Introduction: Antique Bicycle
Picture yourself riding one of these, and you will be the talk of the town.
Here I'll show you how to build your own antique bike like the Ordinary Bicycle,
also called a Penny-Farthing -- common in the 1880s which became an
iconic symbol for transportation history.
With an old bike, a few tools and materials, and some patience, you can
build this bike and bring history to your front door.
Although replicas and originals can cost thousands of dollars, yours does not have to!
I'll also teach you how to ride it!
So get your tools out, find an old bike, and let's get started!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
old bike with 26" rims
16" front wheel w/ tire from a child's bike
1" OD steel tube x 6'
1" wide x 1/4" thick steel plate
1 1/2" wide x 23" long x 1/4" thick steel plate
5/8" OD steel tube
6 lbs 3/32" #308 stainless steel welding rods
2 pillow block ball bearings (shaft size determined by hub)
1" OD solid rubber tire
1/8" solid galvanized steel wire x 16'
Craftsman MIG Welder with Cart (wish I had it)
Craftsman 10" Compound Miter Saw (w/ metal cutting blade)
Craftsman 6" Bench Grinder
Craftsman 5" Bench Vise
Craftsman Wrench Set
Kobalt 27/64" drill bit, 1/2"-13 NC Tap, and 1/2" - 13 NC Die
Threading die 2-56
drill set for metal
Spray Rust Oleum metal primer and paint
misc: pipe clamps, vise grips
Step 2: Grinding the Spokes
Make the spokes out of 36" long stainless steel welding rods (3/32" diameter, #308).
They are sold by the pound so buy 6 pounds which will be about 84 rods.
You will need 72 rods for a 48" rim and so 6 pounds will also provide a few extras.
The idea is to grind down the tips of each rod to a size which can be
threaded to accept standard bike rim nipples.
My welding rods had a stamping on the ends so I gang cut the ends off
using a 10" Compound Miter Saw with a 10" metal cutting blade.
Using the bench grinder, grind down the tip end (about 1" in legth) so as to end up
with a diameter of about 2mm for the entire 1" tip.
Be sure to grind evenly all around the tip end so as to maintain a cylindrical shape.
Do this by constantly turning the spoke around in your fingertips and moving
it up and down as you grind.
You will frequently want to take a measure of your progress since too much grinding
will result in too small a diameter for the threads.
The best way I found in measuring this is to drill a 2mm hole (or whichever size your
nipples require) on a piece of plastic.
Keep grinding until you are just able to insert 1" of the grinded end of the spoke through
the hole in the plastic.
If you grind too deep, cut that piece off and start over.
A digital caliper may come in handy and always wear safety goggles when grinding!
Step 3: Threading the Spokes
You will know you have the right diameter as you begin to thread the rod using a #2-56 die.
This die provides a pitch of 56 TPI (threads per inch) which is standard in bike nipples.
Clamp the rod onto a vise so it is held steady while threading.
Use cutting oil on the die so it does not overheat and lose its sharpness. Thread slowly.
More grinding will be needed if you can't get the die to either start the thread
or threading requires so much force that it does not progress well.
You will have grinded too far if the threading is really easy and running your fingernail
over the threads feels somewhat smooth.
It takes practice and lots of patience but the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Ultimately, you want to test your threads by screwing the nipple onto it.
The nipple should accept the threading well as you finger tighten it.
Now is a good time to take apart the wheels off the old bike and
recover 72 nipples (36 in each) off of them.
Having done that, now repeat grinding and threading 71 more times!
Have patience. You will end up with 72 threaded spokes eager to be cut to length
(but don't cut them just yet).
When you install the spokes on your big wheel, you will use a spoke wrench
to do the tightening.
You can readily get a spoke wrench at bike shops. Get the kind that works with
different size nipples, just in case your nipples are not a standard size.
An easier and faster way to thread your spokes is to use a "spoke threader".
It will roll vs. cut the metal so it produces a superior thread, however it's an expensive
Lastly, it's important you do a quality job with the threads.
The front wheel will only be as good as its spokes and you don't want it
to fail when you're on top on one of these!
