The Unconventional Mind

Some say it looks like an unfinished bit of scaffolding. Others hail it as the epitome of all small-wheel bicycle designs and a work of art. Love it or hate it, you’ve probably seen the occasional Moulton zipping about.

For the uninitiated, this isn’t a concept bike or a one-off limited edition machine. Sure, there are variations that fall into the super-exclusive $30,000 category, but a base model would suffice in drawing more than a few stupefied stares.

The Moulton Bicycle Company was founded by Dr Alex Moulton in 1962. The Cambridge graduate reinvented the traditional diamond-frame bicycle which was more or less the staple of bike frames since the days of the safety bicycle in the 1900’s. The Briton’s introduction of what he called the ‘F’ Frame got sceptics sitting up when John Woodburn broke the Cardiff-London record just a month after the small-wheeled bike’s inception.

His average speed for the 260km route was 39km/h.

Not to mention, the ‘F’ Frame also utilised a then unheard-of twin suspension system. The notable rear dampener was derived in the workshop of his family’s rubber business and is the same compound used in the suspension of the iconic Austin Mini.

The within a year of Moulton Bicycles, the company became among the biggest frame builder in the country, second only to Raleigh.

During the late 70’s Moulton started the conceptualisation of the iconic spaceframe design. He was constantly looking for stiffer and lighter materials that would not sacrifice comfort for the everyday rider. 1983 saw the legendary Alex Moulton (AM) frame go into production and the scaffolding-like bicycle was an immediate hit.

Through the years, Moulton has collaborated with several other companies including Raleigh, Bridgestone and Pashley. Despite winning more races and setting more records, the AM was also a popular touring bike, thanks to the frame also being separable.

Today, the architecture of Moulton’s spaceframe continues to stand as a big part of 20th Century bicycling history. The nonconformist would undoubtedly agree.

The Bike

We have with us the TSR 30, Moulton’s mid-range model that sports the similar classic spaceframe architecture. Before we go any further, I feel it is essential to point out that this is no foldie. Moultons do not fold vertically, horizontally or diagonally. They do not fold. Period.

What they do though, is separate. Yes, this means disassembly results in the bike breaking in two. It sounds a little daunting at first but once you get the hang of it, the process is actually pretty quick. Perhaps even faster than some of the folding bikes out there.

The process is easy and just takes three steps. The three cables (two for the derailleurs, one for the rear brake) that run along the “downtube” are detached by unscrewing couplings and this is can be done by hand. Then a nut on the reinforcing piece is loosened, also by hand. Now the third step of removing a bold in the middle of the frame is straight forward enough, with the only drawback being that it requires a 6mm Allen key. And there you have the end result of the separable bike.

Unfortunately, this still doesn’t allow you to ride on the local trains or busses. What it is brilliant for is to be stowed in the trunk of a car, bike box or airplane; and this is perfect if you have touring in mind. This is one of the major draws for owners of the Moulton.

The TSR 30 is extremely touring-friendly with front and rear rack mounts at your disposal. 20” wheels mean having the ability to carry heavier loads, which is an advantage over the more common 26” or 700C bikes. Reynolds 525 steel tubing is also an excellent choice of material, engineered to be strong and robust for touring and audax rides. 30 speeds also give you a wide buffet of gear ratios to devour.

Campagnolo is deployed for hardware, with a 56/42/30 Chorus crankset up front. Campy Centaur shifters and rear derailleur work together to manoeuvre a 10-speed cassette. Getting up to speed is not an issue with the 56-teeth chainring, allowing this machine to easily cruise alongside the average roadie.

The Ride

The unconventional geometry takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get rolling, the ride is immediately plush thanks to the leading-link front suspension and Moulton’s trademark rear Dry Cone suspension. It is a shame that there isn’t an option sans suspension if you’re looking for speed. I personally think that the Reynolds tubes are adequate enough to contribute towards the ride’s comfort. Perhaps the shocks are just there for the sake of heritage. If you’re looking for a cushier ride though, then you will find this a welcoming feature.

It really handles well and rides like a traditional road bike. Despite the small wheels, it isn’t too twitchy unlike most of its competition. This has got to do with the adjustable stem that allows for a very forgiving range ride positions. This is also evident once off the saddle during climbs.

The separable frame also holds up surprisingly well in terms of stiffness. Vertically, the suspension system kind of trumps that which again is a shame; but lateral flex is impressively low thanks to the engineering at the joints and Reynolds tubes.

At a fair weight of roughly 11 kilograms, it is actually a very good descender and response is nice and crisp. On curvy descents, opting for an inner line poses no problems and the wheels stay firmly planted.

Overall, our pink friend rides like butter. It is also evident that plenty of attention is put into the construction. With an orchestra of welded joints scattered throughout the frame, details are taken care of, which gives the Moulton a very nice finish. Not to mention the many curious stares you will be getting.

In the mid-$3000 range, it is by no means cheap, but you get what you pay for. And what you get is top quality craftsmanship, a really sweet ride and a piece of bicycle history thoroughly embedded with true English heritage.