The Moulton Bicycle – a brief history

I suppose there may be some people accessing this page who don’t know what a Moulton bicycle is, so a swift recap may be in order. Alex Moulton is perhaps nowadays better known for his novel and advanced suspension systems for cars, notably the Mini, 1100, 1800, Allegro, Metro et al. Late in 1962, after a great deal of research into the subject of the design of bicycles, he launched a range of production machines – the original Moultons. These were the first of the now quite common small wheeled bicycles, but, unlike most of those small wheelers produced today, his incorporated rubber suspension, which both gave a superb ride and allowed the use of quite small section 16 inch tyres. The low section and high pressure which could be used in the tyres gave a low rolling resistance, no higher than that of the conventional 27 inch wheeled bikes of the day, and vastly superior to most current day small wheelers. The construction of the machine also allowed a reasonable weight and a step through frame – most current small wheelers are far heavier than conventional bikes.

Although many people think of these machines as being collapsible, only the Stowaway model had this feature, and in fact the form of breaking it down was rather crude, consisting of separating (rather than hinging) the two parts of the frame. The initial success of the venture led to production being taken over by British Motor Corporation (as it was then), and subsequently the cycle making activity was bought by Raleigh. They quite quickly closed the operation down, ostensibly because of the complexity of manufacture and the level of demand, but probably at least partly because of the potential competition with their conventional range of bikes. Thus all production of the original Moultons had ceased by 1975.

Despite the cessation of production, and problems in getting spares, the Moulton bike has continued to appeal to a group of enthusiasts, and today there is a flourishing club for owners – The Moulton Bicycle Club (MBC). This publishes an A4 magazine of about 32 pages every four months or so, and is involved in regular meetings of owners in various parts of the country.

In 1983 Alex Moulton launched a new small-wheeler, known as the Alex Moulton, or AM, rather than Moulton, due to the fact that Raleigh still retained the original name, even though they no longer make any bikes under this name. Although the new machines are again small wheelers, and have suspension, they are vastly different from, and more advanced than, the original models. They use a very rigid space frame construction, made from much smaller tubing than is usual, and have revised and improved suspension. They have achieved considerable success in competition, as did the original machines, and indeed there are again attempts to ban them from competition because they are so efficient! Unfortunately they are not in high volume production, and are priced at over 1000 pounds each – with the most expensive model (the GT) costing around 2500 pounds.

A new, relatively low-cost version of the Moulton bicycles was launched early in March 1992. It was priced at £500 at the time of launch, and is made by Pashley of Stratford on Avon. At launch, the name APB (All Purpose Bicycle) was given to the range, and this name is still widely used, although latest policy is to play down this as a name and concentrate on the main Moulton name. The machine uses 20 inch (406) wheels, and is available in a variety of specifications, which are regularly updated. Originally all models had a separable frame, but now a fixed frame is standard, with an option of specifying a separable frame for some models.

In 1998 the more advanced New Series (NS) Moulton was launched, and a further, even more refined, version, the Speed, was introduced in 2000 at the event organised to celebrate Dr Moulton’s 80th birthday. The New Series models are exceptionally light, with even more advanced suspension than the earlier AM range. They use 20 inch (406) wheels, but with limited clearance to allow the use of high performance brakes, which limits the choice of suitable tyres.

In 2000 the results of a collaboration between Dr Moulton and the Bridgestone company of Japan came to fruition, with the launch in Japan of the Bridgestone Moulton. This looks superficially like the original “F-Frame” Moultons, but in reality is a completely new model, with different front and rear suspension and different geometry from the original Moultons. The frame is of aluminium construction. At present the Bridgestone Moulton is not available outside Japan.