With one large wheel, one small wheel, and a very high seat, the penny-farthing bicycle required a bit of additional skill to mount and ride. In this behind-the-scenes footage from of the silent film Sunnyside (1919), Charlie Chaplin and his brother Sydney attempt to ride a penny-farthing bicycle.
According to the video caption, they’re joined by Henry Wakefield, the Bishop of Birmingham and President of the British Independent Enquiry Commission. Chaplin is also seen showing him around the Los Angeles-based set.
Chaplin, of course, is known for his mastery of physical comedy. Did he fall from the tall penny-farthing by accident or on purpose? More about the bicycle from Wikipedia:
The penny-farthing, also known as a high wheel, high wheeler or ordinary, was the first machine to be called a “bicycle”. It was popular in the 1870s and 1880s, with its large front wheel providing high speeds (owing to it traveling a large distance for every rotation of the legs) and comfort (the large wheel provides greater shock absorption).
It became obsolete from the late 1880s with the development of modern bicycles, which provided similar speed amplification via chain-driven gear trains and comfort through pneumatic tires, and were marketed in comparison to penny-farthings as “safety bicycles” because of the reduced danger of falling and the reduced height to fall from.
The name came from the British penny and farthing coins, the former being much larger than the latter, so that the side view resembles a larger penny leading a smaller farthing.
Watch more Charlie Chaplin-related videos on TKSST, as well as these bicycle videos:
• Surprising bicycle Models from 1818 to the 1890s
• Boneshaker Big Wheel 2014: Penny-farthing + Strandbeest
• Evolution of the Bicycle, an animated summary