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World penny farthing record too good for fastest round-the-world cyclist

Donna Coutts, June 18, 2018 7:00PM Kids News

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A cycling enthusiast rides a penny farthing bike in England this weekend. Picture: AFP media_cameraA cycling enthusiast rides a penny farthing bike in England this weekend. Picture: AFP


Reading level: green

Cyclist Mark Beaumont has smashed the British record for the distance travelled on a penny farthing in one hour. The 35-year-old Scottish athlete rode 35.27km in one hour on Friday at Herne Hill Velodrome* in south London, UK.

It also beats a previous record of 33.96km set at the same location way back in 1891.

But Mr Beaumont missed out on breaking the world record of 35.55km, which is held by American rider William Rowe, set way back 132 years ago in 1886.

‘[It] will go down in history as one of the most off-the-wall* challenges I’ve ever taken on,’ Mr Beaumont said. ‘Those cyclists back in the 1800s set the bravery high — and it’s taken over a century to crack. I am utterly* exhausted and beyond thrilled to have reached new heights — quite literally!’

Mr Beaumont, who in September last year broke the record for travelling around the world on a bike, spent months training for his latest feat*. His round-the-world record — on a modern bike — is 79 days, 44 days fewer than the previous record.

media_cameraBritish cyclist Mark Beaumont with his family after arriving at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on September 18, 2017 to complete his world-record ride around the world. Picture: AFP

Penny farthings, which are also know as high-wheel bicycles, or high wheels, were invented in 1871 by British engineer James Starley.

Although they are difficult to get on and off and more difficult to ride than modern bikes because the rider is sitting so high in the air, they were a big improvement on other early bike inventions, mostly because they were faster and more comfortable to ride on rough stone-cobbled* streets.

Lost Trades Fair media_cameraDan Bolwell makes penny farthing bicycles at Horsham, Victoria. Picture: Tim Carrafa

There are still many penny farthing enthusiasts* in Australia, with a big festival and the national championships each February in Evandale, Tasmania.


  • The first human-powered, wheeled land vehicles were called velocipedes. Modern bikes are a type of velocipede.
  • German inventor Karl von Drais described his 1817 “Laufmaschine” invention as a velocipede. It was the first usable invention something like a bike. The German word laufmaschine in English is “running machine”. The laufmaschine came to be called a dandy horse or hobby horse and was made of wood and metal.
  • The first pedalled velocipedes were invented in France and were very popular from 1857-1871. These were sometimes called boneshakers, because they were made of wood, later with metal tyres and were really uncomfortable to ride on rough roads.
  • Newer velocipedes had bigger and bigger front wheels, were made of metal and later had solid rubber tyres. Penny farthings were one of these new velocipedes and were the bike of choice for cool, sporty young men in the 1880s. Women and men who wanted to look more dignified* rode tricycles.
  • John Starley invented the modern bicycle in 1885. It was called the Rover safety bicycle and had a chain attached to the back wheel and two wheels the same size. It was faster, much easier to ride and more comfortable. By 1893, penny farthings were out of fashion.
media_cameraMembers of the South Australia Bicycle Club in their club uniforms around 1875. Picture: State Library of SA

ANOTHER WORLD RECORD STORY: Fastest Rubik’s cube solve ever


velodrome: a curved cycling track with steep sides

off-the-wall: unconventional

utterly: completely

feat: achievement

cobbled: paved

enthusiasts: people who are very interested in something

dignified: behaving in a way people will respect



1. How far did Mark Beaumont ride in one hour?

2. Who holds the world record he tried to beat? When was it set and how far did the cyclist ride?

3. Mr Beaumont already has a world record. What is this for?

4. When were boneshakers popular and why were they called that?

5. Who was John Starley? What did he do and when?


Print and cut out (or rewrite) each of the lines of text below. Sort the information into 3 groups so that you end up with 3 sets of facts about 3 different types of velocipedes detailed in the news story. Hint: You should end up with 4 statements in each set of facts.

Made of metal with solid rubber tyres

Known as the “Laufmaschine”

Known as the “Rover safety bicycle”

Invented in 1871 by James Starley of Great Britian

Featured 2 wheels of the same size

Also nicknamed the “dandy horse” or “hobby horse”

Known as a penny farthing or “high-wheel bicycle”

Invented in 1817 by German Karl von Drais

Faster, easier and more comfortable to ride than previous velocipedes

Featured a large front wheel and was comfortable for riding on stone-cobbled streets

Made of wood and metal

Invented in 1885 by John Starley

Extension: Draw a picture of the 3 velocipedes to match up with each of your sets of facts.

Time: 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, History


After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

QUESTIONS: Why do think people still ride penny farthing bikes? Name some features of a modern bike that make riding easier.

Use full sentences to explain your answers.

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