JK Starley-High Wheel to 1st Safety Bicycle

James Starley (1831-1881) was an inventor and manufacturer who is widely considered to be the father of the bicycle industry. His inventions and refinements made the bicycle practical for widespread use. Starley also contributed to the improvement of the sewing machine.
James Starley was born April 21, 1831, into an agricultural family. His father, Daniel Starley, was a farmer in Albourne, Sussex, England. When he was nine years old, Starley began working on the family farm, but, dissatisfied with farming, he set off on foot for London in 1846. There, he found work as a gardener and put his spare time to use cranking out inventions, including the adjustable candlestick, a one-stringed window blind, and a mechanical bassinet. He married Jane Todd on September 22, 1853, and had three sons, James, John Marshall, and William.
Sewing Machine Advances and Bicycle Prototypes

Around 1855 Starley got a job with Newton Wilson in London, where he worked on sewing machines. Within a few years, he moved to Coventry to work as foreman of the Coventry Sewing Machine Company. Starley spent the next dozen or so years working out improvements to the early sewing machine, including his own invention, "The European." His inventions, many of which were patented, survive in the workings of modern sewing machines.
In 1868 Starley saw his first bicycle, a French velocipede. Bicycles had been around since 1818, but the earliest two-wheeled, rider-propelled machines were rudimentary, requiring the rider to use his own feet to move the wooden monster along.

The bicycle Starley encountered had cranks attached to the front wheel, which the rider could use to propel the machine. These early bicycles weighed as much as 160 pounds and had solid rubber tires and ball bearings. Foreshadowing their future success in bicycle design, development, and sales (of which the Coventry region would eventually become a national leader), the Coventry Sewing Machine Company became theCoventry Machinists' Company in 1869 after worker Rowley B. Turner convinced management to produce bicycles. The company manufactured 400 bicycles for sale in France, but the outbreak of the Franco-German War made such export impossible, and so it turned to England for its market.

Thus, Starley shifted his creative inventing energy from sewing machines to bicycles, seeking to improve the machines, first aiming to reduce the massive weight and clumsiness of the velocipedes, which had earned the nickname of "boneshakers." Within a few years, Starley had invented the "C Spring and Step Machine," or the Coventry Model, and secured his place as the father of the modern bicycle.

The Coventry bicycle featured a curved spring seat, a mounting step, and a small hind wheel. Next, Starley developed a bicycle with a smaller still rear wheel and large front wheel, both fashioned from iron and wire spokes. This creation was tagged the "penny-farthing," after England's smallest and largest copper coins. Its major improvement was a gear that turned the wheel twice for every revolution of the pedals, cutting the riders' work in half.
Bike Advances and the Masterpiece Improving further on his initial designs, Starley invented the Ariel bicycle. After leaving the Coventry Machinists' Company in 1870, he went into business for himself and began producing his Europa sewing machines and Ariel bicycles. Historians consider the Ariel, a lightweight all-metal bicycle first sold in 1871, to be the first true bicycle.

It was the first self-propelled two-wheeler to use pivot-center steering, which gave the bicycle the ability to turn, a leap in technology from the forward and reverse movements that limited the earlier wooden machines. Next, Starley introduced what was to be his most significant contribution to bicycle advancement. His Tangent bicycle, introduced in 1874, was the first to feature alternating spokes. Starley's original wheels arranged the spokes in a straight line. Alternating spokes connected the spokes to the hub at an angle, easing the stress on individual spokes and making the wheels far stronger than earlier models. Starley's tensioned spoke wheels are found, virtually unmodified to this day, on nearly every contemporary bicycle.


Post a Comment 4 comments:

Pelletman said...

Nice article on Starley. A couple of corrections would be appropriate.

"These early bicycles weighed as much as 160 pounds and had solid rubber tires and ball bearings"

Boneshakers of the day mostly had wood wheels with steel bands. A few at the very end of the era had rubber tires and steel spokes, I don't think any had ball bearings at all. More like 50 to 60 pounds in weight also.

I wouldn't call the Ariel lightweight, I'd bet it was 60 or 70 pounds. Even compared to the boneshakers of the day, not exactly lightweight

February 24, 2009 at 9:11 PM

Renee Turner Jubien said...

Rowley B. Turner was my great granfather and I ran across this article while looking for more information on him.

August 10, 2012 at 12:22 PM

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