Rover Safety Bicycle, 1885, Coventry

Conceived and developed in Coventry, U.K., John Kemp Starley’s Rover Safety bicycle was a result of ‘solving the problem of the cycle’, and focusing ‘attention to the perfection and manufacture of the Rover bicycle.’ Speech to Society of Arts 1898.

J.K. Starley's Rover Safety Bicycle for the first time brought together the key component's of the modern bicycle, a combination that's still used frequently today:

               Diamond Frame

               Chain drive to rear wheel


               Changeable sprocket at rear wheel, so gearing could be varied       

                Direct steering

                Equal sized wheels

1885 Rover Safety Bicycle. Image copyright Science and Society Picture Library, Science Museum, London


By 1886, Rover-style bicycles were already giving the bicycle trade a huge boost, attracting thousands of new riders - both male and female.

London’s Daily News noted that a new industry has sprung up employing nearly 50,000 people, with 200 manufacturers and over 500,000 bicycles and tricycles in the U.K. The article also noted that that the industry no longer catered for the wealthy, but had developed into an international concern with bustling factories serving the demands of a broader population that looked to the bicycle for utility as well as recreation. (Bicycle: the history, Herlihy, (2004), p241).

By the late 1880’s the Rover pattern had prevailed as the universal bicycle style and triggered an unprecedented world-wide demand that cumulated in the big boom (1890's) (Herlihy, p225). This bike boom helped greatly the emancipation of women - increasing their independence, self-reliance and range of economic & social opportunities.

By the mid twentieth century the bicycle was the most important form of personal transport in the world.


Describing the methodology that produced his design, J.K. commented ‘The main principles which guided me in making this machine were to place the rider at the proper distance from the ground; to connect the cranks with the driving wheel in such a way that the gearing could be varied as desired; to place the seat in the right position in relation to the pedals … to place the handles in such a position in relation to the seat that the rider could exert the greatest force upon the pedals with the least amount of fatigue.’

Coventry transformed itself several times, from a centre of silk ribbon weaving (1700's-1860s); to watch making  (1740s - 1920) to one of the world's biggest bicycle production centres. Coventry’s Premier Cycle Company, with an output of 20,000 bicycles/ year claimed to have the world's largest bicycle production facility.

This great source of employment for the City gradually declined, partly due to the depression in the early 20th Century, and partly through competition with larger cities such as Birmingham. Coventry's larger cycle firms were better equiped to survive, those such as Bayliss & Thomas, Coventry Eagle, Rudge-Whitworth, Swift and Triumph.

However, from the mid 1920's onwards, bicycle production was further reduced, due to companies such as Singer, Swift, Riley and Triumph dropping the bicycle side of their business, to focus on cars & motorbikes.  After the second world war, only two major Coventry cycle manufacturers still existed in the 1950's  -  Associated Cycle Manufacturers and Coventry Eagle. Smaller companies, such as Tom Bromwich Cycles Ltd (Far Gosford Street), helped keep the industry going until the late 1980s/ early '90s.

Historical list of 254 Coventry bicycle manufacturers

(source: )

Can Coventry re-build its bicycle industry!?

Coventry's Changing Industries