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How Far Can You Travel on a Penny-Farthing Bicycle?

Thomas Stevens was never one to settle for a quiet life. The London-born Stevens left his family at age 17 and traveled to America. After working a variety of jobs in rough-and-tumble western locales, Stevens moved to San Francisco. It was there that his life took another turn.

Stevens purchased a high-wheeled bicycle, then known as an "ordinary" bicycle but better known today as a "penny-farthing." In 1884, at age 29, he set out to become the first person to circle the globe by bicycle. After traversing 3,700 miles (5,955 km) across America in 103 days – traveling along rutted wagon trails, railroad tracks and more established roads – he began the next leg of his global adventure as a special correspondent for the magazine Outing. Traveling to Liverpool by steamer, he biked across England, made his way to Germany and points east, including Turkey, Iran and India. He finally reached Japan in December 1886. The last entry in his travelogue reads: “DISTANCE WHEELED, ABOUT 13,500 MILES” (which is 21,726 km).


  • His ride was a 50-inch black-enameled Columbia Standard bicycle with nickel-plated wheels, made by the Pope Manufacturing Co. of Chicago. His handlebar bag held extra socks, a spare T-shirt, a raincoat, a bedroll, and a small revolver.

  • Thomas' big-wheel adventures included thwarting a robbery attempt in Turkey, spending the winter in Tehran as a guest of the Shah, and being expelled from Afghanistan because he didn’t have the necessary travel documents.

  • Thomas later accepted a job offer from the New York World newspaper and went looking for explorer Henry Morton Stanley in Africa. He also journeyed to Russia, explored Eastern Europe’s rivers, and sought out mystics in India.

Discussion Comments


Very impressive that Stevens Thomas traveled the world in the 1800s on a bicycle. I'd have trouble riding to San Francisco and that is only 90 miles from where I live.

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    • Between 1884 and 1886, Thomas Stevens completed a round-the-world journey on a penny-farthing (high-wheel) bicycle.
      By: British Library
      Between 1884 and 1886, Thomas Stevens completed a round-the-world journey on a penny-farthing (high-wheel) bicycle.