Get smart curated videos delivered to your inbox every week.      
The Kid Should See This

Charlie Chaplin tries to ride a penny-farthing bicycle

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.

charlie chaplin falling off the penny-farthing
charlie chaplin
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.

penny-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

This award-winning video collection is reader-supported. Become a sustaining member to keep TKSST online and free for everyone, including teachers and parents who use it as a resource to spark learning and curiosity for kids.

🌈 Watch these videos next...

The Bicycle Animation: Live animation on a bicycle wheel

Rion Nakaya

Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out

Rion Nakaya

Bicycle rush hour in Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth largest city

Rion Nakaya

Making handmade Bamboocycles in Mexico City

Rion Nakaya

If You Fall, an animated short about taking risks

Rion Nakaya

Havana Bikes: The resourceful bicycle culture of Havana, Cuba

Rion Nakaya

Charlie Chaplin & the Billows Feeding Machine: Modern Times (1936)

Rion Nakaya

Charlie Chaplin’s dinner roll dance from The Gold Rush (1925)

Rion Nakaya

How do you ride a square-wheeled tricycle?

Rion Nakaya