Monday, May 24, 2010

The Original Fixie

Was wandering around the South End Saturday when we stumbled across a Victoriana festival.  The South End of Boston is the largest extant collection of Victorian brick rowhouses in the country,  and according to a sign, they had put a reproduction iron fence in at this park and were having a fence dedication and Victorian festival.  There were lots of elegant gentlemen and ladies in period costume,  a small orchestra playing classical music,  and wholesome games and activities.

And, most importantly they had Penny Farthing bikes!  We had been wandering towards the music, but from a block away I saw the penny farthings, and dragged my companions over.  They were actually giving (assisted) rides!!

but alas,  I was wearing a pencil skirt which is fine on my loop frame, but wasn't going to work with these bikes- I tried, and was so so sad that I couldn't try them.

These bikes are really fabulous- unfortunately I didn't have a real camera, and I don't think the iphone camera does them justice.  I had a great conversation with Dave Toppin, who seemed to be running things, and who was a font of knowledge.

His bike is a Rudge (yes, they're that old)

The tires are solid rubber,  and you have to have a special machine to put them on.  All the parts are nickel plated which gives them a lovely golden glow.

The system is direct drive- the original fixed gear- that's why the wheel has to be so big- you don't have any mechanical advantage provided by gears and such.

There were a couple of kids riding them around with great expertise (pulling wheelies) - they looked like they were having a blast.


  1. We've been puzzled for awhile about how one mounts such bikes. This is the first time I have seen a picture of one without a rider. Does one put a foot on the pedal and swing your leg over the seat? Or is there kind of fence that one can lean against?
    Very cool pictures and a fun idea for the people in that neighbourhood.

  2. I'm so glad you made it to that! My community garden plot is in that space and I was sad that I had to attend a wedding shower instead of the new fence party (the old fence was just awful chain link). Did you stick around for the 50 piece orchestra playing waltzes for everyone to dance?
    The bikes are pretty cool too, I didn't know they were going to have bikes. I so wish I could have been there, thank you for the photos.

  3. OMG a victorian festival? Plotz!

    So sad to have missed that. boy do I love myself some victorian era stuff. If I were in my early 20's I'd be so steampunk it wouldn't even be funny.

  4. I'm a little freaked out just now... I had an elaborate dream last night involving penny farthing bicycles (a first, trust me) and then just after waking I check your site to find this!

    Hmmmm... the universe is trying to tell me something. And it involves big-wheeled bikes.

  5. Woooooow, I am so sad I missed that! The original Penny Farthings look so intriguing, though I would have been too scared of falling off to ride them. Thanks for the pictures!

  6. Sox,
    There's a little peg on the curving tube that goes down to the small wheel. You step up on that (I would think you would need someone to hold it upright).

    Vee- yes, me too- have you read the Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson? A lesser book by one of my favorite authors, but lots of fun.

    Velouria- They weren't letting people ride unattended- they had a guy walking next to you to hold it steady.

  7. How neat! And I've never seen one with the little wheel in the front.

    Interesting: both Victorian men with their Penny Farthings and hipsters with their fixies seem to be fond of breeches and caps. Coincidence??

  8. It was a pleasure to be there. If anyone wants to learn more and I have some mounting, dismounting videos here:

    I see lots of confusion above. You don't need anyone to hold you or help you.

  9. I too am a Neal Stehephson fan. I loved the diamond age and often wish I could jump in the book and join the Vickies. In fact I being out of the loop did not know the steampunk term til recently- in my own head I always called anything steampunk that I saw "vicky" like from the diamond age.

    Another ref you'll like- B and I long to have the thing Y.T. had in snow crash to fling onto car rear windows that say " Smooth move ex-lax" or the like when people drive like assholes.

  10. a quick google shows me I JUST missed this in my own backyard.

  11. Picture of the fence, or it didn't happen!