Here at Cycle PDX we recently had the opportunity to work on an early Moulton small wheeled bicycle. After one week of grueling searches for parts, it became obvious that this was one of the most interesting bicycles ever made with an even more interesting history.
Alex Moulton was an engineer in the European aviation/auto industry. His grandfather was one of the first rubber pioneers, bringing vulcanized rubber to the UK. The family ran a large rubber company that at the time specialized in developing rubber suspensions for the european auto industry.
Moulton had multiple qualms with conventional bicycles being produced during the late 50’s and early 60’s. Thus, he decided to come up with his own unique design. He thought that the conventional diamond (triangular) frame design made it difficult to size correctly as well as mount and dismount. Storage was also an issue because larger bikes require more space. Comfort was also an essential concern. In order to make bicycles more comfortable, people would mount larger, lower pressure tires, which resulted in more rolling resistance that potentially made the bikes less efficient. Moulton sought out to design a frame that would quell most of these issues and his frame design allowed ease of use for both sexes without compromising the integrity of the bike. Smaller wheels measuring 16 1-⅜” made a bike that accelerated quickly and the fitting of high pressure tires brought rolling resistance down. The high pressure tires did increase the efficiency of the bike, however, they did make it arguably more uncomfortable.
This is where Moulton’s suspension knowledge came into play. He designed a front and rear suspension in the form of a single shock integrated into the steerertube/crown of the fork, and used a solid rectangular bumpstop where the rear triangle meets the frame. By doing so, Moulton was one of the first to incorporate suspension into bikes 30 years before they became an industry standard! Moulton wanted to create a bike that could be used for multiple purposes. It was with that thinking that he fitted the bikes with large front and rear porteur style racks.
The Moulton we worked on here at Cycle PDX spent its early days as a delivery bike for a bakery in Portland. An employee inherited the bicycle from said bakery and really wanted to breathe new life into it, which is why it ended up in our hands here at Cycle PDX. Some of the parts used on Moultons are very rare, which is why this particular bike was a challenge at times. It was, specifically, very difficult for us to find 16-1 3/8″ wheels to match the old ones brought it by the Moulton’s new owner. Regardless of difficulty, this bike was extremely rewarding to work on and is an absolute gem in its own right. A very unique addition to this particular Moulton as well was the very rare 4-speed Sturmy Archer hub on the rear.
The Moulton’s smaller wheels tend to have less spoke flex, this allows the rider to carry heavier loads without the worry of spoke failure. The smaller wheels also aid in lowering the overall center of gravity, an excellent attribute to take account of especially when carrying heavy loads. It is a common misconception that Moultons are folding bikes, they do make some folding models, but all of the original models were non-folding frames.
Moulton bicycles have been around for quite a while. The company itself has changed hands a few times, but the design has stayed relatively the same. Hence, their success and build quality have allowed for a cult following status. They call themselves “Moultoneers”. This unique group of individuals take advantage of the many positive attributes the Moulton has to offer. The Moultoneers generally embark on long distance touring trips centered around one primary goal, having fun while enjoying the freedom only achieved by bicycle.
55 years have gone by since Alex Moulton designed his first bike and the brand still remains strong. The company makes many different styles of bikes now, but the original model (AM designation) can still be purchased today.
For more information go to: http://www.moultonbicycles.co.uk/index.html
Or, check out what our friend Sheldon Brown had to say about his sweet Moulton!