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High Wheeling It

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Perhaps you've seen them at an area parade. They will certainly grab your attention. High wheelers. Bicycles with large front wheels and much smaller ones in the rear.

Charlie Harper of Muscatine has eleven of these bikes, also known as penny-farthings. The name comes from the British penny and farthing coins, one much larger than the other. Some of the front wheels on these bikes can be almost sixty inches in diameter. They were popular in Europe more than one hundred years ago.

Harper says to get on one of these high wheelers you place one foot on a peg above the rear wheel, grab the handlebars, lift yourself into the seat and start pedaling. There's not much margin for error. Harper says it does take more room to turn around. Oftentimes, to stop, the rider has to push backwards on the pedals to slow down.

When the wheel strikes rocks and ruts, the rider can fall forward off the bicycle, going headfirst.There have been instances where riders died from head injuries.

Riding these high wheelers has become a family affair. Charlie has taught some of his grandkids how to ride. Harper has participated in eleven Festival of Trees Parades in Davenport. On seven occasions, he has ridden a high wheeler one hundred miles in a day. He also raced in the World Penny Farthing Championship in Tasmania.

 

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