Friday, August 21, 2015

Penny-Farthing /Velocipede / Væltepeter

"Væltepeter" in a roundabout in Aalestrup, Jutland /GB
The bike with the very large front wheel is in Denmark called Væltepeter, which is a socalled folk-ethymological recreation of the French velocipede.  The English word for this bike is the penny-farthing, also known as the high wheel, high wheeler and ordinary. Mostly they were known as bicycles.It was popular until the safety bicycle came in the 1880s.

The first bicycle race in Denmark was (on velocipedes) on  22 April 1869 in Copenhagen.

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

Penny-farthing bicycles are dangerous due to the risk of headers. Makers developed "moustache" handlebars , allowing the rider's knees to clear them, "Whatton" handlebars, that wrapped around behind the legs and ultimately (though too late, after the Starley safety bike), with the 1889 American "Eagle" and "Star", the positions of the big and small wheels were reversed  This prevented headers, but left the danger of being thrown backwards when riding uphill. Other attempts included moving the seat rearward and driving the wheel by levers or treadles or gears or by chain. Another option was to move the seat well back Even so, bicycling remained the province of the urban well-to-do, and mainly men, until the 1890s, and was a salient example of conspicious consumption.

The penny-farthing used a larger wheel than the velocipede, thus giving higher speeds on all but the steepest hills. In addition, the large wheel rolled more readily over cobbles, stones, and ruts. Since rough-paved and unpaved roads were more common than smooth roads, the increase in rider comfort was significant. An attribute of the penny-farthing is that the rider sits high and nearly over the front axle. When the wheel strikes rocks and ruts, or under hard braking, the rider can be pitched forward off the bicycle head-first. Headers were relatively common and a significant, sometimes fatal, hazard. Riders coasting down hills often took their feet off the pedals and put them over the tops of the handlebars, so they would be pitched off feet-first instead of head-first.

Penny-farthing bicycles were often quite durable and required little service. For example, when cyclist Thomas Stevens rode around the world in the 1880s, he reported only one significant mechanical problem in over 20,000 km, caused when the local military confiscated his bicycle and damaged the front wheel.

Today, enthusiasts ride restored penny-farthings, and a few manufacturers build new ones.

The classic 1956 film adaptation of Around the World in 80 days opens with Passepartout (played by Cantinflas) riding a penny-farthing through the streets of London.                              
see Wikipedia for more information.

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