It’s a sight straight out of the 1800s.
Doug Mitchell and his friends take their Penny-farthings (also known as a high-wheel) for a spin around Edmonton every Tuesday night.
“We ride the bike paths or the city and residential streets. It brings a lot of joy. People laugh. They say, ‘Oh my goodness, what is flying by me right now?'” said Mitchell.
The first time Mitchell went on a high-wheel was in 2013, while in San Francisco for a triathlon.
“There’s a manufacturer there who builds high-wheels. I called him up and said, ‘I really want to learn how to ride. Will you teach me?'” said the longtime cyclist.
Mitchell fell in love. Now his goal is to become the “grandfather” of high-wheel bikes in Canada.
“That means to get as many people as I can in Edmonton and elsewhere riding these,” said Mitchell. “A lot of people come and ask me if they can get on a bike. If they are a cyclist, we’ll teach them how to ride.”
There is one caveat to the bikes, Mitchell said there’s a reason the bikes were lost popularity in favour to the ones lower to the ground.
“You’re quite high in the air, as you can imagine. About 55 inches,” said Mitchell. “Road bikes were called safety bikes, because Penny Farthing bikes were so dangerous. The term ‘end-over’ referred to when people would go over the front handlebars of the bike when you hit a pot hole.”
Barry Knight, a longtime friend and cycling partner, said he’s taken a few spills.
“But, only one ended up with me in the hospital!” he said.
Mitchell also enjoys sharing some of the history behind the bikes.
“It’s just something different. They don’t have the bikes anymore, you don’t see them anywhere. They aren’t popular. There’s probably 15 in Canada. There’s 10 or 11 in Edmonton. It was just a change to do something different.”
The bikes cost about $3,500 to purchase, with shipping. Mitchell got his seven bikes from a supplier in Sweden.
Mitchell and his crew have participated in a few races, including two in Maryland.
“It’s hard work, it’s exciting. There are a ton of people watching. We’ll be going back there next year,” said Knight.
On Thursday at Hawrelak Park, about a dozen people stopped by to have a look inside Mitchell’s trailer. Nearly everyone who walked by stopped to watch the bike in action or take a picture.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before. These guys are right on,” said onlooker Peter Vibe.
Mitchell said he loves the sense of freedom cycling brings.
“You see a lot more because you’re going slower. There’s nothing like it.”