Ranked the second fastest man in Australia on a penny farthing bicycle, Townsville rider Sam Tully will be pedalling his penny — with no gears and no brakes — 90km between Bowen and Collinsville (and back) this weekend over the rolling hills of the ‘RollaCoaster’ charity ride. And it will be the quizzical looks from passing motorists and frantic camera snaps taken from moving vehicles that keep him smiling — or grimacing — and pushing through the pain.
“The fact they have no brakes and gears actually adds to the enjoyment — you’ve got to think a little more and enjoy them for what they are”
You saw your first penny in a bike shop owned by an Australian penny farthing champion — what was it about the unusual bike that instantly appealed to you? My brother, sister and I raced BMX as kids so Dad used to take us to the local bike shop to get bits for all the stuff we broke. That’s where I saw my first big penny farthing. I instantly wanted one, but the shop owner told me I was too little. I guess I took that as a challenge to eat more Weet-Bix, grow taller and wait patiently.
When did you start riding pennies and how did it feel compared to being on a BMX, seeing as they have no brakes, no gears and it’s a long way to fall? I’ve been riding penny farthings for a few years now — it’s by far the best bike I have, and I have a few! They are just really fun to ride. The fact that they have no brakes and gears actually adds to the enjoyment — you’ve got to think a little more and enjoy them for what they are.
“You quite simply stand on a small back peg near the small rear wheel, grab the handlebars, push off like you’re on a scooter, stand up, and you’re away”
How do you ride them… and get on and off? The bikes are actually quite easy to ride if you just relax into it. You quite simply stand on a small back peg near the small rear wheel, grab the handlebars, push off like you’re on a scooter, stand up, and you’re away. Tight turns are quite tricky, or near impossible; but the faster you go the easier it is — just lean into those corners and pedal away because there’s no chance your pedals will hit the ground.
Tell us about how you came to stand on the podium at the National Championships this year. There’s a big event every year down in Evandale, Tasmania, that’s known worldwide — the Penny Farthing National Championships. It attracts riders from all over the globe, amateur and professional, and is an absolute must-do for penny riders, enthusiasts and spectators. There are races to suit every rider’s capability, including the slow race, slalom [zig-zagging between obstacles], sprints, decathlons, and the main Australian title event — a four-lap criterium sprint around town. I managed to stand on the podium for the main event this year and get second. I don’t know how, but I can definitely say it was a big help having a lot of people cheering my name to try to steal the title from well-respected multiple champion James Fowler. It was so much fun.
“Most people smile, wave, take a photo or cheer you on for being silly on an outdated bicycle… as long as someone’s smiling, it’s all good”
We hear your wife, Fiona Harding, rides too? My wife can quite often be seen giving her husband a dusting on the sprint circuits. Fiona is so fast — I think her mountain bike riding background really helps her penny-style. She is currently ranked second fasted woman in Australia on a penny farthing. She just rides for fun once a year down in Evandale, but prefers the solitude of the bush on her ‘proper bike’, she says.
Do you have any favourite events or rides you particularly enjoy? I really like the Century Ride (163km over 12 hours) held the weekend before the Australian Champs around the rolling, leg-busting hills of Tasmania. It’s so hard, yet so rewarding. I think it’s the oldest style of bicycle ride you can do, dating back to the 1880s. I’ve met some of the most legendary people on this Earth while sitting on my penny.
How are you feeling ahead of another epic ride this weekend? I’m off to do the RollaCoaster charity ride for Cancer Council Queensland from Bowen to Collinsville and return the following day (180km total). It’s going to be a very tough ride as it’s all uphill to Collinsville, so my legs will protest against it all the way I’m guessing, but hopefully the following day’s return ride home will be much easier. There is one thing that will take my mind off the tough sections and that’s the usual looks I get from passing motorists. Most people smile, wave, take a photo or cheer you on for being silly on an outdated bicycle… as long as someone’s smiling, it’s all good.
What’s next in the pipeline for you? My next goal is to circumnavigate Tasmania on my penny — it’s such a picturesque place to ride. But it will depend on my riding fitness. There’s definitely one thing you don’t have to worry about and that’s the bike itself — I had my penny custom built by one of the world’s best penny farthing builders, Dan Bolwell, right here in Australia. Dan built me a custom-fit, hand-crafted bike that can handle travel and long distance rides. It’s an absolute pleasure to ride and has racked up thousands of kilometres now.
For more about penny farthings, watch this interview with Dan Bolwell:
You can support Sam Tully on his ride to Collinsville this weekend by donating directly into the RollaCoaster Ride bank account. The details are — Account Name: Qld Cancer Fund Bike Ride Appeal; BSB: 064803; Account 10155505. Please put SAM TULLY in the reference space so the Cancer Council can match it up.
The next National Penny Farthing Championships are in Evandale on Saturday, February 20, 2016 if you want to go along and watch or participate as a novice. We have been to Evandale ourselves and would highly recommend it — it’s not far from Launceston, which has an awesome network of MTB trails too… just saying…