Dave Moulton

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My Paint Curing Oven

When I went to work for Masi at the end of 1980, I immediately found that the level of paint finish they achieved on their frames was at a far higher standard than I had previously seen.

I had painted my own frames in England for a number of years before coming to the US in 1979. I knew how to handle a paint gun.

What I had not been exposed to was applying multiple clear coats to the frame, then sanding the surface with wet and dry sandpaper, to an absolute overall smooth surface, before applying a final overall clear coat.

Masi had two essential pieces of equipment that were needed to achieve this level of paint finish. A totally enclosed dust free paint booth and a paint curing oven.

The paint booth was a scaled down automotive booth, with a large electric fan that exhausted through the roof of the building. Replaceable filters caught the paint over-spray, and on the air inlet side of the booth, were special “Sticky” filters that caught dust as the air came through. Both inlet and exhaust filters were replaced every month or so.

Masi’s paint curing oven was no doubt shipped over from Italy along with all the other specialist bicycle manufacturing equipment when the Masi facility opened sometime in the 1970s.

The Imron paint we used had a chemical hardener added to it, and so would air dry “dust-free” at room temperature in ten or fifteen minutes. However, in order for the paint to be hard enough to sand, it would take days, even weeks to cure. A paint curing oven was therefore essential to the process.

When I set up my own facility in 1982, I needed this same paint equipment if I was to produce paint work to this same high standard. The paint booth was no problem as these are made up of standard sheet steel panels that bolt together. One can order a paint booth in any size of configuration.

I ordered one from a company in nearby Los Angeles. It was 12 foot square, (3.63 m.)  and totally enclosed as previously described. It was divided into a 7 ft. (2.13 m.) room where the frames were sprayed, and a 5 ft. (1.52 m.) room where frames hung waiting to be painted, and where they also hung after painting, waiting to ‘flash off,’ and become dust free.

Air flowed from back to front through both these two sections, keeping overspray from the newly painted frames.

The Paint oven was a whole different matter. I doubt any such piece of equipment, specifically for bicycle frames, was even made in the US. However, I did find a used bakers oven that I figured I could adapt and make it work. It was about 7 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide, and about 4 ft. deep. (2.13 m. x 2.43 m. x 1.21 m.)

The front was enclosed except for a small door where the bread and cakes were put in, and taken out. It was made of sheet steel panels, insulated with glass-fiber in between. I cut the whole front off with a hammer and cold chisel.

Inside was a rotating conveyer that carried the baked goods around the over as they baked. I had to remove and discard all this, and make hooks to hang 10 frames and forks as I remember.

I constructed two doors that split in the center, using 3 inch angle iron for the frame, sheet steel outside and inside with fiber-glass insulation between. I made the heavy duty hinges, and a special cam operated bolt system, to hold the door closed tight against a heat proof sealing strip.

The oven had large electric heating elements in the bottom, and a control panel on one end.  The temperature this oven could attain far exceeded that needed to cure paint. I set the temperature at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 C.)  The oven would take about 15 minutes to reach 250 F. then would shut off automatically. It would then take another 30 minutes to cool down.

A 45 minute bake would cure the paint to a degree that would normally take weeks to air dry. Also I believe the reason the paint has held up so well, on some of my frames over 30 years old, the paint was hard and thoroughly cured when the left my shop.  Air dried paint usually chips in the first year when the paint is soft and vulnerable.

Above is the only picture I could find of the oven.


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1970s TT Bike

Fag paper clearances. (British slang for cigarette paper.) Meaning the rear wheel was so close to the seat tube that you could barely get a cigarette paper between the tire and the frame tube. See the picture above.

This was an extreme fashion fad in the UK during the mid-1970s especially on time trial bikes. It served no useful purpose except to make the chainstays shorter thereby saving a little weight, and making the rear triangle a little stiffer. The frames were usually built using vertical rear dropouts to achieve the close clearance.

When fads like this become fashion a framebuilder can do little but follow the latest trend, or lose business. I was no different. However, I did not follow the extremes of some framebuilders who built these frames with clearances so close you had to deflate the rear tire to get the wheel in and out. This bordered on the ridiculous. 

Some built frames with extremely steep head angles so the front wheel barely cleared the down tube. This was a part of the trend I refused to follow, as it made for some very “squirrelly” bikes. The last thing a rider needs is a squirrelly time trial bike, a TT bike needs to hold a straight line.

