Posts in Category: penny farthing

Prodigal Bikes 

Thursday, November 17, 2011 8:30:00 AM Categories: bike crash front wheel drive penny farthing Rob English Stolen Bikes

Mr Knight is such a lying git. He fibs like a fibber and he lies like a liar and he tells untruths like a person spreading disinformation and rumour and innuendo and stuff like that. He is a lying, untruthful, fibbing, dishonest, dissembling git and he's a neighbour who bears false witness and he departs from facts and he misleads parliament and makes fraudulent statements and is Generally Bad. He has completely fabricated that wholly false and incorrect and malicious story. I would never, ever suggest he ride the giraffe on the orchard path. (We now call it a giraffe. It isn't a giraffe, obv., but that's the name it ended up with.) Never, ever in a hundred million years would I encourage my son to sprint along next to him in a wild and exuberant pell-mell race along a dry, dusty, pot-holed orchard path on a very high bicycle with a very short wheelbase, because natch what would happen in a Pothole Sitchuwation is the big front wheel would leave it at the same time as the small back wheel entered it and then instantly afterwards the back wheel would be flicked upwards out of the hole and he would fly through the air describing a parabola and land on his bonce shouting 'ow ow ow'.

It is all His Fault.

It is none of it My Fault.

He is an evil, bad, wicked, malevolent, deceitful, libellous influence on the Diaspora and not one of my Followers should believe him for an instant.

What actually happened was this.

Mr Knight saw the giraffe and instantly said 'Please, oh Please may I have a go on that exquisitely designed and perfectly crafted machine with its superb welded joints and meticulously fitted front wheel bearings and faultless paint job and Whatton bars' and I (very reluctantly) said 'Oh well okay but you must treat it with consummate care because so short a wheelbase may lead to pitching and you have so little experience riding penny farthings or other front drivers and I cannot have you jeopardise yourself the very day before your birthday when I have such a large pile of absolutely brand new hand-picked books carefully gift-wrapped for the morrow.' (I hadn't. I had a heap of crumbling old volumes picked up at the local book fair incl. the inevitable child's colour picture book of fire engines that we give him each year because we happen to know that Mr Knight used to be a volunteer fireman, going out along the M4 with a large hose to extinguish the smouldering remains of someone who thought they could text-and-drive at the same time. And we give him old books purely because we happen to know he c'llects old books and wouldn't know what a new one looks like, and not because they only cost us fifty cents each.)

So off he went and I caught no glimpse of him till I was scything the long grass next to the dustbin and I glanced up and there in the distance sat my son on the penny trike gazing forlornly on the corpse of the giraffe and the other corpse of Mr Knight. I was overcome, as you may imagine, with regret, because if I had chanced to glance up a moment earlier I would have seen him fly over the handlebars, and I was overcome with even more regret because if adequately forewarned I could have nipped inside and got a camera out and recorded the event for the entertainment of the Internet. Huh! Whatever you thought Youtube was for was inc'rrect. It's not for that at all. It's so we can watch members of the Diaspora falling off at speed.

Also, I didn't give him a single Campagnolo part. He nicked 'em all. He snuck in and snuck out again and immediately the entire shed was empty, cleaned out completely, and as he drove off his car was packed to the gunn'ls with shards of bicycle that I was saving to keep in a glass case labelled 'Exquisite Italian bicycle jewels that Mr Knight Hasn't Got and I Have Got so nur nur ne-nur nur'. (I have the Campagnolo Super Record rear mech that Walter Haenni used to win the Austrian road championships twenty or thirty years ago. Each year I get it out gloatingly and show it to him, enjoying his misery at the fact that he does not own it and I do.)

