The Paris-London Penny Farthing charity ride has been organised by the London based Pickwick Bicycle club – the oldest cycling club in the world – to celebrate the 150th anniversary of both the Club and invention of the Penny Farthing. As part of a 15-strong British and wider European group invited to take part, Michael, 42, has chosen to fundraise for PCRF in tribute to his mum Brenda, who had surgery last year following her diagnosis.
Michael’s Penny Farthing is an 1888 reconditioned original, and he says while both he and the bike are definitely up to the distance, there are just a few caveats.
“When people ask me if it’s dangerous, the answer is simply, ‘yes’, he laughs. “The brakes are on the front wheel so there is a danger of going over the top if there’s a sudden obstacle or I’m trying to control my speed down a hill.” He continues: “Oh, and the 20mm wide wheels have solid rubber tyres with no tread at all, so we’re hoping for no rain. If it does rain, I really need to avoid wet leaves on the ground!”
The group will set off from near the Eiffel Tower on 26th June, and will be welcomed by the mayors of several villages along their route toward the coast. After taking the ferry to the UK mainland, they will push on to London and hope to arrive at Tower Bridge on the evening of the 30th, where Michael’s mum, dad and friends will be among those waiting to celebrate the team’s arrival.
“It really is a massive challenge,” says Michael. “I’ve not ridden more than around 10 miles on this bike in one go. But we’re determined to complete the distance, and the support we always get from the public as they see us riding by will help enormously. There’s just something about Penny Farthings that people love!”
Michael had his first ride on a Penny Farthing when he was a young boy, thanks to his dad Dave, whose passion for vintage cars and bikes led to him buying several different vintage bicycles. Although he also had regular bikes while growing up – a BMX and mountain bikes – Michael was hooked by the Penny Farthing. He eventually bought his own and started his growing collection of vintage bikes, which he showcases at events across the country with his colleagues in the Solent Veteran Bicycle and Tricycle Club.
He says: “Although they look strange to us now, they were built for speed – the huge wheel was the only way they could engineer a faster ride in the 1800s – and they can reach speeds of around 20mph on the flat. They were very expensive too, kind of like the Ferraris of their day, it’s a real privilege to own one and a real thrill to ride it.”
Michael has already raised over £2000 to date. His online giving page is at https://www.justgiving.com/page/michael-gray-1673093682730