I remember one frame (not one of mine.) brought to me for repair. The down tube and top tube were bent. My first question was, “What did you hit?” The owner replied, “Nothing, I slowed to take a corner, and the frame collapsed under me.”

When I inspected the frame the first thing I noticed was a black rubber tire mark under the down tube right where the tube folded. It became clear to me what had happened. The front wheel was so close to the down tube that when the rider applied the front brake there was enough flex that the front wheel touched the down tube.

Maybe his headset was a little loose, whatever the cause, once the front wheel touched it would have stopped the bike very quickly and the forward momentum folded the frame. I replaced the top and down tubes, making sure to make the head angle a little shallower, making for a little more front wheel clearance.

The bike pictured at the top was one I built for John Patston, an international class rider who represented Great Britain on their national team. In the above picture, John Patston is leading, followed by Paul Carbutt, and Pete Hall. (All on ‘dave moulton’ frames.)

The forth rider Grant Thomas is obscured behind Patston. This was the British Team riding in the 1975 World Championship 100 km. Team Time Trial event.

John Patston was primarily a road rider, very strong and aggressive, often riding away from the opposition to win solo. If others stayed with him, he would usually win the finishing sprint. He was also an excellent time trialist. 

I received a great deal of publicity from this particular bike. It featured in the British “Cycling” magazine. (Affectionately known by cyclists throughout the UK, as “The Comic.”) 

I can’t remember whether the bike was built in Columbus or Reynolds tubing, but the complete bike built up with Campagnolo titanium components, weighed in a 19 lbs. Pretty light for 1977 when this was built.

The bike was also featured in “The Penguin Book of the Bicycle” published in 1978. (Left.) The same photo shown at the top was used for the title page as the book was opened. (See below.) 

My name on the frame's down tube was airbrushed from the picture, as were the spokes from the wheels to make room for the title text. However, the same picture appeared again later in the book on page 97, this time with my name intact.

The frame was painted black and had gold pin striping on the edges of the lugs. It also had John’s initials “JP” painted in gold on the seatstay caps.

Cycling magazine could not mention John Patston by name because of the strick ametuer status rules of that time. (Although most readers could figure out who JP was.) However, the magazine drew an interesting parallel, one that I had not realized when I chose that particular color scheme.

The British tobacco giant “John Player,” also with initials JP, sponsored a Grand Prix racing team at that time. The cars built by Lotus were painted black with gold lettering.


This article was first posted in March 2008

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I've got nothing

Sitting at the keyboard
Staring at the screen,
A case of bike blog writer’s block
The worst I’ve ever seen.

The bicycle so simple
You push one pedal down,
The other one comes up again
And the wheels go round and round.

Have I reached the limit?
Is there any more to say?
Will it all come back again
If I wait another day?

I go on to Bike Forums
To try to find ideas
But they’re asking “If I shave my legs,
Will my wife think I’m queer?” 

I struggle to find answers
To questions quite inane,
Like, "Do you still commute to work
If it looks like rain."

And on the vintage forum
Someone’s asking for advice,
On dating a Bottechia
I say, “Why not if she’s nice.”

Writing about nothing
And even make it rhyme,
Is really not that difficult
All it takes is time.

But to write exclusively about
A subject like a bike, 
And try to keep it interesting
The stuff that people like.

Is really not that easy
And like my Momma said,
There will always be days like these
When there’s nothing in my head.

If by chance you are still reading
Maybe I’ve entertained,
I’ve made something out of nothing
And my posting’s not in vain.

Please check back again, after this it can only get better.

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Success and Fate

Looking back on the United States part of my framebuilding career, although some of my success I created, fate also played a large role.

For example in 1980 I went for a job interview with Trek, in Wisconsin. I didn’t get the position, but later that same year I landed a job with Masi in Southern California.

When I eventually started my own business I was definitely in the right place. California, and in particular the southern part of that state, has a climate where one can ride a bike year round. Had I opened my own framebuilding shop in Wisconsin, business would have definitely been seasonal.

Also when Masi laid me off at the end of 1981 it was due to an overstock of unsold frames coinciding with a recession. It was not because of anything I had done, and it was not necessarily Masi’s doing either.

They were only too pleased to rent me space in their shop to build my own frames, as they also had a drop in income. This got me started back in my own business again, and I was able to resume building custom frames. Something I had not done since leaving England in 1979.

