Genesis of the Speedsix

The ‘S’ designation is an important step in the story as it marks the establishment of the ‘Special Unit’ under the careful supervision of Jack Lauterwasser. Jack Lauterwasser is another of the almost legendary names of British racing cycling. From his own heyday in the 1920s and early 1930s, by the time he came to work for Alex Moulton he had over 35 years of experience building lightweight racing cycles. Moreover, he is still occasionally involved with Moulton’s development programme another thirty years on. Back in 1965 though, it was his expertise which oversaw the work of the separate facility at Bradford which was dedicated to the production of the ‘S’ models and other prototypes. The ‘S’ works was on the other side of Bradford, over the river and canal beyond the Tithe Barn. (It has long since been refurbished and is currently in use as a Bistro, although the Moulton Bicycles lettering was visible until a few years ago.)

In early 1965 a small batch (at least 4) of prototype racing frames was built in preparation for the 1965 racing season. At least two of these survive (Frame nos. 65100090 and 65100093) and a comparative examination of them is quite revealing. (Serial numbers of frames built at Bradford special works are distinctive with a deep indented box-shaped typeface.) Outwardly, they appear to be Speedsixes, but with Series One forks. The fork ends are balloon shaped with a vertical dropouts. Consequently, there is a forward derailleur hanger fitted as on the Speedsix. On the first of these machines, however, this is brazed on very crudely, and approx. 5cm further back than is needed for full clearance, allowing very close ratio gears only. This cycle survives only as a frameset, so it is impossible to tell what equipment it was originally fitted with. Given the rear derailleur hanger, it would appear to have been used as a test bed for a number of different items. There is no provision for a rear rack on either, but the tube is blanked off with a drilled and tapped hole. ‘C’ dampers (not hex) are fitted on both sides of the rear pivot and the front suspension is uprated, as the Speedsix later was. The frame itself is clean brazed, with no riveting, but retaining the lapped plates rather than the plain lugless joints of the Speedsix. Pump pegs for a short length pump are situated behind the head tube.

The other of these (now belonging to Mark Apsey and in the care of the Moulton museum) was built for Vic Nicholson and was reinforced around the bottom bracket to cope with his very hard riding style. It was fitted with Campagnolo Gran Sport gears with bar end levers, Milremo hubs, Williams AB77 cranks, b/b and 74 & 64T rings, GB 531 stem, GB Maes bars, Simplex front mech. (hanging from a plate attached to the threaded hole in the tailpipe blanking plate), and the then popular Unica plastic lightweight saddle. The addition of bar end shifting, in place of the down tube lever as built, indicates how important personal choice was and is in the fitting-out of cycles for special use. It also has fittings for a full length pump under the main beam, again as in the Speedsix. It appears that this cycle was run on both tubs and high pressure Dunlops during its career. This would have been standard practice amongst clubmen, running one set for training and another for events. The illustrations of the Speedsix in the brochures and advertisements of 1965/6 depict one of these machines rather than a full production spec. cycle. It is difficult to give a proper name to these cycles, as they were development models, but they are sufficiently different to the production Speedsix and the earlier factory-only Speeds to be noted as unique.

These pre-production specials, particularly given Vic Nicholson’s (and others) impressive achievements in domestic time trials with them, were invaluable contributions to the launch of the Speedsix in the autumn of 1965. In June 1966, a four page spread was included in Cycling and Sporting Cyclist including a competition to win a Speedsix and a list of every retail dealer. This includes an advertisement for specific Moulton racing accessories from Ron Kitching’s. It includes 3 tubulars, 2 sprint rims, 2 types of hub and the club 555 chrome cranks all from Milremo; TA cranks and rings; Balilla Corsa 61 brakes, and Unica saddles. Of particular note is the Gian Robert Gran Sport and Campione rear mechs. “The gear with the maximum wrap-round, ideal for Moulton design”. They obviously expected clubmen to convert and race on other models as well as the Speedsix.

Other one-off special machines were also being made during the course of 1966 by W. Hinds (Sports and Cycles) in Ealing. One such example was profiled in Cycling March 26 1966:-

“We’ll make any modification that is workable” is Ken Bonner’s proud boast, and he proved it by turning the standard Speed Six (a pale blue one) into an out and out “special”. The modification involved fitting 18 gears (a six speed block and a TA triple chainset), altering the rear carrier to take panniers, brazing on a hanger for the double “changer,” and pegs under the down tube to take a full-length pump.