Typically, these bikes used 60 spokes, so I figure yours will be 20% stronger.
Step 4: Straightening the Rims
To make the rim, start with 2 26" rims off of your old bike.
Cut each one with your 10" Circular Saw using a 10" metal cutting blade.
You want to make the cut between any 2 nipple holes.
I chose to cut near the air valve hole.
Using a vise, progressively straighten each rim to form a semi-circle.
I cut 2 wooden blocks and sandwiched the rim in between so as to not
crimp or damage the rim as I straightented it.
I built a wooden frame to help me test for curvature.
As I straightened each rim, I would place it over the wooden frame and then
went back to straightening some more.
As the rim approaces a perfect semi-circle, you can also stand on top of the rim and bend/straighten slightly since the rims have a slight tendency to revert back to their old shape.
26" bike rims typically have 36 spokes which means there will be
36 holes on each rim.
Next, we will join the 2 rims to form 1 large rim.
Step 5: Welding the Rim
Having straightened each rim to a semi-circle, you will then weld them together
using a TIG or MIG welder.
A TIG welder is expensive and welding requires skill.
Luckily for me, my friend Max is an expert welder and so I just helped in holding
things in place. I sure I wish I had one of these of my own, like the
Craftsman MIG Welder with Cart. :-)
When welded, the rim will then have 72 holes which dictates having 72 spokes.
My welded rim measured approximately 48" in diameter...
I guess 26" rims are really smaller than 26".
As a guide, I measure 5'6" and the 48" rim reaches up to the bottom of my sternum.
When the pedals are at their farthest while riding, I can just reach them with the tip of my shoes.
In other words, if you are shorter than me, consider making your rim a little smaller
and using fewer spokes as needed.
If your rim is oval, use pipe clamps or the like to make them as round as possible.
Next, you will prepare the hub.
Step 6: Preparing the Hub
The hub (believe it came from a tricycle) I bought was neither the right size nor did it have 72 holes.
So, I cut it in half using my Craftsman 10" Compound Miter Saw with a 10" metal cutting blade.
I also cut a 5" length piece of steel tube which accepted the inside shaft of the hub.
I TIG welded the tube onto the inside shaft of the hub.
I proceeded to drilling 3/32" holes on each face of the hub so as to have a total of 72 holes.
36 holes on each face. The idea is to have the 36 holes equally spaced apart all around
the circumference of each face.
This was a challenge for me since my hub's face had 14 holes as you can see.
On each face, I drilled a hole between existing holes, giving me 28 on each.
The missing 8 holes (for a total of 36) on each face were drilled further in from the edge equally spaced apart from each other. Also, these holes needed to be radially in between any existing
holes since the spokes cannot overlap each other as they come out of the hub.
As a result, I have 8*2 =16 spokes slightly longer than the rest.
Don't cut the spokes to length until it's time since you can cut to lenght as you start
spoking the wheel, which is the next step.
Step 7: Finishing the Spokes
Before spoking the wheel, I first calculated the approximate length of a spoke using the
Pythagorean Theorem. This is not a math lesson so if you are not sure, you can also
use a spoke calculator.
For my 48" diameter rim, 5" wide hub, and holes at about 2 3/4" apart across the
diameter, my spokes ended up being 22" long.
However, to this length, you need to add an additional 1/4" for a total of 22 1/4",
as I'll explain below.
Cut 8 spokes to this length to start off with.
Now hold a spoke on the vise tight by the end you just cut so only 1/4" protrudes.
Hammer sideways but gently on the tip so as to bend the tip to a full 90 degrees.
While still on the vise, now flatten the bent tip by hammering it against the top of the vise.
This way, when you insert the threaded end of the spoke
through a hole on the hub and slide it all the way through, the flattened tip end
will not allow the spoke to slip out of the hole. See closeup picture.
You can also use vise grips instead to hold the spoke in place when hammering.
Step 8: Spoking the Wheel
I laced my wheel radially (no crossover) as I find that style most aesthetic and easiest to do.
