A 48-year-old man left unable to drive because of his dyslexia has developed an obsession with vintage bicycles and uses a PENNY FARTHING to get around.
Robert Steadman’s severe form of the learning disorder prevents him from being able to read or write and therefore unable to learn to drive.
As a result 48-year-old Robert, who is also autistic, has developed an obsession for cycling and boasts a collection of more than 30 vintage bikes.
His favourite is the custom-built Penny Farthing seven years ago after spending 12 months saving up for it.
Robert has become well known in his hometown of Alford, Lincolnshire, thanks to his unique Gene Wilder-inspired dress sense and ability to ride the Penny Farthing.
Clips of Robert Steadman, 48, riding his two metres long, six stone, giant-wheeled bicycle have racked up more than three million views on TikTok.
But during lockdown, he stepped it up a gear and would ride past care homes to wave at residents to try to spread some much-needed cheer.
And when his neighbour and long-time friend Tess Turner started uploading videos of his skills to the internet, he became an overnight sensation.
He boats more than 80,000 followers on video-sharing social media site TikTok and has a large following on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook too.
Robert said: “With my learning difficulties, it would’ve have been possible for me to learn to drive, so I always cycled everywhere.
“I was cycling before it was cool, it was my main transport. Everyone wants to start cycling now, I must have set the trend.
“I started to love bikes and I began my collection of old racer bikes, but when I saw a Penny Farthing, I wanted one instantly.
“I didn’t even know what it was when I saw a picture of one, I just knew I wanted to ride one.”
Robert spent six months learning to ride the high-wheeled cycle, which peaked in popularity in the 1880s.
He set off an on a 200-mile journey around Lincolnshire to break the bike in and get used to riding it.
And once he mastered the art, he became a local celebrity, thanks in no small part to his unique dress sense.
Robert added: “I make my own clothes, I love the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film and I loved Gene Wilder’s character in it.
“That’s how I dress, I look like a real life Willy Wonka when I’m out and about riding my Penny Farthing.”
During lockdown, his neighbour Tess, 54, uploaded a clip of him riding down the street, which attracted thousands of views and comments from adoring fans.
Robert, who is a full-time carer for his elderly disabled mother, was “overwhelmed” with the reaction and his new-found fame.
He said: “It’s unbelievable, I’m just being normal me, going on a ride like I always do.
“It’s so lovely of people to leave me nice comments and say nice things about me.
“Lockdown has been hard for Autistic people, a lot of Autistic people have found it very difficult.
“The worst thing you can do to us is lock us in, we need stimulation, we need bright colours and we need company.
“I just wanted to spread joy to people during lockdown who also might have been struggling.”
Robert’s passion for cycling saw has since taken him across Europe and North Africa on his bike, despite not being able read road signs.
He said he played “snap” with the road signs and would ask locals where he was during his travels.
The former Butlins Red Coat is also an avid kite enthusiast and once built and flew a kite on Skegness beach that was 365ft long.
Tess, 54, has lived next door to Robert for more than 20 years and manages all of his social media channels since setting them up.
She said: “I joined TikTok during lockdown because my kids were on it.
“I uploaded a few videos, but as soon as I put a video of Robert on, it blew up.
“I had thousands of comments asking for more content and saying how great he was.
“I deleted all of my own videos and changed the name to Robert Penny Farthing and the account is now dedicated to him.
“He’s so inspiring and has such a powerful message that people with Autism and what he can achieve.”