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Issue No. 413 May 2017

Saddle up!

Senior Constable Bruce Dow shows Commissioner Mike Bush how it’s done.

Getting on can be daunting, but once you’re up it’s as easy as, well, riding a bike.

Commissioner Mike Bush continued a tradition last month when he visited Senior Constable Bruce Dow and the ordinary cycle – the official name for a penny-farthing – at Oamaru Police Station.

Commissioner Bush is the fourth Commissioner to visit Bruce and the bike. Like most of his predecessors, he opted to keep his feet on terra firma and let Bruce demonstrate how it’s done atop the 54-inch wheel.

Bruce calls the penny-farthing “a bit of a mongrel bike – interesting to look at and interesting to ride”.

To get going, the rider scoots along until they can push themselves up, using a peg at the rear of the cycle.

Having no brakes is one of the things that makes it interesting. Stopping means climbing down and scooting to a halt. Stopping suddenly probably means falling off.

“I’ve been over the front twice,” says Bruce. “Not a good experience. You have plenty of time to think about it.”

Southern District Commander Paul Basham gives it a go.
Photos: Rachel Wybrow Photography

Bruce has been interested in the cycles for around 30 years and is a member of the Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club (OOCC), which loaned the penny-farthing for the occasion.

Usually he restricts outings to trips around town but once made a 60km Omarama-Twizel return trip. “My backside needed a bit of rest but it was a good ride,” he says.

“Cars are very respectful. They go right to the other side of the road when they pass you, with cameras out of the window. With a normal bike they practically shave your legs.”

While many club members don appropriate Victorian-style gear, he says he prefers the modern comfort of Lycra.

Ordinary cycles were made between 1880 and the advent of gears in 1895. In penny-farthings the only hint of gearing came from the different wheel sizes, between 48 and 56 inches.

The cycle pictured is not an original: for some years they have been made locally by OOCC enthusiasts. Even so, one could set a buyer back thousands of dollars.

For Commissioner Bush‘s visit, Bruce added to the old-school vibe by wearing the black uniform he received on joining Police in 1973. “It still fits. That’s not bad, is it?”

This is a story from Beyond the Blue, a project to highlight the diversity of ways Police staff spend their time away from work.

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