Editor’s note: After the unfortunate passing of cycling innovator Dr. Alex Moulton earlier this week, we wanted to share the story of our 2010 visit with Moulton in England. It is reproduced here.
By Maurice Tierney.
While the previously reported Brooks and Pashley factory tours were amazing, the highlight of the whole journey was a hour spent with a 90 year old man by the name of Alex Moulton. I really had no idea what I was getting into as we approached his modest home in Bradford-on-Avon.
What the? Is going on here? Who the heck is Alex Moulton? Turns out Mister Alex Moulton’s great grandfather, Stephen Moulton, brought Goodyear’s vulcanizing process to England back in 1840 or so. Alex himself was also a rubber pioneer, developing the hydrolastic* suspension that, along with the smaller wheel size, allowed the original Mini Cooper to be so mini. We got a look at one such Mini at the Moulton Museum residing on the estate.
In the late 50’s, Alex turned his attention to the bicycle and pioneered a design that would become quite the rage in the early 60’s. And remain relevant 50 years later. Small wheels had not been considered seriously against the then-standard double-diamond “Safety” bicycle, but Moulton was eager to challenge the staus quo after observing the benefits of smaller wheels in automotive use.
Thinking that the lower inertia of small wheels made for faster acceleration and an easier-to-mount frame design. And while Moulton’s were not designed as folding bikes, they were easy to disassemble for travel. And if that is not enough, Moultons were fully suspended for a comfy ride. How about that for ahead of your time?
Moulton showed his bike to Raleigh in hopes of licencing the design them to manufacture. But Raleigh was not interested. So Moulton set up his own factory and went ahead anyway. The Moulton bike took off in the early 60’s; their bicycle factory became the second largest in England behind Raleigh (Who I’m told was making like 7,000 bikes per day). Moulton sold 200,000 bikes before Raleigh knocked off the idea and took over the market with their RSW series. Moulton wound up selling out to Raleigh in 1967, just in time for the Raleigh Chopper to steal the limelight and rush the market.
That’s the ancient history. Much more has happened through the 70’s and 80’s, yet today the Moulton factory still sits in a former stable on the same property where it all began. Let’s take a look.
Inside the blue door on the right, the Moulton team is hard at work making bikes.
And barely have time to stop for a photo.
With these kind of results. This New Series model is made of stainless steel, and is worth near $15,725 American. It’s called a Space Frame and there’s a whole bunch of little tubes that come together to form one. It’s no wonder they are expensive.
But Moulton, being connected with Pashley, has some more affordable offerings being made in the Pashley factory in Stratford-Upon-Avon, ranging from $1,900-$3,600.
But Alex Moulton awaits. We have been granted a one-hour audience with the man. He is 90 after all so we understand. We are led into his great room and gather around a rather large dining table to talk. Whereupon Mister Moulton share some of his exploits. The cat listens in.
Alex shared his thoughts on his first and only mountain bike ride, which left him wondering why anyone would do such a thing as ride down a mountain. Perhaps if he had bigger wheels the experience might have been better? Alex talked about how he didn’t like the crossbar on the conventional bikes of the day. He liked recumbents but found them unstable. Small wheels were the answer. We also heard about the numerous records that have been broken riding Moulton bicycles over the years. And looked through his biography, full of pictures and drawings of his designs.
I myself was in a bit of awe at this guy nearly twice my age. Pretty cool. He’s done so much.
Got to ride some bikes as well, around the test track on the property, a good time to blow off a little steam after so much travelling. And think. About all the people that have influence the bicycle through history. On and on…