Walter Haenni's rear mech

However the good news is that the police rang on Thursday to say they'd recovered the rain bike near the high school, minus its panniers but otherwise intact and they phoned at lunchtime yesterday with the joyful news that Frankenbike has been found. It had been standing outside the Warehouse for a fortnight. - It will be deduced that we do not frequent the Warehouse, a shop rather like Walmart, but bicycle stealers do. - Some rust from all the rain, and the tools had gone from the little saddlebag, but otherwise everything there was intact too. 'A perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle' is what P.C. Morris of Barrow upon Soar would have said, but P.C. Morris doesn't live here and the officer who hauled it out of the police lock-up confined himself to the cryptic remark 'Unusual looking bike?' with which observation it was impossible to argue.

Mr Knight's Geared Facile Blog 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 8:38:00 AM Categories: Bob Knight's fairing penny farthing

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mr Knight's Geared Facile Blog

Today there was an auction of the Deceased Estate of a Mr Watson, according to the Motueka and Golden Bay News, so I went along to see what a deceased estate of a (presumably) living man might be. The Motueka and Golden Bay News is a weekly source of enjoyable solecisms, most famous among which has been the advertisement concerning the Pasta of the Church of Christ.

Mr Watson, it seemed, was a car restorer: his Deceased Estate largely comprised tools and I had the feeling there would be a large turnout of large people, there often being a correlation between car enthusiasm and girth. Just as I was arriving a 4WD swung out from a driveway opposite forcing me off the otherwise empty road - the driver hadn't spotted my fluorescent jersey - turned left and immediately parked, a journey of a good three hundred metres, and as I dismounted two vast people were struggling their way out of the seats to join the gathered throng. There were fifty-six bidders and twice that number of spectators. The bidders fully met my hopes. A taxonomist would have got all excited and written down a) skinny; b) massive; c) young; d) moribund and immediately drawn a Venn diagram.

One lot was 'an old engineers lathe' and another was 'old push bikes'. On inspection the lathe was a worn-out Chinese affair with a flimsy cross-slide and a knobbly dead centre welded to the tailstock chuck. The two push bikes were of 1970s vintage, one of them the puzzlingly ubiquitous Raleigh Twenty. Nobody has ever satisfactorily explained why so many Raleigh Twenties exist in the Colonies nor why they fetch high prices, but since every one I lay my hands on is addressed with a hacksaw I am doing my best to increase their rarity value.

I returned home to my emails and found a photograph taken of the corner of Mr Knight's drawing-room. Mr Knight like Mr Watson has a shed but there isn't quite enough space for his twenty-eight-plus bicycles, so some have strayed indoors. Should there ever be an auction of the Deceased Estate of Mr Knight it too will feature old push bikes, but I doubt if it will feature any Raleigh Twenties.

When Mr Knight is at work these bicycles double as clothes-drying racks like my astronomical refractor does when my wife's sister comes to visit. You and I of course would never do such an evil thing, for a quick glance tells us that - from the front - we are looking at

a 54" 1883 Bayliss, Thomas & Co. DEHF (Duplex Excelsior Hollow Fork); a 55" c1885/6 racing model of unknowen make; and a pair of c1920. 28 x 1 3/8 (ETRTO 37-642) wooden rimmed wheels on BSA hubs.

I did not spot Mr Knight among the bidders for Mr Watson's workshop effects, but I do know he is building himself quite a useful Geared Facile, and since not many other people are I have spoken firmly to him about recording the matter for posterity. You and I know what a Geared Facile is, of course, but everyone else will have to go to his new blog and keep track of events as they unfold.

Penny giraffe 

Saturday, September 24, 2011 9:25:00 AM Categories: Nigel Schroder penny farthing

I have been busy. Mr Schroder's cranks are 110mm long, and my pocket calculator tells me that if I use one of the 29er tyres which my wife doesn't know I retained from her perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle when fitting it with tubeless tyres, then these tiddly short cranks will give me the same pedal speed as a 44 inch gear. It's going to have a 406 back wheel so we're not going to call it a penny farthing. We're going to call it a one-and-six. - D'you remember pre-decimal coins? I have the last letter from the chap who designed the thruppenny bit. He signed it. The coin. - Though he signed the letter too, obv.. - He signed the twenty pence coin too. You'll need a magnifying glass but they all say WG on them. He designed all the Falkland Island coins too but I've never been there so I can't say if they have WG on them. He was called William Gardner and he died on almost the last day of the century and wrote to me a fortnight before. I shall not say why he was writing specifically to me though it happens to be true and there happens to be a reason. I like to intersperse my blog with a bit of mystery. -

