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The Real Reason Why Early Bicycles Have Bigger Front Wheels

Cycling has become one of the most popular activities in the world. People ride their bicycles as their form of transportation or for recreation. Some also rely on their trusted bikes for their regular exercise.

But do you know that the common bicycles that you can see on the road today look very different from those in the past?

In the late 1800s, people were used to seeing big front wheel bikes on the road. It was then called penny-farthing. Also referred to as a high wheeler or an ordinary, it was the first bicycle that came out in public. It was extremely popular from 1870 to 1890. But not everyone knows how it got its name and why it came out with a bigger front wheel.

Why Call The Bicycle “Penny-farthing?”

The term was derived from two early British coins, the penny and the farthing. The penny is much bigger compared to the farthing. The public uses the name to distinguish between the “ordinary” big front wheel bikes and the safer equal-size bicycles that we see today.

How Can You Ride It?

Riding the penny-farthing is easier than it looks. You only need to put one of your feet on the dedicated step located at the back of the wheel and then push the bike off as you climb on the seat and pedal to lounge forward. It could be easier if you know how to balance the bike properly.

A group of men was seen riding their penny-farthing bicycles in 1889.

Why Was Penny-farthing Designed With A Bigger Front Wheel?

There was no rear-wheel drive system or drivetrain in existence during the time when the penny-farthing was developed. It means that people had to propel the bike by cranking directly on the front wheel to allow it to make one full cycle per pedal rotation. It will lead to a forward motion that is equivalent to the total circumference of the wheel with force. Because of the physics behind the design, the penny-farthing needs to have a bigger wheel in front.

Another reason why the front wheel is larger in penny-farthing is that it helps in keeping the rider more comfortable. During that era, the roads were still unpaved and in bad condition. It normally has plenty of potholes. Because of the larger wheel, the rider pass by any small rock or open pothole. It allowed the rider to have a smoother ride compared to the bikes with smaller wheels called the bone-shakers.

Why Is Penny-farthing No Longer Common?

After learning why penny-farthing has a larger front wheel, it will not be difficult to guess why it is no longer used today. During the 1880s, people began to check out using a link-chain that directly connects the pedals to the drive wheel. It means the struggle of the one-turn pedal started to end. The dangers that come with riding penny-farthing also caused it to become less popular for the cyclists.

The safer, regular-wheeled bicycles may have replaced penny-farthing today. But antique collectors and bike enthusiasts create new ones for remembrance.