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.
Know Before You Go
Port Byron is on the Mississippi River, about 20 miles northeast of Davenport, IA. To see "Will B. Rolling", from I-80 get off at Exit 1 and follow Rt. 84 north for about 3 miles, turn left on Lynn Street, then right on S. Main. You'll see him just on your left.
The "Ben Bikin" statue is in Sparta, about 200 miles north (25 miles east of the Mississippi), along the Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail. For information on the bike tour and to see the routes, check out the website.