Happy Birthday to J.K. Starley

Who, you ask? Let’s put it this way – J.K. Starley made Bike World News (and Cycling News, and Pez Cycling News and Bicycling) all possible by inventing the 1885 Safety bicycle, which is the archetype for almost all of today’s bicycles. While Andy Schleck is not about to tool up Mont Ventoux on the original model, it set the modern bicycle boom into motion.


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.”

To learn more about J.K. Starley, visit the Roads Were Not Built For Cars website.

Ron Callahan is the chief cook and bottlewasher at Bike World News, doing everything from website design to bike reviews.
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Ron Callahan is the chief cook and bottlewasher at Bike World News, doing everything from website design to bike reviews.