When Paul Gauthier rides his bike by way of the streets of Montreal, individuals cease and stare.
Gauthier stated strangers usually flag him all the way down to ask questions. Pedestrians whip out their telephones and snap photos. Automobiles decelerate to let him move, perplexed.
“They’re like: who is that this man? Is that this like some sort of promoting? And so they’re undecided, nevertheless it’s simply me using my bike,” he stated, laughing.
His bike, admittedly, stands out in a crowd. Gauthier, a self-described historical past buff, rides a penny-farthing — the large-wheeled, tall-framed bikes from the 1800s.
Gauthier stated it isn’t only a showpiece: he makes use of the bike to run orders or take a trip round his neighborhood. Most not too long ago, he accomplished the Tour de l’Île — a 36-kilometre route by way of downtown Montreal — all atop his penny-farthing.
“From the second individuals see you, they’re like, ‘oh, historical past is coming,'” he stated.
A chunk of historical past
Gauthier stated getting the bike was a spur of the second resolution. In the course of the pandemic, he’d been researching the Victorian period in his spare time and Questioned if it was nonetheless attainable to get a motorbike like that.
It turned out to be straightforward to get an correct reproduction on-line, so he ordered it on a whim.
“[When it arrived] I checked out it for hour in my lounge and I used to be like: ‘what have I performed?'” he stated.
Gauthier stated he needed to lookup movies on-line to discover ways to trip it. Simply getting on is difficult: you have to hoist your self onto the seat by stepping onto a peg on the body, all whereas the bike is in movement. In the meantime, its rubber wheel means there’s little shock absorption. (The picket predecessor to the penny-farthing earned the nickname ‘the boneshaker’ as a result of bumpy trip.)
Additionally, it has no brakes. Hills particularly could be a problem, he stated.
“Your middle of gravity is tremendous excessive … so it’s a must to watch out once you go down,” he stated. In any other case, you may really feel the again wheel lifting off the bottom, resulting in the penny-farthing’s infamous skill to pitch riders headfirst over the handlebars. (Helmets are really useful.)
“Normally if there’s a dangerous hill, I simply stroll it down,” he stated. “However you may go uphill no drawback!”
On the street, Gauthier stated using the penny-farthing requires a heightened consciousness, however he would not normally have any issues. Cyclists and drivers each are likely to decelerate and provides him area, as if respecting the bike, he stated.
“I believe they’re saying, like: ‘If this man is loopy sufficient to trip this, let’s simply let him do it. Let’s get out of the way in which and let him do his factor,'” he stated, laughing.
Seeking to the longer term previously
Now, Gauthier offers courses on how one can trip the bike by way of his affiliation for penny-farthing followers, Boneshaker MTL, so others can expertise it for themselves.
Xavier Marine, additionally a historical past buff, is without doubt one of the ones who tried Gauthier’s bike. He cherished it a lot he now owns his personal penny-farthing and in addition offers classes by way of Boneshaker.
“The concept is to make individuals have the identical feeling we had. Being completely happy and that sense of freedom — we need to give that to individuals,” he stated. “And the factor I like is persons are at all times afraid of the bike!”
“It is like skydiving, the primary time you do it. It is scary, however you then need to do it once more — it is the identical feeling.”
It is also how individuals again then would have felt, when the idea of the bike itself was nonetheless model new, he stated.
“This gave start to the common bike we now have now. So it is an vital a part of historical past and naturally, it is a huge a part of the historical past of Montreal,” he stated.
Gauthier and Marine say remembering that historical past, and paying homage to it, is a giant a part of why they do what they do.
However Gauthier has one other motive, too. The penny-farthing “sort of disappeared from historical past,” he stated — changed, partially, by the automotive.
Simply the presence of the penny-farthing raises the query of whom Montreal’s streets had been made for, he stated. Gautier factors to the truth that Montreal’s first street map was truly a map for cyclists, and lots of of these routes exist the place bike paths are in the present day.
WATCH | Check out Montreal’s first street map for cyclists:
“Bicycles predated the auto,” he stated. “We must always present those who we used to have our place within the streets — and we should always attempt to acquire it again.”
Particularly within the face of local weather change, he stated he needs to encourage individuals to look to a time earlier than fossil fuels for inspiration.
His hope is to at some point see a bunch using by way of the streets on penny-farthings collectively, like they used to 150 years in the past.
For these parts if they will deal with the bike, Gauthier encourages them to make the leap, saying the penny-farthing has been a “life-changer.”
“It is probably the greatest rides ever,” he stated. “You’re feeling such as you’re flying … simply thoughts that there is not any brakes!”