Dave Moulton

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On the road again

It’s been a cold winter. Not by standards of those living in the Northern United States, or some other parts of the world. But cold for South Carolina and certainly cold enough to keep me off my bike.

You can call me soft in my old age, but I’ve done my share of riding in below freezing temperatures over the years. However, those days are long gone, and now it has to be at least 55 F (12.7 C.)  or above to get me outside on a bike.

This last weekend was the first mild one, and the first opportunity I have had to ride since last November. Temperatures were in the low to mid 60s, (16 – 18 C.) warm enough for shorts even. Cloudy, and over-cast, with a fairly stiff breeze blowing, made it cold enough for a long sleeve, fleecy lined jersey.

My wife Kathy, and steadfast riding companion joined me, as we did an easy 22 miles on Saturday. We had both kept our weight steady through the winter, by weighing ourselves daily, and monitoring our food intake. I maintained 150 lbs., (68 kg.) and Kathy 116 lbs. (52.6 kg.)

Sunday was a repeat of Saturday’s weather, and we got in another 30 miles. A little harder this time, I felt it in my legs towards the end, and could tell I hadn’t been riding. My butt told me too, it was a little sore. But all in all, not too bad. Keeping the weight off, I felt, helped a lot.

After an almost three month layoff, I expected these first rides to be harder. I had done a daily two mile brisk walk, most days whenever the weather permitted. Even when it was down to freezing I wrapped up warm and went for a walk.

Walking is okay when it is the only exercise I can manage, but I can’t say I really enjoy it, especially when limited to local streets. In my book, you can’t beat a good bike ride, and actually going somewhere. Looking forward to warmer days and more riding.


Footnote: My bike is a modern FUSO built by Russ Denny, who was my former apprentice. A welded Columbus steel frame with a carbon fork. Kathy’s bike is a 49 cm. 1st. Generation FUSO that I built in 1985. Both bikes are built up using Campagnolo Athena Groups.

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Asleep at the Wheel

It is no secret that when I left the bike business in 1993 I fell on hard times financially. It was the reason I had to give up framebuilding. People stopped buying road bikes in favor of mountain bikes.

My car reflected my financial status. It was a piece of junk, 1975 Mercury Staton Wagon. Not the one pictured here, mine was in much worse condition and in need of repair. Not the kind of vehicle one would take pictures to save and show to their grandchildren.

It did however come with certain advantages, it gave me right of way for one. On those six and eight lane freeways they have in Southern California it is necessary to make several lane changes long before your exit. People are not too good at letting you do this, you are forced to just put on your turn signal on and ease on over.

I found with a car like a beat up 1975 Mercury Station Wagon people tended to give way real quick when I started to change lanes. He who has the least to loose, has right of way, it’s an unwritten law.

A big disadvantage with my old clunker, the air conditioning didn’t work, but in Southern California I could manage without it. Although the climate is hot, the air is dry and driving with all the windows down was actually quite pleasant.

My arm resting on the top edge of the door, my hand on the rear view mirror, the breeze blowing up my shirt sleeve keeping my body’s natural cooling system, namely my armpit, working efficiently.

The only problem with this form of nature’s air conditioning is that it broke down at any time I went below speeds of thirty miles per hour, which on LA’s freeways is most of the time.

Something I find hard to understand. Everyone knows how difficult it is to sleep in a room without air conditioning on a hot summer night. You can’t sleep because you’re hot and uncomfortable.

How is it then, under the exact same circumstances, driving a car on the freeway you can’t stay awake? Aren’t you even more uncomfortable than you are in bed without air conditioning? So why does the discomfort not work for you when you most need it to stay alert?

One time, the freeway I was on went through a steep canyon when traffic came to a standstill.

There was no exit, and I was in the fourth lane of a six lane freeway. I was stuck.

I could see traffic was stopped two or three miles ahead up a long gradient, it would be a while before we moved again.

It was late afternoon and I started to feel sleepy. I decided not to fight the urge to doze, I turned the engine off and lay down on the front bench seat. This was another advantage of these old cars, the front seat was like a sofa with no obstruction in the center. The person behind me would be sure to lay on the horn when we started moving again.

I have no idea how long I slept but I awoke to find traffic was moving by me on either side at about twenty-five or thirty miles per hour. The person behind me instead of alerting me when traffic started moving must have decided to go around me.

