Dave Moulton

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Flat Tires: More or Less?

Last week's post about three times Tour de France winner, Louison Bobet, brought up a question about the atrocious condition of the roads back then, and did it lead to more punctures? From my own experience and my memory of it, I would say, no.

Back in the 1950s and prior top that, the Tour de France went over the same mountains as they do today, but many of these same roads were unpaved dirt, or at best, tar and gravel. Many of the minor country roads in England were periodically sprayed with hot, wet tar. Fine gravel was then spread over the tar and a steam roller would press the gravel into the soft tar.
Passing cars would tend to sweep the loose top gravel to the side of the road where people rode bikes, and much of this fine gravel consisted of very sharp flints. In spite of this, I remember going long periods without getting a flat tire, often as long as a year. I rode exclusively on tubular tires, (Sew-ups in America.) as did all racing cyclists, amateur and pro. There is a reason professional cyclists still ride on tubulars to this day. The ride is superior. I also believe, a good quality tubular tire is less prone to puncture. 
You never get a pinch flat for a start. For those who don't know a pinch flat is when a tire is low in pressure and the wheel hits an object like a rock, or the edge of a pothole. The bead of the tire is forced away from the rim and the inner tube then blows out though this gap in the form of a bubble. The bead of the tire then snaps back to the rim, pinching or trapping the inner tube between the two. A pinch flat is sometimes called a "Snake bite" as the result is two small cuts in the tube, one caused by the rim and one by the edge of the tire.
Also, on a clincher tire wheel, spoke nipples and the countersunk holes for the nipples, have sharp edges. They are usually covered by a rim tape to protect the inner tube from these sharp edges. But if the rim tape moves over time the inner tube can be chaffed and worn through, or cut on a sharp edge. 
Both the situations are not possible with a tubular tire. the inner tube is sewn inside the tire itself, and there is nothing to chafe of cut the tube from the inside. It can only puncture if it is penetrated from the outside. A tubular tire can even be ridden flat for at least a few miles. With a clincher you would destroy the tire and possibly the rim too.
Back in the 1950s and possibly even today, high quality tubulars were made with pure rubber. We would buy our tires ahead of time, and store them in a cool, dark place, like a closet for six months or more. This would allow the rubber to "Mature" and it would become tougher with age.
Modern tires are made from synthetic rubber, and aging them probably has no affect. I do remember, if I was forced to use a new tubular, because it was all I had at the time, it would seem to puncture in a very short time. 
Great strides have been made in the manufacture of clincher tires over the last twenty or more years. For the leisure cyclist and even for all but the pros and top amateur ranks, tubular tires are not worth the expense and hassle of maintaining them. But the original question was, did we get more flats back in the day, and my answer was "No," in spite of worse road conditions. Good quality tubulars were probably part of the reason why.
There was a time when the rules of the Tour de France were that riders had to carry and change their own tubular tire. Later they were allowed to receive help from others, (See top picture of 1951 Tour winner. Swiss rider Hugo Koblet.)
I have punctured on occasions during a road race in the 1950s and 1960s. It is possible to change a tire and be on your way in a minute and a half or two minutes, if all goes well it is possible in a little over a minute. We did have Co2 pumps that inflate a tire in seconds. (Koblet has one behind his seat tube in the above picture.)
Road racing in the UK was on the open roads with normal traffic. There was a lead car in front of the race with a large sign saying "Bicycle Race Approaching.(It was rather like a fast moving "Wide Load Approaching.") There was always a long line of traffic held up behind the race, and therefore moving at the same speed as the race. If you could change your tire quick enough, and you made a big effort, you could catch up to the end of this line of cars.
Cars back then had door handles on the outside that were convenient to hold onto and take a rest. Then it was a matter of ride hard and move up a few cars. Grab a door handle, rest and repeat the process. Door handle, rest, sprint, door handle, rest, sprint, and in a very short time you were back in the race. 
All very illegal of course, but effective, and without the complication and expense of team support.
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Louison Bobet: First three time TDF winner

When French cyclist Louison Bobet won the Tour de France in 1953, 1954, and 1955 he became the first rider to win the event three consecutive times. His victories came through sheer hard work and determination.

For example, his first Tour de France was in 1947 at the tender age of 22 he was forced to quit when the race reached the mountain stages. He found the going too tough, and it was a lesson the young Bobet would not forget. He trained even harder and became one of the greatest climbers of his era.

The following year 1948 he was the darling of the French press when he took the Yellow Jersey early in the race. However, that was the year when Italian Gino Bartali was unstoppable and came out a clear winner. (Picture below: Bobet leads Bartali.)

Bobet failed to finish the Tour in 1949, but in 1950 had his best showing to date, finishing 3rd. overall, and taking the King of the Mountains Trophy. However, this showing was somewhat tainted because the entire Italian team quit due to hostility and interference from French spectators. This was when Italian rider Fiorenzo Magni was leading the race. Swiss rider Ferdi Kubler won that year.

