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Historic bicycle peddles new passion for learning

Standing proudly in Bob Martin’s family room is the 1.6m high royal blue penny farthing he created thanks to the new skills he learned during a two-week course at TAFE Queensland’s Bracken Ridge campus.

By TAFE Queensland

Robert (Bob) Martin thought his days of learning new tricks were over, but a family holiday to Tasmania has reignited a passion for learning and opened the door on an unusual new hobby.

Standing proudly in Bob’s family room is the 1.6m high royal blue penny farthing he created thanks to the new skills he learned during a two-week course at TAFE Queensland’s Bracken Ridge campus

At 77, Bob was enjoying retirement until he met TAFE Queensland teacher and vintage bicycle-enthusiast Brett Richardson at the National Penny Farthing Championships in Evandale, Tasmania. That simple meeting sparked an interest in the two-wheeled historic bike which quickly became a desire to build his own.

“We had passed through Evandale on previous holidays but had never been there when the championships were on. We thought it sounded interesting so made a point to go back there to see it,” Bob said.

“I got talking to Brett at the event and learned about the course that he taught at TAFE Queensland. He lives and breathes these bikes and he was so passionate and engaging that I thought it sounded like something I might like to have a go at,” he said.

The non-accredited short course enables students to learn how to design and build a vintage penny farthing. So far, nearly 100 of the two-wheeled cycles have been built under the watchful eye of the experienced bicycle mechanic.

Unique rolling machinery is used to shape the steel for the wheels, with every spoke in the huge front wheel cut by hand. Each penny farthing is made-to-measure for the rider, with Bob planning to encourage his son Cameron and grandson Tiernan to ride the historic bike.

“I have proved that I am not too old to learn new tricks but I don’t think I’ll be learning to ride the bike,” Bob said.

The former mechanical and electrical engineer admits that taking the step to enrol at TAFE Queensland was daunting but he quickly realised he was among friends and has a lot of knowledge to share.

“It’s the second time I have been the grandfather in my class. I completed a university degree in my 40s and I was the oldest student then. It was a challenge but I really enjoyed the learning experience and being able to share what I already know,” Bob said.

“I had a fair bit of skill that I wasn’t using any more so it was good to pull that out again and put the thinking cap on,” he said.

Bob said he was most impressed by his whole experience at TAFE Queensland, with state-of-the-art facilities and highly-skilled teaching staff.

“It’s great to walk among the younger people who are there learning too – to be able to share some knowledge and see them excited by learning is a great thing. It is wonderful to be part of and I’d definitely encourage retirees to follow their passions and learn something new,” Bob said.

“I have gained so much already - the door to learning new things is definitely open now,” he said.