Insert the threaded end of the spoke into a hole from the outside of the hub towards
the insdide. Slide the spoke all the way to the bend on the other end and wiggle it
so as to bring it around towards the rim. Choose a hole on the rim and bring the threaded
end through. Now thread a nipple onto it.
Doing the same, spoke 4 at 90 degrees on one face and another 4 on the other face.
See the picture.
This should give you an idea if your length calculations were good.
If too long, adjust accordingly. If too short, set them aside and try again with a few more.
When the spokes are tensioned, it's possible the short spokes were just right.
You can continue to cut, bend, and flatten each spoke as you insert them into position.
Use common sense. Adjacent spokes stemming from the same face of the hub will
skip a hole in the rim since spokes alternate faces as they come out of the rim.
Spoking this big wheel is no different than a standard wheel so look for other instructables that explain the process if you need more help.
When all 72 spokes are in, start tightening each so as to give the wheel its rigidity.
The next step is about making the wheel perfectly round and rigid, called truing the wheel.
Step 9: Truing the Wheel
I built a truing stand out of 2x4's to help me true the wheel. See picture.
Slide the pillow-block ball bearings on the shaft and drill holes at the ends
of the 2x4 to accept bolts.
Now you simply tighten and loosen nipples until the wheel does not wobble
as it turns. More than anything, you will need patience in this step.
Next, we will finish the wheel by adding its ball bearings, cranks, and pedals!
Step 10: Ball Bearings, Cranks, and Pedals
I bought 2 pillow block ball bearings from bearingsdirect.com to fit the outside shaft of my hub.
The outside shaft measured 17mm in diameter, so a pillow block bearing with a 17mm
core shaft worked perfect.
You simply slide each pillow-block ball bearing to the outside shaft of the hub and
tighten the adjusting screw so it does not slip off.
I used a tap and die set for the cranks and pedals.
My cranks and pedals are from the old bike. Just cut them off at the bend to the shaft.
I used a 27/64" drill bit to drill a hole on the crank and tapped it to 1/2" with 1/2" - 13 NC Tap
I then threaded the outside shaft of my hub with a 1/2" - 13 NC Die to accept the cranks.
I gave the cranks a few turns onto the shaft of the hub and securely placed them at
180 degrees from each other and then welded them permanently.
Step 11: Tiring the Wheel
Pneumatic tires had not been invented during the era of the Penny-Farthing
and I think they are still not available in this size!
So, to add authenticity, you use a solid rubber hose for the tire instead.
The tire measures 1" OD (outside diameter) and has a 3/16" hole down the middle.
You want to cut your tire about 4" longer than the circumference of your rim.
You then measure and cut 1/8" (14 gauge) galvanized solid steel wire to 4 feet longer than the circumference of your rim. Apply a lubricant on the inside of the tire and
insert the wire through. Try to keep the wire straight and roundover the end of the wire to make inserting easier. You may have to use pliers to help it along as the resistance becomes greater as you insert it. 15 ft. of wire is plenty as you need some extra grab the wire by the ends while tensioning it.
With the wire tight and the ends of the tire 3" apart, you want to sand off the galvanized
layer and braze opposite ends of the wire with silver solder.
The tire should then close up to form a seam.
There are several ways you can apply tension on the wire. The easiest I have found is by use of a homemade tensioner.
The homemade tensioner as you will see is the key to making the job easy.
It has 2 bottom bolts which when tightened, will sandwich the wire and hold
it's tension. The top big bolt, when turned clockwise will raise and pull the wire, thus applying tension. Use clamps to hold the wire ends.
It measures 3 inches across and has a window opening for brazing.
You can get the rollers from Home Depot or Lowes and are the rollers found in sliding glass patio doors.
This completes the wheel. Congratulations.
Step 12: The Backbone
To have a better understanding of how the bike comes together, I drew
the bike full-scale on paper after having looked at pictures of originals.
I laid the wheel over the paper and sketched it.
I then drew the backbone, which starts at the top of the wheel and follows it
as 1/4 arc. It then goes off at a tangent to start a small fork for the rear wheel.
The rear wheel came off a child's 16" bike so if you have this at hand
you can place it on the paper and sketch it for a better idea of what's to come.