Naturally the French Nation expected great things of Louison Bobet the following year 1951. His year began well, Bobet won the Mountains Jersey in the Giro d’Italia. He also won two of the Classic races that year, the Milan – San Remo, and the Tour of Lombardy.

However, his showing in the Tour de France was disappointing when he placed 20th. The French press were writing him off as being a good single day rider, but not having the right stuff to win the Tour. Bobet would miss the 1952 Tour due to injury.

In 1953 TDF Louison Bobet finally silenced his critics, and for the years that followed he became the favorite of the French Nation. 1947 winner Jean Robic took an early lead, but a crash and an all out attack by the French National Team put Robic out of the race. Louison Bobet, took the yellow jersey on the famed stage over the Izoard Pass and kept it.

In the 1954 Tour, the Swiss team led by Ferdi Kubler, Hugo Koblet and Fritz Schaer kept up constant pressure. However, as in 1953, Bobet slaughtered his rivals on the Izoard climb and cemented his second consecutive Tour victory.

For some the famed Izoard climb is synonymous with Louison Bobet. The mythic Alpine climb was crucial to his first two Tour victories. So convincing was he in 1954, he left his Swiss rival Ferdi Kubler trailing by twelve minutes.

In 1955, suffering from a saddle sore, many were pessimistic about the chances of Louison Bobet winning his third consecutive Tour de France. Young Luxembourg climber Charly Gaul (Pictured above with Bobet.) grabbed plenty of headlines by winning Bobet's sacred stage to Briançon. But Bobet bounced back by destroying his competition on the feared Mount Ventoux after a long solo victory. It proved to be the key to his third Tour victory.

Bobet's victory on the Mount Ventoux was of the stuff that becomes legendary in Tour history. At the start of the stage, Bobet is still more than 11 minutes down to the unheralded Antonin Rolland. At the foot of the 21-kilometer climb, the Swiss champ attacked with Raphäel Geminiani and no one could follow. (Bobet and Geminiani picture below.)

However, the Swiss misjudged the difficulty of the climb and faded badly. Bobet, who understood the true menace of the famed mountain, bided his time. In the final six kilometers, above the tree line in under the blazing sun, Bobet caught and passed the leaders. No one could match his driving pace. At the summit Kubler was already 20 minutes down and by the finish in Avignon, Bobet was alone.

By his own admission Bobet was never the same after the 1955 Tour. However, he did win the Paris-Roubaix Classic in 1956. He had placed 3rd in 1955, and had previously placed 2nd in 1951. Louison Bobet won the World Championship Road Race in 1954, was 2nd in 1957 and 1958. 

Bobet’s career was effectively ended in December 1961 when his car skidded off the road and hit a boulder. Bobet broke his femur and his recovery was long and difficult. He eventually raced again, but retired the next year at the end of 1962.

Born 1925, Louison Bobet died of cancer in 1983 at the young age of 58. After his death, there was speculation that the saddle sore that had plagued him in his last Tour win, was much more than a simple boil, and may have been cancer. In the 1950s cancer was a taboo subject and no one talked of it. If that was the case, his win showed the sheer guts and determination of the man.

Bobet’s Tour victories came between Fausto Coppi (Above leading Bobet.) and Jacques Anquetil, both men spoke highly of him. Coppi once said of Bobet. “He knows like nobody else how to suffer and his powers of recovery are unmatched. The bike means everything to him. It is truly his life blood and his application to his chosen way of life is an example to every aspiring champion.”

Anquetil (Above 3rd from left, with Bobet leading.) stated “In Bobet’s eyes there were no little races or unimportant victories. Every race mattered and he wanted to give his everything to his public. Bobet knew only one way of racing and that was to race to win, whatever the sacrifices demanded.”

These quotes reflect the respect and admiration of fellow riders and the public. He was certainly one of the heroes of my youth.


First posted March 2009 

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Little snippets from a past life as a framebuilder 

1.) In the early 1960s I worked as a milkman. I would arrive at the dairy at 6:00 a.m. and load up my battery powered electric milk truck. It had a top speed of about 15 mph. 

After driving to the start of my round, I would park the truck and carry the bottles of milk by hand to nearby houses, before moving the truck down the road and repeating the process.

The great thing about this job, I was paid for an eight-hour day, but was encouraged to finish earlier. I would memorize the milk order for every house so I didn’t need to look at my order book, and I ran the entire round which covered about ten miles.

I would be finished each day by 10:00 a.m. This gave me the rest of the day to ride my bike, and build the occasional bike frame. The only day I worked later was Friday when I had to collect the money and take orders for the following week. 

I bought rubber sole “Doc Martin” work boots that were guaranteed for six months, and would wear them out in three, take them back and get a free pair.

2.) When I had my framebuilding business in Worcester, England in the 1970s, a young boy from the neighborhood, aged about eight or nine years old would often stop by on his way home from school, and watch me build frames.

One day he brought his older brother, aged about fourteen, to look at my frames. After studying some finished frames, I had hanging in the shop, the older boy remarked, “They are very good, as good as the ones you can buy at the bike store.