The front wheel has a Campagnolo Lambda Strada aero rim and the thirty-six stainless spokes that came with it, nine of them slightly munted from an escaped chain, but now unmunted with a pair of pliers. - I said I was Mr Mean-Pants. - This is because

a) it was given to me
b) aero rims are stiff
c) the air flow will be better and I will be able to go at 8 mph instead of 7
d) the edge of the rim is gouged but this machine won't need rim brakes
e) it will annoy Mr Knight.


Mr Knight, in passing, likes all things Campagnolo and would eat his dinner off their plates if Campagnolo made plates. He owns a complete Campagnolo tool set. It is better than this tool set for making bikes but not as good for making pianos. I digress.

The back wheel has 48 spokes for no good reason other than that I found it somewhere. Can't remember where.

The penny trike had split bearing housings but when I clamped them up tight they turned the bearings into very slight ovals, so this machine has bits of tube welded to plates which screw onto welded extensions of the forks. These extensions were welded in after the wheel was built and mounted, lest the wheel ended up at a curious and vexing angle. Vexing angles often happen, I find, when I'm the welder.

Finally, the frame welded itself into existence, an exercise principally in using up odd bits of sawn-up bike frames that otherwise belitter the workshop. And then it got left outside the kitchen door where it was found, on his return from school, by someone who promptly took to riding it round and round the house, somewhat inexplicably singing there'd be blue skies over, the white cliffs of Dover.

Rain Bike 

Saturday, September 24, 2011 8:39:00 AM Categories: Nigel Schroder penny farthing Rob English

We return to our topick of front-driver cycles this week, though I don't know why I trouble myself to say "this week" since my blog entries are stunningly irregular and undisciplined, rather like their author.

I had to go to Richmond recently to a citizenship ceremony to watch some people pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second (sic.) of New Zealand. I have been unable to find out who Queen Elizabeth the First of New Zealand was. 'A high standard of dress' was required. National costume of country of origin was encouraged. All the participants turned out to be English chavs and dressed accordingly, with a high standard of gelled spiked hair. They looked like they'd all escaped from the Shelthorpe Road housing estate in Loughborough where bus drivers are shot at with airguns.

However my wife then went off to the shops and I called on Jim Matthews at Village cycles and he let me have a go on his 36er penny farthing.

It was brill.


It has 36 very thick spokes, a cheap chromed steel hub and steel rim, poxy welding, a thin backbone (guess: 38mm OD) and longish cranks, perhaps 165s. The fork was a bit feeble, methought, but obviously adequate for a plaything. Plain straight chromed steel cheap handlebar. It has a partic'ly narsty sprung foam-cushioned plastic saddle and a back brake on a 12 inch wheel. The front tyre is industrial strength and looks like it'll never, ever need replacing. Think Honda 90 robustness.


While I was there I bought John a unicycle for his birthday. I thought in due course he can convert it. It too has 36 spokes. (As a matter of fact he's forever riding up and down the drive on it. It took him 2 days to learn, we having rigged a horizontal pole at waist height to hang onto. I decline to state whether I can ride it or not.)


Which brings us back to our topick of front-driver cycles because we've been having a lot of weather in April but then so has everybody, what with wildfires in the parish of Scotland and tornadoes in the parish of Auckland. In Motueka's case it meant a month of solid rain, if you can have solid rain. In fact it's all been a bit exciting. I used to keep a climate scientist (Cambridge, PhD, did sums in his office for me all day) at the Met Office and when grilled annually, he gen'rally reported that their best prediction as the planet warmed was of random wild weather events. So it's all most pleasing that the predictions are now coming true. Unfortunately, though, it means we're forced to think about bicycles that you can ride with impunity in the wet. My wife has been nicking the Official Rain Bike which is a Dutch roadster with enclosed chaincase 3 gears and hub brakes and reminds me of Heinz Stueke, so I have been devoting thought to No Chains or Brakes, which rust after a rainstorm. Unf. to make a 36er penny farthing I should need spokes and a rim and a tyre and an inner-tube, which would cost $305, and I am Mr Mean-Pants when it comes to $305.

