The fx8 – Test Report

Introduction

The fx8 is the first new model in the APB range for some time, and the first model to incorporate any significant changes to the frame since the bike was introduced in 1992. Several demonstrators, and an fx4, were available at Bradford on Avon this year for members to try, although few members were able to do more than ride up the hill and back down again. In order to learn more about the bike, and to give it a rather longer test. I arranged to visit Pashley Cycles in Stratford upon Avon on 21st September, to meet Melvin Cresswell and Dan Farrell, and to try the bike.l

About the fx8

The most significant feature of the fx models, at least to those already well versed in Moultons in general and the APB in particular, is that it has a fixed, ie non-separable, frame. The thinking behind the fx range in general, and the fixed frame in particular, is based on a number of factors:

Any product needs development, and also needs to be seen to be being developed, partly to stimulate customer interest. New paint schemes and accessories are not enough, as has been found in other industries, so Pashley wanted to make some more significant changes.

Some prospective customers in bike shops see APBs, but because they can be separated, they perceive them as ‘just’ folding bikes. Now members of this organisation would not be put off by this – probably the reverse – but we are not the average bike buyer, and we all know how conservative most people are regarding cycle design. So commercially there is a strong argument for having a fixed fame version, while retaining the separating versions. Counter arguments could of course be put forward, but the thinking behind the decision can be respected.

The APB is quite a heavy bike, and certainly in Moultoneering circles the APB has in the past come in for criticism for this. Eliminating the separating feature allows some weight savings. We’ll look at just how much weight is saved as a result of this, and other changes, in a moment.

Elimination of the separability makes manufacture easier and cheaper. Apart from the obvious savings, the two parts of each APB are a matched pair, and have to be kept together during manufacture, and this creates additional complications, particularly if for example any rework on painting is require on one ‘half’.

Apart from weight reduction and what might be classed as styling changes, the other main factor in the design has of course been price. The fx8 will sell for £599, which is quite a competitive figure, and makes it the cheapest of the production APB models at present (cheaper than the APB7). This has been done without any obvious compromises – certainly the basic frame etc are excellent, and very reasonable quality components have been used throughout. The paint finish is an attractive shade of metallic blue.

The frame

Pashley have done a lot of experiments on the fixed frame design before it was finalised. They showed me one of the examples – apparently they have not all been kept, which is a pity, as they could have started a collection of frame designs along the lines of the one in the Museum at The Hall at Bradford on Avon! The things of most interest to existing Moultoneers will be those associated with weight reduction, so these will be described in the next section.

A point particularly worthy of note is that although the bike is equipped with a single chainwheel derailleur system, it has a full set of braze ons to allow subsequent fitting of multiple chainwheels and changer, or Sachs 3 x 7 gearing. This leaves the options for later customisation open – getting the fittings put on later is a nuisance, costly and results in the need for a respray, as many people wishing to modify bikes (not just APBs) have found in the past.

Weight reduction

kEliminating the separability of the APB has resulted in a weight saving of  about 280 grams (10 ounces) in the frame, plus the elimination of the barrel connectors used to separate the cables (about 14 grams – 0.5 ounces – each). The seat tube is now Reynolds 531(see picture), saving 127 grams (4.5 ounces), and the forks are also Reynolds, saving a further 160 grams (5.5 ounces). 60 grams (2 ounces) has been saved in the steerer tube. Overall there is a saving of about 650 grams (23 ounces) on the entire frame assembly compared with existing separable APBs.

Components

The components seem to have been very well chosen from the point of view of price, performance and weight. An 8-speed derailleur with twist grip is used – cheaper but also probably less temperamental than a 9-speed. The 11-28 block provides a reasonable, well-spaced gear range, without requiring the use of a long arm changer. The crank set is by Stronglight, and to keep weight and cost down the 48 tooth ring is permanent fixture – so if you want to lower or raise the ratios overall you will need to replace the whole unit. The pedals (with toe clips) are neat and light – see the test report. The brakes are by Tektro – chosen because they are the only ones in which the linkage can be rotated to allow the cable to enter at unusual angles (see pictures below). The revised cable runs are much neater than on previous APBs, and take advantage of this characteristic.

