I’m sure you have seen a penny farthing bicycle, though perhaps you did not know it was called that. Or perhaps you call them “ordinary” or “high” bicycles. In any event, they are those rather unusual-looking bicycles with a huge (often five-feet tall or more) front wheel and a small rear wheel that you probably associate with gentlemen in bowler hats and ladies in dresses with voluminous bustles. These bicycles drifted into oblivion in much of the world when the modern (or “safety”) bicycle was invented, but here in Oamaru they are very much part of the day-to-day landscape.
Judge David Wilson, one of the founders of the Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club (OOCC) has decided to try to bring the pennyfarthing back from oblivion somewhat by completing a south-to-north tour of the entirety of New Zealand this summer. He began his journey in Stewart Island (the third of New Zealand’s main islands, situated just south of the South Island), and has already made his way up the length of the South Island and is currently working his way up from Wellington on the North Island. Progress is slow, owing to the hilly nature of the New Zealand terrain and the absence of any gears (other than ‘forward’) on the bicycle, and it has not been without mishaps (a tyre came away from the wheel earlier on, necessitating the creation of a new wheel by Graeme Simpson, the Oamaru-based bicycle mechanic to the expedition). But Judge Wilson is hoping to make it to Cape Reinga at the north tip of the North Island sometime early in 2012, and signs indicate that he should make it.
Oh, and naturally Judge Wilson is dressed in full Victorian “wheelman” kit, with a traditional waistcoat, pillbox hit with tassle, and riding boots. And if you’re interested in trying out a penny farthing yourself, you can get one at the Oamaru Cycle Works, where you can also try your hand (or feet…) at riding one under the guiding hands of Judge Wilson or one of his colleagues.
For more information on this first-ever tour check out Judge Wilson’s blog here or here, or listen to an interview with him on National Radio here. The Oamaru Mail also publishes exclusive updates on the expedition, and you can read some previous posts by clicking below. Donations are welcome to help finance the trip; contact Judge Wilson for information.