A Brief History of the Rattyfarthing
Ah, yes, the community of home-pennyfarthing makers is small indeed. There's a reason nobody rides these any more. The homemade pennyfarthing offers all of the danger and inconvenience of the old-fashioned Ordinary, with none of the authenticity or money value!
Originally the Scallywags were supposed to be a pennyfarthing gang. Back around 2002 they thought they'd one-up the BLBC. So they made one and after a test ride that pretty much put an end to that idea:
While riding with recreationists in Critical Mass in 2003, I often wished I could make a pennyfarthing. The problem is just where to get a large, fixed wheel- otherwise the bike is very simple to construct. I researched making your own unicycle wheel, figuring I'd just make it larger. I found lots of tales of horror about trying to drill through axles.
Then I saw a picture from Marin County of an odd reverse chopper. The maker had tilted a frame upwards, reversed the bottom bracket, and mounted a seat on the extended fork! The result looked like a chopper that rode backwards. This gave me the idea that I could cheat and skip the big wheel if I just flipped a frame upwards. This was the result:
That's Phippen riding the 5-speed Pickup Styx. He was immediately inspired to make his own (continuing in the Scally tradition). He found a garment rack that was about the right size. He also found a great way to fix the hub- with a high-end kid's tricycle hub, one with cottered cranks so you could swap out adult size.
Meanwhile, in NYC, Greg of BLBC NY was taking a different route- construct a huge wooden wheel, and then power the thing with the rear wheel. He built out a hub with layers of wood until it was fat enough to screw through the spoke holes.
This, like my method, is cheating. I called my bike a "rattyfarthing". The BLBC started calling theirs "Pennyfakethings". Modern ones sold above have five speed internal hubs, pneumatics, rear brakes, all that crap. This is also cheating.
Here's another one:
They got the idea from the famous "three penny farthing", built with a unicycle wheel:
By bike Kill 4, the rattyfarthing idea had spread. The one shown earlier in this thread is great. Here's Conrads:
I showed up with my classy new one, Winifred. This time I used a beach cruiser and bent my own rear armature. The point of this design is that it uses everything from one bike: Flip the handlebars, reposition the head tube, weld the seat on the fork, chop the fork, and there you go. All you need is one small fork and one pipe.
Here are some hints:
-Pennyfarthings are made with 1 degree rake in the head tube. This gives you a wee bit of trail but allows the bike to turn on a dime, which is important because your weight is almost exactly over the axle.
-old ordinaries had a headtube limiter. This is because after the wheel turns a certain amount, the center of gravity of the bike shifts and the front wheel flies backwards at an angle. You really have to see it on an unlimited ordinary to understand what happens- I found out the hard way- but it's quite amazing. The wheel reaches this point and the bike flies backwards, sending the rider straight down. Phippen made his limiter by cutting a slot in the head tube and welding a bolt to the steer tube. I made mine by using wide handlebars that hit the fork (see above).
-another pennyfarthing secret (I'm trusting you to use these for good, not for evil): "Tuck". On an ordinary the rear wheel is actually UNDER, not behind, the front wheel, because the front wheel is so big it carves up and over. This is the key to handling. The more tuck you have, the tighter your turns, the better your ability to stay up on the thing. A long chopper-forked ordinary (see above) will have the turning radius of a freight train.
-when in doubt, turn right.
-a large wheel has a ton of gyroscopic force as well as inertia. Greg's wooden one felt like riding a boulder through Brooklyn. Originally wheels were made large for speed and bumps. Usually it was sized to your inseam minus the crank length. Then they came up with lots of gadgets letting you use a larger or smaller wheel, but I won't go into that craziness.
-These bikes take a header when you encounter a small bump or slight grade. Handlebars in front will trap you in the bike when you slam teeth-first into the pavement, scraping your shins on the handlebars. Multiple injuries led me to forever swear off Pickup Styx. For Winifred, I put the handlebars underneath. Then I discovered an odd result- I didn't need my hands at all to ride the bike. The bars are just there for torque when accelerating or turning. If I hit a pothole, I fly off and land on my feet rather than my teeth. This is also my dismount. Putting the handlebars underneath makes mounting a little like escaping from handcuffs. You step OVER your arms like a frog hopping and then let go of the handlebars and reach back behind your legs.
-put a crash-post foot on your bottom bracket so headers don't fold your chainring.
-The further back from the axle you are, the safer the bike will be, but you'll lose the ability to push down on the pedals and your lower back will kill you on long rides. I've ridden mine hundreds of miles, even in NYC and Boston traffic- it really rides like a no-hands beach cruiser so I'd recommend as short a wheelbase possible with the most upright riding positiong. I went with the coaster brake (less wrecky) and the single speed with balloon tires and this is one classy, smooth ride.