Friday, 20 January 2012

Me and Moultons

" Oh, I think I remember them !" or " Do they still make them ?"  These are the commonest replies I get when I tell people that it's a Moulton I'm riding.
Moultons drifted into my life in the early sixties when I saw an illustrated account of some  place to place  record being broken on some queer looking small-wheeled bike with dropped 'bars. Probably John Woodburn  breaking the Cardiff to London record in 1962. This article was stuck in the front window of Riddell Brothers cycle shop in south-side Glasgow. Riddell Brothers was a bit of an institution in the south-side then.Yes, they were brothers, but they could have been identical twins dressed in dressed in matching brown workshop coats. At first I thought I could tell them apart because they operated a sort of "Good bike mechanic, Bad bike mechanic " policy, but later I reckoned that they just switched roles as they felt like. One side of the shop was cycles, the other side was model boats, planes and all the stuff required for that. It was a wee boy's , and big boy's, paradise. As kids, we rarely ventured in, we were quite happy to gaze in the windows at things like Campagnolo crank sets that cost the equivalent of a whole week's wage ! And brand new Flying Scot frames hanging from the ceiling along with an occasional curly Hetchins ! Stuff of Dreams !
Eventually one of our rich-kid pal's parents bought him a Moulton. Much to our disgust, this wasn't a record breaker in any shape or form, it was a rather wimpy shopping bike. But I was pretty taken with the Sturmey Archer  3-speed hub gear with twistgrip control.Most Sturmey Archer gears that we had then were either stuck in top gear or slipped so badly when changing that they were left alone and the bike ridden as a single-speed. So this , I thought was quite good, and the suspension, front and rear ! To be honest, we just weren't sophisticated enough to appreciate suspension, It was good to brag about but that was about it.
My Series One F frame Moulton
Fast-Forward to 1988 and I'm in Davy Walsh's shop, Clarkston Cycle Centre, when he wheels in a Moulton AM-ATB. To me, as a mountain bike, it was a non-starter, but I could see the potential for a long distance, quite fast tourer in it. When I heard the price however, my short reply had a lot of "f"s in it !! But I did start looking into Moultons again and learned about the AM series that was in production and how much owners were raving about them. Mind you , was it because they had spent so much money on an AM that they didn't like to admit to having been hooked by the hype, and that Moultons were in fact pretty flawed ? It was only then that I became aware that the Speed Six and the very rare S Speed had been produced and might now be available on the second hand market. By pure chance,a good friend of mine was given ( yes, given ! )  a Speed Six by an older club member who had bought it over twenty years ago but had consigned it to the back of the garage a number of years ago when suitable tyres became unavailable. Well, Alastair never was easily put off, and eventually he had the bike back on the road and looking great. In the meantime I had bought a Series One Moulton Standard in a pretty run down condition. The Frame was powder coated red, new 16inch wheels were built up with alloy rims and a Sturmey Archer S5/2 five speed  hub fitted, and it looked OK.  Alistair fairly quickly found that his riding style and the characteristics of the Speed Six just didn't match, but he kept it for a while because it looked  Cool ! With me however, it was soon apparent that the Moulton Standard, even with five gears was not going to be my dream long distance light tourer. What it did become though was my favourite commuting bike.With the built-in rear rack and bag, good brakes and handling it was a delight to ride and I used it for many years. Not without Problems !! Tyre wear and the availability of good quality tyres were a nuisance.The collapse of the rear fork while riding was somewhat more than a nuisance !! This put me in touch with the Moulton Owners Club and through this I met Steve and Allison Mundie from Harrogate. Lovely people ! Through them I was introduced to Yorkshire cycling, but that is  definitely a lot of other stories !!
Alex Moulton's Home in Bradford on Avon
The Great Man Himself !
I got a repaired rear fork from the Moulton Owners Club and was eventually back on the road. Around this time Alistair and I decided to go to the annual Moulton Rally at Alex Moulton's home in Bradford on Avon. This trip was a bit of an eye-opener, great fun though and we wouldn't have missed it for anything !English eccentricity at it's best. If you can imagine 1960's King's Road Londoners, renegade hippies,Victorian industrial millionaires,hard-core club cyclists and Japanese tourists on the archery lawn of a Jacobean Mansion putting on a show scripted by Monty Python you'll get the drift. While we were there, the new Moulton APB was launched. APB...All Purpose Bike ! This was very much along the lines of the AM but considerably cheaper, more of a production line version built by Pashley rather than a hand built bike. Looked none the worse for that I thought, so for a baur (Scotticism alert here !...  there is no single English word to describe "a baur" the nearest is" a merry jape but with more high jinks" !) we decided to borrow a couple of the demonstrator bikes and cycled off to the City of Bath for the afternoon along the newly opened Sustrans Cycle path. What a great afternoon that was !The Avon and Kennet Canal was absolutely at it's best in the early English autumn, fond memories indeed ! So much so that on our eventual return to Moulton Hall , I ordered one for delivery as soon as possible, and nothing to do with the fact that the organisers were on the phone to the police reporting the theft of two new Moulton bikes.
APB in Audax Guise
Tribute to Tom Simpson at Alex Moulton's House
In due course my new Moulton APB14 arrived. Black( they were all black for the first few years) straight bars, 14speed Shimano transmission via thumbshifters, 20inch wheels and tyres( BMX size, so surely no supply problems ) front and rear AM style suspension and a separable frame i.e. not a folding bike as such but easy enough to separate for packing into a car boot. Once I'd sourced and fitted mudguards to it I used it for a couple of 100km Audax rides and was pretty pleased with it. The decision then was whether to fit 'bar ends or go the whole hog and fit dropped 'bars. As it turned out, fitting dropped 'bars was a pointless exercise because the more I used the bike the more I became aware that there was a sort of built-in speed limiter. Not on descents of course, it dropped like a stone when the road went down and because of this I could keep up a reasonable pace. No, it was cruising on the flat that was the problem. To keep up a brisk cruising speed on the flat, about 30kph, I found that I was having to push a much higher gear than I liked at a much lower cadence than the cadence I was used to. Possibly because of my build ( OK some people would say fat ! I prefer the more accurate term Muscular ! ) and the fact that my cycling style has always tended to spinning the pedals at a cadence of around 85 to 95rpm, I found that at this pedalling speed the suspension started a sort of sympathetic vibration which felt as if I was riding a pogo stick. Plus the fact that the only times I deliberately used a low cadence was when I was out of the saddle powering up short steep rises. Long climbs I prefer to do in the saddle and spin a low gear and only get out of the saddle occasionally to rearrange things in the sitting room. Try riding uphill out of the saddle on a Moulton ! It can be done but it just doesn't feel right ! Well I tried just about everything I could to try and eliminate this resonant vibration in the suspension, I altered the front friction dampers, changed the front spring rate, tried umpteen types of tyres and pressures and even lost a few kilos from myself ! In the end I had to settle for the fact that the APB was a very good short distance cruiser but was too much hard work to use for longer runs. Was I disappointed ? No, not really, I had learned a lot about cycling in general and I still had a bike that I was delighted to use for the odd 100km run just for a change.
APB rear fork after repair
Original Gear Thumbshifters
Now here's a thing, I've only had a bike frame collapse on me three times in my life, but every time it was when I was riding a Moulton!!  The first time, as I described earlier, was when the rear fork on the Series One Moulton fell apart. The second time, again on the same Series One Moulton, the main frame itself collapsed due to internal corrosion.That was very nearly a nasty one, sheer luck saved me that day ! The third, and last time I hope, was when the APB's rear fork decided to crack and go all wobbly on me. OK the Series One was nearly forty years old by this time and it was well known that the rear forks were suspect, so I wasn't too bitter about that. Although the poor old Moulton was ceremonially dismantled and the frame binned, I sold the components at a cycle jumble for a mutually agreeable price so no real harm done. However I was fairly scunnered ( another fine Scotticism, meaning vexed or peeved in the extreme ! ) when the APB rear fork broke up. It was sentenced to 5 years in the back of the cellar with no remission. But, when it's time was up I stripped out the rear fork and brazed in a neat wee reinforcing section and built it back up to bring over to France when we moved.
Latest Gear and Brake Levers
Recently I have changed the rear derailleur, fitted combined brake and gear changer levers and fitted parallel push Shimano V brakes.  And so far, apart from a rear Continental tyre exploding on me, it's not put a wheel wrong and it's still a pleasure to ride. Maybe in the future I'll change the rear drop-outs from vertical to angled so that I can adjust the chain tension and fit a nice neat hub gear ? I've lost track of the actual distance I've ridden it , but it must be in excess of 30,000km so I can't really complain can I ?

