How Did a Penny-farthing Bicycle Have Its Name?
The Penny-farthing is also referred to as the ‘high-wheeler’ bicycle. A British engineer, James Starley in 1871, invented it. The bicycle had one large wheel and one very small one. It gets its name from the penny and farthing coins of the time, the former being large and the latter unusually small.
Penny-farthing bicycles or high wheelers were very fashionable in countries such as UK and USA from the mid-1870s, for just under 20 years. These bicycles were hard to mount, tricky to ride, and resulted in many injuries (the term ‘header’ was used for people who fell forward off the bike).
Bicycles in the 1870s had a simple relationship between the pedals and the wheels. When the pedals went round once, the drive wheel went round once. If the pedals are on the front wheel, then each time you turn the pedals once the front wheel turns once.
In the 1880s people started experimenting with a link-chain connecting the pedals to the drive wheel. This meant that the tyranny of one turn of the pedal to one turn of the week was ended. For example, the cogs on the bike could be set so that one turn of the pedals turned the wheel twice, or three times. Eventually, gears were added, which is simply a method of giving the rider a set of choices about the ratio of pedal turns to wheel turns.
In 1885 the Rover Safety Bicycle was launched, and the term safety referred to a large extent to having a normal sized front wheel. Within eight years the production of high wheelers had ended and bikes were utilizing chains with links and cogs.