So I had recourse to Mr Schroder's short cranks that he kindly drilled & tapped for me, and Mr English's 5/8 bearings that he kindly brought from the parish of America for me, and I was dismayed to find the bearings would not slip over a knackered old BB axle that I hauled out of a tin where I had been keeping it along with a lot of other junk. Now BB axles are case-hardened, and my lathe doesn't like case-hardening, so I took it to the bench grinder and with frequent checks with a Vernier, allowed it to spin against the grinding wheel and to my vast delight brought it to a tolerable sliding fit. And thence to a sawn-up hub for the flanges, and behold! with the help of a couple of spacers because the cones on t'axle weren't quite big enough to fit inside the flanges, and a little weldery, a penny farthing hub.


Meanwhile my attention has been drawn to this though it's probably best reserved for one of those chaps who insists on stopping for a small snack of something nutritious every five miles. Don't be silly, of course you've met one. There's one in every group. They ride with the contents of a hamper somehow distributed about their person and every twenty minutes they stop and erect a small roadside laboratory, test their blood sugar to keep it within a percentage point of the desired level, and consume a small and delicately formed sandwich and drink from an unexpected flask of coffee. Very methodical. You have to be careful talking to them or they launch into mortgage protection insurance discussions and the ride disintegrates as everyone keels over and actually dies of actual boredom. - That's why I'm still alive. I never do group rides. -

100kg as opposed to 68 kg 

Monday, November 1, 2010 7:16:27 AM Categories: bike crash engineering problems penny farthing trikes

Penny trike 

Friday, October 22, 2010 9:33:04 AM Categories: Moving Bottom Bracket bikes penny farthing trikes
Meticulous care with the lathe - meticulous - and so I was only four thou out when I'd finished making the bearing housings. Four thou for heaven's sake! Again! Heigh ho, so what's new? I'm a rubbish machinist. But I own scissors, and Coke cans are to be had from the wayside. Neatly shimmed, the bearings sort of fit, after a fashion.

The frame angle is a Lowing Joint which is my favourite. The Lowing Joint is named after Dr Lowing who, in a series of complicated emails from the far side of the world, told me how to do this partic'lar weld which he calls a 'Double-D Joint'. When I finally understood I was so impressed that I renamed it, and the Lowing Joint it has now become in the great lexicon of recumbenteers, along with tadpole, which I rather disapprove of, and sitzhöhe, which I like.
 The rear axle got welded to a sleeve clamp so I can vary the wheelbase, and the vile handlebar got itself off that BMX which started the whole project off. No other handlebar would allow knee clearance, and I certainly wasn't about to waste time making one.

I had thought - being realistic - we would now have a completely ludicrous machine for riding round and round the house at a variety of speeds on varying numbers of wheels, destroying the lawn and various boy's (sic.) trousers. But the surprise was how much there was to learn from it.
The seat position puts all the body weight on the muscles doing the work and it's painfully uncomfortable but the seat needed to be well back to avoid putting the weight above a single wheel. Lifting oneself forward and up does make the thing dreadfully unstable because it isn't a bike. Ever ridden one of those Newton conversion trikes? Single back wheel from a conventional bike, but with two front wheels and Ackerman steering. I once rode one through the village along Warner Street, where there was a murder at number 12 and where Johnnie Johnson (1) was born at number 21. At the war memorial I got off and pushed it home. It was a Truly Horrible Machine. Effectively you're riding a bike because you're sat above the single of three wheels, and you're not allowed to balance because the second front wheel won't let you. Ghastly. I mentioned this to my brother-in-law who possesses a disabled child, and who is keen to get through money as fast as he can, and who was about to buy his daughter exactly this layout of trike for six hundred quid. I spoke of the shortcomings. He bought it anyway and whenever the child came to stay with us, she tipped herself off it into the road. (You paid for it, incidentally, not him. He applied for a government grant.)

