Every year penny farthing enthusiasts gather in the small Tasmanian town of Evandale. There is a parade, a fair, meticulously put together historic bikes and a good dose of dressing up in period costume, but that’s not the main reason many turn up. The focus is the races to be won and the Australian penny farthing champion titles up for grabs.
On the day before the event those who had already made their way to town for the 34th Annual Evendale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships slowly rode the open roads of the race circuit to check out the corners and get a feel for the course.
The bikes looked quaint, dignified and like machines only fit for a leisurely outing. The riders appeared genteel with their costumes and friendly welcoming ways. Then race day arrived and it was soon clear that there is nothing faint-hearted about the penny farthing crowd.
On Saturday riders were pushing bicycles that looked like they belonged in a museum to their limits, banking them around the corner and cranking up the speed on the straights with powerful pedal strokes that sent the bike swaying from side to side. They did this while sitting with their heads around two-and-a-half metres in the air atop direct drive machines with a tricky dismount style and, most unnervingly, no easy way to quickly stop. There are no brakes on a penny farthing.
There were a multitude of events on the main race day including slow races, slalom, kids races and relays. For most the females and males raced together, however for the sprint and national championship the women and men got their own races.
The women’s field ranged from a teenage girl to women in their 60’s with an elegant athleticism that instantly caused any fears about growing older to evaporate, but at the pointy end of the field it was a battle between two mothers of three. One, Joanne Junor, started riding the penny farthing three years ago and took out the national title last year. The other, Sally Dillon, has been riding a penny farthing for nearly 20 years, has multiple national titles, and even a world title, under her belt.
“You just ride and you don’t realise how crazy it is. You are just going fast. It’s racing and the adrenaline gets going,” said Dillon, who came from Queensland for the race. She has been to the event so many times she’s lost count, but thinks it must be around 16 or 17.
When it was time for the main women’s race of the day Junor’s fast start, which helped her take out the women’s sprint earlier, meant she got an early lead. However it wasn’t long before Dillon caught Junor, and cannily sat behind until opening up the sprint on the final straight. Dillon, who well and truly proved her endurance by being the only women to finish the previous weekend’s 100 mile ride, had the reserves to take off powerfully at the end and took out the 2016 Clarendon Arms National Ladies Penny Farthing Championship.
There’s was no sign of disappointment as the others rolled across the line. Even though there was no holding back when it came to the events, the rare opportunity to go out and race these bikes with others seemed to be the biggest prize.
“There’s a healthy level of respect when you are riding a penny farthing because, yes, you really can hurt yourself but I just love it. The bikes are beautiful, the history is fascinating and they bring so much joy,” said Junor.
In the men’s Australian National Penny Farthing Championship James Fowler crossed the line first.