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High Wheel 'penny-farthing' Bike
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© Christine Till
A student of Leonardo da Vinci, named Giacomo Caprotti, created the original design for a bicycle. But a Frenchman named Monsieur Sivrac in the 1790s created the first bicycle. It had no pedals, so you had to use feet to ride it.
When most people think about early bicycles, the high-wheelers of the late 1800s come to mind. These early models had names such as the "Ordinary" or "Xtraordinary." In England, these bicycles were also known as "penny farthings" because the large and small wheels were reminiscent of the large one-penny coin and the smaller farthing coin. The high wheel bicycle was invented in 1871 by British engineer, James Starley. The Penny Farthing came after the development of the 'Hobbyhorse', and the French 'Velocipede' or 'Boneshaker', all versions of early bikes. However, the Penny Farthing was the first really efficient bicycle, consisting of a small rear wheel and large front wheel pivoting on a simple tubular frame with tires of rubber.
While the high-wheels were quite efficient, they were also dangerous: the cyclist was very high off the ground and perched precariously over the front wheel. So, while the high- wheelers broke new speed and distance records, they quickly gained notoriety for the dangers involved in riding them. The slightest obstacle in the road could result in a nasty head-first fall. "Headers" or "taking a header" were common terms used to describe an all-too-frequent problem. With a high center of gravity and narrow tires made of solid rubber (which occasionally could roll off their rims), high-wheeled bicycles were designed for speed, not for safety.
Although the mechanics of bicycles have improved over time, the basic concept of this people-powered machine has stayed the same for hundreds of years.
July 9th, 2013
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