Dr Alex Moulton pioneered the small wheeled bicycle revolution over 50 years ago. All of today’s small-wheeled cycles owe a debt of gratitude to the original Moulton ‘F’ frame design which not only introduced and proved the concept of full-size bicycles with small wheels, but also, right from launch in 1962, have utilised front and rear suspension systems for improved comfort and performance. The Moulton bicycle has been developed and refined constantly ever since, and is held in high regard throughout the world.
Launched in 1962, at the Earls Court Cycle Show, the Moulton bicycle, with its revolutionary design, became an instant symbol of the new sixties fashion. The first model, featured here, was made until 1965.
1965 Moulton Standard M1
Frame No 240148 – 65
Front Dynohub (June 1965)
Sturmey-Archer Four Speed (September 1965)
Back in 1962, nobody had seen anything like the Moulton before. Everybody was amazed that the diamond frame bicycle design, which seemed perfect from a functional point of view, could be improved upon. Alex Moulton thought differently about big wheeled bicycles, recognising their limitations. Conventional bicycles were difficult to mount and dismount. The wheels were cumbersome and easily buckled. It was difficult to carry loads safely and easily and carriers were always a bolted on afterthought, not designed in. Socially, bicycles had a serious image problem, being associated with poverty and lacking in stylish appeal.
The first bare Moulton prototypes had two upright tubes connected by a larger diameter horizontal round tube, the classic ‘F’ frame. It is so simple that we can easily overlook the cleverness of this solution. Moulton had consciously thrown away the conventional thinking of triangular structure in order to achieve his aim of creating an easy-to-mount open frame. This was a huge creative leap.
As the new bicycle did not have the triangular architecture of the diamond frame, it had to derive most of its strength and torsional rigidity from the single horizontal main tube. When we consider that eighty years of development, aimed at refining the size of tubing to reduce weight to the minimum, had gone into bicycle architecture, Moulton’s debut really sparkles with brilliance.
What’s so great about old Moultons?
Top of the list must be the suspension, fitted to both front and rear. You may say, “Big deal; loads of mountain bikes have suspension.” This may be so, but they are designed for mountains really, not for road riding. Alex Moulton was a rubber suspension innovator who designed the Austin Mini’s suspension, and with Issigonis, invented the hydrolastic system that was used on millions of cars.
Moulton bicycle suspension is both supple and subtle. It isn’t made for jumping over logs or careering down mountains. It’s for smoothing out the vibrations that you would find on different road surfaces. The older bikes are particularly good, having a coil spring at the front surrounding a column of rubber. This provides a perfectly damped ride. There is also a rebound spring to take out the clang when the forks extend.
Apart from being the obvious solution to the problem, front and rear rubber suspension was, in the 1960′s, an entirely new departure for bicycle design which promised to marry high efficiency with higher levels of comfort. Importantly, it was this dual improvement that allowed the Moulton to be a superb sports bicycle and a comfortable utility bicycle.
But I’m making the suspension sound like a technical thing to stroke your beard over as you examine the graphs of reduced amplitude vibration. This isn’t the point. It’s the sensation of riding the bike that is of most worth. They really are great fun. Going up and down ramps in the street and over speed humps puts a grin on your face when you are new to Moultons. And they really take the sting out of rough surfaces.
Alex Moulton spent a lifetime refining his revolutionary bicycle design, which, in 1986, broke the world speed record for the fastest bicycle of conventional riding position.
Born into engineering and invention, his great-grandfather, Stephen Moulton, acquired the rights to the process for the vulcanisation of rubber from American Charles Goodyear, and made his fortune developing new uses for this new material, such as rain capes for British soldiers fighting the Crimean War. Stephen bought The Hall in Bradford-on-Avon in 1848, converting the adjacent cloth mill to rubber production, later sold to the Avon Rubber Company in 1956.
His great-grandson would also turn to rubber for his innovative designs. After studying aeroengines at the University of Cambridge, Alex founded Moulton Developments Limited, focusing on the design and development of rubber suspension for vehicles such as cars and trailers research which culminated in the development of his acclaimed suspension systems for the Mini, as well as the Austin Allegro, Princess, Metro and Ambassador.
In the aftermath of the Suez crisis in 1956, the ensuing oil shortages encouraged Moulton to examine the bicycle. Moulton noticed that as vehicles evolved, their wheels continually became smaller, with the exception of the classic bicycle, which had stalled at 26 or 28in. His calculations showed that a smaller wheel would go faster with less effort due to lower rolling resistance, lower aerodynamic drag and faster acceleration.
With support from Dunlop, Moulton began testing small wheels. The design of the original Moulton featured a unisex, Lazy-F step-through frame, 16in high-pressure tyres, front and rear rubber suspension, and increased luggage capacity with front and rear racks. After a sensational launch in 1962 at the Earls Court Cycle and Motor Cycle Show, Moulton went on to become the second-largest frame maker in the UK, at its peak manufacturing more than 1,000 bikes a week.
From the CROSS FRAME STUDY GUIDE, 1962
I particularly liked the comment written under the above newspaper article in 1962, contributed to the Study Guide. 50 years later, the Moulton ‘ultra-modern cross-frame’ is indeed of interest to ‘future’ historians.
1964 MOULTON SALES BROCHURE