Community Events – The Penny Farthing Festival

Penny Farthing Festival 2012 by Robin Jennings

Penny Farthing Festival 2012

Every year in the last week of February, the historic and picturesque town of Evandale Tasmania comes alive for the annual Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships. Starting in 1983, the festival has been growing in popularity ever since.

Situated 20kms south east of Launceston, Evandale boasts a wealth of history, being an early and very successful farming district. The beautifully maintained buildings are worth a visit in themselves, giving an old world charm to this friendly and laid back country town. This makes Evandale the perfect setting for a festival based around the Penny Farthing bicycle, a regal bike that is itself steeped in history.

People flock from all over the country, trailing their large and rather unwieldy bikes behind them to participate in what would have to be one of the most unique and interesting bike races to be witnessed. It is equally as fun to watch the races in action as it is to partake, and probably far less dangerous! As majestic as these bikes and their riders are, perched high with straight backs and dignified air, it is a long way to fall!

Riders of all ages!

There are a variety of race events including the slow race, last over the line wins – harder than it sounds as those big front wheels were built for speed and weighing 12kgs, Penny Farthings are not the easiest bikes to balance and keep straight at low speeds. There are also various sprints and heats; a relay; a biathlon where you run and cycle; and a couple of heats where last rider over the line is out until only three remain. There is also a rather quirky race which involves carrying your bike for one lap, wheeling it for another and then riding. Some competitors enter them all, they are ones with the very red face at the end of the day!

For those intent on working up a spectator thirst, the Clarendon Arms Hotel has the perfect vantage point, being on the corner of the race circuit. It also boasts a large courtyard which bustles with bands and activities and is home to some resident chickens and turkeys. – the perfect place to stake a claim for the day, especially when in a large group. Make sure you venture out from time to time to see the market, the historic farm machinery display, various coffee shops and rather tasty lolly shops. The people wandering around in period costume are also a sight to be seen and a great photo opportunity.

At the starting line

A brief history of the ‘Penny Farthing’

  • The name ‘Penny Farthing’ is merely a nickname coming about as the dimensional difference between the two wheels resembled the old coins of the Penny and the Farthing. Originally these machines were simply called bicycles. British collectors now like to call them ‘ordinary bicycles’ while in America the term ‘high wheelers’ has been adopted.
  • Evolving into existence around the 1870’s, the reasoning behind the Penny Farthing was that the bigger the front wheel, the further the bike would travel with each revolution, meaning less pedaling for the rider.
  • The Penny Farthing was the first bicycle to be mass manufactured in Britain and America. There was no manufacturer in Australia so individual parts were imported and then assembled here.
  • Penny Farthings were the first bikes to be commonly raced in Australia, with regular race meetings taking place in Launceston and Hobart in the late 1800’s. Tasmania’s first official bike club was formed in 1884.
  • Penny Farthings were phased out of production in the 1890’s when the invention of the safer chain drive bicycle made the large front wheel of the Penny Farthing unnecessary.
Race in full swing

Basically all Penny Farthings raced today are new bikes made to old specifications. Original bicycles from the late 19th century are becoming rarer and rarer and are quite a collector’s item. If you did manage to find one for sale and could afford to buy it, I don’t think you would dare to ride it! If captured by this inspiring bicycle, it is far better to purchase a reproduced one and keep the originals as the piece of art they truly are.

Whether you’re interested in owning one of these magnificent machines or just want to see one in action, the Annual Evandale Penny Farthing Festival is well worth a visit. It would have to be one of the most unique festivals in Australia, is extremely family friendly and lots of fun.

Guest Post by Robin Jennings

This is a guest post by Robin Jennings, a creative web designer based Castlemaine who is fascinated by the ability to travel the world from your arm chair. You can contact him through his website Explainafide.

I’d like to thank Rob for sharing this post on my blog.  The Penny Farthing Festival looks like a great example of a successful community event.  It cleverly combines family fun with history, bringing the towns heritage and inhabitants together, and draws in interstate and international visitors too.  I think this is a great example of how communities can create an event that appeals to contemporary audiences while celebrating and participating in history at the same time.  It would be a great idea for a community museum or even school to use as model.  Their website has more information, as does their Facebook page.

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