Where would coffeeneuring be without James Starley? It would just be coffee! Toward the end of the nineteenth century, James Starley pulled together bits from other inventors and added his own significant contributions to make a popular bicycle with a large front drive wheel and a smaller rear wheel. This high mount bicycle was light, fast, sold for as little as eight pounds, and its manufacture propelled the local and English cycle industry.
Although not born in Coventry, James Starley moved here, creating the Ariel bicycle in 1871, which incorporated many new features including an improved steering column, a sprung seat and a hollow steel backbone. This was the basic form of what we call the penny-farthing bicycle, after the largest and smallest copper coins of the time. With the later arrival of the safety bicycle, it was given the retronym of “Ordinary”. Starley continued to innovate, developing a tricycle with a large drive wheel and two smaller guiding wheels that allowed women to cycle in their voluminous skirts. Victoria purchased a pair of tricycles from him, for which his firm was awarded a royal warrant in 1885. This “Salvo” tricycle is pictured on the monument.
His business, Starley and Company, and its many competitors were the foundation of Coventry bicycle manufacturing industry and, later, automobile manufacturing. John Kemp Starley, James’s nephew, pushed cycle innovation further with the chain-driven, equal wheel sized Rover bicycle (1885), which is pretty much what we all ride for coffee now. The safety bicycle was not merely safer, but, because of its lower profile, more aerodynamic and therefore faster than an ordinary, even though it weighed more. It used the chain drive that James Starley pioneered for the women’s tricycle, so that a large drive wheel was not needed in order to gain speed. As a result, we don’t ride towering fixies for coffee.
Coventry honoured this founder of coffeeneuring with an elaborate granite sculpture, and it was this sculpture that drew us to Finney’s Coffee Company. On the Sunday afternoon that we visited, Finney’s was as close to heaving as a coffee shop can get. It’s a comfortable place to sit, talk on a Sunday afternoon or to read, and Union coffee is excellent.
There are bike loops close by and a bicycle path weaves past Starley and Finney’s. Recent developments, including the opening up of the space in front of Coventry’s train station, have made the area noticeably more attractive.
In a separate trip, we visited Starley’s grave. James died in 1881 and is buried in London Road Cemetery. On the day of his funeral, all the cycle manufacturers closed, and 2,000 people attended the funeral. The city has named a street for him, and Coventry University, a building, though in this he was unlucky, as it is now a dreary glass box of classrooms.
Sunday, 23 October, from home to coffee and then home again, 5.9 miles; cycling, good; cappuccino and latte, excellent; Finney’s Coffee, recommended.