To Coventry: Birthplace of the Bicycle

Coventry has a very good claim to be the birthplace of the modern bicycle, the “Rover Safety” invented in the 1880s by John Kemp Starley, one of the city’s many bicycle makers. Someone very happy to make that claim is Steve Bagley, Head of Collections at the Coventry Transport Museum. We go for a ride around the city and a trip back in time. The museum has an excellent programme of cycling-related talks and exhibitions this summer. Music buffs will know that Coventry’s great contribution was the “2 Tone” ska revival scene of the late 1970s, led by The Specials and The Selecter.

And do make a date for Velonotte, a night time architectural themed night time bicycle tour of the City of London and the East End, on the night of Saturday 23rd June through to the early hours of Sunday morning. More information at the London Festival of Architecture.

4 Responses to To Coventry: Birthplace of the Bicycle

  1. carltonreid June 12, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    JK Starley is hugely important, of course. But most cycle historians credit Harry Lawson as the builder of the first ‘Safety’ bike (his ‘Bicyclette’ was six years ahead of Starley). Lawson became a conman and a motor-freak. It was he who created the ‘Emancipation Run’, the first London to Brighton car trip. More info here:

    • Jack Thurston June 12, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      You’re right that Lawson was the first with chain drive to the rear wheel, but his ‘bicyclette’ was not a commercial success. I think Starley’s is the first recognisably modern bicycle, his Rover safety combined Lawson’s chain drive with equal sized wheels and a diamond-shaped frame. Perhaps most importantly,Starley’s design met with huge success among cyclists themselves. I guess it all depends on what we consider to be the essential elements of the ‘modern bicycle’. That could be a matter of endless debate.

      • carltonreid June 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

        Oh, for sure, Lawson’s bike flopped. Many innovations are like that. Dunlop didn’t create the bicycle pneumatic tyre, for instance. Pneumatic tyres were invented by Thomson in 1845, for use on horse-drawn carriages. But it was Dunlop who got the credit – and guess who took over and promoted Dunlop’s fledgling company? Harry Lawson.


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