Billions of birthday wishes go out to the inventor of the bicycle

14/12/2012 Advocacy

The Bicycle Association of Great Britain is leading the celebrations for today’s birthday of John Kemp Starley, the creator of the 1885 Safety bicycle which is the archetype for almost all of today’s bicycles. Born on 14th December 1854, JK Starley’s creation of the Rover Safety bicycle led to a 1890s bicycle boom, with the Rover Safety bicycle exported around the world, and much copied. Flowers have been left on Starley’s grave in the London Road cemetery in Coventry, with a card reading: “Thanks for introducing the world to the Rover Safety bicycle. Love. Cyclists everywhere.”

Phillip Darnton, executive director of the Coventry-based Bicycle Association, said:

“The worldwide accessibility and popularity of cycling is due, in large part, to the work of JK Starley in the late 19th Century. His Rover Safety revolutionised not just the bicycle but the world. The billions of bicycles made since 1885 can trace their ancestry back to that original ground-breaking machine, tested on the famous flat stretch of London Road on the outskirts of Coventry. It’s an honour to be able to recognise his talents on what would have been his birthday.”

Bicycle industry figures from around the world have joined in the celebrations of JK Starley’s life and achievements. Italian bicycle manufacturer Ernesto Colnago said: “All modern-day bicycle designers owe a huge debt to JK Starley and his vision. Starley’s stroke of genius is an inspiration to us.” American Gary Fisher, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, said: “A happy birthday to Mr JK Starley! Moving the people in a big way: scope, plan and pulling it off! Big stuff.”

Starley’s birthday is also being celebrated by British members of Parliament. Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, said:

“JK Starley made a huge contribution to cycling, not only improving the safety of bicycles but also increasing their popularity. These early bikes gave people a new found freedom; and now the bicycle is growing in popularity again. More and more people are choosing cycling as a means of transport for commuting to work or purely for pleasure. JK Starley’s legacy continues to live on albeit in a very different age.”

Two bicycle advocacy organisations – which pre-date the creation of the Rover safety – also wished to join in the celebrations. Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said: “How can you begin to capture and describe the impact of the man whose inventive genius resulted in a product that is effectively the same today as it was more than a century and a quarter ago? Sure, some of the materials used to build bikes have changed, but JK Starley could walk into a bike shop today and ride away on a very familiar machine. That’s a pretty remarkable testimonial to the enduring utility and value of the humble – yet utterly revolutionary – Safety bicycle.”

Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director at the CTC, said: “Time and again when there are public votes to nominate the greatest British inventions, the bicycle is right up there at the top of the list. It amazes me that this wonderful fusion of technology and simplicity essentially reached its modern form 127 years ago. Yet Starley’s invention still offers a solution for the sustainable future of our civilization.”

Former CTC chief executive Kevin Mayne, now the Development Director at the Brussels-based European Cyclists’ Federation, said:

“It is entirely appropriate that 2012 is the year we revisit Starley’s legacy. Because this is the year that the United Nations installed a Kenyan slum dweller’s bicycle in the lobby of the United Nations building as a symbol of sustainable development. In the developing world Starley’s simple design is a symbol of life, hope and economic potential, just as it has always been. We should never forget that.”

Influential bloggers have also pitched in. Mikael ‘Cyclechic’ Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Consulting said: “I cannot think of any other invention in human history that has had such a major impact on such a broad spectrum of human beings than JK Starley’s bicycle design. I cannot imagine what our world over the past 125 years would be like without it. I shudder at the thought of how the world may have turned out. A truly visionary, society-changing invention and design is one that can simply not be improved. Thank you, Mr Starley.”

Stressing the relevance of cycling for today Malcolm Shepherd, Chief Executive of Sustrans, said:

“JK Starley’s invention turned the bicycle from an impractical contraption into a machine that would go on to transform the daily lives of people across the world. Though in many ways so simple, his invention has stood the test of time for well over a century, and is just – if not more – important in modern society as it has ever been.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

TRIBUTES FROM THE WORLD OF BICYCLING

“I wonder if JK Starley knew that future generations would have so much fun with a bicycle? The joy of seeing every child’s first ride without training wheels and their first look at “independence”. I believe his vision changed the planet, especially to each and every one of us who has thrown a leg over a bicycle and fallen in love with that feeling we get while riding one.”
Don Walker, President, North American Handmade Bicycle Show

“JK Starley revolutionised cycling in the late 1800s and his invention is a significant chapter in the history of the bicycle.”
Brian Cookson OBE, President, British Cycling

“Many people get called geniuses, but JK Starley really was one. His bike popularised cycling for all, created the bike boom of the 1890s and led to cycling spreading around the world. He brought thousands of jobs to Coventry and even made an electric car in the 1880s: he was more than a century ahead of his time!”
Ian Austin MP, co-chair, All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group

“John Kemp Starley, with his 1885 Rover safety, a diamond in the rough, brought bicycling to the masses. The die was cast. A few years later, once the steed was shod with Dunlop’s tires, bicycling and its Golden Age craze wrapped around the globe. Over a century later, we remain in awe of the virtues of the bicycle — the most efficient form of transport ever devised. Simple and dignified, absolutely for the ages. Thank you and happy birthday, Mr. Starley.”
Joe Breeze, USA, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking


“The Safety bicycle had a huge impact upon western settlement of Australia. Gold miners, shearers and all sorts of adventurers covered amazing distances across outback Australia by bicycle, long before roads were built.”
Phil Latz, director, Bicycling Australia

“Despite repeated attempts by designers, engineers, and inventors to reinvent the bicycle, its basic form has not changed all that much in the last 125 years. In the mid 1880s, JK Starley set out to improve upon the design of the dangerous and impractical ordinaries that were common at the time, and the result was the first commercially successful safety bike. The chain-driven, adjustable bikes that we ride today are direct descendants of Starley’s Rover, which was, and still is, a near perfect machine.”
James Thomas, bicycledesign.net

“I don’t suppose that in his wildest dreams JK Starley imagined the impact his creation would have on human life, transport and sport. All of us who work in the bike trade should remember that we stand (or is that ride?) on the shoulders of giants such as he.”
Humphrey Cobbold, CEO, Wiggle

“We at Pearson owe a great deal of thanks to JK Starley. He was responsible for combining ingenuity, fine engineering and mass production of bicycles at a pivotal moment in my family’s history. Tom Pearson, the founder of the Pearson family business in 1860, made the decision at the end of that decade to turn all his blacksmith skills entirely towards cycles and away from the traditional duties of the local smithy, mostly shoeing horses. Originally geared up for Penny Farthing bicycles made by Jk Starley’s uncle, James Starley, the shop later sold Rover Safeties, a decision was, no doubt, made easier by the rising popularity of this new means of transport, a credit to JK Starley for driving the industry forward. Subsequently, more generations followed, I represent the fifth, making our cycle business the oldest in the world. Thank you Mr. Starley, and happy birthday.”
Guy Pearson, Pearson Cycles, London