When the wheelbase is long the trike isn't very stable, but is rideable. With a short wheelbase the weight is on the back wheels so the front wheel spins like a drag racer. But oddly enough, you don't immediately feel you need a wider range of gears. Your psyche seems to say, 'Ho, 26er, eh? I'm happy with that,' and you trundle along at double walking speed on the dirt roads of the orchard. But you soon realise the need both for a brake, and for footpegs for when you've wound it up to speed and don't want your knees to buzz like a Japanese motorcycle. And it has the remarkable sophistication of a reverse gear. And if you forget to tighten the clamps on the back axle it's a lean-steer trike. - Well, a lean-wobble trike.

Immediately, of course, thoughts of miniature penny farthings are provoked, either with a 29er front wheel which I can afford, or a 36er which I can't. 36er unicycles are to be had in New Zealand; I saw someone riding through the middle of no-where on one with a huge rucksack on his back. But Mr English, notified of the experiment, immediately discovered that 36er penny farthings are being made in Taiwan so now I fancy making a penny penny, which means a mountain bike wheel on the back too. Since this would be a FWD MTB fixie I imagine all the locals will get very enthusiastic about it. Or not. As the case may be.

1. Johnnie Johnson was Britain's highest scoring fighter ace of WWII. He shot down my wife's mother's fiancée. Probably.


Sunday, October 10, 2010 10:44:21 AM Categories: engineering problems penny farthing trikes wheel hubs
Right, attentive readers of these notes - I flatter myself - the attentive reader of these notes - assuming there is one, which is more than improbable - is aware that I am obsessed with the thought that quite soon all the oil will vanish and everyone will have to gather logs for their cooking balanced on their heads like the ladies in Darfur do. - The logs balance on the heads, not the cooking. - But anyway it seems to me every time I visit the dump I discover some cheery mortal has thrown away three quarters of a BMX and the remaining wheel has a 14mm axle. Ever picked up a BMX with a back wheel? Heavy. Ever tried to carry one home on your head? Cumbersome. Like logs in Darfur. And even carrying one on another bike's no good. So I need a better vehicle for dump recovery operations.
The BMX the cheery m. had thrown away had a wheel which, when coaxed apart, had had the wrong size ball bearings fitted, and when I replaced them with the right size, which ran on the unpitted part of the cone, I suddenly had a smooth bearing on a 14mm axle.
It is a fact that your brain immediately says 14mm = stub axles, if you chance to be a serial recumbent tricycle maker. You cannot help this. It's a reflex action.
I dived into the bookshelf and recovered my 2nd edition Bicycling Science and found the Oxtrike on p 325 and then on p 324 read that in Asia heavy loads of perhaps 330 lb, or 150kg, are carried on a single speed trike with a cruising speed of about 4-7 mph (2/3 m/sec.) Blimey! that's handy. - Any time you forget what 4-7 mph is, you can just back-calculate from knowing the velocity in metres per second. I do like David Gordon Wilson. Well of course everyone likes DGW. He designed the Avatar 2000. Which graced Richard's Bicycle Book. (Which actual bicycle - Mr Ballantine's, not Professor Wilson's - is now owned by Mr Wray, my spies inform me.)
So, quick calculation: cadence of 60 and a fixed gear of 26 inches gives a cruising speed of 4.64 mph. So that's 2.074707788 m/sec, Dave G.W., if you happen to be reading this. And if I want to go at 3.12928 m/sec, I can always pedal faster.
I was very pleased with myself and immediately decided to build a grown-up's child's tricycle. The pedals attach directly to the front wheel and obviate gears and chains and so forth, and all you need is the basic technology of the penny farthing.
Now I'll tell you about my flanges, and it's this - I got an old steel back hub and chopped it in half and bored the flanges to fit a cottered 5/8 axle and adjusted the cross-slide by one thou right at the end of the cut and for some reason unknown it jumped four thou and created a big floppy hole, like a thing that is floppy and not a thing that isn't floppy.
'******* ******,' I said to myself, 'but you're a *******; you've ****** it up again.' (I often say this to myself, because it doesn't matter what I'm doing, somehow I always manage to **** it up.)
So I got another lump of 5/8 from my tin of worn-out cotter-pin BB axles, and I ground the cones off carefully and made it a perfect fit on both my flanges. Then being warned in a dream that a 150 amp MIG isn't enough to penetrate 5/8 steel, I coated it with borax paste ready for brazing, and tack-welded both flanges in place and d'you know what - Juno Watt - both were square and parallel but the spoke holes weren't perfectly alternate.
'******* ****** but you're a ******* etc.,' I said to myself, and set about breaking the tack welds. And d'you know what, they wouldn't break. Had to saw them off. So I thought the MIG will actually weld it; I won't need to braze. So I sawed off the second flange's tack-welds and scrubbed all the borax off and replaced them and welded them up, and d'you know etc. etc. etc., now they aren't bloody well square. They *******  wobble. So I ******* went back to the box of old steel hubs and d'you ******* know what, I had absolutely none whatever that were suitable to machine 5/8 holes in. So now I'm ******* well stuck with wobbly flanges.
'Oh Damn and Blarst,' I said to myself, 'Better not show it to that ******* Knight or he'll know that *once again* I've accomplished a piece of ******* bad craftsmanship.'


