Dave Moulton

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Monday
Jan152018

My Design Philosophy Explained

I look at frame specs of all the major bicycle manufactures today, and they all follow each other within certain parameters. Of course the UCI (The governing body of the sport of cycle racing.) lays out certain rules and regulations pertaining to the design of a racing bicycle. However, within these UCI rules there is a pretty wide scope for any individual to do something a little different.

Most take the safe approach and follow what their competitors are doing. It has always been that way, framebuilders do whatever is easiest for them, and bike riders make do with whatever is available. When I got into cycling in the early 1950s, the standard frame of the day was 73 head and 71 seat angle.

Sitting back that far was totally unsuited to my short stature of 5’ 6” (167 cm.) I got into framebuilding trying to build a better frame for myself. I found as soon as I made an effort, I would slide forward onto the tip of the saddle. This was not only extremely uncomfortable, it had the effect of my saddle being too low. The answer seemed simple to me. Make the top tube shorter, and the seat angle steeper, thus moving the saddle forward to where my backside wanted it to be.

Why were seat angles so shallow in the 1950s and before that? It was a throwback to the “Ordinary,” the high-wheeler that was the forerunner of the chain driven bicycle. In 1950 the chain driven bike was only 65 years old. There were still people around that had actually ridden the old high-wheeler.

By the 1960s the parallel angle frame came into vogue. By making the seat and head tube the same angle, the same size top tube could be used over several sizes, tubes could be pre-mitered, and simple frame assembly jigs could be used, thus speeding up production.

First came the 72/72 degree frame, followed a short time later by 73/73 degree angles. The reason being, people were not ready to jump from a 71 seat angle to a 73. 72 parallel was a good compromise. When people found that worked, it was an easier sell to the 73 degree parallel. 73 degrees was a better head angle anyway. That had been established as far back as the 1930s, and is still the standard today, for a road frame.

In the 1970s most Italian builders, and many English builders switched to 73 degree seat with a 75 degree head angle. No one was going back to a 71 seat angle, but having that 2 degree difference in the angle, and with the two tubes getting further away from each other as the frame got taller, was an advantage for the framebuilder. The top tube automatically became longer for the larger frames.

The selling point was, ‘Steeper head angle makes a livelier handling bike.’ It did indeed. Lively to the point of being dangerous for an inexperienced rider. I did not follow this trend, but instead made the top tube shorter. For example a 54 cm. frame (C to T) had a 54 cm. (C to C.) top tube.

A 55 cm. frame had a 54.5 cm. top tube, and a 56 cm. frame had a 55 cm. top tube, and so on. As the seat tube increased by one centimeter, the top tube only increased by half a centimeter.

This simple formula meant that by increasing the handlebar stem length to compensate for the decreasing top tube. It meant the front part of the handlebars was always in the same position directly above the front hub and the point where the tire contacts the road.  This was the case throughout the range of sizes. (See top of page drawing.)

When sprinting out of the saddle, there is always a certain amount of “Throwing” the bike from side to side. If the rider’s weight is directly above the tire’s point if contact, the wheel will remain straight. If the rider’s weight is ahead or behind this point of contact, any sideways movement could translate into the front wheel steering this way and that. I found with this set up, the 73 degree head angle can feel just as lively in a sprint, as the steeper angle, but without the “Squirrely” feel of the steeper bike.

Except for my very smallest size frames, 51 cm. and below. Which had a 72 degree head angle, and 38 mm. fork rake, all other sizes had a 73 degree head angle with 35mm. fork rake. This ensured the same handling characteristics for all sizes.

Above: A small 19" (49 cm.) frame, built in England in 1977. the differance in seat and head tube angles can clearly be seen. However, for a rider of small stature the riding position is more balanced than it would be if the frame were built with a shallower seat angle and a longer top tube.  

The seat angle varied from 76 degrees for the smallest frames, gradually decreasing, 75, 74, to 73 degrees for the largest sizes. This was often a hard sell to a market that had always heard 73 degree seat angles.  

What I had, (And still have today.) is a “Niche” following. I gradually built a network of bike dealers, who once they, or their employees had ridden my bikes, they were sold. It was then an easy sale to their customers, because they truly believed in the product. The proof can also be seen in the number of “Original” owners on my Registry website.

