Moulton – Just Why is it a ‘Classic’ Design

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Moulton – Just Why is it a ‘Classic’ Design

By cycle journalist and electric bikes expert Richard Peace, regular contributor to electricbikereport.com where he has reviewed the ARCC Moulton TSR Electric

 

Today, with the huge success of the Brompton folding bike – and many other small-wheeled folders also picking up considerable sales in the wake of its success over recent decades – it’s hard to appreciate how revolutionary and simply ‘different’ the small-wheeled Moulton bike must have seemed when it first appeared at the start of the 1960s. 

It really became an instant classic for two main reasons.

Firstly the unique combination of small, high pressure tyres with full suspension was simply one of the main advances in bike technology since the diamond-framed safety bicycle took over from the penny farthing in the 1880s. Combining small wheels and (on later models) suspension was simply unheard of, and proved small-wheelers really could be high performance machines as well as an ‘easy to get on and off’ unisex design to boot.

Secondly it caught the public imagination at a time when the start of the ‘swinging sixties’ made new ideas and designs the flavour of the day and when celebrity use of the Moulton cemented its place in swinging sixties iconography.  

Despite not maintaining the fabulous sales of its early launch, the Moulton arguably paved the way for acceptance of smaller wheeled machines that came later, like the Bickerton in the 1970s and the Brompton in the 1980s.

There were many twists and turns to the Moulton story after the whirlwind success that followed the 1962 launch, covered in the Potted History section below, but today’s Moulton range shows that the design has evolved to take account of modern materials and is also the product of Alex Moulton’s continuing work to improve on any design elements he felt needed further work.

Although the ARCC Moulton TSR Electric is an ‘off-the-peg’ e-bike available from ARCC, the company can also retrofit to any current Moulton that doesn’t feature a double pylon fork. Let’s take a quick look at some of Moulton’s current range of eight other models in addition to the TSR which are compatible with the ARCC system:

Speed

This is a sub-9kg / 20lbs Moulton with an amazing stainless steel finish and so-called Hydrolastic rear suspension, a combination of a rubber sphere and fluid damping. A fantastically light and sporty bike described as ‘the greyhound of Moultons’.

XTB

Specced specifically for all kinds of terrain- paths, trails, tracks and gravel roads. It features a wide range 1x11 SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain and 1.95” wide semi-knobbly tyres.

AM GT

The very latest version of the spaceframe design, using ultra-high tensile tubing to form an all-stainless-steel frame and fork. Particularly popular with touring Moultoneers and many AM GTs have completed world tours.

The AM is made to order in Bradford on Avon and features ‘trickle down’ technical features from the more expensive New Series models like the Flexitor rear pivot and Hydrolastic rear suspension unit, instead of the earlier rubber monosphere. AM models are typically built with 18 or 20 speed gears.

CONE Special Edition

Described as ‘...a celebration of sixty years of Alex Moulton’s rubber cone spring design’. As well as celebrating the past it has a great modern spec including SRAM X7 9 speed derailleur transmission and weighs just 11.2kg / 24.5lbs. 

Moulton: A Potted History

Late 1950s: Alex Moulton begins creating the new design for his bicycle that would be, in his own words, ‘more pleasing to use and ride.’ His background in rubber-based suspension systems would also come in useful as he also worked on the suspension for the Mini car (designed by his friend Sir Alec Issigonis and launched in 1959). It’s no accident that, just as the Mini had small wheels and rubber-based suspension, so did the Moulton.

1962: The original Moulton is launched, now known as the Classic Moulton, F-Frame or Series 1 Moulton.

Demand is so phenomenal that despite a new Moulton factory at Bradford on Avon, production is also outsourced to the British Motor Corporation factory at Kirby in Liverpool. 

December 1962 sees John Woodburn break the Cardiff-London record on a Moulton Speed model.

1965: Raleigh introduce the RSW to compete with the phenomenally successful Moulton and despite it being an inferior machine, Raleigh’s huge marketing machine means the RSW effectively spells the end of Moulton’s initial burst of success – though this was not apparent at the time.

1966: Moulton cycles were still seemingly enjoying boom times, exporting to 30 countries and built under license in the USA, Australia, South Africa and Norway.

1967: Raleigh buys out Moulton and continues production of the bikes.

1970: Moulton Mark 3 launches.

1974: Raleigh discontinues production of Moulton bikes as sales have been declining since the start of the 1970s, partly due to changes in public tastes.

1983: Having bought back the business from Raleigh, Alex Moulton launches the AM series with the signature spaceframe design

1986: In August Jim Glover records the highest speed for a fully faired bicycle ridden in an upright position. Riding a Moulton AM7 Speed, he reaches 51.29 mph.

