The Moulton Difference
Moulton bicycles reflect the innovative engineering genius of Sir Alex Moulton. More famously credited with designing the suspension for the original Mini, he took his insights and fascination with making small wheeled transport reliable and comfortable into the world of bicycles
THE MOULTON DIFFERENCE
Moultons have small, 17 inch or 20 inch diameter wheels, front and rear suspension and a stiff, low frame. (Early Moultons also featured 16 inch wheels).
These three elements form the core of the Moulton concept. They have been present on every Moulton ever made. Because of the appearance of the low frame and small wheels, cyclists often think they are folding bikes, but Moulton has never made a folder. Many Moulton models are separable, incorporating take apart joints for carriage or convenient storage.
In fact, of the current family of Moultons, only the dedicated fast riding Speed-designated models have fixed frames.
Does this Moulton concept work?
You bet it does! Moulton bikes have been used in winning time trials, road races, criteriums, triathlons, and track events. They've been ridden to official finishes in the RAAM, tackled the Paris-Roubaix route, used for setting an as yet unbroken HPV record, been along for point to point time records and used for PBs in the P-B-P. (in fact the use of Moulton bicycles is no longer allowed in competitions controlled by the UCI.)
Moulton tours began in Iceland in 1962, and since then, tourists have taken laden Moultons over the Himalayan mountains, down to the Dead Sea, along the great wall of China, across the Nulibor Plain, into equatorial Africa, the length of America's Great Divide off-road trail, end-to-end, transcontinental and around the world.
Moulton riders have transversed the Gobi and been everywhere from Patagonia to north of the Arctic Circle. Some of the enthusiastic owners, who have formed what is believed to be the largest single-make bike club in the world, gather yearly from around the world at the birth place of Moultons for a weekend of fellowship.
Why doesn't Moulton have more of a market presence?
Sir Alex Moulton began pondering bicycle design in 1956, and started experiments in earnest in 1957.
His prototypes showed great promise, and he tried to sell his concept to the existing British cycle industry in 1959-1960. No one was interested.
He believed in his ideas and formed his own company, which built models covering the market from a single speed shopper to high end derailleur geared touring and racing bikes.
They went from a start up (1962) to commanding 20 per cent of the GB market and became the country's second largest frame builder in four years - this in a mature industry. The established bike companies, locked out of this new market direction due to Moulton's extensive patents, fought back with a combination of inferior knock-offs, massive advertising campaigns, and accepted short term losses, all of which combined to force the small Moulton company into an unprofitable position. They sold out to Raleigh in 1967. Inexplicably, Raleigh cut the Moulton line to a single, three speed model.
The U.S. market for adult lightweight bikes expanded by a factor of 40 (200,000 pa to 8 million pa) from 1970 to 1972, and continued at this sales rate into 1975, but Raleigh never marketed the Moulton in the United States during this time. When domestic (British) sales of the remaining three speed model eventually ground down in the mid-1970s in the face of the ten speed boom, Raleigh ended production, but refused to sell back the key patent rights so Moulton could return to producing the bike.
Sir Alex took the next several years to work around his own patents and make advances in the design, and then began building small numbers of up-market bikes, the AM series, in 1983. Moulton cautiously re-entered the mid-priced market in 1992 with the debut of the APBs, which use common ISO 406mm (20 inch) wheels. The connoisseur NS series was introduced in 1998.
Why are Moultons so expensive?
The AM and NS series bikes are hand built in a small shop. This is an expensive construction technique (remember Henry Ford and the production line?) and the bikes have a large number of braze joints and specially fabricated parts. The factory at Pashley builds the TSR bikes, which are more modestly priced. your local bike shop will be filled with road racing and mountain bikes that cost much more.
What's up with those crazy 17 inch wheels?
The Moulton models from the 60's mostly use standard ISO 349mm (16 inch) wheels. While this was a standard format, Moulton had manufactured special high quality tires for his bikes. Since that time other manufacturers have followed Moulton's lead into the small wheel field and there are today a number of great small tires commercially available. The Moulton models from the 90's use standard ISO 406mm (20 inch) wheels.
From the earliest days, however, Moulton made some small number of high performance bikes that used a small and now obsolete tubular tire format. So that the owners would have more rugged, lower cost tires for training and light touring, Dr. Moulton had specially made a clincher with the same brake surface track - the famous/infamous proprietary Moulton ISO 369mm (17 inch) wheel size.
When Raleigh bought out and then abandoned the Moulton, manufacture of the high quality 16 and 17 inch wheels ended. Owners of 16 inch wheel bikes soldiered on with the 16 inch tires they could find.
Owners of the high end bikes that used the 17 inch wheels, however, grabbed what they could while watching existing stocks run out. In the late 1970's, Dr. Moulton fabricated new tooling and contracted the manufacture of these tires. This simultaneously supported the owners of the old bikes and provided a small, high performance tire for the AM bikes then in development. These 17 inch tires are one of the most cussed/discussed features of the bikes. While not perfect, they are no more expensive than top quality 20 inch tires, and races have been won and world tours have been completed on them.
Don't the small wheels have high rolling resistance?
They show the formulas to engineering students about how rolling resistance is a function of wheel size. These formulas work very well with steel railroad wheels on steel rails, but leave something to be desired with pneumatic tires on pavement.
Dr. Moulton's tests in the 50's showed that tire construction and inflation pressure are the biggest variables in the rolling resistance equations that govern bicycle tires, and his and other tests in the 60's, 70's, and 80's have confirmed his original findings. Carefully controlled comparisons have shown the proprietary Moulton 17 inch tire to roll as freely as the best 700C clinchers.
Can Moultons carry luggage/loads/panniers?
From the beginning, Moultons were designed to be practical bikes. All Moultons (except a few competition models) have mounts for racks, and the factory has always made available day bags, touring bags and even wicker baskets. There are both factory and after-market racks that take conventional panniers. One Moulton owner reported moving a chest of drawers on the back rack of his little bike, and the club newsletter, sent to Moultoneers worldwide, has been taken from the printer to the post office by bike.
How do you get high enough gears with those little wheels?
Moulton has always followed its own design insights and principles, refusing to follow the trend of equipping touring and utility bikes from the factory with higher gears than are used by professional racers in the Tour de France. With the adopted 20 inch wheel size, gears truly suitable for general use don't require special parts. Also, some of the models use hub gears. While a few of the 16 inch wheel and 17 inch wheel models in the past have used extra-large chain wheels, the typical route has been to use special 10 and 9 tooth cogs. A rider with 70,000 miles on his Moulton AM7 reported that these small cogs last him around 10,000 miles before they are worn enough to require replacement.
Moulton Bicycles combine extremely fine engineering principles with the finest materials and artisan manufacturing to create bicycles that are truly works of art. Yet they are robust, practical, fast and will meet the needs of any rider – fast, competition, endurance, touring.
Moulton bicycles are increasingly being recognized and enjoyed as bicycles to own, ride and treasure, bicycles that will carry you through your life with total enjoyment and comfort.
Where can I get more information on these bikes?
Moulton Bicycle Company: http://www.moultonbicycles.co.uk/
Moulton Bicycle Club: ww.moultoneers.info/