MY NEW (OLD) BIKE
Well there I was in Keswick helping out at a Rohan shop customer event and, nipping out for a quick coffee break, there it was, chained forlornly to a downpipe outside the Oxfam shop – a neglected but beautiful original 1965 Moulton.
Can’t justify another bike, I thought. There again…
Moultons are distinctive, that’s for sure. They generate plenty of comments, usually along the lines of “why are you riding a shopper?” and “it must be hard work with those little wheels”.
What the commentators are missing is that far from being a “shopper” the original 1960‘s Moulton is a genuine design classic. The progenitor of the Brompton and (less admirably) a raft of terrible small wheeled bikes during the ’70‘s, it was the first real attempt to re-think the traditional diamond-frame, large-wheeled bicycle design since Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a Scottish blacksmith, rigged up some pedals on his velocipede, way back in 1839.
Dr Alex Moulton is a Rohan-wearing genius. The original Moulton bike came to symbolise in two-wheeled transport the white heat of technological progress as the Swinging Sixties gathered momentum. Smaller wheels meant lower rotating mass, faster acceleration, rapid handling. The suspension ingredients in the frame made the Moulton ride unique and combined sophisticated thinking with elegantly distilled engineering. It looked distinctive and cool.
Mind you, this particular bike had seen better days. And braking on steel wheels doesn’t work (at all!) in the wet. The Sturmey Archer 4-speed, although highly advanced in its day, felt like a lot of work – especially when combined with the sheer heft of the machine.
A project! I thought.
And a short while later here she is.
A good friend of mine was impressed with the original condition of the bike. “Leave it alone.” he said. Hmm. So what I’ve done is “hot rodded” the original design, hopefully respectfully, while leaving all the original components archived in a box. And much as I’d like to respray it Flake Orange I will leave the original Kingfisher Blue paintwork, with all its blemishes, dings and patina, intact. So it can be restored and conserved whenever he insists I should…
JUST WHAT HAVE I DONE?
The wheels first. Alloy 28 hole Brompton rims with a Sturmey Archer 8 speed hub. Sapim spokes and an Ambrosio front hub expertly and promptly laced together by Dylan at www.yourspokes.co.uk (great service and very skilled, based in York, but does mail order). The hub buzzes a lot in 4th, but I’m pretty pleased with it. And I can now stop (just about) in the rain!
Then down to my local bike shop, Roy Pink Cycles in Newport Pagnell www.roypinkcycles.co.uk where Alex the owner and Richard in the workshop took a genuine and mega-helpful interest in the project. They spread the rear forks (carefully! a known weak spot), widened the front dropouts, rigged it up and fitted narrow drop handlebars and vintage brake levers from their amazing collection of used parts. If you’re in the area go and see them – super helpful service, a great shop with a cafe and some of Roy’s collection of vintage bikes on display.
Richard had a flash of genius to “bodge-ineer” the too-narrow gear shifter onto the drop bars. Ask him politely and he’ll tell you how it was done.
The paintwork on the racks had been redone several times but was still mostly missing – Hammerite in white was a reasonable solution and can easily be restored if needed.
Then the icing on the cake was that Santa brought a Brooks B17 saddle!
Mind you, I had to buy it and wrap it myself…
Next will be some reproduction frame stickers and rigging up a bottle cage. It’s thirsty work riding old bikes.
BUT IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RIDE.
So what’s it like to ride then?
Leaving aside the fact that compared with my other bikes it feels like it weighs a ton, it’s a revelation.
The handling is on the twitchy side of responsive, but you soon get used to that. It demands a more positive and controlled input and then its manoeuvrability and deftness really come into their own.
The ride is amazing. Plush, resilient, upholstered. All the usual bumps and bings on my normal commuting routes seem to have been miraculously smoothed out and plastered over as I cruise along.
OK it bobs about a bit if you put some hammer down, but this just reinforces the need for better form and helps develop a calmer pedalling style.
FANCY A GO?
Moulton bikes in various stages of dilapidation and widely varying prices can be seen on eBay or similar. Or you could strike lucky as I did. There is currently a bit of price inflation from some eBay listers, which is prompting plenty of debate on Moulton-related web forums. But if you’re lucky you can pick up a good enough specimen for reasonable money. You just have to watch what you then go and spend on it!
Moultons inspire fierce loyalty. Fans and aficionados, or the mildly curious, can join the Moulton Bicycle Club, see www.moultonbuzz.com. There is an annual meet at The Hall, presided over by Alex himself.
Dr Moulton is still producing bikes under the Moulton badge, hand crafted in Bradford-on-Avon, radically more sophisticated, stunningly original and at really eye-watering prices.
Pashley also make wonderful “space frame” Moultons (based on an ’80’s iteration) under license – they look really good and are more accessibly priced. Perhaps next year…
So, there we are. Definitely my favourite commuter bike currently.
It’s funny how a bike like this, dripping in character and history, can quickly find a place in the heart. I feel a lot “warmer” towards this bike than any amount of lighter, more modern, mass-produced, big-name bikes – good though they might be.
This is a true English eccentric. Distinctive, original and unique. Quirky and brilliant.
But don’t you think it’d look great in Orange…?
Tim Jasper, Rohan Brand Director