Above: Cable run to the rear brake, and the Tektro rear brake which allows cable entry from this angle.

Production models will have hubs bearing the ‘Pashley’ name – I saw some examples of these, and they appeared to be good quality and quite light. The tyres are Schwalbe City Jets – although these are apparently no longer being produced, Pashley acquired good stocks before production ceased. These tyres have a very good reputation as being very free rolling and very light, while offering excellent life and reasonable resistance to punctures. It’s a great pity this tyre has been discontinued. When supplies are exhausted City Marathons will be used instead – they are rather heavier, and have a more pronounced tread pattern.

One of the most visibly notable feature of the bike is the handlebars (see picture), which are rounded and rather like those fitted on some cruiser bicycles, though mercifully not as exaggerated in shape. They are certainly quite distinctive, and quite a lot of people who have tried them like them. They do limit the hands to one position, and because of the curve it is not really feasible to fit bar end extensions, as they would end up pointing out at an angle, rather than straight ahead. The shape leaves plenty of space available for fitting cycle computers, lights etc on the bars.

A smart alloy seat post is fitted, which also helps with weight. Apparently a shim is available to allow this post to be used in place of the chromed one on some other models of APB – ie those recent enough to have the modified, swaged, seat tube (not the early version in which some owners have found the tube sometimes slipped down . With the alloy seat pot, there is no longer room for a pump to be fitted inside it, and so a mini mump is supplied instead. Many owners of APBs prefer to carry a mini pump anyway rather than fiddle about taking the seat pillar out in the event of a puncture.

All the usual things like reflectors are fitted – very neat and light brackets are used, positioned so that larger lamps cannot be fitted on them, which would result in the overloaded bracket breaking and the customer then complaining! For those with an obsession about such things (probably not Moultoneers), I suppose we should mention that no bell was fitted on the test bike.

Test ride

I travelled to Stratford upon Avon by train, riding from home the five miles to Smethwick Galton Bridge, and then the mile at Stratford from the station to the factory, on my own APB – a much modified very early example. This gave me a basis for comparison of the fx with a separable APB, although on the other hand my APB has been so modified to suit my own personal preferences that it was not an altogether fair comparison. Certainly many aspects of cycling do depend on setting up the bike to suit yourself, and then becoming familiar with it: those who have a lot of  different bikes to choose from (eg myself) or who change their bicycles very frequently (guess who I’m thinking of!) may therefore never be as happy with their bike(s) as those who have just one and stick to it, or who keep two identical machines.

The weather the day before my visit had been terrible – torrential rain – and the forecast was not good, so I went to Stratford wearing heavy waterproof boots, rain jacket etc. The sun came out and it was warm and pleasant for my test ride, but this actually meant that I was wearing too many heavy clothes and I was too hot on the ride – not ideal for judging the performance of an unfamiliar bike, particularly as I was also on roads I had not ridden before. I did a fairly short test ride – 15 to 20 miles, around Stratford upon Avon, riding to Wilmcote and Snitterfield – not particularly hilly, but enough to need to use all the gears (just).

As mentioned before, a lot about a bicycle is down to personal choice, and fitting things that suit you can make a big difference to how a bike feels. The most obvious examples are the points of contact – saddle, handlebars and, to a much lesser extent, pedals. The saddle is neither here nor there – to be comfortable I would always expect to change it to suit, and I prefer something a bit narrower than the one on the test bike, and one that breathes, particularly on a hot day. The bars and stem give a rather upright, sit up and beg, riding position, which is favoured by a lot of people. Although most of my bikes do now have flat bars rather than drops, I prefer a less upright position, and personally I am happier with lower, straighter bars with bar end extensions, but many people may like the standard bars, and anyway they are easy to change. Nowadays I normally use SPD pedals (except on the Bromptons, Micro and Stowaway, the last two hardly ever being used), and on this day I was wearing rather large boots. I was therefore very impressed that I could fit the boots quite easily in the pedals and clips on the bike, and that they didn’t cause me any problems or discomfort, despite not being used to this set up any longer – last time I rode with conventional toeclips after using SPD I found them quite awkward to manage.