The fork for the big wheel comes from the old bike.
Cutting it as in the picture, you can then place it on the paper and sketch it.
You should now have a good idea for what the backbone will look like.
I used a 1" steel tube about 6 feet long. To bend/roll it, use a "tubing roller" since
it makes the job very easy. You want an extra 2 feet in length to make
the bending/rolling easier.
You want to roll the backbone gradually and compare with your drawing
as you go. Once you achieve the curvature you want, trim it to length.
It's exact length depends on a few things so here you want to be your own judge.
Step 13: The Rear Fork
The rear fork is mainly a 5/8" tube bent in the form of a U.
However, to accept the rear wheel, you can reuse the tips
off of your old bike's front fork. Cut those off and weld them
onto your rear fork at opposite ends.
The total length of the tube you need depends on how large
a rear wheel you want to use and the length of the tips.
I'm using a 16" pneumatic tire and my tips are each 3 1/2" long and
the tube measures 16" for a total length of 23" end to end.
At this point, you can cut a round groove at the low end of
the backbone to accept the rear fork.
Bend and slide the rear fork onto this groove and weld in place.
Next, is the front fork.
Step 14: The Front Fork
I cut off my old bike's top tube completely and grinded it down to remove all sharp edges.
I cut the down tube 2" away from the headset where it is then welded permanently to
the backbone. These 2 tubes cut off of the old bike are reused to extend the front fork.
Their exact length is something you will need to determine as you slide each over the old
fork and place it over the pillow block ball bearings.
To the ends of each of these 2 tubes, you will weld a small steel plate about
1" wide x 3 1/2" long x 1/4" thick.
Drill 2 holes on the steel plate to align perfectly with the mounting holes on the ball bearing.
You will use 2 bolts, 2 nuts, and 2 washers to hold the pillow-block ball bearing to the plate
which is welded to the fork extension tubes. In turn, each fork extension tube is welded
to the old bike's fork. Weld the extension tube to the fork last as you hold it in place
for a perfect fit.
The handlebars are next.
Step 15: The Handlebars
The handlebars are from the old bike. One popular style used for the handlebars
was the mustache shaped handlebars. All that is needed to achieve this is a little
The ends of the handlebars can be left as is or you can make D shaped handles
by way of bending a 1/2" diameter tube and attaching a wooden dowel as I did.
I attached each of mine with 2 long screws. The D shaped end is then welded on after cutting
a notch on the end of the handlebar to accept it.
The saddle (seat) is next.
Step 16: The Saddle
The saddle (seat) itself comes from (you guessed it) the old bike.
Some suspension is provided by a steel bracket under the seat which will flex
when you sit down. I used a steel plate 1 1/2" wide x 1/8" thick x 23" long.
However, I recommend 1/4" thickness instead since mine did flex more
than I anticipated and did not retain its original shape as well.
Bend it in the form of a J and notch off a semi-circle from the long end to accept the
curvature of the headset. Weld the long semi-circle notched end to the headset
and the short end to the top of the backbone.
The idea is to give a springy support for the seat.
About 10" from the headset on the seat support steel plate,
weld a steel rod/tube (perhpaps off of the old bike) that will accept the seat of
which you can tighten in place. This way you can replace the seat with
any other that uses the same standard.
The mounting step is next.
Step 17: The Mounting Step
The trick to mounting and dismouting the Ordinary Bicycle is the mounting step.
It's just a small steel plate welded onto the left side of the backbone for your
left foot to rest on during mounting/dismounting.
How high up on the backbone is a matter of preference,
but as a guide, you rougly want it to be about as high as the center of the hub on the big wheel.
So with a 48" wheel, the center of the hub stands around 24" high.
It should be low enough for you to be able to place your
left foot over it and hop on and yet high enough that you can swing back
your left foot while riding and blindly find the step when dismounting.
Cut a 3" long x 1" wide x 1/4" thick steel plate using your 10" Miter Saw.
One end of the plate needs to be notched to a semi-circle as it will be welded to
the left side of the backbone. The other end just needs grinding at the corners
and be made smooth. You don't want to scrape your leg against it.
