Around the World on a Penny Farthing Bicycle ~ Kwentology


What is a penny farthing bicycle? The old-fashioned penny farthing bicycle isn't seen much today, but during the 1870s and 1880s it was a common sight on cobblestone streets. With its extra-large front wheel, tiny back wheel, and tall seat, penny farthing wasn't the easiest bike to ride. A rider needed a special mount just to climb onto the seat. Stopping the bike also difficult because a rider couldn't put his foot on the ground. More importantly, the bike's high center of gravity made the bike unstable. Any obstacle, no matter how small, might tip the bike and send its rider flying.

Image of Penny Farthing Bicycle

The risk, however, didn't stop penny farthing from becoming popular. That's because, unlike previous riding contraptions whose wheels were made of wood, the penny farthing had rubber tires, which gave people a much smoother ride. The large front wheel was directly connected to the pedals, which allowed a rider to go faster than ever before.

It's All Because of Coins

Image of Penny farthing coins

How did the penny farthing bike get its name? In England, a farthing is a small coin, especially when compared to the much larger English penny. When the two coins are placed side-by-side, they look like the wheels of the high-wheeler bike.

Pedaling the Globe

Image of Thomas Stevens

The first person to circle the world by bike rode a penny farthing. Thomas Stevens set off from San Francisco on April 22, 1884. In his handlebar bag were clothes, a pistol, and a raincoat that doubled as his tent. Stevens rode across the United States along wagon trails, and paved roads. In some areas, he took trains.

When Stevens reached Boston, he sailed to Europe, where he resumed riding. He traveled through the continent to Asia.

Stevens' bike-riding journey ended on December 17, 1886, in Japan. From there he took a ship back to San Francisco. All together he had pedaled 13,500 miles. Stevens later wrote a book about his adventures, titled Around the World on a Bicycle.
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