Quick release hubs were built into the wheels, a Brooks professional saddle was fitted, an anti-mud flap was attached to the front guard, and the whole frame was resprayed in British racing green, with front and rear forks chromed. In time and money the whole job took just six weeks and £75.”

Cyclex 1966 – The S Speed

The final chapter of the Racing Moultons comes to light with the announcement made in Cycling, October 22 1966. Under the headline Pro Team for Moulton’s in ’67 ran the following:

Moulton Cycles took the shrouds off the prototype of their “S” Speed bike – on which they plan to mount their professional road race team next season – during the Pedal Club’s autumn weekend in the Cotswolds.

The new Moulton, with a wheel base shortened by three and a half inches to 40in. and a “standard” bottom bracket height of 101/2 in., is a much livelier version of the Speed model and the production model will be made from Reynolds 531 tubing.

“We’re going to have a bash at road racing next year, and want to produce the best possible machine for our team,” said Alex Moulton.

The intention is that the “S” Speed (in racing trim around 25lb.) will retail as a frameset only.

The prototype had a good first outing on Saturday and Sunday over a variety of road surfaces and gradients.

Half a dozen similar frames will be produced and tested during the winter; one has been earmarked for Dave Bonner, as soon as he has recovered from his fractured pelvis.”

To find recruits for the works team, an advertisement was placed in the November 26 1966 issue of Cycling as follows:

“Moulton Cycle Racing Team. Riders wishing to join the Moulton Cycle Racing Team are requested to send full details of racing career to: Frank Westell, Condor Cycles, 90 Grays Inn Road, London W.C.1.”

(Frank Westell had organised the Condor/Mackeson Professional Team during 1966.)

The “S” Speed itself made its debut at the Cyclex show at Earl’s Court in mid-November and prompted a vast amount of interest: The following quotes from the various reports indicate the special features on show. (For a fuller description of the “S” Speed, see the report by Steve Mundie in issue 28 (Jan-Feb 92) of The Moultoneer and the photos of Pierre Maisonneuve’s “S” Speed in issue 31 (July/August 92) of The Moultoneer, which are helpful additions to Tony Hadland’s book)

“… a sliding handlebar on the old Major Taylor principle, brought bang up to date by Alex Moulton himself. This features a head clip, something that has been missing … for many a year, instead of the now almost universal expander bolt.

Ingenious is the way in which Moultons have fitted a centre pull brake mechanism at the front of this machine. Fore of the fork damping-spring cover [bellows] is an angled section on which the brake pivots, unaffected by the movement of the suspension. The rear gears .. specially adapted by the company, all bear the Moulton mark. The front gear on the S Speed has an ingenious mounting as there is no seat tube to “hang it on”.

“Sprints and tubs, ten gears with handlebar control, all the gen equipment and ready to race”.

Sadly, this professional team was never to materialise, but most of the 9 or so “S” Speed frames built are still accounted for, each one unique. At least three of the ‘S’ Speed framesets remained undisturbed in the basement of Condor Cycles for some twenty years before their re-appearance. The 1967 Raleigh take-over, and the rationalisation of the model range, brought ‘works’ racing ambitions to an end, and an end also to the production and development of the Speedsix and of ‘specialist model’ Moultons in general. Henceforward the Moulton was marketed as primarily a utility rather than all-purpose cycle – a subtle but important difference. However, in the fine tradition of the “policy of continuous development” a number more specials did appear from Bradford in the subsequent years. These included the ultra-lightweight unsprung track machine of 1968, and modified MkIIIs as ridden by Vic Nicholson and Daved Sanders. These boasted lightweight rear triangles, again Lauterwasser-built, and fittings for centre-pull brakes (or cantilevers) as detailed above.

All told, the legacy of the racing Moultons of the mid 1960’s has a feel of what might have been, rather than a place in the wider history books. But to ride any of these machines is to be aware of riding something very special – built with care and attention, they feel perfect. Lightning quick acceleration and responsive steering, 30 years on they are a joy to ride. But it must also be remembered that the basic premise of the Moulton frame – one for all – enables anyone to approach the same level with careful selection of components. There is much more to be told about the racing pedigree of the Moulton bicycle… Do let me know if you have any memories or experience of these machines so that this history can be filled out further.

If anyone would like photocopies of any of the illustrations, original press reports, or articles in back copies of The Moultoneer, please let me know and I will be only too happy to provide them at cost. I would also be interested in obtaining – to borrow or purchase – any 1960s cycling magazines so that I can write a little more on the subject, and cross-check some of the facts.

Peter Cox