British cyclist Jonathan Summerfield has ridden round the world on a handmade penny farthing.
The 40-year-old, known as Joff, visited 23 countries in four continents on his 21,976-mile (35,367km) journey. He believes he is only the second man to circumnavigate the globe on a penny farthing – the first being fellow Briton Thomas Stevens in 1887.
Joff was mugged, hit by two lorries and had to share a campsite with crocodiles on his solo two-and-a-half year journey. But he saw some of the world’s most famous sights, including India’s Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex and the Grand Canyon in the US.
The former Formula 1 engineer from Essex rode a ‘Summerfield Mk-4’ – a replica of a Victorian penny farthing that he built himself from 4130 chromoly tubing. It has a 127cm front wheel and 16in rear, both with solid rubber tyres, just one fixed gear, a hard leather saddle and a small brake.
It’s nigh on impossible to find a tyre big enough for a penny farthing, so Joff improvised using three Greentyre Sprints. These are made of microcellular polyurethane and have nylon threads running through them, making it easier to rejoin them. Joff sewed and glued two together to use on the front and cut one in half to use on the rear. Rather than carrying spares, he retreaded the Sprints by cutting standard bike tyres in half, removing the sidewalls and gluing them on.
He carried just a change of clothes, stove, tent and sleeping bag, strapped water bottles to his handlebars and survived on a £5 a day.
Two previous attempts had been dogged by injury so when Joff set off from the Greenwich Observatory on 1 May, 2006 he was determined to succeed.
Averaging 11mph and covering up to 40 miles a day, he cycled across Europe into Turkey. From there he planned to ride into Iran but exhaustion forced him to abandon that plan and fly to Australia instead. There he raced in the Penny Farthing World Championships, before heading on to New Zealand, from where he flew to China via Hong Kong.
Joff cycled through China and managed to sneak across the border into Tibet. He then took in India and Nepal, including Everest base camp. His route then took him through south-east Asia, the US and Canada before heading back to England.
After arriving at Greenwich Market in south-east London on Sunday, Joff told the Daily Telegraph: “I can’t believe I’ve actually finished the trip. It’s amazing to be back. It wasn’t comfortable on the bike at all but you get used to it. You have good days and bad days but in the end it was water off a duck’s back for me.
“For me the bike sums up a great period of adventure – a time of real exploration, of journeys without maps.”
Joff said his favourite part of the tour had been cycling through Tibet. He told Metro: “It was so hard to travel there. There’s no tarmac on the roads. There’s no air to breathe. In the villages, they aren’t used to Westerners, they think you are an alien. But the people were great – super, super friendly.”
Joff decided to undertake the trip after he became disillusioned with the motor racing industry and opened a stall in Greenwich Market, where he made friends with people from all over the world.