I was there : Meeting Alex Moulton

Alex Moulton

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!

Alex Moulton and his Moulton cycle
Alex Moulton and his Moulton cycle (image: Cambridge University)

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!

Ian Elliott


  1. Amazing co-incidence – a chum and myself are booked in to the Hall at 2 today. Looking forward to it.

  2. I can remember as a child both myself and my brother had Moulton Mini small wheeled pedal cycles both bronze in colour. This must have in in the very early 1970’s. I cant really remember much about the suspension.

  3. I saw a 60s Moulton in a antique centre when I was away in Suffolk last month. It had a hefty £1000 price tag. Never had the pleasure of riding one, but nine the less Alex was a clever man whose Innovations were really part of the 50s/60s revolution.

  4. A mate of mine had an early model Moulton and there were a few problems with it,worst of all was the front forks suffering from metal fatigue, I never thought that much of the suspension,it never seemed worth it. Later I acquired a second hand RSW16,Raleigh’s answer to the Moulton,never had a moment’s trouble with it and my parents used it for another decade after I discovered the joy of motoring, The Moulton was my first experience of what was hailed as a world beating British invention something that has made me wary since

  5. In the early 1960s, Moulton bicycles were manufactured at Bradford-on-Avon or Kirby in Merseyside. The BoA bicycles were to a high standard, but the Kirby bicycles were the work of subcontracted manufacture by BMC, and truly suffered in terms of basic standards of brazing of the frames and forks as you describe.

  6. Just got back from the Hall. Hugely interesting place. In the late 60’s I used to call on a garage opposite a pub in Easterton and the owner and I used to have a drink. Several times Alex was there having a Guiness. Interesting guy.

    • The Hall possess a substantial archive of documents, Alec Moulton gave high priority to the preservation and organisation of his correspondence and also of his predecessors, the correspondence is known to date as early as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and later with Roy Fedden. There is a very substantial repository for the ADO16 by BMC. An application to fund the digitisation by scanning of those documents was granted to the trustees, is there any news of the digitisation project?

  7. My Dad had a folding bike that was previously my Grandad’s.

    While it could easily be folded into a small space, the size of the wheels made it hard to ride up hills even with a 3 speed hub gears.

  8. If the frame folds by a hinge it is not a Moulton, Moulton considered the hinged bicycle frame to be poor engineering, Moulton bicycle frames separate into two distinct front and rear sections, the frame couples are by a very strong and stable interlocking joint mechanism.
    I’m at a loss to understand why you believe small wheels are a disadvantage to progress when ascending hills.

    • OK I was thinking it didn’t sound like one of his bikes.

      It was mostly my Dad’s complaint about the small wheels, but they would effect how easy it was to pedal unless the gear ratios were designed to compensate.

      When my brother got an early mountain bike my Dad would usually borrow it as it was easier to ride.

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