When the original version of this machine was made in the late 19th century, it was called a bicycle. But when inventors created, companies provided and riders demanded something a little closer to the ground, people decided to call this particular model something else.
In the U.S., the term was “ordinary,” presumably because when the first safety bicycle was introduced, with wheels closer to the same size and a chain drive, ordinaries outnumbered safeties. In Britain, the term was penny farthing, which referred to coins of different sizes: the penny and a coin worth a quarter of a penny.
(Had we adopted this construction, we might have called our obsolete machine a dollar dime, which would have been fine until we arrived at the corresponding acronym and forever afterward confused the machine with an aspect of a lady’s undergarment and, by necessity, the lady herself.)
When air-filled tires were added to the safety bicycle, it was game over for the previous design. Within a span of a couple of years, the ordinary was virtually extinct, pulled out of a shed every once in a while by someone laboring under the erroneous assumption that one can only ride an ordinary if one is wearing a top hat.
You know, just like Lincoln did, which he most certainly did not.
I have two reasons I like this picture: One: I used to look like that. Two: Because I rode that bicycle, I remember pedaling a 50-inch gear in a way that not a lot of people experience: directly, without the aid of newfangled gadgets like chainrings, sprockets and chain.
This is what the original 50-inch gear looked like: a front wheel 50 inches in diameter. It was the biggest wheel I could ride, so it was the biggest gear I could use.
Someday, I’m going to get another.