The picture shows the bike already painted but when welding the step, as in all welds,
the metal should be sanded down and clean.
Now all that remains is a paint job.
Step 18: Painting
Remove your bike's front and rear wheels and saddle.
Mask any parts of the handlebars you don't want painted.
Use Rust Oleum metal primer by applying 3 thin coats waiting 15 minutes in between coats.
Use metal enamel of your chosen color in thin coats as well.
Let it cure 24 hours and you are ready to ride.
Step 19: Riding
Riding an Ordinary Bicycle is a most exhilarating experience!
You stand only 2 feet above the ground but boy oh boy do you feel tall!
At a minimum, you want to use a bike helmet. I also use shin-guards,
knee pads, and elbow pads. Bottom line, treat the bike with respect
and don't be foolish.
In learning to ride it, I recommend you take a step-wise approach.
First stand behind the bike, grab the handlebars, and place your left foot on
the mounting step.
Now with your right foot scoot along. As you scoot and begin to gain
momentum, try and lift yourself up by pulling on the handlebars
and straightening your left knee. You will need to bounce off of your right
foot as you go up. Now just maintain your balance and ride out the
momentum for a few seconds and come back down on your right foot
before the bike slows down too much.
You want to go straight as you scoot since the wheel may not let you turn
to the right as it may scrape along your left foot.
Practice this for half an hour. Who needs a stair master when you have a Penny!
As you gain confidence, the next step is to bring your torso forward
and actually sit down. Don't take your foot off the step!
Then immediately come back off the seat and come back down.
Next, climb up, sit down, and take your left foot off the mouting step
and immediately bring your left foot back onto the step, get off the seat,
and come back down. Think what you will be doing before doing so, so
you don't hesitate. You are almost there!
You can do this a few more times and get a sense of when the right foot
has it's first chance to step on the pedal -- which is all that remains.
As soon as you get your feet on the pedals, you can keep the bike moving
and you should not fall. To prepare for the dismount, get the bike going good
so you have a little extra time to find the dismount step with your left foot.
Turning is next. Give yourself plenty of room and go easy.
One thing I have still to add to my bike (and instructable) is brakes!
I think learning to dismount is far more important than brakes since you can
brake all you want but if you can't dismount, you're in trouble.
Lastly, it's a fun ride -- literally a time machine!
Go for it and stay on top!
Finalist in the
Craftsman Tools Contest
Second Prize in the
Question 3 months ago on Introduction
Well , I hope you see this. Did you have any issues with the pillow blocks as in the bearings rotating on you? I was concerned about them rotating when you put torque on the crank or in a turn. Thanks, great build!
Question 4 years ago on Step 11
Where can I buy the rubber for the wheels.
Answer 2 years ago
It possibly could be spear gun rubber......its exactly the size with a hole in the middle, it could work
12 years ago on Introduction
First off, nice job.
I do have to ask, what is the gear ration like on that monster? I know that you aren't going to pedal up huge hills. Is it like a one speed beach bike? And how hard is it to brake?
Reply 12 years ago on Introduction
The pedals and cranks are directly connected to the front wheel, making is so that there is no gear ratio. You could adjust the difficulty of pedaling it by making the cranks longer - larger cranks = more leverage. The larger wheel size should make it a little harder to pedal than a more "normal" 26", 27", or 700c wheel, as one full rotation of the wheel is covering a larger distance on this bicycle (also referred to as a Penny-Farthing).
(to the author) Excellent instructable ... a few of my friends have been talking about making one of these for some time. You did some novel things in building up the wheel that you don't frequently see. I am hoping that I can talk some guys from the shop into making a few of these for some summer group rides that we have planned.
Reply 3 years ago
The big wheel makes it a LOT harder to pedal, and also a lot faster; a 26"-wheel bike with direct axle drive would have a gear inch of 26, a hill-climbing gear. That was the whole reason for high-wheel bikes - they hadn't invented chain drive yet, and hence only had the direct axle drive, but wanted to go faster than a small wheel would let them.
