycle development.

1 thought on “Penny Farthing Bicycles Debunked”

  1. The gear of any type of bike is best expressed in gear inches, which is equivalent to the diameter of a penny farthing wheel. Multiply by pi (3.142) and you get the distance travelled on 1 rev of your pedal cranks. That’s what matters, not cog ratios or even wheel sizes. Middle gears for most bikes is about 63 gear inches, and that’s about the size of the largest penny farthing.
    In Coventry Transport Museum, England, I’ve even seen a penny farthing with a fixed front wheel gear. From memory I think It had a pedal axle mounted on the left front fork, chainwheel, chain, and fixed small sprocket on the front wheel hub. But to link cranks and use both legs to pedal, it would require the same system on the right fork. Sorry, it’s a hazy memory, and the design would lead very quickly to smaller wheeled bicycles and the demise of very large wheels.

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