On your bike: Boy, 2, owns “world’s smallest penny farthing”

Christian Richards goes for a spin on the 60inch wheel penny farthing he has built while son Austin, 2,looks on with his tiny version.
Christian Richards goes for a spin on the 60inch wheel penny farthing he has built while son Austin, 2,looks on with his tiny version.
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HE has just built one of the biggest penny farthings in the world - and now bike manufacturer Christian Richards can say he has built the prototype for the smallest too.

Son Austin, 2, asked his dad for his own cycle when he saw him working on the monster of a bike, which has a 60inch diameter, in his workshop in Aldbrough, East Yorkshire.

Christian Richards from Aldbrough, East Yorkshire, in his workshop where he handmakes penny farthings. He has now made one for son Austin, 2, with a 20inch wheel, a prototype for the world's smallest penny farthing.

Christian Richards from Aldbrough, East Yorkshire, in his workshop where he handmakes penny farthings. He has now made one for son Austin, 2, with a 20inch wheel, a prototype for the world's smallest penny farthing.

The cycles - which were all the rage in the 1880s - are having a mini comeback - with even an unnamed celebrity ordering one.

“It’s a penny farthing version of a balance bike,” said Mr Richards. “Austen came and watched me in the workshop and said he wanted to build a bike, so I thought I’d make him one and then thought it would be a good idea to make some little ones to sell as well.”

Each of the big bikes - made to measure according to the length of one’s inseam - is a labour of love, 200 hours or more to make, with every element handcrafted, including wooden handlebars, pedals and leather seat.

Christian who turned self-employed two years ago to start building and selling the bikes, said the cycles appealed to “gentlemen” as far afield as Malta and Switzerland, who enjoyed taking a spin in the countryside and at heritage events.

Waht could be the biggest - and smallest - penny farthings in the world.''Pictures by Tony Johnson

Waht could be the biggest - and smallest - penny farthings in the world.''Pictures by Tony Johnson

“You could call them the English gentleman’s Harley-Davidson” he joked. “One of my customers told me it made him proud to be British and celebrities are even after them now.”

The 60inch wheel was built for customer Jess Rowland, from Downham Market, Norfolk, who stands 6ft 4ins, and has wanted one ever since he saw one in a museum as a child.

Mr Richards, 28, who is just an inch taller, says the bigger the wheel, the faster and easier the ride.

Getting started is the tricky bit, with the rider having to push off and while the bike is gathering momentum, hop on, using a step on its backbone.

Once moving it is said to be a comfortable ride. Dismounting can prove just as eventful though - and is the origin of the term “going a cropper”.

Victorian gentlemen were advised to cross their legs over the handlebars when travelling downhill, so if they flew off they would land on their feet.

Unlike his dad, who managed to stay up aloft perched on the saddle, avoiding a 9ft drop onto his head, as he cruised past St Bartholomew’s Church, Austin preferred to play safe with his mini version.

“You have to be fairly athletic to ride one and be able to stretch your legs,” said Mr Richards.

“You have to use the step like a ladder, it’s like climbing a ladder while moving.

“Getting down is the difficult bit as you have to learn to know where the back step is with your eyes closed to get off while it is still moving.” Mr Rowland said he was thrilled with the bike, which he intends taking for a spin on local roads. He has bought a cycle helmet and says he will be taking it easy at first.

Once the fastest vehicle on the road, a penny farthing represented adventure for any young man of means.

“Swifter and yet more swift,” exulted the English clergyman Henry Charles Beeching, “Till the heart with a mighty lift, Makes the lungs lift, the throat cry.” The risks only added to the thrill. Crashes leading to serious injury or death were common as riders meeting a rut, stone or other unexpected obstacle “came a cropper.” 200,000 were sold between 1870 and 1885. However ultimately easier to use geared up versions of the safety bikes superseded them and penny farthings lapsed into history.

For more visit www.richardsofengland.co.uk