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High Five

5 bikes that'll make you stand out in a crowd

The bicycle turns 200 this year - and it keeps inspiring new models that will turn more than a few heads. The high wheeler is a classic that's being rediscovered by modern designers too.

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High Five: The most unusual bikes

A penny-farthing used to be a status symbol for well-off young men in Great Britain towards the end of the 19th century: The high wheelers were the latest craze.

Their front wheel had a diameter of up to 1.5 meters (60 inches). It made them faster than previously developed models and the big wheel also helped absorb shocks while riding, because bike tubes didn't exist yet.

Fixed hub, no brakes

Getting up on the high wheeler was a challenge. While standing on a small footboard with one foot, the other one had to scoot the bicycle forward to get it rolling. Once it was fast enough, the rider was to quickly jump on the seat and pedal. Penny-farthings didn't have any gears or brakes like we know them now. Speed was controled with the pedals. 

Read more: Mobility for billions: The bicycle is 200!

Because the pedals were directly fixed to the hub, they were always turning with the wheels. To avoid getting their feet caught in the pedals while rolling at high speed, riders would either spread their legs apart or adventurously put their feet up on the handlebar. That also allowed them to be pitched off feet-first instead of head-first if they had to fall.

Hazardous falls

There were nevertheless serious, sometimes fatal accidents with the penny-farthing. At the end of the 19th century, John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire for bicycles, abruptly ending the high-wheeler era. Lower bicycles with inner tubes were not only more comfortable, but also much safer.

Enthusiasts are now rediscovering high wheelers, along with other unusual bikes that can be seen on European roads. See some of them in the High Five gallery above.

Watch video 04:00

The history of the bicycle

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