Frederick, Maryland, is home to The National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race. Racers ride original and replica high wheel bicycles dressed in vintage clothing. The races take place on a course that runs throughout historic Downtown Frederick. This year's High Wheel Race will take place on Saturday, July 15, 2023.
Have you ever experienced the thrill of a high wheel race? High wheel bicycling, also known as penny-farthing, could easily be considered the Victorian-era extreme sport. Instead of mountain bikes flying off ramps and catching air, riders attempt to get on and stay on the bikes and not go flying off of them head-first. And that has happened. Numerous times.
Downtown Frederick has been the host of this one-of-a-kind event for several years, featuring riders from around the United States and across the globe.
Imagine a bicycle with one gear and a seat that’s nine feet off the ground…without brakes! Mounting a high wheel bicycle is a challenge requiring a great deal of skill and balance. Once a person masters that feat, there’s the danger of headers. The seat is positioned nearly over the front axle, which means that when the front wheel hits rocks or ruts or when hard braking is required, the rider can be pitched forward, usually head first.
Today we have helmets, but in the 1870s, broken bones and head injuries were common results of riding the high wheel bicycle. This still presents quite the danger today - you'll see much of the course lined with hay-bales in order to provide riders with a bit of a softer landing spot.