Dave Moulton

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David R Ball PhotoMarketing is always a tough nut for the artist.

All he wants to do is create, but then there comes a point where he must market what he creates in order to survive and continue creating.

It is tough when you have a product that you know is superior but lose sales because some large corporation has more marketing clout.

This happened many times with me in the early 1980s when customers would be on the brink of buying one of my bikes, then at the last moment opt for a Japanese Nishiki, on Centurion. Both good bicycles of that era but could never compare to a hand-built frame made by an individual craftsman.

The only reason they did this was marketing. These large manufacturers could place full page color ads in Bicycling Magazine. But at $10,000 a pop for a such an ad there was no way I could compete.

Instead I relied on bicycle dealers to sell to a small group of hard-core cyclists who could appreciate the difference between a limited production hand-built frame, and a factory mass produced item. I built a Nationwide network of these dealers by attending the Interbike Trade Show each year.

Each dealer would have bikes in stock that potential customers could test ride. Once a person test rode a Fuso, or other bike I built, and compared it to a production import bike, they could tell by the way it rode, the way it handled, this was a better bike, often for the same amount of money.

These independent bicycle dealers were my sales force, handling all the marketing for me, leaving me to spend my time building frames. For the dealer there was a 15% mark-up on a frame, not a huge amount, but when you add to this the markup on the components. Plus, back in the day, the bike store built the wheels and of course charged labor for the assembly of the bike.

It was a profitable partnership for the dealer and me, one that worked well through the 1980s, until the market changed. By the early 1990s interest switched to Mountain Bikes, which killed the road bike market.

For me to sell direct to the individual customer was a hopeless proposition. It had worked well for me in England though the 1970s, but there was a big difference in the mentality of the customer in the UK.

For a start my UK customers were almost exclusively racing cyclists. Having chosen a framebuilder, they would trust him implicitly. They would spend an hour at the most, getting measured and discussing the order. If they lived more than 75 miles away, the order would probably be sent via mail, or taken over the phone. The customer would order a frame and would most likely buy the components and assemble the bike himself.

The American customer, on the other hand, would drive hundreds of miles across state lines to visit with a framebuilder. Having done that, they would expect to spend the whole day at the shop, hanging out, watching me work, asking all manner of questions, that went way beyond the scope of the actual frame I would build for them. And there was never a gaurentee that an order would be forthcoming.

I think the big difference between the British and American customer is, the UK customer recognizes your skills but treats you as an equal. However, he respects your time and realizes it is valuable.

The American customer also recognizes your skills, but treats you like some kind of celebrity because of it, to the point at times, it is embarrassing. However, he has no respect for your time, and if he is buying your product, he expects your undivided attention that goes way beyond the time it takes to actually create that product.

It is the American way. Money talks, and the customer is King. A philosophy I never quite bought into, and was the reason I ran a strict ‘No Visitor’ policy, and sold my product through bike dealers. If I had it to do over again, I would do the same. One cannot run a profitable framebuilding business if you are spending more time talking about bikes than actually building them.


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Plan Ahead 

The simple things in life we plan ahead, for example going to the grocery store. We plan the meals we are going to make and create a shopping list.

When we get in the car, we have a definite plan. We decide ahead which grocery store to use, and the route we are going to take. If we need to make a detour to get gas or buy something from another store, we decide ahead of time the order in which we a going to do things.

We cannot imagine driving around aimlessly until we just happen upon a grocery store, And yet so often when it comes to the big things in our lives, careers, relationships, our whole future we have no plan, we drive aimlessly around.

I am often guilty of this which is why I am writing this piece, as a reminder. Being aware of a problem is halfway to fixing it.

Even at this point in my life when most people my age would not buy green bananas, I still make short term goals and feel that my best work is still ahead of me.

I find with short term goals it is easier to remain focused. If I always have a plan, and as long as I am moving forward, I don’t need to think about next week’s grocery list at this moment.

