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One of the great pioneers and racers in the cycling world whose roots began in our local area

By Youness Rhout – Nov 2021

Back in the 1800's when the world was not as advanced as it is right now, there were a select few who took strides in their own fields to further modernise their creations. One such person was John Keen whose personal journey started in 1869 when he won his first race in Richmond aged just 20. The bicycle he used at the time was known as the boneshaker, a heavy and complicated bike but John wanted something more suited to his needs. This resulted in the iconic ordinary bicycle with its large front and small rear wheel, this was a much faster bike and became a historic design through the decades. As time went on, the calibre and competitiveness of his races increased and eventually led to John going over to America for numerous races, even racing against horses at one point where he impressed the crowd by coming out victorious.

One of his famous rivalries was with another local racer from Richmond by the name of Fred Cooper who was the first person to beat John Keen over the mile. They had a total of 17 races with John coming out victorious 9 times and Fred 8 times. In the 1870s John Keen set up a business developing and manufacturing bicycles in Surbiton. Kingston Museum has an example of a bicycle bearing a badge "John Keen Surbiton Hill 1872". In his later years he faced financial and health difficulties which eventually led to his death in 1902 of what doctors described as ‘a general breakup of the constitution'. The Sporting Mirror reported that ‘no rider has done more to develop cycling than John Keen'.

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