Will my ideas ever become “Mainstream.” I very much doubt it. Frames today either pop out of a mold, or they are welded steel or aluminum. There are no restrictions what-so-ever on angles or tube lengths, but most stick to the tried and safe 73/73. Any slight variation on this I feel is not done to improve handling or ride qualities, but rather to keep a balanced look throughout the range of sizes.  

Large corporations have to sell a lot of product to survive, and you can’t sell a lot of product in a “Niche” market.

 

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Monday
Jan082018

Measuring Frames

Growing up in England, and taking up the sport of cycling there, later building frames, there was only one way  to measure a bike frame and that was from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat lug. It never occurred to me there was another way.

Italians measure frames from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube. However, I had very little exposure to Italian frames, there were few in the UK, I had no reason to measure one.

When I came to the US I continued measuring center to top as I had always done. One change I did make when I resumed building my own frames, I did switch from inches to centimeters. In England I had always built frames in half an inch increments. For example, 21”, 21.5”, 22” 22.5” etc.

I noticed Americans always spoke of frame sizes in Centimeters, so I switched. I always thought it strange that in a country so entrenched in Imperial measurement in every other walk of life, people would readily accept the metric system with regard to bicycles.

I continued to build frames and still no one ever questioned my method measuring, I was well into the 1980s and I gradually discovered I was in the minority, and almost everyone measured center to center. But now it was too late to change. I had hundreds of frames out there, it would have been chaotic to switch. I had no alternative but continue as I had always done.

If there is one instance in my life where I could go back and do things differently, I would have measured center to center when I started building frames again in California. It would have been no big deal. But no one told me, I didn’t know.

Working for Masi I never had to measure a frame. They had a series of “Jig Frames.” Frames built by Faliero Masi himself when he first opened his shop in California. One in every size. I would simply choose one in the size needed and use it the set the frame jig. This ensured that every Masi frame was built exactly to Masi’s design.

Also at the back of my mind I seem to remember the Masi frames were measured center to top anyway. Faliero Masi was always a bit of a rebel amongst Italian framebuilders, he used Reynolds 531 tubing for example.

Measuring center to top is not the wrong way, it is simply a different way. Where it become an issue is when frames are bought and sold. A seller lists it measured center to top, and the buyer assumes it is center to center, or vice versa. The buyer ends up with a frame the wrong size.

All frames I built were measured center to top and stamped that way under the bottom bracket. If you are buying one of my frames, and the seller doesn’t clearly state what size is stamped on the frame, ask. The center to center measurement is simply 2 cm. less than what is stamped. For example, a frame stamped 56 cm. will measure 54 center to center.  

 

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Sunday
Dec312017

End of Year Finds

 

One of the exciting and highly satisfying things for and aging ex-framebuilder like me, is never knowing which of my past creations will show up next. This last week of 2017 has been an interesting one to say the least.

This beautiful mint condition (Original paint.) 58 cm. Fuso MAX #2205. (Above, click on pic for larger image.) Built in 1991, and recently purchased from a Los Angeles Bike Store. The bike has its original Campagnolo Record 8-speed Group from the year it was built.  

Earlier in the week I got an email from the owner of a Fuso FR1, saying, “Hey, you made a mistake on your Registry, you have a frame number 2117 listed, and I own number 2117 and here’s a picture to prove it.”

It turns out the mistake was not made recently on the Registry, I duplicated a number back in 1991 when I was working on a batch of five Fuso frames. It is a wonder this didn’t happen more often than it did. One can imagine me stamping serial numbers on a brand new batch of frames, when I am distracted. Probably the phone rings, I come back to what I was doing and stamp a second frame with the same number.

One frame was painted as an FR1 model, black, with a blue pearl in the final clear-coat.

Its twin got an upgraded FRX paint job, red and white. The two frames were shipped off separately to parts unknown, and I never expected to see or hear about them again.

Here is where it gets interesting. The black FR1 was bought by Jim Gerpheide living in San Luis Obispo, California. Jim still owns the frame.

The other #2117 went to an unknown destination, however, in 2009 it was for sale used in a San Diego bike store.

