Alex Moulton, RIP
December 10, 2012 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Alex Moulton RIP. For decades, Moulton Bicycles has manufactured an innovative space-frame bike of his design that the man described as "not a quadrilateral bit of piping"—his bikes are instantly recognizable for their small wheels, suspension, and a take-apart trusswork of small-diameter tubes. Although expensive and not very common, they are iconic among bike aficionados, and have inspired at least one competitor, Kimori of Japan, where his bikes have a devoted following.

Dave Moulton [no relation], formerly of Fuso Bicycles, seems to be fine.
posted by adamrice (15 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Mini-Velos are fun bikes to think about. Mini-bikes that look like they're made out of broadcast antenna towers are even more fun to think about. Not ride, tho, because I don't have $8k to spend on a bicycle.

I really like iconoclastic engineering and products - Moulton did it better than most.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:14 AM on December 10, 2012

posted by OmieWise at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2012

These are great bikes. I hope someone picks up Moulton's mantle.
posted by Mister_A at 11:24 AM on December 10, 2012


He hosted me and a colleague to lunch at is sprawling Tudor pile outside Bath, years ago. He seemed genuinely thrilled that I'd owned a couple of the original Moultons and rode them to death around London. It was a thrill to meet him- He was quite a character.
posted by marvin at 11:29 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the topic of unusual folding bicycles designed in Britian, I enjoy my Strida. The bike is quite light with decent handling despite the tiny wheels. And the belt drive makes it much cleaner to carry inside a vehicle compared to a bike with a chain. Mrs. exogenous and I have taken ours on a few trips and it's great having bicycles ready to go.
posted by exogenous at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2012

Wait, wait -- this marvelous contraption, about which I have only learned on the internet, is actually a series of tubes?


posted by Madamina at 12:06 PM on December 10, 2012

Another, no less significant claim to fame, is that he designed the suspension system of the original Morris Mini (and those of a number of British cars up to the MGF's Hydragas suspension).
posted by Skeptic at 12:40 PM on December 10, 2012

An absolute genius of creative design engineering and one of my heros.
When I was a student, I also had the pleasure of visiting this pioneering bike designer in his Mansion in Bradford-Upon-Avon.

More info in the Guardian Obituary and Moulton Buzz.

Summary for cyclist: In the 60's Moulton showed that small wheels (16") were faster than the larger wheels in road and track races. Started getting some good race victories, so the powers that be banned them from racing, as they usually do with every great innovation in cycling.
posted by Drew Glass at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lovely bikes, though the modern ones got a bit hooked on the rare and spendy materials stuff. I restored a '65 4-speed F-frame model (picture here; scroll down a bit) with new front suspension, alloy rims, new brakes, cotterless chainset, and drop bars. This thing flew, even with the crappy Raleigh tyres which were all you could get back then in 349 format. Bumps and ruts were no challenge. I loved it to pieces, but too many moves meant that I had to sell it.

I briefly rode an AM2, which was a Duomatic space frame model. The grin took weeks to wear off. If I could find one (or even a Series II transitional) in any rideable condition, I'd buy it in a shot.
posted by scruss at 1:09 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a great guy he was. Designing with pencil, paper and a lot of brains, he created great car suspension and bikes.

I really, really want a go on one of his spaceframe Moultons. Sadly, they are rare, so the world is not exactly awash with demo bikes, and I won't be able to afford one for years. I hope the company can survive until then.
posted by milkb0at at 1:41 PM on December 10, 2012

Started getting some good race victories, so the powers that be banned them from racing, as they usually do with every great innovation in cycling.

I believe you are referring the UCI and their rules for competition bikes. As frustrating as it may be to pure innovation, there is a sensible motive behind it. I'll share one example:

It is well known that you can make a bike faster if the front wheel is smaller than the rear. That is all fine for professionals who have a team car ready to swap wheels or bikes during competition, but amateurs would need to bring two spare tubes and it would make the sport a bit more esoteric and inaccessible to the common athlete.

One of the unique aspects of cycling is that we can ride the same equipment that professionals use. It isn't cheap, but it is still possible. It is what NASCAR should be (you know, "stock car..") for auto buffs and the UCI rules keep the equipment to be stable and sensible. In this way we don't grouse about whether Eddy Mercx would have beat the modern pros because they have some outrageous equipment advantage. Since the introduction of the derailure, cycling equipment has remained quite stable.

Innovative designs still serve a purpose and the UCI has recognized this. For example, there is an hour record category called the greatest human performance. It permits unusual bike designs, but if you want to try to put your name in the history books with Mercx, Moser, Indurain, Obree and Boardman on the hour record you need to use a standard triangle bike with drop handlebars. There is room for both.
posted by dgran at 2:17 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A good friend of mine had a bike shop in Raleigh until a few years ago when his store rent went through the roof. They moved operations up to Yanceyville.

He's a Mouton dealer & contagiously enthusiastic about them. I got my AM7 (I think?) from him that I named Arlo & rode for awhile. I had to sell it to survive when I was laid off. :( Really comfy bike.
posted by yoga at 3:16 PM on December 10, 2012

Wanted to add this post snippet from Gilbert's (the bike shop fellow I mentioned in my previous comment)blog:

Years ago, a fellow brought a spaceframe Moulton (modern era model) into our shop for resale. I ended up buying it and I was hooked. I have owned just about every type of nice racing bike, and touring bike (Tandems—3, ATBs—5) over a decade before I owned my first car—which cost about the same as my first Moulton. The Moulton was remarkable; it had it's limitations, not for everybody, but certainly what I was looking for.
posted by yoga at 3:38 PM on December 10, 2012

In this way we don't grouse about whether Eddy Mercx would have beat the modern pros because they have some outrageous equipment advantage

There's going to be egg on the faces of Trek's engineers when they realize that the bikes they made in 2012 weren't really that much better than the top of the line bikes in 1969, the first year Merckx won the Tour de France.
posted by kenko at 8:53 AM on December 11, 2012


Moulton summed up perfectly what is so utterly and interminably ghastly about the BMW pretender to the Mini name:

It’s enormous. The (original] Mini was the best-packaged car of all time this is an example of how not to do it. The interior space is not much bigger than the old Mini, but it’s huge on the outside and weighs the same as the Austin Maxi! The crash protection has been taken too far. I mean, what do you armoured car? Princess Diana was killed in a two-tonne Mercedes: you can have a fatal accident in anything if you drive fast enough.

With the original Mini, we set out to prevent any accidents by having excellent handling, not by cushioning people from the consequences of their own folly. The old Mini was the absolute apogee of this philosophy of built-in safety via the handling —people avoided accidents by driving around them. The suspension of the [BMW] Mini Cooper is set far too stiff, giving a most uncomfortable ride. To he honest, it’s an irrelevance in so far that it has no part in the Mini story

Plus, though I'll probably never be able to afford an example of the big ticket luxury item that the Moulton bicycle became in it latter years, it did inspire an opportunistic copy that ended up being pretty wonderful in its own right, the Raleigh Twenty.

We need more visionaries and less committees.
posted by sonascope at 11:52 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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