1992: A cheaper variant of the AM bicycle design, the APB (All-Purpose Bicycle), is produced under licence by Pashley Cycles.  Part of the aim is to reduce costs, with Pashley using off-the-shelf components as far as possible instead of the custom components.

1998: The premium New Series is introduced with more spaceframe design elements

2000: The Bridgestone Moulton is produced for the Japanese market. It is based on the F-Frame.

2005: The Pashley Moulton AM is discontinued. The Pashley Moulton TSR is launched, said to include fifteen design improvements over the APB frames.

2008: Moulton Bicycles and Pashley announce that they are combining their capital, administration and brands into a single company for the production of Moulton Bicycles. The combined company uses the Moulton name.

Production of the bicycles remains unchanged, the TSR continuing to be made in Stratford-upon-Avon by Pashley, while the Esprit, New Series and Double Pylon models will continue to be made at Bradford on Avon.

2010: A 90 year old Alex Moulton unveils a radical redesign – the MDev 90 prototype. It uses tensioned metal wires running inside carbon fibre tubes. The wires are in tension and the tubes in compression, giving the frame overall stiffness meaning a minimum of brazed or welded joints. The MDev 90 has yet to go into production.

2012: Alex Moulton dies.

If you you want to hear from Alex Moulton himself check out this TV documentary from 2010: Moulton on Country Tracks (BBC1).m4v - YouTube

ARCC Customers and Their Moultons

Riders loved their Moultons and are generally happy to be identified as Moulteneers in recognition of their choice of unique bike. This isn’t just because of the bike’s distinctive looks though; many Moultons have been treasured over the decades. Many have also been in continual and demanding use; as the unique suspension that characterises Moultons reduces frame fatigue many bikes have chalked up more than 50,000 miles.

Here are excerpts from just a couple of the feedback reports Moulton riders have given to ARCC after fitting their system to a Moulton.

Tony (APB22) – The APB is the older (and heavier) version of the TSR

I have been a fan of Moulton bikes ever since my Dad bought an F-frame type Standard model in the 60s at the local bike shop which was selling off old stock. It had a back pedal brake which was quickly upgraded by teenager me to a 4 speed Sturmey. I fancied the airframe (AM) Moulton but with a family this could not be justified until 1992 when Pashley were allowed to produce their steel frame version at much reduced cost (called the APB)...The stamped serial number suggests it must have been one of the very first built.

Fast forward to 2017 when I saw ARCC at one of the national bike shows; it became clear that the Moulton could have second life as ARCC were prepared to retrofit their recently introduced e²-pod Intelligent Drive System.

It proved useful...when I returned from holiday with a strained knee. I used the Moulton for several weeks as it lessened the strain as my knee recovered.

Earlier this year the now e-Moulton came into own once again. The previous December I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was fortunate enough to get a prostatectomy despite COVID. ……….. My main fear was having attempted a ride I would then find it too painful or be too tired to return home…but the electric assist then provided the necessary reassurance. As it was I was able to complete several trips of 15 – 20 miles over the next 2 months covering some 250 miles.

The ARCC conversion had another advantage; I was able share these batteries with a number of Bosch garden and power tools I had.

I found ARCC staff most helpful and followed recommendations they made. For instance a change to Avid V brakes in place of the originals substantially improved the braking. This is a heavy bike and is now moving much faster. ….. I also found the pod USB connection useful to fit a dual LED headlight which I use as a running light. One is available without battery pack from Amazon for around £10.

Keith (APB Tandem Moulton)

Moulton don’t make tandems, but as a lifelong Moulton rider since 1965, I wanted one to accommodate my wife, Mihoko, as she never learned to ride a solo.

In 1989 I had purchased a Moulton ATB, mainly for off-road use, as it had the largest tyre width clearance of all Moulton models. Around the turn of the century, I learned of tandem adaptions of this model made in Australia, by inserting an extra section between the two halves of the separable ATB frame.

In 2012 I discovered that UK framebuilder Doug Pinkerton had built some, so ordered one from him, additionally fitting a Rohloff 14 speed hub gear with rear disc brake. We enjoyed using this, and I can still optionally use it in solo form.

We wanted to be able to travel further and in hillier territory despite increasing age, so when the ARCC e-Moulton was announced, I asked them to fit a conversion. Starting with the 4Ah battery, we were able to overcome the limited range this gives on the heavier tandem by carrying a fast charger, and using it (with permission, which has never been refused) at refreshment stops. It takes only 35 minutes to fully recharge. When the 6Ah battery appeared, I acquired one to carry as a spare, hence more than doubling the range. A 9Ah battery is now in production, so I might add one in future.

The tandem fits into our car with just the front section detached, which takes only a few minutes to attach.


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