Background

For the last forty years, Dr Alex Moulton has produced a range of small-wheel bicycles radically different from anything else on the market.

Moulton comes from an engineering family, and has worked on many motorcar suspension systems. In the early 60s, convinced that bicycles could be improved by the use of small wheels and suspension, he designed and built a new machine around a distinctive 'F'-frame.

His immediate worldwide success led other manufacturers to adopt the small wheel concept. Although Moulton's patents ensured the superiority of his products, he lacked the competition's marketing muscle. He therefore licensed his designs to Raleigh, who ceased production a few years later.

In the early 80s Moulton reopened his Bradford-upon-Avon factory to manufacture a new range of bicycles. These retained the small wheels, but with improved suspension and an intricate tubular 'spaceframe' claimed to be lighter, stiffer and more durable than the conventional diamond frame. The complexity of manufacture kept production costs high, and the new 'AM' models were exclusive machines using high-quality and sometimes unique components.

In 1992, Moulton licensed Pashley to produce a 'diffusion' range based on the spaceframe but using cheaper standard groupsets. The Pashley Moulton APBs and their successors have been in production ever since. More recently, Bridgestone have built a new machine based on the 60s 'F'-frame.

Moulton enthusiasts remain a minority, but are convinced that their bikes offer advantages in comfort, handling and load carrying ability. Certainly Moultons have claimed a surprising number of race successes and speed records, and have completed demanding tours in all parts of the world.

Buying Moultons

Classic Moultons


The 60s 'F'-frame models are now known as Classic Moultons. Despite the many variants, there are only a few distinct designs in the range. All have suspension front and rear, and most have 16" wheels and integral luggage racks.

The earliest machines, built 1962-6, have a curved rear fork which gives responsive handling but has a tendency to fracture. Most of the Mark One production was of Deluxe and Standard models, but sales of the Stowaway, which can easily be separated into two parts, were also strong. The steel groupsets and hubgears of these utility models were shared by others less common, among them the Automatic and Continental.

The early range also included a number of racers and tourers, differing somewhat from the utility models in frame construction and using alloy components and derailleurs. The best known is the SpeedSix with its six-speed block. An 'S-works' under the direction of Jack Lauterwasser produced high-end S-prefixed models with superior build and in many cases
all-over chrome plating.

The 'Mark Two' designation appeared at roughly the time Raleigh took over production, from 1967 onwards. Raleigh introduced new models into the range--Major, Minx, Mini--and made various modifications to strengthen the frame, unfortunately rendering it heavier and less responsive. Mark Twos can easily be distinguished from Mark Ones by their straight rear fork.

In 1970, Raleigh announced the Mark III. Its redesigned rear end is effectively a separate sub-frame, a structure of rods and tubes anticipating Moulton's later designs. The Mark III shares the lively handling of the Mark One and is strong to boot, but it arrived too late to
recover the marque's fortunes. Raleigh ceased production a few years later.

Classic Moultons have proved extremely durable. Utility models are readily available in the UK, and to a lesser extent in the US, Australia, and other parts of the world. Most enthusiasts opt for a Mark One or Mark III. Both have their own peculiarities.

Mark Ones generally need to have their rear forks strengthened. Rebrazed and fitted with upgraded components and high pressure tyres of the now-common 349 designation, they make fine machines: nippy, comfortable and stable, and with exceptional carrying capacity.

Mark III adherents claim even better performance than the Mark One, although the design has its drawbacks: short reach, Raleigh-specific componentry. In many cases there is also a requirement to braze on rear brake pivots, as the bike was designed for a coaster brake.

The less common SpeedSix and the various S-models are traded primarily within the community of enthusiasts, and at a premium. Increased interest in the marque, especially in Japan, looks set to increase the value of 60s originals as collectors' items. It is wise to familiarise yourself thoroughly with the Classic Moulton range before buying a high-end machine.

AMs

Since its inception in 1983, the spaceframe AM concept has been refined through a series of designs: the AM7 (seven speed block), AM2 (Sachs two speed hub), AM5 (Sturmey-Archer five speed hub), AM14 (front derailleur), AM-ATB, AM-8, AM-16, Jubilee, AM-GT, and now New Series machines. The majority have 17" wheels, although the New Series uses 20" high pressure road tyres, and the much earlier AM-ATB shipped with wide 20" knobblies.

An early AM still holds the world speed record for an upright bicycle, and models throughout the range share a characteristically brisk ride and responsive handling. They also make unusually comfortable touring bikes, having suspension tuned to reduce road vibration. The spaceframes carry integral mountings for specially-designed luggage racks, childseats and
fairings, and most can be broken down into two parts using only Allen keys.

AM bikes are most popular in the UK, but have been imported throughout Europe, the US, Australia, and Japan. The cheapest sold for a thousand pounds (US$1400), the most expensive--boasting a spaceframe constructed almost entirely of stainless steel, and sub-20lb weight--sells for several times that amount.

UK enthusiasts on a budget can sometimes find an early AM for less than 500 pounds (US$700) secondhand, but worldwide prices tend to be higher.

The machines are durable despite their light weight, and frames of even the earliest production can be repaired at the factory. Moulton-specific 17" tyres are available from a couple of manufacturers. Other exotic components, especially those needed for older models, can be a problem.

APBs

Pashley's APB machines, based on the 20" wheel AM-ATB, are priced from 500--1300 pounds (US$700--1800). Many models have been produced. They share a spaceframe design but differ in componentry--typically, Sturmey hubgears at the bottom of the range, Sachs hubgear/derailleur combos in the middle, and Shimano derailleurs at the top. Some models are equipped with wide wheels and knobbly tyres, others for pure road use. Most are separable.

APBs are known for ruggedness and carrying capacity. Early examples were felt by some to be heavy and poorly finished, but build quality is now generally excellent.

Post-APBs

In 2001, a rebranding exercise repositioned Pashley-built machines as 'Moultons', theoretically ending the distinction between the Pashley- and Moulton-built machines.

Bridgestone

Bridgestone's Moulton is an attempt to update the classic 'F'-frame designs of the 60s with an aluminium frame, improved suspension, and a contemporary groupset. At the time of writing it is on sale only in Japan, although announcements of UK, European and US distributors are imminent.

Links

Manufacturers
Alex Moulton Bicycles UK
Pashley UK
Bridgestone, Japan

Club
The Moulton Bicycle Club (this is an excellent source for restoration sources, Ed.)

Discussion group
The MBC maintains a lively mailing list, an excellent source of technical information.

Further reading
Tony Hadland's two books, covering the Classic Moultons and the spaceframe AM models, are standard reading within the Moulton community. Mr Hadland's site also has
an extensive photo archive documenting four decades of Moulton development.



This page by Will Meister with Ralf Grosser, September 2001.

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