In the Upper Mississippi River Valley are a couple of 30-foot statues of cyclists on Victorian curiosities called penny-farthings. The vintage bicycle takes its name from old British coins: a penny was bigger than a farthing, so side-by-side they resembled the pedal machines that were coming into fashion in the 1880s.
The statues were made by a local company specializing in fiberglass roadside attractions (animals, fruit, dinosaurs, robots—all sizes, made to order), the first one installed in Sparta, Wisconsin on the Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail. Known as “Ben Bikin,” he’s dressed in yellow knickers and a red cut-away, and Port Byron, Illinois was so taken with him, they ordered one up to highlight their Great River Bike Trail. With a change of outfit to blue and white, the “Will B. Rolling” was christened in 2013.
The cycling statues have since led to the birth of a new local tradition: a 300-mile bike tour that runs trail to trail and penny-farthing to penny-farthing. The Will to Ben Bike Tour runs from October 8th through the 14th, following a route from Port Byron to Sparta, zig-zagging along the upper Mississippi River.
Although they’ve come to represent a certain old-timeyness, penny-farthings were kind of dangerous—and short-lived as a fad. They were soon replaced by new models called “safety bicycles,” which looked a little like modern fixies.
So far there’s been no word on any penny-farthings making their way from Port Byron to Sparta.