People following seeing no one in the driver’s seat (Because I was laying down.) assumed it was an abandoned vehicle and continued going around me.

I had just discovered another advantage of my chosen mode of transport. A person can lie down, take forty winks in the middle of a six lane freeway and people will let you rest and simply go around.

My unusual afternoon nap had refreshed me enough that I was now fully alert as I completed the final leg of my journey. Had I brought ‘Sleeping at the Wheel’ to a whole new level?


This article was first posted April 2012

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Riding a bike: Science or Natural Instinct?  

I recently came across this article about scientist Matthew Cook working on a project to design a computer that could steer a bicycle.

I quote from the piece:

The problem is more difficult than you might think, we may be able to ride bicycles, but, as Cook notes, “We do not have great insight into how we ride a bicycle.”

Really! I will tell you. We do it instinctively, (With a little practice.)

The same instinct we use to walk and run.  When man stumbled upon the bicycle, he built a mechanical device that is a simple extension of the human body.

Scientists find it hard to accept “Instinct” as a reason, because they can’t prove it, either by demonstration or mathematically. How many times have I watched nature programs on TV and heard the quote, “Scientists do not know how the salmon or the turtle swims thousands of miles through the ocean to find its way back to its place of birth.”

Or how birds migrate huge distances with the change of seasons. How do they know it is time, and how do they find their way?” The answer of course is instinct. Some inbuilt intelligence passed on from generation to generation, throughout evolution.

I said earlier that man “Stumbled” upon the bicycle. He did just that, there was no single inventor.

The fore runner of the bicycle was the Hobby Horse, generally attributed to a German, but the French and English were building similar two-wheeled devices about the same time.

Even the Hobby Horse was not an original invention. For thousands of year’s children’s toys, models of animals, were made with wheels for feet.

Before the automobile the main form of transportation was the horse. It was natural children would play with pretend horses. The name “Hobby Horse,” is a clue. It was an adult size toy horse.

Later when cranks were attached to the front wheel, it became a bicycle. We no longer had a toy, but now a bona-fide form of transport, whereby people could travel under their own power. Moving greater distances, and with less effort than walking or running.

To explain my thinking that humankind rides a bike and balances instinctively, let me pose this question.

How does a running man change direction? He leans to the left or right.

Not only man, but every other animal on earth.

Try this simple experiment. Stand in one spot and lean to the left. When you reach the point when you are about to fall, you will instinctively step to the left, thus bringing your feet back directly under your body to bring it upright once more. This is how all animals turn while running at speed.  They lean to the left or right, causing them to step to the left of right.

Also Newton’s Law of Physics states an object moving in a straight line will continue to do so until forces from a different direction cause it the change direction. If a running man were to try to turn by stepping left or right without leaning he would probably trip over his own feet as the law of physics would be forcing his body to continue straight. The lean, and the pull of gravity as he falls that way counters the forces causing him to continue straight.

A bicycle becomes a mechanical extension of the human body because the wheels simply replace our feet on the ground.  If we fall to the left, we instinctively steer to the left to bring the wheels directly under our body mass, just as surely as if we were walking or running and fell to the left or right, we would instinctively step in the direction we were falling.

Furthermore, we instinctively lean in the direction we wish to turn, this time with the added bonus that a bicycle will steer itself in the direction of the lean. Actually three forces come into play:

1.)    A spinning wheel or disc will turn in the direction it leans. Roll a coin on a flat surface it will roll in ever decreasing circles until it falls, as it turns in the direction it is falling.

2.)    Because the steering axis is angled forward, and the front fork is raked or offset forward, there is  a greater portion of the wheel ahead of the steering axis. The wheel’s own weight will cause it to turn in the direction it leans.

3.)    On a racing bicycle, a handlebar stem or extension is used, placing the bars ahead of the steering axis. The weight of the handlebars will cause the front wheel to turn in the direction the bike leans. It will even do this if you lean a bike while stationary.

Riding a bicycle slowly is a simple balancing act as we constantly steer to the left and right to stay upright. No different in principal, than balancing a broom on the palm of our hand. The fact that we are slightly higher above the ground than we would be on our feet, works to our advantage. It is actually easier to balance a long handle broom with a heavy head, than a short handle lightweight broom.

