Dear Friends,

Imagine the reaction you’d get if people saw you perched on the top of a penny-farthing bicycle.

A penny-what you may ask? A bicycle based on traditional designs of the 19th century with a higher wheel much higher and larger than the other one. Czech artisan Zdenek Mesicek is one of the last artisans in the world mastering this savoir-faire. Allowing his clients to decide on the customization of each component, color, size, and material makes each penny-farthing unique.
Delivering himself the contemporary-vintage bicycles from the Czech Republic to the M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva is a long 18-hour drive for Zdenek, but even so, on arrival he excuses himself before even saying hi. “We are a bit late because it was raining,” he says. “And we wanted to visit the south of Switzerland, it’s so pretty!”

It is close to midnight and I am just about to discover for the first time our penny-farthing. Zdenek insists on installing the 52” high penny-farthing inside the gallery. Although it is dark outside, the obscurity doesn’t alter the brightness of the red rubber chosen for the tires nor the cherry wood on the grips. 89 color shades were available for the backbone; we settled on a dark brown matching the saddle to let the 8” crank gear and tetragonal pedals stand out in their natural color: steel. The result is flabbergasting.

The frame of each-penny-farthing is made upon the size and weight of the client. Zdenek not only thought of a new pedal system adjusting the distance from the pedal to the wheel, but he conceptualized then created it, re-inventing himself the whole mechanism.

All the material he uses to create each penny-farthing is carefully selected. From the screw he hand polishes to the raw or natural material he selects, his attention to detail is amazing. For example, he explains that out of 10 pieces of leather he receives to make a saddle only 5 pieces are perfect, 3 pieces are good and 2 pieces are barely usable. It requires Mesicek to work on the leather by plunging it for a certain amount of time into a bath full of water at a specific temperature to obtain the exact color shade and elasticity he wants.

Yes, such a level of craftsmanship still exists. Yet Mesicek himself doesn’t realize how exclusive his penny-farthings are.

When penny-farthings first emerged in the 1870s, they were seen as an improvement on forerunners. Less than 15 years later, the bicycle chain was invented which resulted in a technical revolution that somehow killed the use and production of penny-farthings.

In the 1980s under the communist regime, in what was then Czechoslovakia, personal liberties were very restricted. Sport was one thing people were allowed to do. In Kyjov, there was a local cycling club, with only 2 bikes provided by the government. Zdenek’s father, Josef saw his antique penny-farthing as an opportunity to increase the club’s bike collection by one. He took the high-wheeler apart and successfully rebuilt it. One bike wasn’t enough for the club members, so he decided to create all by hand another. And then another up until high bicycles went from being a casual hobby to an extreme passion. A passion Josef passed on to his son Zdenek.

Every component is hand-fashioned to his very exacting standards. Nothing is rushed. For Zdenek, Mesicek bicycles reflect the design principles of the early high bicycle.

“We have absolute respect for tradition in terms of design and materials,” he says.

The Mesiceks’ visit doesn’t last long though. Within 48 hours they are back on the road, leaving behind a slice of the 19th century in 21st century Geneva.

I encourage you to come to the M.A.D. Gallery and experience for yourself the wonder that is Mesicek penny-farthings.

With my very best regards as ever,
Eleonor Picciotto
Public Relations
Saddle Close-up
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Close-up on the mechanism
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Mesicek in his garage
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Mesicek's garage
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Wheels diameters
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Bikes and more bikes
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