What tricks do use to stay focused and on course?


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Remembering Luton

I have led a somewhat nomadic life and prior to moving to South Carolina in 2001, I had never lived in one place longer than ten years. I have lived on both the East and West Coast of the United States since 1979 and even my native England seems like a foreign country to me now because I visit there so infrequently.

I often wonder where do I call home? I was born in Surrey, England but left there as a baby and have never been back, but there is one place where I lived between 1949 and 1959. I was 13 when I moved there and 23 when I left.

The town is Luton, about thirty miles roughly due north of London. This is where I spent my teen years, where I grew from a boy to a man. If I have a place I can call my home town it is Luton. This was the town where I was given a second chance. I had failed an exam at age eleven which would have enabled me to go for a higher education.

I failed because my schooling was disrupted when we moved three times that year because my father kept losing his job. But at aged fourteen I passed an exam to attend Luton Technical School, which later led to an apprenticeship in engineering.

Part of Luton Technical School was a Community College where older students would attend. Some of these students were racing cyclists and the school bike racks would be full of beautiful lightweight racing machines with names like Hetchins, Holdsworth and Hobbs od Barbican.

This is where the fascination with the bicycle began, I joined The Luton Arrow Cycling Club and started racing. I would later learn to build racing bicycle frames. A skill that eventually led to my moving to the US and a successful bicycle manufacturing business in Southern California through the 1980s.

I haven’t been back to Luton for many years. Online searches lead me to websites and message boards where ex Lutonians like me post messages from time to time. Sometimes people are unkind to Luton and I have seen it described as “The worst shit-hole in England.” What happened? As I remember it was a great town.

The 1960s came right after I left, the boom years when money was being made and was being spent just as fast. The Luton Town Council, the politicians, decided in their wisdom to tear down many of the beautiful old buildings and rebuild. A good example is the old library building right across from the Town Hall. (Pictured above.) This building was a gift to Luton donated in 1910 by Andrew Carnegie the American philanthropist.

It was a beautiful old building with great character where I would often stand on its steps and wait for a date to show up. We had no cell phones, few of us even had phones at home and we had no cars, we used public transport. if we made a date we would have to arrange to meet somewhere. The Town Council replaced the library with a soulless glass faced monstrosity.

Like the unscrupulous surgeon who will operate on you whether you need it or not, just to take your money, the Town Council in cahoots with the big developers ripped the heart out of Luton. They made it a less desirable place to live so people started moving out. And an immigrant population moved in.

Luton today has a huge Moslem population and I have even seen it featured on the TV news here in the US because of some links to the terrorist bombings in London. I’m sure the majority of Luton’s citizens today are law abiding but there always a few who drag down the reputation of a place. Not that I am suggesting you put Luton on your list of must-see places if you visit England.

Large Towns and Cities have a soul. It is I believe the collective souls of all the people who live there. New York City for example has a special energy that you feel when you are there. San Francisco and London have it also. Luton definitely had a soul when I lived there, and if it doesn’t have one now maybe it’s because the people who live there don’t have a sense of belonging there. They are nomads like me.

I will probably not go back to Luton, I prefer to remember it fondly as it once was, and for any ex-Lutonians out there, (It seems we are scattered all over the world.) take comfort in the fact that Luton is a very good place to be from.


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Facebook and Me

Last week I watched the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack,” which told the story of how a British company, Cambridge Anilitica, used online profiles of millions of people to manipulate not only the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election, but the outcome of the UK’s Brexit vote.

The Great Hack didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already suspect, but it did bring home the enormity of the operation, and the lengths people will go, for the purpose of making money. Facebook was the main tool they used, and their strategy was alarmingly simple.

Through online profiles they sought out people who were undecided, and lived in key states and areas, and bombarded them with advertising, and fake news.

It has been obvious to me for some time now that if I buy something online, or even simply research something, I am immediately swamped with ads for that same item. It becomes clear that my online data is being collected by someone, or someone’s robot.

