Two ‘sports cars of the past’ now cost more than a few pennies to buy in Sheffield.
With bugles and bells on ribbons to sounds warnings, limited braking ability, no gears and a wheel height of up to 50 inches high, they have become the passion of a select few rather than a normal mode of transport.
And the traditional penny farthing bicycles, owned by South Yorkshire friends Ralph Boreham and Muir Mennell, will take centre stage in Wincobank, Sheffield, during the Tour de France in Sheffield next week.
Both said the trick was not in staying on – but managing to climb on board in the first place.
Ralph, aged 75, of Rotherham, said: “Penny farthings are so unique, we thought that we had tried everything else so why not see if we can master these?
“It’s much more difficult as you get older. You can still ride but it’s getting on and off that is the problem.
“Once you are up there it’s like riding any other bike.”
Muir, 70, also of Rotherham, said: “You have to be careful that you don’t lean too far forward or you will go right over the top – that’s where the phrase ‘coming a cropper’ derives from. t’s happened to me a few times.”
The enthusiasts, who have been riding their farthings for around two years, were a big hit at cycling race L’Eroica in the Peak District, last weekend. Earlier this week they also saddled up on their refurbished originals, which they have added extra mounting steps to, in Hillsborough to promote a display of retro Tour objects on show in the Tony Butterworth bike shop.
Signage from races in the 1970s, pictures of Sheffield professional cyclist Malcolm Elliot and wine bottles from various races have been dug out for storage for the display.
“People are gobsmacked when they see us about,” said Muir, a Sheffield Council retired buildings inspector.
“We get a lot of interest and questions. It’s always interesting to tell people how in the days when these were ridden, the 1800s, cars were considered so dangerous that someone had to walk in front with a red flag.So penny farthings were considered to be the sports cars of the day.”
Ralph and Muir have created their own special caps in a nod to the historic Hoyland Star Cycling Club, and now hope to find other enthusiasts in the area.
Their next engagement is at Wincobank Common as part of the festival held by the Friends of Wincobank Hill next weekend.
But will they be cycling there up Jenkin Road, the toughest climb in the Tour with a gradient of 33 per cent? Ralph laughed: “Not a chance!”
n Penny farthings were the first bicycle used for sport by the Victorians;
n The name was a reference to the coins of the time;
n They were popular until the 1880s, when the ‘safety bicycle’ was invented;
n Historic machines can sell for £5,000 today.