UK Rider Chris Opie Breaks 133-Year-Old Penny Farthing Hour Record


BATH, UK (October 15, 2019): Chris Opie is the new holder of the Penny Farthing World Hour Record, having broken the historical mark at Herne Hill Velodrome, London, UK. Opie beat the previous distance, which had stood for 133 years, with the aid of two pace setters: Around-the-World Cycling Record holder Mark Beaumont and James Lowsley-Williams.

Photo courtesy Play Sports Group

Riding authentic penny farthing bikes – using technology from the Victorian era – the three riders took to the track on Thursday 10th October to take on the unusual challenge. The team averaged around 35kph – a huge level of effort to hold over 60 minutes and a staggering achievement, with Opie setting the new distance of 35.743km (or 22 miles and 369 yards, as the 19th-Century statisticians would have recorded it).

The previous World Record was set by WA Rowe in 1886 – when Queen Victoria was on the British throne and Grover Cleveland was in his first tenure as President of the United States. Electricity had been invented by this point but most homes wouldn’t have access for another 50 years. Karl Benz had created a motor vehicle with an internal combustion engine – yet the Model T Ford was still nearly 30 years away. It was 105 years after Rowe’s record that the first-ever web page went live on the World Wide Web.

Before the invention of the conventional bicycle form that we still recognise today, penny farthings had a massive wheel at the front, a tiny one at the back, no gears, no suspension, and as the GCN presenters recently learned, it was a wise precaution to employ a support crew even to get on and off of them.

A formidable athlete, Rowe was one of the first great American sporting heroes. He was portrayed on cigarette cards and used sponsored kit: by contemporary standards, he was a professional rider. He first broke the Penny Farthing World Hour on October 1885 with a distance of 20 miles and 1025 yards (33.124km) at the Springfield track in Massachusetts, returning a year later to extend his own record twice at the same meet. His last mark of 22 miles and 150 yards (35.542km), achieved with three pace setters, put the record on the shelf for almost 133 years until the GCN team of Opie, Beaumont and Lowsley-Williams took to their ‘high-wheelers’.

L-R Mark Beaumont, Chris Opie, James Lowsley-Williams. Photo courtesy Play Sports Group

Setting the new Penny Farthing World Hour Record has taken some preparation. In June 2018 Mark Beaumont set a new British record at the World Cycling Revival Festival, also at Herne Hill. The hour challenge may have been shorter than the Around-the-World exploits Beaumont is most famous for, but it proved just as tough and he fell 290 yards – just over a lap – short of Rowe’s.

Beaumont and Opie and Lowsley-Williams joined forces more recently to set the inaugural World Indoor Penny Farthing Hour Record at Derby Velodrome in September 2019.

The three riders each made individual attempts, and it was Opie who went fastest, setting the record by riding a distance of 34.547km (21 miles and 821 yards). Perfect preparation for the ‘outdoor’ ride.

For the record-breaking ride at Herne Hill – a shallow concrete bowl measuring approximately 450m with the steepest banking 18° – the penny farthings were provided by Neil Laughton, Secretary of the Penny Farthing Club, who has also supported the previous attempts. A British Cycling official ran all the hour timings and calculations to adjudicate the ride.

The successful attempt was a team effort with all the three riders working together to achieve record pace. Opie was first across the line, breaking Rowe’s previous record by 200m. This equates to the team riding with a power difference of + 3.9w, and finishing 20 seconds faster.

Photo courtesy Play Sports Group

Around-the-World Cycling Guinness World Record holder Mark Beaumont said: “This World Record has been two years in the making for me, a decade in the making for Neil Laughton and 133 years in the making since William Rowe set down the gauntlet. I have absolutely loved reliving the very earliest history of the cycle sport, realising the grit, power and downright speed of those Victorian heroes.”

New Guinness Indoor World Penny Farthing Hour Record holder Chris Opie said: “It is a really special and unique experience to have ridden and raced these historic contraptions. Without the help and support of Mark and James we wouldn’t have been able to set a new World Record; being part of that team effort is what really set this record apart!”

Neil Laughton, Founder of the Penny Farthing Club, said: “I am immensely proud to have brought penny farthing riding to the attention of GCN’s elite pro riders and facilitated this magnificent hard-won World Record. Mark, James and Chris have returned to Britain a historic sporting record that has been revered in America for 133 years. It’s a phenomenal achievement.”

Simon Wear, Founder and CEO of Play Sports Group, said: “We’re so proud to have broken yet another World Record – on a penny farthing, no less. It’s another great challenge and although the bikes look comical and lots of fun to ride, these guys are incredible athletes and the hard work they put into winning the record cannot be overlooked or outweighed. It was great to have Mark join us once again for this challenge and we can’t wait to see what James, Chris and the other GCN presenters have lined up for more record-breaking achievements.”

Beaumont, Lowsley-Williams and Opie’s Penny Farthing World Hour record attempt will be featured in a future Global Cycling Network Show.

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  1. As the non-Guiness-certified, but Wheelmen-acknowledged (The Wheelmen being the US antique bicycle society) holder of the world record for riding a penny-farthing non-stop—202.6 miles in 14 hours and 40 minutes, in 1999—I applaud and acknowledge this significant feat. Well done, mates! And I’d love to see you take a shot at my record, for that’s what they’re there for: To be broken.

    My only suggestion is, do it on an original penny farthing. Modern technology makes even a reproduction penny farthing, like what was used for this latest record, not entirely comparable. I did my record ride on an original 1885 Rudge Light Roadster, built in Coventry, England. If you need an original to ride, I’m sure we can come up with one.


    David Walker


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