Then when John Howard, ex-Olympic rider and winner of the first Ironman Triathlon approached me in 1983 to build frames under his own name, it gave me a contract to build five frames a week.

This brought in a steady income to supplement what I was already making from my custom frames. It enabled me to open my own framebuilding facility, along with my own paint shop.

The John Howard frame was a short lived project that only lasted a year. Again due to circumstances largely outside of my control, and of which I have outlined in a previous article.

This left me scrambling to find a replacement to fill the void in my production capabilities. Once again fate had played a hand and out of that the Fuso was conceived.

The John Howard frame was always underpriced and profit margins were small. It was competing head on with the Masi and Italian import frames, but was not an established brand at that time, so we had to produce and sell it for less.

With lessons learned from the John Howard frame, the Fuso came into being in 1984. The extreme luxuries like chrome plating were dispensed with, and the Fuso was a well designed, well built product with nice paint and graphics.

No longer having to split profits with a middle man, I now had a frame that was a reasonable price and would compete favorably with the import frames.

The Fuso had a good run for almost ten years, when once again fate took a hand in the form of the Mountain Bike. People stopped buying road bikes. However, this time I did not rise to the challenge and re-invent myself or my business.

Maybe I had been knocked down one too many times. I was thoroughly burned out with the bike business, and no longer wanted to be a part of it.

If someone had offered me a job in the bike business, I would have considered it. But to run my own business again, subject to all the whims of the market and the consumer. No, thank you very much

Looking back I have no regrets, but can't help but wonder what if I had landed that job with Trek back in 1980. Would they have treated me well enough that I stayed?

I might be retired by now with a large pension from some executive position. On the other hand I doubt if it would have been as satisfying as what I did do.

And is money the only consideration when a person looks back on what they have achieved? At some point we die and money has little bearing on anything


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Autonomous Cars

People do such a lousy job of driving cars they killed some 40,000 people in the US last year. (109 every day.) One answer it seems is technology, self-driving cars that take over the responsibility for driving safely, by refraining from running into other people.

The only problem is the technology is still in the development stages and cannot be trusted on public roads. The robotics in these autonomous vehicles cannot be fully relied on to avoid each and every pedestrian or cyclist. The answer is to put a driver behind the wheel to override the robot should an emergency arise.

Last week the inevitable happened in Tempe, Arizona, when a 49 year-old woman, wheeling her bicycle across the street was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber car. It was not a “Driverless” car as it had a backup driver behind the wheel. Both car and driver failed to “See” the unfortunate lady, and stop.

Technology is not the answer, it is the problem.

Modern cars have become so easy to drive, with automatic transmissions, cruse controls, etc., that there is less and less for a driver to do. Is it any wonder people become distracted?

 I am not excusing distracted driving, it is wrong and the crux of the whole problem. But it is human nature, we are not robots, our minds don’t work that way. Most cannot sit still and do nothing, even if ‘nothing’ includes keeping one’s eyes and mind on the road ahead.

So by putting a driver in a driverless car, and take away the last thing he has to do, namely steer the car and work the stop and go pedals with his feet, then expect him to have his eyes on the road constantly? I can see where that might not work too well.

Cars used to be manual transmission, (Stick shift.) I grew up in the UK with cars like these. We needed two hands and two feet to drive. You could not eat, or drink coffee, or do anything else while driving because you needed at least one hand to steer, while shifting gears with the other. Simultaneously working the clutch, brake, and gas pedal with your feet.

Driving in city traffic was constantly shifting up through the gears to speed up, then shifting down again as you slowed down. It was almost impossible to be distracted. Driving occupied your mind fully from the moment you started the engine, until you reached your destination and parked.

I am not suggesting we all go back to stick shift, although it would be a good thing if people learned to drive that way. Do you want to keep your teenager off the cell phone? Make their first car a stick shift. And why not use technology to make it so a cell phone won’t work while the car is in motion?

Instead of cruise control set by the driver, how about one that limits the top speed to the speed limit controlled from outside the vehicle. And a control device that limits how close you drive behind another vehicle for any given speed?

How about cyclists and pedestrians have a micro-chip implant that would warn autonomous cars of their presence. I am being facetious of course, that would trample on our human rights. But sadly the lady from Tempe, AZ, who ironically was both pedestrian and cyclist, lost the ultimate human right. Namely, the right to live.   


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