Choosing the model range which suits you

Introduction

We often get asked whether it is better to buy a New Series, AM, Bridgestone Moulton or APB model. Given the price differences between the ranges, price may well be the key feature for many owners, for potential owners.

The most obvious visible differences are that the AM and Bridgestone Moultons have 17in wheels, while the APB and New Series (NS) Moultons have 20 inch (406) wheels. The AM and NS models are hand-built from scratch at Bradford on Avon, using special  steel tubing; the Bridgestone Moulton, as sold in the UK, is assembled there, but using aluminium alloy frames manufactured by Bridgestone in Japan – though component choice is determined in the UK, and to some extent by the individual customer. APB’s are made in higher volume by Pashley Cycles Limited at Stratford-upon-Avon using steel frame tubing.

First of all it must be said that views differ on which choice to make, and in the end it will come down to the way in which you intend to use the bike, and personal preference. We will begin by presenting the basic arguments for and against the ranges, then look at the most fundamental differences – wheel/tyre size and weight -and how important they are, and then try to offer advice.

The AM Range – For

  • Light weight 531 tubing
  • Fast, responsive ride (both a plus and a minus – see below)
  • Low rolling resistance tyres, small wheels reduce inertia when accelerating and also reduce wind resistance
  • Unique design, status symbol (that may or may not bother you!)

The AM Range – Against

  • Expensive
  • Small wheels make for very rapid-response handling (both a plus and a minus – see above)
  • Small wheels require use of small cogs for appropriate gearing, which are special to AM and expensive as and when replacement needed (some users work around this though)
  • Tyre size unique – only two standard tyres (Bridgestone/IRC and Schwalbe Stelvio – the original Wolber and the similar looking, but much modified in fact, Continental, have now been withdrawn.)
  • Tyres regarded by some as quite expensive, some users complain of limited life and prone to puncture (but see comments later)
  • Tyres only available from specialist AM outlets, so difficult to obtain in UK, and very difficult elsewhere
  • Some EARLY examples have been criticised for poor braking (particularly rear), although this can be overcome by fitting brakes such as Shimano 105 dual pivot, and ensuring coupling lever to rear brake fitted on some models is correctly adjusted. Current models have no braking problems
  • Ignorant people more likely to laugh at the uncommon appearance (that may or may not worry you)

APB Range – For

  • Relatively modest price
  • Uses 20 inch (406) wheels, which means a large choice of wheels and tyres, and easy availability. Relatively cheap tyres are available (but note that ones of equivalent performance to AM tyres are about the same price, with no better life and puncture resistance)
  • Larger wheels mean that more standard gearing components can be used
  • Larger wheels and sometimes wider tyres give a more stable feel to ride, particularly loaded. Capable of carrying heavier load at the front (but do not overload) without inducing ‘shimmy’.
  • Larger wheels and tyres (if suitable ones fitted) better suited to off-road use, particularly in difficult conditions
  • Powerful V brakes on current models (though not earlier models available second hand, which have weaker calliper brakes)

APB Range – Against

  • Regarded by some as rather heavy – depends on model, but difficult to get the weight under 28 pounds on the road
  • Weight and larger wheels give a less responsive ride (some may prefer this!)

New Series – For

  • The lightest Moulton
  • Superb ride
  • The most prestigious model (that may or may not bother you!)
  • 20 inch (406) wheels

New Series – Against

  • Price!
  • Very limited tyre choice despite the use of a standard wheel size due to limited clearance (only the Continental Grand Prix and Schwalbe Stelvio are known to fit)

Bridgestone Moulton – For

  • Intermediate price for a Moulton
  • Aluminium alloy frame means it is lighter than an APB, and reduces corrosion problems
  • Recreates the cult status of the original F-frame Moulton, but lighter, and modern components

Bridgestone Moulton – Against

  • More expensive than the APB
  • 17 inch wheels, with limited tyre choice (see AM above)
  • Rather short frame results in an upright riding position

