History of cycling

The maker of the penny farthing

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The Royal Borough of Kingston has a rich history of cycling, including direct links to pioneers in cycling history.

The maker of the penny farthing

Surbiton resident and carpenter's apprentice John Keen became one of the most important pioneering figures in cycling history. At the age of 20 he won his first race in Richmond on a bike known as the "boneshaker". Soon after he quit his carpentry career and dedicated himself to becoming the undisputed "boneshaker" racing champion of Britain. He could ride half a mile in 2 min 45 secs.

Keen realised the "boneshaker" was heavy and cumbersome in design and went on to build something better - the "ordinary bicycle" - which later became known at the "penny farthing". He manufactured the bikes at this workshop in Victoria Road, with a model known as the "eclipse" widely acknowledged to be one of the finest produced because of its height and light-weight design. Riding the "eclipse", Keen became the best all round rider Britain had ever known, as skilled on the track as he was on the road, sometimes racing in front of crowds of up to 25,000.

Known as Happy Jack, Keen raced until he was 36, but his health failed and he faded into obscurity. He died in 1902. The Sporting Mirror reported that "no rider has done more to develop cycling than John Keen".

John Keen
 You can find out more about history in Kingston at the Kingston Museum and History Centre.

The future of cycling in Kingston

As a borough so rich in cycling history it is fitting that we continue to invest in cycling for the future with Go Cycle. Through a £30 million fund from Transport for London and the Mayor of London, we're developing healthy streets across our borough by creating 10 new cycle routes with improvements to public spaces as well.