Digital Access

Digital Access
Access from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
News, sports, local and regional entertainment and more!

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Choose your news! Select the text alerts you want to receive: breaking news, prep sports scores, school closings, weather, and more.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Sign up for free e-newsletters today.

Big wheels keep on turning

David Richardson always wanted a Penny-farthing bicycle and now turns heads with it.
David Richardson always wanted a Penny-farthing bicycle and now turns heads with it.

If you have seen a man riding a bike that looks like it’s straight out of the 1880s, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. David Richardson loves bikes, and there is no greater prize in his collection than his Penny-farthing bicycle.

“I started collecting bikes a few years back and always wanted one,” Richardson said. “I just happened to come across this one and found it at Ichi bike shop in Des Moines.”

The Penny-farthing model was very popular in the 17th century and the 48-inch front wheel and 12-inch back wheel that make up the design were symbols of wealth and trendiness in the Victorian era. Other names for it include the Hi-wheel, boneshaker and the ordinary.

He said he hasn’t made too many modifications to the bike since he acquired it from the bike shop in Des Moines.

“I put a gel seat on it,” Richardson said.

The original seat’s discomfort is how the nickname boneshaker came about, he quipped.

“I put the penguin horn on it, because I thought it was funny,” he said.

He also had LED lights put on the wheels but removed them after participating in the Moonlight Classic charity bike run in Des Moines.

Even without the multicolored lights decorating the bike, he still garners plenty of attention while riding it.

“People usually yell, ‘Hey, nice bike!’” Richardson said. “I’ve had kids chase me down the street and cars stop in the middle of the street to take pictures. Kids are the people that get the most excited. Sometimes parents won’t even notice it, and kids will start freaking out. I’ve ridden past houses and have had people come running out their front doors.”

Richardson is a true bike aficionado. He doesn’t know how many bikes he owns, but he became interested in them due to his love of another type of bicycle.

“I build lowriders — that’s what got me into bikes,” Richardson said. “I built my first low rider in 2004. My friends and I started building them together and taking them to shows.”

Richardson said he is also the head of the Iowa chapter of the Carnales Custom Car Club, which is a club dedicated to all things low rider. His favorite low rider bike is the beach cruiser.

The beach cruiser is a much simpler beast to tame, and Richardson admits that conquering the Penny-farthing was more of a challenge. The bike has no brakes, weighs between 35 to 40 pounds and is more than four feet tall.

“I was cautious about it,” Richardson said. “I took about 15 minutes to get a feel for it, pushing it around, hopping on the peg and really getting a feel for it before I jumped up on it. Trying to stop quickly or make sharp turns are the hardest things to do. If you turn the wheel too sharp, it’s just going to hit your leg.”

The bike may be a relic from the Victorian era, but Richardson took it back to the Stone Age when it comes to slowing it down. He does a Fred Flinstone-style braking method, which leaves the bottoms of his shoes scraped up.

Despite the danger, he said he has wiped out only once on the bike, and he walked away injury-free.

Richardson knows his bike is unique, which could prove to be very lucrative to him, but he has no plans to sell it. He also explained what attracted him to the bike.

“It just looked fun and unique,” Richardson said. “It’s definitely unlike anything else I’ve got in my collection.

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

Loading more