Dr Alex Moulton, the engineer behind the small-wheeled Moulton bicycles, has died at the age of 92.
Dr Moulton founded the Moulton Bicycle Company in 1962 and also designed vehicular rubber suspension systems, including the system for the Mini when it was launched in 1959.
The original Moulton F frame introduced the concept of small wheels for full-sized bicycles. Dr Moulton believed that the classic diamond frame design was unnecessarily difficult to mount, hard to adjust and unsuitable for both sexes. He also thought that bikes of this kind were uncomfortable to ride without wide, low-pressure tyres that increased the rolling resistance.
Moulton believed that small wheels with high-pressure tyres would have lower rolling resistance and lower inertia, so they’d accelerate faster. Comfort was handled by the use of suspension systems both front and rear – long before suspension became commonplace on mountain bikes.
Dr Moulton is quoted as having said, "The Moulton bicycle was born out of my resolve to challenge and improve upon the classic bicycle, with its diamond frame and large wheels, which has locked bicycle design into that form since the pioneering work in England of Starley and others at the end of the 19th century."
Dr Moulton, who was born in 1920, graduated in engineering from the University of Cambridge and joined the family rubber company based in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. He established a research department that specialised in rubber suspension systems, designing and producing the conical rubber springs used for the Mini.
He began work on bicycle design in the late 1950s and launched his first bicycle at the Earls Court Cycle Show in 1962. Many other bike designs followed. A racing Moulton – the S Speed – was launched in 1966, made using a Reynolds 531 tubeset and came with a short wheelbase and a double chainset.
Raleigh bought the bicycle business in 1967 and a MkIII Moulton was launched in 1970, although it didn’t sell well and Dr Moulton eventually bought back the rights to the design.
From 1977, Dr Moulton worked on the spaceframe design, the idea being to produce a frame that was both lightweight and stiff. This was eventually launched as the AM7 – AM standing for Alex Moulton – in 1983. The design was reworked and a new suspension system added for the New Series Moulton in 1998.
We reported last month that Sir James Dyson and Lord Norman Foster had helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first Moulton bicycle.
At the time Lord Foster said, “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.”
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.