Big Shoulders and a Hiwheel

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My terribly clever wife Liz circumvented my impending mid-life crisis when she bought me a penny-farthing bike for my 40th birthday. She knew that it would be an affordable substitute for a Ferrari or Porsche.  As the Chicago seasons rapidly change, the time for bringing the hiwheel out of winter storage is nigh.


She bought it from Rideable Bicycle Replicas. They shipped the pieces to her at work and she had the good staff at Rapid Transit Cylceshop assemble it. I have been informed that pretty much all of the staff took it out for a test ride, you know, just to be sure everything worked.

It’s great fun to ride! Passers-by wave and announce, “Hey! Bike guy!” with a jolly gleam in the eye. The public reaction is one of merriment, to which I carefully tip my hat and offer, “Good day!”

However, there are certain details that separate it from the usual bike ride. It is fixed-gear, with the pedals directly connected to the wheel. You can’t break and you can’t coast. On a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo, I had to walk the bike over the Chicago River along Webster. The hilliness on either side of Ashland was unpedalable. I’ve avoided Damen north of the Vienna Beef Hot Dog factory for fear of a coronary on the bridge. My choice of destinations tends to be limited.

I also have to accessorize for my rides. Of course, I enjoy being steampunked out for the occasion. Unfortunately, I tend to throw caution to the wind. As much as I know that I should wear a helmet, it just doesn’t match. A bowler looks much better, but it doesn’t offer the same sort of cranial protection.  For security, I also use a Fabric Horse u-lock holster, but this necessitates trousers with a belt. My Frontier Classics with suspenders or morning suit with the adjustable waist do not allow the convenience.

My apologies, but if you see me riding, I will not let you try it. You will break it. This happens every time. Accustomed to standard bikes, you will try to start pedaling. The wheel will not move and you will wrench the handlebars out of place. I will have to take it to Rapid Transit to have it readjusted (again). To take off, it is necessary to glide along the bike and let your feet to catch up with the moving pedals.  Maneuvering will be odd. You will use a lot more upper body strength for steering. My shoulders usually ache a bit after the first few seasonal trips. Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy offers excellent advice on riding a penny farthing in The Affected Provincial’s Companion, Volume One.

Now I must tip my hat to you. Good day!

Yikes! Pothole!

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