Mind you, my Raleigh Model F is well over 90 years old and the frame on that hasn't collapsed ?

Am I still a member of the Moulton Owners Club ? 'Fraid not ! Our dear wives got us drummed out ! A couple of years after the first Moulton Week-end  Alistair and I thought it would be a nice wee treat to take our wives as guests.We were staying in a really nice B&B in Bradford on Avon not knowing that it was owned and run by the wife of Alex Moulton's company secretary.Alex Moulton's family were Avon Rubber as in Avon Tyres,Avon Rubber Dingies etc and Alex was the man responsible for the rubber suspension on the original Mini car and of course the rubber suspension on the Moulton bicycle. So you could say that he's really into suspenders and rubber, couldn't you ? Well, during the course of our breakfast, the two besoms (don't worry, this is the last Scotticism of the day !  the term "besom" is probably related to the English word scrubber but used almost as a term of endearment...usually! ) coaxed this information out of Alistair and next thing were laughing like drains and making the most disparaging and inappropriate  remarks about the good Dr Moulton. Before you knew it the whole breakfast room was in stitches of laughter except for the woman who was serving us our breakfast and fairly banging down the coffee pot onto the table. It all became clear that evening at the annual Moulton Dinner when who did we see sitting at the top table beside Alex Moulton but the Coffee Pot Banger herself. She was fairly glaring at us and seemed to be having plenty to say to Alex.
Ready for a Few More Kilometres
So maybe not unsurprisingly our invitations to renew our memberships were not forthcoming that year ...?

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