As we gather speed and momentum, it becomes easier to balance and ride a straight line, as laws of physical motion take over. And when we wish to turn, we instinctively lean in that direction without thought, and with the same ease we would do so if we were running.

Finally, I leave you with these observations, and to me further proof that a cyclist leaning into a corner is an instinctive move. The cyclist will lean into a corner but keep his head vertical to the road surface. (See top picture.) Probably a vision thing to keep the eyes focused, and done instinctively. See also the picture of the Cheetah. The head is vertical, and the eyes horizontal, focused. 

Also the cyclist’s inside knee pointed out. Is this too instinctive as if the rider was stepping in that direction? Motorcyclsts do it to the point their knee almost touches the ground. And yet it would seem unnatural not to do it.


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In Search of Diamonds

In 1969 in my native England, I had just moved from a large industrial city to the relative peace and tranquility of rural Worcestershire. The move was prompted by a desire to improve the quality of life for my family that included my wife and two small children. This unspoiled West Country area was mainly agricultural and there was very little industry, but I found work with a farmer maintaining and repairing his farm equipment.

Part of the farm included an old abandoned WWII Airfield. The runways were still in place although grass and weeds now grew in the cracks between the concrete. Also in place were the many buildings used during the war. Built with brick with corrugated asbestos roofs, these buildings once served as workshops, offices, and living quarters. One of the buildings was now my repair shop, while others served as parking garages for the tractors and other farm equipment. Some were used for storage but many were empty and lay derelict.

When I first arrived I explored throughout a labyrinth of empty rooms and passageways. Wild blackberry bushes grew around the outside in some cases as high as the buildings. Shutting out light, branches reached in through broken glass in rusting cast-iron window frames, giving this place an eerie atmosphere. I wandered into one room and a startled rat, which in turn startled me as it ran across the floor and leapt through an open window. It was hard to imagine this place as it once was, a hotbed of activity during the war some twenty-five or more years before.

One warm and sunny spring morning I was outside when something caught my eye. Sunlight reflected on something and it sparkled brightly in the brickwork that formed the corner of an empty building. The walls of the buildings were only a single brick wide and a thin layer of cement had been applied to the outside to keep out moisture. With the years of neglect and weathering most of this cement had fallen from the walls. The object reflecting light was lodged in a crack between a remaining piece of cement and the brickwork.

I was intrigued enough to investigate further but a blackberry bush prevented me from getting any closer than eight feet away. I found a heavy wooden plank and laid it across the brambles. Stepping carefully, bouncing on the plank to crush the thorny branches, I reached the corner and looked directly into the crack in the wall.

I could not believe what I was seeing. I closed my eyes tight then opened them wide again. I peered inside the crack with one eye, closing the other against the bright sunlight. My eye was only inches away and I could see the object was a diamond ring. Gold with three large diamonds in a beautiful ornate setting. I reached to retrieve it but stopped immediately as I sized up the situation. At the slightest touch this heavy piece of cement would fall and the ring would be lost in the brambles.

I walked back along the wooden plank and removed it from the bush. I ran inside the building and hitched a tractor to a heavy-duty brush mower. This piece of equipment would clear this blackberry bush in very short order. It was really a two-man job to attach this mower but my adrenaline pumping provided the strength needed.

As I struggled to attach first the drive shaft then the hydraulic lifting arms, I wondered how the ring had got there. Had it been there since the war? Maybe a thief hid it, hoping to retrieve it later. Someone on a bombing mission, not sure if they would return would not want a stolen ring to be found in their personal effects later. Or maybe a woman whose fiancé had been killed came here after the war and left the ring there in some personal ritual of closure.

I suddenly realized the mower was attached and I was standing daydreaming. I leapt into the tractor seat, started the engine and roared out from the building. I swung around the corner and put the tractor in reverse. I lowered the mower, engaged the drive and backed slowly to the wall.

The mower cut a swath through the bush about five feet wide at one pass. I was careful not to hit the wall for fear of dislodging the piece of cement. I pulled forward, then drove the tractor back inside and ran to get hand tools to finish the job. I found a pair of pruning shears, some heavy leather gloves and a rake. I finished clearing the area around the corner of the building, removed the gloves and prepared to retrieve the ring.

