Figures from the world of cycling have today been toasting the memory of John Kemp Starley, father of the modern bicycle, born this day in 1854. Flowers have been left on his grave inn Coventry together with the words, “Thanks for introducing the world to the Rover Safety bicycle. Love. Cyclists everywhere.”
The Bicycle Association, which is itself based in Coventry, has led today’s tributes to the man whose Rover Safety bicycle, launched in 1885, led to a bike boom during the following decade and beyond and inspired imitators around the world.
The association’s chief executive, Philip Darnton, explained Starley’s significance in cycling history: “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.”
You can find more details on Starley’s life and the importance of the Rover Safety bicycle on Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built For Cars website.
We hope that you'll join us at road.cc in raising a glass to JK Starley's memory this evening. Meanwhile, here’s some more tributes to him from Britain and around the world.
“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.”
Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director, CTC
“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.”
Julian Huppert MP, co-chair, All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group
“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.”
Malcolm Shepherd, Chief Executive of Sustrans
“A happy birthday to Mr JK Starley! Moving the people in a big way: scope, plan and pulling it off! Big stuff. I want a repeat!”
“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” would probably have made him quite fulfilled. I believe his vision has 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
“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.”
Kevin Mayne, Development Director, European Cyclists’ Federation
“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 Mr 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.”
Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize Consulting
“All modern-day bicycle designers owe a huge debt to J K Starley and his vision, and I would like to add my voice to the chorus of thanks to this great inventor. At Colnago, we strive to bring innovation to our work, and Starley’s stroke of genius is an inspiration to us.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.