It is one thing however to have someone sell you a product that you may or may not want, but another to be able to buy the outcome of a democratic election. It is alarming to say the least.

The first knee jerk reaction is to say, screw Facebook, I’ll remove myself. But in my case that would hurt me more than it would them. I have spent many years building an online presence. This blog has been here since 2005, that represents hundreds of hours writing.

I left the bike business 26 years ago and at times it feels like I am still selling the bikes I built, and in a way I am. But not for the purpose of making money, don’t expect to. I do it for the personal satisfaction of knowing I built a worthwhile product that people still enjoy.

I would hate for this Facebook group to disappear, and If anyone does decide to leave, I hope they will still follow this blog and stay in touch. The Dave Moulton Bike FB page is an example what Facebook claims was their original intention. To bring people together.

The page does just that, there is never a political or a hateful comment, just people sharing a common interest.

Shame on you Mark Zuckerberg for allowing a wonderful idea to be used in this manner. I hope when you get to be my age you can say you left the World a better place than when you came into it.


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E-Bikes and Scooters

My last article about bicycle steering brought the following comment from Steve. I know Steve as a long-time reader of this blog, and often asks thought provoking questions.

“What do you think of the sudden fascination with scooters, which used to be considered a child's toy, now a legit, and preferred over bikes, transportation mode?

(Compare the irony of bicycles being seen as toys to scooters not viewed that way.)

Is a scooter's steering as safe as a bicycle?

Does leaning help or hinder steering and the stability of a scooter, with its geometry?

Do the companies that unloaded these onto the public know the physics of riding scooters? I know the people don't, they just ride them, which is the same with bicycles.

You don't need to know the physics behind riding a bike, because science only helps explain the act of riding. And riding well has nothing to do with knowing the science of riding a bike.”

The traditional child’s scooter is relatively safe and doesn’t even need brakes. It is kind of like running with one leg, and when you want to stop you simply stop running. The small wheels gather very little momentum, even downhill, and often it precedes a child’s first bicycle.

Add an electric motor and it worries me to see very young children riding these. A few years ago, right around Christmas, I witnessed a girl about 12 years old riding an electric scooter in the street outside my home.

She appeared to be traveling at about 15 mph. As I watched her ride up the street about 100 yards from my house, the scooter suddenly pitched forward, and she went down hard on her face. She lay motionless in the road. I was about to run out to assist her, when her parents came running out. Her father picked her up and carried her indoors. I never saw her ride that scooter again.

From what I witnessed, and the fact she was outside her own home, I surmise she turned the handlebars to steer into her driveway. She was probably going too fast and the front wheel flipped 90 degrees and sent her over the top landing on her face.

This can happen on a bicycle too, and usually causes the front fork blades to be bent sideways. In all my years framebuilding, I straightened many forks bent in this fashion. The difference is, the bike has to hit a serious pothole, or most often is the result of touching another rider’s back wheel.

The larger wheels on a bicycle give it stability, and it would be difficult to accidentally turn the front wheel 90 degrees, unless you hit some object.

If you put a child, or for that matter an inexperienced adult on a bicycle, they will be riding relatively slow to begin with, and should they fall, injuries will nothing more that a few scrapes and bruises.

By the time the rider has the ability to ride fast, he or she as gathered some bike handling skills along the way. Not so with e-bikes and electric scooters, you have the instant ability to ride fast without necessarily having the skills to ride at such speeds. Making this person a danger, not only to themselves, but everyone else they encounter.

My opinion is, if you add a motor, it no longer a bicycle, it is a motorcycle, and if you are going to ride a motorcycle, get a proper one, like a Harley-Davidson. You will at least get more respect from other road users.

As for Steve’s question about the scooter’s popularity. I can only surmise that people have no shame anymore. What next Electric Pogo Sticks?

Feel free to add your views for or against E-Bikes and Electric Scooters.


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