My heart was pounding so fast I had to stop and take some deep breaths. Placing my left hand to catch the ring as it fell, I reached up with my right hand to remove the piece of cement. I barely touched it and the ring disappeared in a flash. It was nothing more than a drop of rainwater suspended between the brick and cement.

I stood there feeling very foolish, nature had played a trick on me and I had fallen for it. There was no mistaking, I did see a fine gold and diamond ring. I saw thee large diamonds in a beautiful setting but it was nothing more than a trick of sunlight on a drop of water.

Over the years since this incident I have come to realize a valuable lesson here. So often in my life I pursued something I perceived to be of great value. Some material thing, or maybe a career or relationship. After a great deal of effort on my part in pursuing these goals, I found they too were illusions. Lke sunlight on a drop of rainwater.


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The New Normal

Italian cyclist Giuseppe Martano. 1934 TDF

Life is a constant change, new ideas, and new technology. People hate change, they fight against it, but it is futile. Change will come for better or worse. In time we accept change, (Often we have no choice.) and a new “Normal” is established.

In the mid-1970s I wrote a series of articles on frame design for the British “Cycling” magazine. There was no Internet back then, no email, and no comments section where you could debate any ideas put forward. However, one older gentleman took the trouble to write and mail me a long hand-written letter, explaining my theories on “Trail” were wrong, and he enclosed a photocopy of an article from ‘Cycling’ dated 1946 to prove it.

Back in the 1930s, 1940s, and even into the 1950s, there was a thinking that trail was a bad thing.

It was thought that it made the steering of the bike sluggish.

Front forks had a rake (Offset.) of 3 to 3.5 inches. (76mm. to 90mm.) See the photo at the top, from the 1934 Tour de F rance, and the drawing, left.

I can even see where this idea gained traction.

At first glance it seems logical that the steering axis should reach the ground at the exact point the wheel makes contact and therefore turns at that point. Or it would make sense if a cyclist steered his bike by turning the handlebars, and the frame remained upright.

However, we steer a bicycle by leaning in the direction we wish to turn, and the steering axis ahead of the wheel’s point of contact, is one of the forces causing the wheel to turn in the direction of the lean. (See drawing below right.)

As far back as the late 1950s, early 1960s, I had realized that trail was a good thing, as had almost every other framebuilder. It provides a caster action, and gives the bike stability when going straight, and certain ‘self-steering’ characteristics into the corners.

Trail is the distance the wheel "Trails" behind the steering axis

However, trail goes hand in hand with the head angle. Steeper angles are more sensitive, and need less trail to achieve the same self-steering qualities. As many framebuilders in the 1970s were building frames with 75 and even 76 degree head angles, their trail would have been a lot less than mine.

Also, as my seat angles were steeper the rider’s weight was more forward, which also affected the ‘feel’ of the steering. The point I am making, you cannot simply say fork rake should be this much, and trail should be this, without taking into account the whole frame’s geometry.

My last article, where I explained the thinking behind my design philosophy, and the comments that followed, reminded me of the old gentleman that took the time to write me in the mid-1970s. He was quoting from an article written 30 years earlier in the mid-1940s.

It made me realize there were more changes made in the 30 years that were the 60s, 70s, and 80s. than there were in the previous 60 or more years. Changes in actual frame geometry that is. Angles, tube lengths, and fork offset, etc. Closer wheel clearances, shorter wheelbases, and higher bottom brackets too.

Some changes brought about by economic factors, others by framebuilders trying the make something better. It once again made me realize how fortunate I was to have been around in that period. Those times will never happen again. There was so much experimentation going on amongst so many individual craftsmen. There will never be that many individual craftsmen at the same time again. 

We have also seen many changes in the last 30 or more years since the 1980s. The whole appearance of the bicycle has changed. We’ve seen clipless pedals, index shifting, leading to 11 gears. Thread-less headsets. Oversize tubes and carbon fiber have changed to look of the frame, along with sloping top tubes and tee-shirt sizing.

But actual frame geometry has not changed that much, 73/73 angles came out in the 1960s. My road bike fork rake was 35mm. I don’t think other steel framebuilders were too far away from that. Probably around 38mm. was an average. It seems to me fork rakes increased when carbon forks became the norm. But you will have to ask others in the know to confirm that.   


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