Alex Moulton was a remarkable man. Way back in 1962, as a sprog who was heaviliy into pushbikes, I was intrigued to read in ‘Cycling’ and ‘Coureur Sporting Cyclist’ magazines all about the Moulton small-wheeled bike. The idea of having suspension on a pushbike was then quite radical.
I wrote letters to Dr. Moulton asking lots of questions about the design, and he answered them all in detail. As a result of my enthusiasm, my mother bought one of the first Moultons to be sold in the West Midlands. We had one or two teething problems with it so, when I wrote to Dr. Moulton about these, he invited us to bring the machine down to Bradford on Avon.
We managed to squeeze it into the back of Dad’s Austin A35, and duly presented ourselves at The Hall. Dr. Moulton looked at the bike, and asked us if we would leave it with him for attention, and he would return it by carrier. We had a tour of his Museum and his small factory/development shop. This was in November 1963, and it was pretty chilly, when we walked down from The Hall towards the factory, we came across one of his workers washing Dr. Moulton’s Bentley S3. The Doctor put his had into the water bucket, and threw a bit of a wobbly because he considered the water too warm, and told the chap in no uncertain terms that thermal shock could damage the paint!
Later on, I asked Dr. Moulton if I could purchase one of his ‘Speed’ bicycle frames in order to build up my own competition machine. No cyclist worth his salt in those days bought a complete ‘ready-to ride’ bike – you always started with a frame and built it up with carefully selected components to suit your own preferences and whims. He was quite adamant that this wasn’t a good idea, no deal.
So ,I eventually did a deal with a local cycle shop to buy a complete ‘Speed’ bike and sell the unwanted parts back to the dealer. It wasn’t quite as economic as buying a frame would normally be, but it did at least provide a few extra quid towards my fancy components, which included a very special order TA chainwheel with 68 teeth. (You needed a big chainwheel to compensate for the small road wheels!).
In all honesty, the project wasn’t a great success – even with lightweight componentry, the bike still weighed quite a lot more than a conventional Lightweight racer, and the rear suspension tended to absorb quite a lot of energy when you really stamped on the pedals. But an interesting exercise, nonetheless.
The later, and much more expensive ‘spaceframe’ Moulton bikes are, of course, much lighter and have a superior rear suspension layout with better torsional location. I still have two early Moulton bikes stowed in the garage roof to remind me of those days.
I didn’t meet Dr. Moulton again until the celebrations for Mini 35 in 1994, but it was good to see him again and remind him of my schoolboy presumptuousness!
If you were at the coalface and have a tale to share, please do get in touch!
- I was there : Austin Maestro launch advert, January 1983 - 3 March 2023
- The cars : Rover Metro/100 suspension details - 4 September 2022
- I was there : Selling the Rover SD1’s rear suspension - 29 August 2022