200 Years of the British Bicycle

The bicycle* was perfected in Britain, first in 1818 when a German invention was modified, patented and – briefly – popularised, and then in the early 1870s with the evolution of English high-wheelers. The creation of the “Safety” bicycle  by J. K. Starley in the 1880s “set the fashion to the world,” leading to a global boom in bicycle ownership. Starley’s 1885 machine has most of the classic hallmarks of a modern bicycle. 

Even though cycling is more than 200 years old it has a secure future because of its beautiful simplicity. Cycling has always been, and will remain, a swift, clean, and practical way to navigate British towns and cities.


* It’s important to note that the word “bicycle” was not in use until 1868 or so, and that the machine invented in 1817 by Baron von Drais in Germany was without cranks and pedals and was therefore not a pedal-bicycle as we know it. Nevertheless, the modern bicycle has many of the same characteristics of this foundational machine – two singletrack equally-sized wheels being the most important – and therefore today’s bicycle, while propelled differently, is a direct descendent of the “Draisine”.

And for the removal of doubt the word “bicycle” on this website also refers to cycles with more or less than two wheels, such as tricycles, quadricyles and unicycles.

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Britain’s bicycle industry: 200 years of adding people power to the economy

Britain’s cycle industry started in 1818. There was a “bicycle boom” in the 1890s, when society’s elites took to cycling. By 1949, with a journey share of 37 per cent, Britons cycled more than the Dutch do today.

Photographs of Amsterdam-levels of bicycle use in British cities show that cycling is far from alien to these shores, and that with the right sort of designs and policies – as has been seen in London in recent years – cycle use can blossom.

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This photo of English cycle tourists in Norway dates to 1887, three years before the foundation of the Bicycle Association.

This is a website from the Bicycle Association, the national body representing the bicycle industry in the United Kingdom.

The origins of the Bicycle Association date back to 1890 when ‘The Cycle and Motorcycle Trades Association’ was established in Coventry.

In 1910, the company’s name was changed to ‘The Cycle and Motorcycle Manufacturers and Traders Union Ltd’. Membership included all the principal British manufacturers of two and three-wheeled vehicles (bicycles, mopeds, scooters, motorcycles, sidecars and three-wheelers) as well as manufacturers of components, accessories and specialist clothing, and the UK concessionaires for imported products in those fields.

Further name changes occurred in 1920, when the company became ‘The British Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers and Traders Union Ltd’, and again in 1956 when it became ‘The British Cycle and Motor Cycle Industries Association Ltd’.  In July 1973, because of the diverging needs of the bicycle and motor cycle industries, the Cycle and Motor Cycle Association was split into two separate, autonomous bodies, the Bicycle Association of Great Britain (BA) and the Motorcycle Industries Association (MCIA).

Today the Bicycle Association boasts over 60 members and is at the centre of the British cycle industry.


Bicycle Association of Great Britain
PO Box 1250, Castle Camps, Cambridge CB21 4XX


UK cycling industry is bigger than the UK steel industry

A new strategic report about the British cycle industry has today been published by the Bicycle Association. The Value of the Cycling Sector to the British Economy: A Scoping Study was unveiled at the International Cycling History Conference in London’s Guildhall by the BA’s operations director Steve Garidis. The report explores the current value of the …

Industry panel at the International Cycle History Conference

    THE FUTURE FROM THE PAST: an industry panel examining cycling’s future Livery Hall, Guildhall, Thursday 14th June, 2–3pm INTRODUCTION: New research findings will be announced by the Bicycle Association’s Steve Garidis. Panel chaired by Ruth Cadbury MP, co-chair of All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Panel members:  Fraser Seifert, Ofo dockless bikes Ashok Sinha, London Cycling Campaign Philip …

Future facing

Whether for transport, leisure or commerce, bicycles get people moving, and the British cycle industry makes, markets, distributes and sells a revolutionary product, as innovative in 2018 as the fledgling industry was in 1818.

From lightweight race-ready machines (with their carbon composite joints that are often more complex than that required for airliners) and muscular mountain bikes through to innovative folding bikes and electric commuter- and cargo-bikes, bicycles remain at the cutting edge of technology just as they were in the 19th Century.

And, yet, for all its modern flourishes (pedal assisted e-bikes ride as though the wind is always at your back) and hidden complexity (a typical bicycle is made up of more than 800 individual parts) the “humble bicycle” is still, in essence, what it was in 1818: an “Accelerator”. Many times faster than walking, and yet on congested urban streets, only 2mph slower than driving, riding a bike is the swift, clean, healthy way to get about in the 21st Century.

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