Friday, February 26, 2010 9:00:29 AM Categories: penny farthing stupidity
Yesterday on the radio (I like to keep you all abreast of Pacific affairs) the CEO of Telecom Retail, one Alan Gourdie, apologised for the most recent failure of their dismal phone system, telling the country

'Some of our consumer customers and some of our business customers have had multiple outages and we have to appraise them of their options'.

One can write the usual sonorous letter to the Radio authorities but it saves a lot of bother just to telephone Radio New Zealand's helpline 0800KILLBUSINESSSPEAK whenever you hear a marketing CEO broadcast junk like that, and they promptly send round an operative to shoot him dead on the spot. - This has been found to be consistently more effective than the Plain English Campaign, and also saves buying a dictionary for all the businessmen who use big words like 'appraise' without knowing what they mean. Anyway there's a dictionary shortage. Not enough are being printed. Yesterday a truck pulled over in front of me and the driver climbed out and put his hand up to stop me.

'You're really low and dangerous. I mistook you for the grass verge.'

His understanding of the word 'dangerous' differed from mine: I think I was more in danger than dangerous.

He was an ugly man. He looked like Rhodes Boyson. I should quite like to have had him shot for purely aesthetic reasons and never mind the fact that he was a road menace. But I thanked him politely. There isn't an 0800KILLATROCIOUSDRIVERS number but it probably doesn't matter. Frankly, if your eyesight is such that you struggle to differentiate between a person and the wayside pasture then lorry-driving isn't the best career choice because sooner or later you're going to be unable to differentiate between the road and a tree.

However the immediate issue for me as a cyclist is that blindness and advanced stupidity don't prevent people from driving a truck. Given that the only sensible solution isn't yet likely to engage public enthusiasm, perhaps I'd be more visible, if not safer, on my penny farthing.

A grass verge, and sundry items possibly visible to truck drivers

A worrying thing about penny farthings is that the front tyre isn't far from the backbone when resting, and every bump in the road, every pedal thrust, changes this gap backwards and forwards by a good 1.0295276 inches(1). I hadn't thought about this till the other day when Mr Knight pointed out that should the backbone momentarily make contact with the tyre it acts as the most powerful brake in the world, and if you're riding a penny down a hill and wisely standing on the step above the back wheel, you don't want to apply the front spoon brake because your momentum will bring the backbone forwards and it'll jam on the tyre, and then you really will be lofted up and over the handlebar to the consternation of all your neck bones.

