The Moulton Bicycle

At the height of the Suez Crisis in 1956, Alex Moulton became frustrated by the restriction of travel caused by fuel rationing. He bought himself a lightweight bicycle - a ‘Curly’ Hetchins - as, in his own words, “a serious alternative means of locomotion”. He was immediately intrigued and delighted by riding this, finding it “a revelation of joy” and quite a contrast to the heavy roadsters he rode whilst studying at Kings College, Cambridge. Nevertheless, he was troubled by the jarring ride, the lack of luggage-carrying capability and he thought the high top-tube of the frame was both awkward and dangerous. His interest piqued, Moulton resolved to improve on this, the ‘classic’ bicycle. The first folder of his research was titled ‘Muscle-Powered Vehicle’; thus began the project that would result in the Moulton Bicycle, later described by the architect Lord Foster as “the greatest work of twentieth century British design”.

small-wheel innovation

Alex Moulton, as was his way - examined and queried every aspect of the classic bicycle. Following this, he set out his design brief for a new, improved bicycle: More convenient and pleasing to use; Suitable for all of the family to use; Easy to lift, stow and park; with provision for carrying things on it.

He tested the recumbent riding position and rejected it; he noted that the wheels were as large as the original safety bicycles of the Victorian era and questioned this. Data from aircraft landing gear and from his research with Alec Issigonis on the Mini gave him confidence to undertake further tests with Dunlop and these revealed that the primary factors in rolling resistance are tyre quality and inflation pressure. Thus he could define the architecture of his new bicycle around smaller wheels, liberating space for luggage and suspension (for comfort and road-holding) without compromising efficiency and performance.

sixties icon

The Moulton Bicycle was launched at the Earl’s Court Cycle Show in 1962. As the first full-size small-wheeled bicycle, it was an immediate sensation. Alex Moulton rang the company building his new factory in Bradford on Avon and ordered it to be doubled in size. George Harriman, Chairman of the British Motor Corporation, rang Alex at the show and told him not to hesitate to take orders as BMC could help him to manufacture them.

Like the Mini car, the Moulton Bicycle appealed to all ages and all types, from trendy teenagers to City managers. Within a year Moulton were the second-largest bicycle makers in the country. Other manufacturers were caught off-guard but soon a raft of small-wheeled competitors hit the market. In 1967 Alex Moulton sold his bicycle to business to Raleigh, then the dominant company in the industry.

The influence of Moulton’s design was such that by 1970, a third of bicycles sold in the UK were of the small-wheel type originated and pioneered by Alex Moulton in 1962.

the advanced engineering bicycle

Raleigh manufactured Moulton Bicycles from 1967 to 1974. Alex Moulton was irritated by Raleigh’s decision and, given that his consultancy with Raleigh ended at the same time, decided to continue on his own. However, he eschewed the volume market and began a programme of research and development eventually resulted in the launch of the ‘AM’ series Moulton Bicycle - ‘The Advanced Engineering Bicycle’ - in 1983.

The new Moulton bicycle featured a frame built around a three-dimensional lattice truss comprised of small-diameter thin-wall tubes. It thus possessed great torsional and lateral rigidity whilst being light in weight. The bicycle was built in small numbers on The Hall Estate - firstly in the 1962 factory (now Anthony Best Dynamics) and later in the Stable Block where production continues to this day.

You can read more about the Moulton Bicycle and the current range here.