Moulton Bicycle celebrate 50th anniversary

Sir James Dyson and Lord Norman Foster pay tribute to designer Dr Alex Moulton 50 years after the iconic small-wheeled bicycle was first launched

by David Arthur   November 19, 2012  

Tags

On 12 November 1962 Dr Alex Moulton first unveiled the iconic small-wheeled full-suspension bicycle and at a recent gathering Sir James Dyson and Lord Norman Foster marked the 50th anniversary by paying their tributes.

At the Moulton Bicycle Company’s factory in Bradford on Avon 120 people gathered to mark the occasion. Historian Tony Hadland led a narration of the evolutionary timeline of the Moulton through the five decades, which is still hand-built in England. Highlights included John Woodburn’s record breaking ride from Cardiff to London, 162 miles in 6 hours 42 minutes.

Special ‘Moulton Jubilee’ leather saddles were presented by Richard Grigsby (ex-Moulton racer and founder of Cyclescheme) to Dr Alex Moulton, Sir James Dyson and Tony Hadland.

Industrial Designer Sir James Dyson paid a warm tribute to Dr Moulton: “Alex came to lecture to the Dyson engineers about 10 years ago and he showed us his engineering notebooks. They were full of lists of empirical testing of products, long before you actually start to engineer and design what you're about to do. And this is wonderful practice; it's not old fashioned practice, it's modern practice on how to engineer a well-engineered product. So thank you for setting such a good example to our [Dyson] engineers."

Lord Norman Foster (via video link) provided the final words: “The 50th anniversary of the Moulton bike - what an occasion, what an anniversary, what an icon. Synonymous with the Mini, the mini-skirt - the mini bike. So, heartiest congratulations - great occasion, great bike. And also great to ride, I have to add.”

The Moulton was an innovative bicycle when it first appeared. It strayed away from the traditional double diamond bicycle frame design and uses a frame without a top tube. Small wheels were chosen because Moulton believes small wheels resulted in less rolling resistance, and suspension at both ends is there to offer a comfortable ride.

11 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Fifty years of

200px-Nelson_Muntz_3.png

posted by andyp [963 posts]
19th November 2012 - 15:35

3 Likes

What caused him to "believe" that small wheels result in less rolling resistance? The opposite is true.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
19th November 2012 - 15:50

2 Likes

I thought the picture of the women in the cut away mini was from the '60's until I saw the later pictures! Tried to love my Moulton but ultimately the philosophy didn't work for me and I went back to 700c.

posted by amazon22 [155 posts]
19th November 2012 - 16:18

1 Like

The Rumpo Kid wrote:
What caused him to "believe" that small wheels result in less rolling resistance? The opposite is true.

Not strictly true, Rumpo. Dyson praised Dr Moulton's empirical testing approach and Moulton found through his 'real world' testing that wheel size was a minor factor in rolling resistance of bicycle wheels, when compared with inflation pressure and tyre construction.

I love the fact he used empirical testing to prove others wrong (or, at least, modify their thinking); it reminds me of one of my favourite quotes "One test result is worth one thousand expert opinions" - Wernher von Braun.

If we didn't have thinkers like the Moultons of this world to challenge the status quo, then even if we did have bikes we'd be scared we might ride them off the edge of our flat earth!

posted by pwake [307 posts]
19th November 2012 - 19:50

1 Like

Empiric observation seems to indicate the word IS flat! If someone wishes to suggest a small wheel is better than a large one, that's fine by me. Just show me the figures.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
19th November 2012 - 20:48

3 Likes

They certainly 'feel' bloody fast.

And that other small wheeled vehicle that Moulton is so closely associated with seems to have done all right over the years too.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4147 posts]
19th November 2012 - 21:16

2 Likes

Anyone who has doubts about the Moulton at speed would be advised to read Tony Hadland's definitive book, 'the Moulton bicycle'.

antonio

antonio's picture

posted by antonio [963 posts]
19th November 2012 - 22:06

4 Likes

When Moulton concept was born it was believed that to minimise rolling resistance one simply had to pump up the tyres as hard as possible.

