Did we get you?
April Fools' Day, or All Fools Day, is celebrated in many countries worldwide on the 1st day of April. It's the traditional day for playing pranks, hoaxes, and practical jokes of all sorts. It's a day where anything goes – you can do anything you want to your friends and family as long as it's harmless, paired with a smile and a little imagination!
We sure don’t want to make a fool of you, so let's dive into the history of the penny-farthing and take a ride back in time.
The History of the Penny-Farthing
The penny-farthing was a popular type of bicycle used between the 1860s and 1880s while inventors tried to improve the design of the first bike. Penny-farthing bikes had a gigantic front wheel and a small rear wheel for stability. The name – referencing two different sized British coins of the time – is a nod to different wheel sizes. Fun fact: the penny was actually the larger coin, whereas a farthing was just a lowly quarter-cent. Ouch.
The penny-farthing was a revolutionary invention that helped people travel faster and more efficiently. While it may have been quite silly in appearance, it had many advantages over other bicycles or velocipedes at the time. It was faster, more comfortable, and more convenient for urban terrain because its design suited it for rougher surfaces. Dips, ruts, and cobblestones were no problem for this bike!
But alas, mounting this bike proved challenging, and the design made it quite dangerous to ride compared to the safety bicycles that would come later.
Rolling Through the Years
Starting in the early 19th century, inventors began to create a variety of wheeled contraptions known as “velocipedes”, which were any human-powered land vehicle that used wheels. An early popular version was created by the German inventor Karl Drais in 1817, and went by a few names: the Laufmaschine (German for running machine) was also known as the “swiftwalker”, the dandy horse or the hobby horse. It was technically the world’s first balance bike… we’ve come a long way since the ol’ dandy horse!
Later in the 19th century, the “high-wheeled bicycle” became popular. It was the same as the penny farthing, but that nickname wasn’t “coined” until after the high-wheeled bicycles had fallen out of common usage due to superior alternatives. If you look closely, you’ll see these penny-farthings didn’t even have a chain! The size of the front wheel is what gave the bike its “gearing”, and the pedals were “direct drive” – meaning they were mounted directly to the front wheel’s hub.
The materials of bicycles also changed significantly over the years. In the late 19th century, it was common for an average adult bike made of steel to weigh upwards of 80 lbs. Pneumatic (or air-filled) tires didn’t exist until 1888, a large reason that velocipedes of this time were known as “boneshakers” – because riders felt every little bump!
Another major improvement was the chain drive system. Unlike the direct drive system on a penny-farthing, chain-driven bicycles became known as “safety bicycles”, and allowed for smaller front wheels, a lower center of gravity, and they became much safer and easier to ride. These early “safety bicycles'' fairly closely resembled bicycle designs of the modern era, at which point penny-farthing bikes largely became obsolete.
Along Comes the woom NOW
Fancy the look of a bike with two different-sized wheels? We’ve got something just for you! While the penny-farthings of the past have all but gone the way of the dodo bird, look no further than the lightweight woom NOW for the future of urban bike commuting.
Featuring a smaller front wheel for cargo hauling, a dynamo hub that provides integrating lighting, and cushiony “balloon” tires to absorb bumps, the woom NOW is the ultimate urban utility machine. Designed exclusively for kids, the woom NOW also comes fully furnished with a built-in bell, frame bag, and fenders. Let’s get back to the future and ride life on the NOW.
Kids LOVE it! (No joke.)