3.) While working in the 
Masi shop in California, in the early 1980s I was doing a frame repair. I was replacing the right chainstay on a Masi frame. I had removed the damaged stay and was preparing the frame to receive the new one.

I stabbed my arm on the sharp point on the bottom bracket shell, and hit a main artery. Blood spurted out in a two-foot jet, pulsating to the rhythm of my heartbeat.

I stuck my thumb over the wound and applied pressure, while I was driven to the hospital. On arrival, I was placed in a wheelchair and taken to the emergency room. 

I sat there, waited, and waited my thumb still pressed tightly against my arm, afraid to let go, or I would surely bleed to death.

When I finally did see a doctor, I took my thumb away, there was no blood, and I could barely see a puncture wound. The doctor stuck a band-aid on it and charged me fifty bucks. A lot of money back then.

4.) In 1983 I opened my own frameshop in San Marcos, California. It was all work back then trying to get the business off the ground. 

The bane of my life was people soliciting and selling all manner of stuff I didn’t need. It got so bad that I would lock the door to the front office.

One day a guy walked in selling Kermit the Frog glove puppets. He had a puppet on each hand, with little red tongues that shot in and out, and immediately when into his sales pitch.

I shouted, “Who the fuck left the front door unlocked.” I walked towards the guy to show him the way out and lock the door behind him.

He must have thought I was about to attack him and he turned to run. The problem was the door had closed behind him, and he couldn’t turn the door knob because he had a Kermit the Frog puppet on each hand.

As I got closer, and closer, he kept glancing back over his shoulder with a look of sheer terror like an animal in the slaughter house. 

Just as I reached him, he got the door open and was through the front office and out the front door in a flash. I locked the door behind him and went back to work.

I wonder about this guy. Did he realize he was not really cut out to be a Kermit the Frog puppet salesman, and get a real job? 

Maybe after this incident he at least left one hand free to open the door for a quick getaway.

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Childhood memories on this Memorial Day

The picture on the left is of me aged five with my Uncle David, he was my father’s younger brother. I was named after him.

It was 1941 during the early days of WWII, in the background of the picture you can see tents.

This was a British Army camp, and I have clear memories of watching a drill sergeant marching the new recruits up and down the road outside my house.

One day leaving home with my mother, the soldiers were lined up on the road three deep, standing to attention. As we walked by I said in a loud voice as kids often do,

“Mum, you see the one with the beard under his nose. (The drill sergeant had a mustache.) He’s the one who does all the shouting.”

There was audible laughter from some of the soldiers and as my mother hurried me away, I could hear the drill sergeant screaming at the men to be quiet.

We were living in a rural area in Southern England, having moved there in 1940 to escape the bombing in London. The war was something I didn’t understand at the time, but it was all I knew. My father was gone, fighting somewhere in Sahara Desert of North Africa.

Another clear memory I have is of early 1944 when the American soldiers arrived in preparation for the Normandy Invasion. They were everywhere, camped on every spare piece of land, including the same camp behind my house.

I was now eight years old and although they seemed like grown-ups to me, I realize today that most of these young army recruits were barely ten or twelve years older than I was at the time. 

I remember they were always happy, laughing and constantly goofing around as teenagers will do.

They were so good to us kids, giving us candy and chewing gum every time the saw us. This was a huge deal as sugar was rationed and we had to get by on an allowance of only 2 oz. of candy a month.

We became used to the American soldiers being there, jeeps, trucks and even Sherman Tanks driving by all the time. Then one day, the first week of June 1944 the soldiers were gone. I went to school in the morning and they were there, I came home from school that afternoon and they were all gone.

It was a surreal experience that I didn’t understand at the time, any more than I understood anything else that went on during that period of my life.

Later when I became an adult, it had a profound effect on me. Because even to this day I can still see the faces of those young American boys, (Because that is what many of them were.) laughing, and goofing around.

Only now I realize that those same kids died in their thousands on the Beaches of Normandy and beyond.

I will never forget the sacrifice they made. A sacrifice not of their choosing. But one they made none the less so I would never have to do the same.


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Vintage brake cable routing

If you own a vintage steel frame, chances are the rear brake cable is routed through braze-on cable guides along the top tube.

Every time the rear brake is applied the cable housing moves slightly. If it drags across the top tube, or touches the seat-stay caps, eventually it will wear through the paint.

To avoid this, route the cable so it is slightly above the seat lug, clear of the paint, and the cable housing rests against the aluminum seat post, as shown in the top picture.

Try not to have too big of a loop in the cable housing, or it will push the side pull brake off center.

To hold the cable housing in this position, place a small rubber “O” ring just behind the last cable guide.

Cut a groove in the plastic sheathing of the cable housing, with a sharp knife, so the “O” ring will drop in this groove and stay in place. See the close up detail shot above.

Use a # 60 “O” ring (¼” O.D. x 1/8” I.D.) These can be found in the plumbing section of your local hardware store. It's a good idea to buy a few spare to add to your tool-box, as they are inexpensive. The rubber deteriates in the sunlight, and they need replacing from time to time.


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