Wheel and tyre size

The issue of the wheel and tyre size is one of the most fundamental differences between the ranges. The smaller 17in wheels of the AMs and Bridgestones are unique to these bikes, and are both a strength and a weakness of the design. The tyres have very low rolling resistance when inflated to the high pressures they can take (100psi or more), and the low inertia gives faster acceleration and deceleration, and reduces wind resistance. The result is a very responsive ride, with a quick response also to movement of the handlebars – something not all riders like, particularly for gentle touring with a load. Loading on the front should be kept to a minimum, as it can adversely affect handling, at least on AMs (what is known as ‘shimmy’, although later models with slightly different, non-tapered, forks are less affected). But there is very little tyre choice (Bridgestone or Schwalbe Stelvio), and no prospect of any other tyres. The 20in (406) wheels of the APB offer a wider range of tyres, including knobbly types for off road use, or extended life (but of course they are not efficient on the road). The larger wheels of the APB do feel more stable too – or less responsive, looking on the down side. Providing the load at the front is kept to reasonable levels, APBs are less inclined to show signs of shimmy. The NS also uses 20 inch (406) wheels, but the narrow clearances, enforced by the brakes and associated frame design, limit tyre choice significantly. Originally only the Continental  GP tyre could be fitted, though now the Schwalbe Stelvio, and probably a new Dahon tyre (derived from the Stelvio) also fit – but all these are fast, narrow, near-slick road tyres.

The AM and Bridgestone, with their standard 17in tyres, can cope perfectly well with canal tow paths, bridleways etc unless they are quite muddy or extremely badly pot holed. The APB and NS with road tyres copes slightly better, and the APB with heavier knobbly tyres would cope with difficult conditions better. If the going is very bad indeed, then a bike with conventional sized wheels will probably do better still.

The 17in Bridgestone Moulton and Schwalbe Stelvio tyres are at least as good as comparable high quality, high pressure 20in road tyres, with no obvious disadvantages apart from the fact that they are only available from specialist AM dealers. But there is no real alternative to these two tyres, whereas with the 20in it is possible to obtain them almost anywhere, cheaper types are available, and wider, heavier tyres can be obtained for more serious off road use – a benefit for the APB, though not the NS, due to the limited clearances.

For faster riding on the road, day rides on the road, touring in the UK with not too much luggage and limited use of canal tow paths etc the AM and NS series will be most enjoyable. In other situations the availability and choice of heavier tyres will mean the APB and its 20in wheels are preferable.

Bicycle weight, and does it matter?

The original AM bikes typically weighed about 28 pounds on the road (excluding tools and luggage), while the current lightweight models are a couple of pounds lighter. The NS is probably under 25 pounds in road-going form. I’m told that it is possible to get an APB down to 28 pounds, but for most people something like 29 to 32 pounds seems a more likely figure in road going form (my own original APB12 with heavy steel components originally weighed about 4 pounds more than that). The Bridgestone Moulton is probably around the weight of the AM series.

Obviously these weights depend a lot on gears and components fitted, and are intended as a general indication rather than absolute values. Be careful when you make comparisons – for example, the American Bike Friday is sold without saddle and pedals (quite sensibly, really, as it allows the owner to make their own choice of these rather personal items), and the weight quoted for that bike is therefore less these essential items; thus a bike which appears on paper to be lighter than an AM is actually heavier when equipped with the all the necessary components.

Some people argue that weight is not important – if the rider weighs 140 pounds or more, does the odd pound in the weight on a 30 pound bicycle really matter? That may sound a persuasive argument, and indeed some people seem not to bother about the weight of their bikes, and the amount of rubbish they carry round with them in the form of luggage. All I can say is that in practice if you ride a light bike and then a heavy bike, or you ride any reasonable quality bike and then add 4 pounds of luggage, the difference is very noticeable. The ride, responsiveness, comfort and fun/enjoyment are all much greater on the lighter machine. If you notice these things, then the lighter weight of the AM does matter for day rides and the like. Of course if you put 20 pounds of luggage on the bike for touring, then this will affect the responsiveness anyway, and the difference will be less noticeable; indeed the slower response of the APB will probably make it feel more stable (the additional weight is also a smaller proportion of the total loaded bike weight) and hence more relaxing when travelling with this load.

Conclusions

Reading the list of fors and againsts, and just counting bullet points, it probably looks as though the APB is the clear winner. However, I think that does not give the proper picture. Perhaps we should not draw analogies with the car market, but comparing the two bikes is a bit like comparing a sports car with a family hatchback/estate. When I had cars I never had a sports car – I always needed practical transport. But with a bike the situation for many people is different. You won’t regret it whichever you choose – and you can always aspire to adding one of the other range to your stable!