17 September 1999



Bicycles are more than just

a means of getting from A

to B for one retired Devon

farmer. They have been his

hobby for 35 years, as

Tim Relf finds out

UNLESS you are a coin collector – or old enough to remember the days before 1960 – it is not that obvious why the penny-farthing bicycle got its name.

It comes from the big front wheel and the small back one which resemble a penny and a farthing beside each other.

Philip Jenkinson explains this walking among his nearly 100-strong collection of bicycles, of which an 1875 penny farthing is just one.

Here also are police bikes, military bikes, kiddies bikes, tricycles, tandems, bicycles with sidecars, bicycles with two steering mechanisms, even a Swiss folding mountain bike. Just about everything, in fact, from a late 1860s "Boneshaker" with wooden wheels and solid tyres to a modern Taiwanese bike.

There is even a Raleigh Chopper. With its high handlebars, gearstick and long seat – ideal for "backies" – it is a make etched indelibly in the mind of just about every 30-something in the country. "It was time we put one of those in the collection," says Philip.

"I went to Norfolk and back in a day to get that one," he says, uncovering a 1894 Crypto, one of the last of the front pedal machines. "Information received," he says, when asked how he heard about it. It is in this way – word of mouth or a tip-off – that most deals are done. "We cant compete with the antique people."

He walks through a sea of bicycles to what he calls the spares department. Then into the workshop. "I come out here in the winter and at night time and play for hours. I play around with other peoples rubbish. It costs us nothing and is a lot of fun.

"It is a shame to see them destroyed or not looked after properly," says Philip.

Agricultural show-goers in the West Country may well have seen Philip and his collection. With their bicycle-related memorabilia he and his wife, Jean, also visit, among other places, schools and Womens Institutes.

His favourite is a Rudge Rotary Tricycle, dating back to about 1880, a bizarre looking contraption by todays standards. Bicycles did not really change, though, from the 1880s until the 1960s when the small wheel arrived, he says. Needless to say, there is at least one 1960s small-wheeled Moulton in the barn.

There is an 1891 tandem, too, on which the lady sat at the front, but – because in those days she was not deemed capable of steering – the man controlled the direction from the back.

It is a little piece of history preserved. A glimpse of the past. And, if nothing else, Philips grandchildren will never go short of something to ride around the yard.

See more