Watching penny farthings at speed brings home the variable wheelbase, and my spies report that at the next Waimate TT the penny farthing chaps propose another race presumably for this purpose. There has been talk of breaking the existing penny farthing records and Mr Knight has been consulted as to what they are (he knew instantly, muy bien) but he rather thinks they will not in fact be broken.

The records are listed under "America and other colonies" and are as follows

1/4 mile 41 1/5 secs (21.84mph

1/2 mile 1 min 19 2/5 secs (22.67mph)

1 mile 2 mins 43 2/5 secs (22.03mph)

5 miles 14 mins 55 3/5 secs (20.10mph)

10 miles 29 mins 23 1/5 secs (20.42mph)

all correct as of 1st July 1891 which was the end of the penny era anyway.I have gently tried to suggest exactly how fast those records are and how unfit *all* today's riders are. Most records are held by one Nathaniel Hall who was a professional rider of the highest calibre. I couldn't get close to those records even when I was fit and young. Also the NZ records are slow compared to the English ones, probably due to poor track quality in NZ. It's a mistake to assume that we are betterer, fasterer and cleverer than our ancestors; we are not. - Bob

I'm inclined to agree. I can't always manage those speeds on my recumbent.

1. The Danish inch, a perky measurement the cycle industry ought to adopt by way of further perverting standardization.


Penny Farthings 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 2:52:48 AM Categories: penny farthing
 Mr Knight has been here again. He came on this.


I shall not say what it was because if I pretend omniscience by referring to it as a 53-inch Humber 1883 with a Trigwell Ball Bearing Head and Bown's (sic.) Back-wheel Balls then he will immediately inform me, curtly, that it was a 52 inch Coventry Machinists' 1875 with an Andrew's Patent Head and they're Club Dust-proof Cones and anyway how come I didn't notice the Arab Cradle Spring? (Just keep your eye on the Comments. See?- See?) For Mr Knight knows more about obscure bicycle parts from 120 years ago than anyone else in New Zealand apart from Mr Robin Willan, who is seen here

departing, rather rapidly, from both my house and the photograph. Mr Willan makes penny farthings. He makes them so accurately that he has to engrave each component with his name lest they are mistaken by enthusiastic auctioneers for originals. Mr Willan's penny farthings are works of utter craftsmanship and as soon as I heard he was coming I hid my penny farthing in the deepest recesses of the garage. I built my penny farthing. It is as bad as all the other things I build. It doesn't have a Trigwell Ball Bearing Head; it has a Sawn-off Shopper From Sileby Dump Head, and instead of an Arab Cradle Spring it's got a seat I found, inexplicably, in a hole in the road in Berlin one day.


I copied the spoking from one I saw in Berlin Transport Museum, in a moment's inattention to the German road pothole situation, where each spoke doubles upon itself in the flange and so is actually two spokes at once.


It's a cunning and simple way of spoking a penny but overnight each spoke transmits tension to its partner and you come out in the morning to find a four foot potato crisp sitting on the Workmate. Took me two weeks to true my wheel. Even now it's half an inch out of round and three-eighths out sideways. I forgive it, though, because Mike West in York took it off another machine and said 'Nobody'll ever ride this rim again' because it had been rewelded in at least two places.

Dr John Hain gave me the rim-and-tyre as a mildly malicious birthday present, a good 12 years ago. 'Here you are, a challenge for you.' I expect if Mr Knight had been the grateful recipient he'd immediately have replied 'Not a Challenge, a Singer, and 1875 judging by the rim profile.' (But he'd be wrong because it was an 1872 Rudge.)
Now I'll let you into a little secret. Whenever I show it to elderly engineers, county archivists or the mountain-bike-riding wives of social workers, they all exclaim smugly 'Oh! An Ordinary!' just to show that they've read up on bicycle history. Well, no. Every single person I know who's actually got one of these bicycles calls it - and this is not what dementing engineers archivists or worthy bespectacled wives think - a penny farthing.
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