The other day I blogged about James Starley, "the father of the British cycle industry", and having just watched the television programme 'Ride of my Life: Story of the Bicycle' by Robert Penn, here is a bit of history on James's nephew, John Kemp Starley whom, as you will read and learn, was actually the chap who really perfected the bicycle as we know and love it today.
John Kemp Starley (1854 - 1901) was an English inventor and industrialist who is widely considered the inventor of the modern bicycle, and also originator of the name Rover.
Starley was born in Walthamstow, Essex, and was the son of a gardener. In 1872 he moved to Coventry to work with his uncle, the inventor James Starley. He worked with his uncle and William Hillman for several years building Ariel cycles.
In 1877 he started a new business Starley & Sutton Co with William Sutton - a local cycling enthusiast. They set about developing safer and easier to use bicycles than the prevailing penny farthing or "ordinary" bicycles. They started by manufacturing tricycles, by 1883 their products were being branded as Rover.
A safety bicycle from 1889
In 1885 Starley made history when he produced the Rover Safety Bicycle - a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, making it more stable than the previous high wheeler designs. Cycling magazine said the Rover had 'set the pattern to the world' and the phrase was used in their advertising for many years. Starley's Rover is usually described by historians as the first recognisably modern bicycle. This new "safety bicycle" was an immediate success and was exported across the world.
In 1889 the company became J. K. Starley & Co. Ltd and in the late 1890s, it had become the Rover Cycle Company Ltd.
John Starley died suddenly in 1901 and was succeeded as managing director of the firm by Harry Smyth. Soon after his death the Rover company began building motorcycles and then cars.