21 April 2023

Bob cycles out of the past to brighten Wagga's streets

| Chris Roe
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Bob’s penny-farthing is a blast from the past. Photo: Chris Roe.

Bob Reynolds is a familiar sight on Wagga’s streets and cycle paths, peddling his way around Lake Albert on his ‘penny-farthing’ bicycle.

The retired farmer can be seen most days, perched high in the saddle astride the enormous front wheel of his machine, like Banjo Patterson’s Mulga Bill, heading to and from his favourite coffee shop, the Mock Orange.

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“It does tend to attract attention, which can be good and bad,” says Bob with an enthusiastic laugh.

“The kids are always calling out for me to do a wheelie, which of course you can’t do!”


Bob Reynolds regularly cycles from his home in Tatton to the Mock Orange Cafe in Lake Albert. Photo: Chris Roe.

While Mulga Bill’s cycling career came to a sorry end in Dead Man’s Creek, Bob says he’s sticking with the ‘cycling craze’ that he took up after selling his Book Book property and moving into town.

“I used to ride a push-bike out on the farm occasionally and I used to do a fair few k’s up and down the Tumbarumba road,” he says.

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“I’d always wondered what it would be like to ride one of these old ones and I came across them on the internet and I thought, I’ll get one of those and if I enjoy it, I’ll keep riding, if I don’t, I’ll just stick it on eBay or something.”

But from the moment he got rolling on the high wheel, Bob was hooked.

“They’re just so much more fun than a normal bike!” he says with another laugh.

Mulga Bill

The Banjo Patterson poem Mulga Bill’s Bicycle was immortalised in a 2014 Australian stamp. Photo: Supplied.

The iconic penny-farthing or ‘high wheeler’ dates back to the late 19th century and became popular due to the high speeds that can be generated by the large circumference of the front wheel.

When gears and chains made it possible to achieve similar speeds with smaller, matching wheels, the ‘safety bicycles’ replaced their more precarious predecessor.

Bob says the lack of gears and the bike’s fixed pedals do present a unique challenge.

“Because they are fixed in place on the wheel, they’re going all the time, even when you’re going downhill you’ve got to keep pedalling,” he explains.

“You can take your feet off if it gets too fast, but once you get up to about 20 kilometres an hour, it’s very hard to get your feet back on those pedals!

“Once you’re on it, you’re locked in and if you start to go over the front, you can’t get off, the only way off is back.”

Bob says he’s only stacked it a few times, with the most common incidents occurring while getting on and off.

“You’ve got to get it moving and it picks up its stability then and you can get on and pedal.

“If it’s a level going or downhill it’s all fairly easy, but it’s a bit of a challenge going up a hill.”


The high-wheeled penny-farthing presents some unique challenges. Photo: Chris Roe.

Despite years of high wheeling around the lake, Bob says he hasn’t attracted a nickname that he’s aware of.

“I think they used to call me ‘Origami Bob’ because I would make things out of paper and leave them in the cafe, but everyone just knows me as Bob or Bobby,” he says.

“I just love riding this bike and while ever it keeps working nicely, I’ll stick to it.”

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