There was a lot of weird stuff going down 140 years ago in London. Jack the Ripper was out there doing his (or her) thing all over the East End. We had a series of horrible pandemics (let’s not talk about those). And one particularly ridiculous looking mode of transport, the penny-farthing, was at the absolute height of its popularity.
Until now. Maybe. Sales of penny farthings, an antiquated bicycle-thing with one huge wheel, have soared during lockdown. Soared, mate. The main company that makes them, UDC Penny Farthings, cannot keep up with demand in fact.
‘The vast majority of people wanting them – around 95 per cent – are middle-aged men,’ said the company’s owner, surprising absolutely no one. ‘Though there are a few women.’
It’s not clear where the sudden interest in the inarguably impractical vehicle is coming from, but Chiswick-based broadcaster Jeremy Vine’s enthusiasm for them is sure to have acted as a super-spreading agent among the aforementioned middle-aged men.
There is, inevitably, another more dangerous side to the penny-farthing renaissance. Are they suited to our modern roads with all the zippy Deliveroo dudes and huge Ocado vans? Mere weeks ago a man in Stoke Newington (where else?) was recorded driving one face first into a DPS van. The man appeared to be fine, which means it’s theoretically okay to chuckle at the funny noise he makes after falling off.
Got a regular two-wheeler? Here are our favourite scenic rides around London.
Our advice on how to start cycling during lockdown (and not quit like a big quitter).