Recently I had reason to mention Oamaru, and I hadn’t been there for a few years, but I had a reason to visit. In that post I said that the historic district would make a great arts district, and it’s slow in coming, but things have definitely changed in Oamaru, and it might have hit a tipping point, and it’s all to get a bit more lively. The town is promoting itself as Victorian Oamaru, and one of the things about those years, and specifically the 1870s and 1880s was the penny-farthing bicycle. They were the best ways to get about, Mulga Bill style, before the 1891 introduction of the safety bicycle. And now I know why the diamond frame bicycle, still common today, is called the safety bicycle, and it’s because the ordinaries, or the penny-farthings pretty much weren’t.
Two weeks ago the Oamaru Cycle Works opened. And it has a few old bicycles on display, and a workshop, and for $10 you can be taught to ride a penny-farthing, which is what $10 NZ is actually worth now, a penny and a farthing in 1882 coinage.
A penny-farthing is simplicity itself. It is a direct drive, so there’s no chain to oil and maintain. There are no brakes either. Stopping seems to be done either by climbing back down to the step above the small wheel or by falling off.
The shop has been nicely set up, and the signwriting is pretty good, and is made to look like it’s 128 years old, even if it isn’t even that old in days yet.
The interior of the cycle works:
This is me posing in a period hat. Given the opportunity I’ll always look silly in a hat.
When riding the bike though I opted for a very non-Victorian helmet. It’s probably one of the only times I’ve felt I needed a helmet. I also felt like I needed a ladder. It’s a long way up one of these bikes.
Thanks to David Wilson for helping me learn to ride. I think he prevented me falling off to the left, and falling off to the right, and falling over the front. In fact I didn’t even fall at all. From that far up it would hurt. In extreme gratitude I let David have a ride of my bike.
Oamaru is definitely worth a stop on a drive south. The historic district now has galleries, and second hand bookshops, and sculptors, and steampunk, and penny-farthings, and the last couple of kilometres of the Mount Cook to Oamaru cycleway.