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The Safety Bicycle

The modern bicycle is born.

Even while “safe” ordinaries were enjoying their greatest popularity, manufacturers sought ways to make a safer and more efficient bicycle that almost anyone could and would ride. In 1884, several makers—Humber, McCammon, B.S.A. (810217), and J.K. Starley and Sutton—produced bicycles with a longer, lower profile than the ordinary and a continuous-chain drive to the rear wheel.

These bicycles were the precursors of what became known as the safety bicycle. Manufacturers seemed to recognize that they were on the right track and, the following year, a whole new series of models were introduced. One of these was Starley and Sutton’s third version of the “Rover” (810219), usually considered the first true safety bicycle.

Starley and Sutton Rover, ca 1886

The Rover had chain drive, both of its wheels were the same size, and the rider was positioned between them with the pedals directly below. The front forks and steering column were sloped back from the front hub so the rider could reach the handlebars easily. This, along with the rear forks and chain stays, gave the frame its characteristic diamond shape, though unlike later versions, there was no tube running from the seat down to the crank bracket that held the pedals. Many makers continued to experiment with frame shape. Several, including Rudge (760322), introduced cross-frame models, which, although they were popular, were not as sturdy as the diamond frame. Much more successful were the adaptations of the diamond frame developed for women.