Reply 12 years ago on Introduction
Thanks Calorie and gemils. If you go slow, the pedaling is very easy and comfortable. It makes for a wonderful leisurely ride and I plan on keeping it at that.
I read that it was because of the pneumatic tire that the Ordinary Bike became obsolete since one could now have an equally smooth ride with a smaller wheel.
You feel the resistance in your legs at the slightest incline and if you are not planning to dismount then, you better keep it moving. I have not put brakes on it, instead I try to think ahead and dismount while still moving. It only takes 3 seconds to do so. There is also an emergency dismount technique I still need to try. Check out the dismount technique by Passepartout (Cantinflas) in "Around the World in 80 Days" I wonder if that approach was intentional for humor. If you look closely, he's really struggling in the dismount :-) I'll be re-tiring my bike soon and if all goes well, I'll be riding it at a parade (King Mango Strut) a day after Christmas. Sure would like to see pictures of any Penny's you make. Little did we realize, there's a Penny in every bike waiting to be born. Say, voting is open for the contest. Vote for me! Thanks.
Reply 4 years ago
Pneumatic tires for Pf bikes are possible. I’m not sure how but I bet some kind of thick hose could’ve banded internally, with a section slid into place and vulvanized to cover the gap, and to host the valve stem.
If you use 36” unicycle wheels, plenty of tires and tubes exist , and cranks.
Reply 3 years ago
The gear inch is exactly the size of the front wheel; that's where the gear inch standard came from. So this bike will be about a 50-inch gear (after you add the tire thickness to the 48" rim). I always wondered why the gear-inch number left out the pi factor that would tell you how many inches you'd travel in one pedal revolution, i.e. [pi*diameter*chain gain] vs the [diameter*chain gain] that we use, and the high-wheel heritage is the reason.
Question 3 years ago on Step 11
Thank you for putting this out! I have a penny farthing and am looking to replace the front tire. I would love to make this tire tensioner, but the download does not seem to be in a usable format. Is there any chance that it might be able to be downloaded from a different location or in a different format?
Question 3 years ago
Where can I get that size of rubber hose / tube I can't seem to find any
4 years ago on Step 6
Check out AtomicZombie bike building website. The readers fabricate nearly everything.
11 years ago on Introduction
Built another Penny. Used a steel C-channel for the rim and rolled it.
It's on sale at craigslist
Reply 5 years ago
Hi Carlitos, would you install the tire for my penny farthing? I will pay you, where are you located?
Reply 11 years ago on Introduction
Awesome instructions. I'm working on one right now. I was curious about the method you used for the c channel rolling. Did you use a machine like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke78PPtisF4&feature=related or like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjjIu9UdQmQ. My schools shop I think only has the first one. I assume that both machine can do the same thing. I also was thinking I could bend straight the old wheel rims and then turn it on the rig and get a bit better a shape than trying to do it by hand. Probably would be better to go with new straight channel but I figured I have the wheels all ready, so I could try that. Anyway. fantastic.
Reply 11 years ago on Introduction
Thanks. I used the one from harbor freight with dies for straight stock. Your school's should work well too. I rolled an extra 6" and let it hang out the sides as the ends crossed and then cut it at the marks I made for a precise radius.
I used 1"x1/2" C-channel. You'll get a truer wheel. Also discovered stranded steel wire works better (stronger) than solid.. once I figured out a trick to welding the ends even though I"ve read it can't be done.
9 years ago on Introduction
Beautiful bike! Thank you for posting it an taking all these questions. What is the wall thickness of the C channel you use? Do you bevel the inside edges or splay them out to fit the tire?
Reply 9 years ago on Introduction
1/8" thickness. I did not bevel the edges as it was not necessary. It measures 1" across with 1/2" sides so the opening is 3/4"and a well tensioned 1" tire stays snug.
Reply 8 years ago
So the C channel is 1/8" thickness, and 1"size?
I Wanna know this, cuz I'll go to a bending and rolling workshop. So I need to know which kind of Channel ask for make my 47" inch front rim.
8 years ago on Step 2
How many rods will I need for a 40" rim?