As we now know with the exception of perfectly smooth surfaces for every given combination of rider's weight and road surface there is an optimum (fastest) pressure that strikes the balance between hysteresis (losses of the tyre itself) and suspension losses (energy lost due to inability of the tyre to absorb imperfections of the road) so the statement "harder is faster" on its own is false.

The problem with small wheels isn't the diameter per se but the small volume tyres that require much higher pressure.
Rock hard tyres may feel fast but if they don't deflect enough they will be slowing you down and the worse the surface the less efficient rolling.

No wonder that suspension is then required to help the tyres to conform to the road surface and effectively to solve the problem they (the tyres) had created at the first place.

You could have an equally fast and comfortable bike without the added weight, bob and complexity of suspension by fitting larger volume tyres. It's as simple as that.

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [187 posts]
20th November 2012 - 0:48

4 Likes

If you wonder about the Moulton concept, then take a minute to consider the difference between a modern car with small wheels and suspension (equivalent to a Moulton) and a old horse drawn carriage (a conventional bicycle).

Small wheels are not necessarily faster, but compared to a normal bicycle:
Have a lower rotating weight (less of a flywheel effect)
Accelerate faster
Have quicker handling
Are lighter and stronger
The suspension allows them to keep better contact with The road and provide a smoother ride.
On a Moulton the whole centre of gravity is lower, and the unsprung weight is minimised to maximise the benefits gained.

The "classic" bicycle design is not an engineering achievement, but a series of design constraints applied by the UCI since the 30's.

Dr Moulton ripped that book up, and completely re-engineered the bicycle concept from the ground up. He didnt assume anything, but tested every area to find the perfect balance.

Tony Hadland's book "The Moulton Bicycle" is not just a read for Moulton fans, but for anyone interested in bicycle technology, engineering and design.

posted by gazza_d [235 posts]
20th November 2012 - 7:53

1 Like

Moultons seem to bring out strong feelings about the science of small wheels (rubbish/genius: delete as biased). I have ridden road bikes for some 40 years and recently tried out Moultons: first a TSR 8 and then an AM-20. Quite simply the AM-20 is brilliant. No idea about the science/tech, but it's worth every penny. All I'd say is, try one, and then judge.

Sol

perfect1964's picture

posted by perfect1964 [10 posts]
20th November 2012 - 20:19

2 Likes

gazza_d wrote:
If you wonder about the Moulton concept, then take a minute to consider the difference between a modern car with small wheels and suspension (equivalent to a Moulton) and a old horse drawn carriage (a conventional bicycle).

Small wheels are not necessarily faster, but compared to a normal bicycle:
Have a lower rotating weight (less of a flywheel effect)
Accelerate faster
Have quicker handling
Are lighter and stronger
The suspension allows them to keep better contact with The road and provide a smoother ride.
On a Moulton the whole centre of gravity is lower, and the unsprung weight is minimised to maximise the benefits gained......

The effect of rotating mass on acceleration and overall speed is vastly overrated as the forces involved are too small when taking the overall weight of the bike and the rider into account.

Handling can be quick or slow regardless of the wheel size. It's a function of a bike geometry and selection of components.

For a given strength smaller wheels will be always lighter but in this case the weight savings are cancelled out by extra weight of suspension compensating for their inefficiencies.

On the road, adequately high volume tyres at the right pressure will maintain contact with the ground more efficiently than the best (especially undamped) suspension. The unsprung weight of the tyres is virtually "0" and they react instantly to the smallest imperfections.
Even on long travel mountain bikes suspension always works in a tandem with tyres. If the tyres are overinflated the ride will be horrible.

For clarification.

As an open minded person whose bikes are always different from the norm and don't fit in any category I like Moultons and I have great respect for any inventor/designer/engineer who isn't a sheep and doesn't give a damn about existing rules.

At the same time however I dislike marketing hype and cult like following. "Really good" or "different" shouldn't be marketed and sold as "superior".

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [187 posts]
20th November 2012 - 23:25

1 Like