Snapshots of Boise

The High Wheeler - Beware the Header


If you need to get across Boise, you've got numerous transportation options. There's the gas-guzzling automobile, the bus, the skateboard, the motorcycle, the scooter, the BicyTaxi, and of course the trusty ol' bicycle. Although bicycling is darn popular in this town, especially during the fair weather season, nothing can prepare you for the sight of a dapper chap pedaling his way down a city thoroughfare on a high wheel bike, also know as a penny-farthing.

Most of you have probably never seen one of these contraptions in person, and there's a reason for that. The high wheel bike had its heyday in the late 1800s, back when everyone was too ignorant to realize that sitting directly over the front axle was an incredibly dangerous proposition. According to the Internet oracle we know as Wikipedia:

"When the wheel strikes rocks and ruts, or under hard braking, the rider can be pitched forward off the bicycle head-first, called "taking a header" or simply "a header". Headers were relatively common, and a significant hazard: riders sometimes died from headers. Riders coasting down hills often took their feet off the pedals and put them over the tops of the handlebars, so they would be pitched off feet-first instead of head-first."

Doesn't that sound like an awesome way for little Timmy to get to school?

When bicycle designers finally came to their senses and created "safety bicycles", which were modern-style bikes that had tires that were the same size (or featured a slightly larger wheel in the rear), the high wheel bike was thankfully put to rest. Thus, the high wheelers that exist today, whether relics of the past or modern reproductions, are nothing but novelties that might look cool cruising down the road while its rider sips a cup of high-priced coffee. Regardless, they will certainly get your attention.