The high-wheel bicycle, popular in the 1880s and 1890s, was known as the ‘ordinary’ bicycle, as opposed to the safety bicycle which had two equal-size wheels. Penny-farthing, high-wheel, and ordinary are all commonly used terms to describe a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a significantly smaller rear wheel. This type of bicycle was popular until the development of the safety bicycle in the 1880's. The commonly used descriptive term, "penny-farthing" is derived from the British penny and farthing coins. An important and unfortunate attribute of the penny-farthing is that the rider sits high, and nearly, over the front axle. When the wheel strikes rocks and ruts, or under hard braking, the rider can be pitched forward off the bicycle head-first, called "taking a header" or simply "a header".
The Victor "High-Wheeled" Bicycle, shown in the photograph on the left, was probably made around 1886. This particular bicycle belonged to Guy Varney.Varney opened a bookstore in Manhattan in 1890 and then went to Aggieville in 1908. The present Varney’s Book Store building opened in 1916. There is a story that Guy once rode this bicycle to Chicago.
The first bicycle to be called a "safety" bicycle was designed by the English engineer, Harry John Lawson in 1876. Unlike the "penny-farthing" bicycle, the rider's feet were within reach of the ground making it easier to stop.