The ride of the bike felt very similar to my own APB – the fixed frame did not appear to make any difference – not really at all surprising as the APB frame is so rigid, whether separable or not. Both my own and the test bike had Schwalbe City Jet tyres. I had rather expected to find the lighter weight of the fx noticeable – not only is the frame lighter, but my APB has the relatively heavy Sachs 3 x 7 gearing and it also has mudguards, which are not standard on the fx. However, I have to say that I was not really conscious of the weight difference, even though normally I am very sensitive to this – just putting a bit more luggage on seems to make a difference to me. I would not read too much into this – I think probably the fact that I was overdressed, wearing heavy boots, with a riding position that is different from my normal, and on roads which I have not ridden before explains this.

The gears worked very smoothly with the twist grip control, although selection of bottom gear required some effort. For most situations I prefer RapidFire changers, but the twist grip is much easier in cold weather if you have bad circulation – on my own APB I have already been forced once this month to operate the left hand lever with my right hand, due to the left hand having got too cold to operate the RapidFire. The spacing of the gears was ideal for me, and the range was also fine for this ride. The ratios run from 32 inches to 81 inches – an 11-28 block and 48 tooth chainring; again, ratios are very much a personal choice, and I would probably prefer slightly lower ratios overall – sacrificing a bit at the already fairly low top end in order to have more in hand at the bottom end. Strong, fast riders would probably prefer higher overall gearing – I think the choice is a good compromise for most people.

The V brakes were particularly impressive – although I have upgraded my own APB’s brakes, they are still standard cantilevers rather than Vs. The operation is smooth, progressive, and reasonably, but not too, light. I find the Vs on my Birdy and SP are too vicious – it is very easy to accidentally lock the rear wheel – but on the fx they seem to be ideal.

The test ride was uneventful, although I had put all the tools, photo gear etc from my APB in a large bum bag (adding to my discomfort!). It was only half way into the ride I realised that I had not got a pump with me, so that the spare tube and puncture repair outfit I was carrying were useless, but fortunately I didn’t need this or any other tools, apart from using an allen key to slightly alter the handlebar angle.

Conclusions

It’s good to see some development taking place on the APB, and not just cosmetic changes or changes of components. Although I think that many existing Moulton enthusiasts like to have at least the option of separating the bike, there are others for whom separability is unimportant, and in terms of attracting new owners, separability could be seen as irrelevant or counter productive if it results in the bike being judged as ‘just a folder’, by those less aware and more conservative in cycling terms. The weight reduction, and the fitting of a full set of braze-ons to simplify later customisation are particularly welcome. The bike is quite well equipped, and performed faultlessly on the short test ride. Pashley are to be congratulated on the new model, and we await with interest any further developments.


The fx4

I also had a chance for a short test ride ( 2 or 3 miles) on the fx4. This is a prototype development machine fitted with a Shimano 4-speed automatic hub gear, and it is at present a test bed machine, with no definite plans to go into production.

The automatic gear shifter, battery and CPU are mounted at the back of the bike, and cables lead to a handlebar control. This displays the current speed, and also has a rotary switch to allow selection of automatic, sport automatic and manual modes, plus two push buttons to control upward and downward shifts when in manual mode. In manual mode there is a brief indication of the gear selected on the display screen before it reverts to showing speed. Personally I would have like the gear selected to be permanently visible in manual mode, and also in automatic as it would serve as a reminder whether there is still a gear in hand when riding up hill.

Clearly the gear system is aimed at those who want gears but don’t want to have to worry about manual changes, or don’t really understand which gear to select – ie generally NOTenthusiastic cyclists! If you try to judge its performance as someone who is used to gears, then you almost certainly won’t like it: most enthusiastic cyclists will not like the change taking place when they are not prepared for it, and inevitably changes don’t always take place at the ideal time. Naturally the automatic system cannot judge such things as when you are approaching a hill, up or down, a road junction, or any other external factors. So for cyclists who are used to deciding when to change gear for themselves, and operating the shifters, neither this nor other automatic systems are likely to be very satisfactory. However, for the intended target market – the inexperienced, or those who cannot  decide what gear they should be in, the system does a very fair job, and generally gets the right gear, or somewhere near it. The sport mode of the automatic settings seemed to delay upward changes, and certainly didn’t suit me – in fact I would generally have preferred the system to change up rather later than it did even in the standard automatic setting. Adjustment of when changes will occur seems to be a factory setting, and can be altered to suit the wheel size etc, but there is no obvious way for the user to alter this – the type of customer buying this system would be highly unlikely to be interested in such things.

In manual mode the changes were straightforward and were carried out smoothly, although as stated earlier I would have liked a permanent display of the gear selected. A more major complaint that I would have, and I understand most people have said this, is that the system emits quite a loud, and very irritating, beep as it changes gear, and there is no facility for turning this off. It is to be hoped that later versions of the system will have some means of disabling this beeper. The actual implementation of the automatic system on the fx4 worked perfectly satisfactorily

Overall then, the automatic works reasonably well for its intended target market, but those who can cope with deciding when to make their own gear changes will not be impressed – nor are they likely to find other automatic systems any more satisfactory, because the sensing systems cannot detect all the external factors which influence the correct choice of gear.


Future developments

One obvious question that springs to mind after seeing the fx8 is whether any of the frame modifications associated with weight reduction will be carried over to the separable frames, particularly the forks, seat tube and steerer, and frame braze-ons. The official answer on this is that there is no plan to do so at present, but personally I would be very surprised if these features were not incorporated in due course, as existing supplies of parts are used up – it makes sense from a manufacturing point of view, as well as improving the bike. The changes might be gradual, as with the introduction of the original Moulton Series 2. From the figures supplied by Pashley, these changes would reduce the weight of a separable APB by around 370 grams (13 ounces) – a useful saving, but not all that dramatic.

A new front carrier option can be expected fairly soon. I saw a rough prototype on Dan’s own very non-standard APB. It uses the existing front mountings, and allows small panniers to be carried on either side of the frame. The concept is similar to the Lund Packhorse and one-offs built by/for some owners, but it is of tubular construction, unlike the original Packhorse. It looks neat and light, and in keeping with the rest of the bike. A lamp can be mounted on the front, and there is space for a bottle cage inside the loop at the front. I think this carrier should prove very popular when it is introduced – perhaps before the end of the year?. As the prototype was rather rough and well used, I voluntarily did not photograph it, as I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression about quality! The situation regarding rear racks is also apparently ‘under review’ – maybe we shall see a day bag rack in the future?

Over an extended period of time some APB owners have experienced jamming of the front suspension, caused by a small Nylatron cylinder expanding. Damp and/or corrosion of the tube in which the cylinder slides can contribute to the problem, which usually first appears under hot conditions. Let’s put this in perspective though: conventional mountain bike suspension requires frequent attention (like every month or so), with major service recommended every year, while the Moulton system is maintenance free. My own APB has never had this problem in over seven years, and my fifteen year old AM has had it once so far, at about 7 years old. Although other owners have reported more frequent problems, it is still not a major issue, and replacement of the cylinder is not particularly difficult. The existing system is designed so that it should NOT be lubricated in the normal way – applying oil is more likely to cause jamming. Nevertheless, knowing that some owners have had problems, and regard it as an issue, I asked about the situation during my visit. I’m told that some minor design changes are taking place, along with some manufacturing changes, which should improve matters. I’m not sure when the changes will be introduced, but they will involve a larger cylinder, of a different material, ground rather than machined on a lathe, so that dimensions can be maintained more accurately, and designed to run wet rather than dry (ie lubricated). Since the dimensions will be different, the new cylinder won’t fit older bikes, but cylinders to fit the older bikes but in the new material etc will be made available in due course. Details of how to replace the cylinder are covered by one of the Masterclasses on the web pages (the one dealing with replacement of the front spring), but I would repeat that jamming is not a frequent occurrence, and compared with other suspension systems the Moulton system is very trouble free. If you do need to replace the cylinder at any time, remember the usual warning – do not attempt any maintenance or modifications unless you have the skills, materials and equipment to do the job – if in doubt, get the job done by a competent dealer.