It was bought bay Bill Haas who took it home to Pasa Robles, CA, just 30 so miles north of San Luis Obispo where the other 2117 resides. What a strange coincidence. I put the two owners in touch in case they might want to hook up.

Now lets go back to 1990. My business was struggling to survive.

The mountain bike was slowly killing the road bike market. I was looking for ways to maintain a tiny piece of the market. Some little niche.

I decided to revive my custom frame, and so redesigned the decals. I put in a lot of extra fine detail work.

I only built three, possibly four of these frames. One showed up this week in Los Angeles. Here are some pictures.

Finally I would like to end the last post of the year with an appeal for help. This blog and my Registry have certain expenses like monthly hosting fees, etc. We live in an age of cyber-crime, hacking etc. It becomes necessary to switch over to a secure server with a firewall, to protect, not only me but the people who visit here.

This will add to my expenses. In short, I need help.

If I could just get 20 or so people to donate one dollar a month each, it would cover my out of pocket expenses. I figure one dollar each would not be a financial burden on anyone, buy collectively this would amount to a small monthly income that I could rely on.  You can set that up on the “Donate” button in the center column of this page. You can use PayPal, credit or debit card. Thank you allways for your continued support.

I wish everyone a great and wonderful New Year. Be safe, stay healthy, live long and prosper.

 

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Sunday
Dec242017

AJ, the Cyclist, and the Large Brown Dog

Driving his old Ford truck on Rural Route 61, AJ was rolling along at about sixty, his usual 5 mph over the speed limit. Some distance three cars were ahead of him. As they approached a bend in the road, he saw the brake lights come on. 

As he caught up and took his place behind the other three, he noticed a lone cyclist up ahead. "Damn cyclist," he mumbled, "Why do they have to ride in the middle of the road?"

Actually, the cyclist wasn't in the middle of the road, he was about two feet out from the edge of the lane, but with traffic approaching from the opposite direction, the lead car driver was being cautious.

The opposing traffic passed and the first three cars went around the cyclist. AJ realized he would have to wait as another vehicle was coming towards them. "Damn it," he cussed again.

The car passed and AJ when around the cyclist. He thought about honking his horn just to show his displeasure at the delay, but instead he just hit the gas pedal hard and roared by in a demonstration of raw power.

A few miles further on he saw brake lights again, and as he caught up to the same three cars, he saw them stop, then one by one swing clear over to the opposing lane. As the last car completed this maneuver, he saw the reason. 

A large brown dog was trotting along the edge of the road. Strangely, AJ showed no anger or frustration this time. Just fear that the animal would suddenly dart across the road in front of an approaching van.

He stayed back some distance so as not to startle it, and when the van had passed, he took a wide sweep around the dog as the other drivers had done. He even considered stopping to pick it up, he had thought about getting a dog, but it probably belonged to someone living close by.

Some nine months earlier AJ had taken early retirement when the company he worked for had been making cutbacks. He and his wife had bought an old farmhouse on about eight acres in a rural area. He had bought the old truck to haul lumber and other materials. This particular day he was on his way to pick up some fence posts from a farming supply depot, some fifteen miles along Route 61.

AJ arrived at his destination and picked up the fence posts. As he pulled out from the supply depot the road was clear except for a cyclist, the same one he had seen earlier. He waited for him to pass. Now there was traffic coming in the opposite direction. "Damn it, that's the second time you've held me up today," he complained to himself, wishing the cyclist could hear him.

AJ turned towards home. Some four or five miles into the return trip, the old truck spluttered, and then stalled. He was on a downgrade so he was able to coast then pull onto a patch of dirt at the side of the road. After several unsuccessful attempts to start the engine, he got out of the truck, lifted the hood, and stared at the engine.

He was not even sure why he was doing this, he had no tools with him, and even if he had, he would not know where to start. He had been an accountant all his life, and had absolutely no mechanical knowledge. He reached in his back pocket for his cell phone. It was’t there.

Then he remembered he had left the phone charging overnight in the kitchen. It was not in its usual place on the dresser with his wallet and change. "Now what?" he mumbled as he looked up and down the road. Nothing but farmland and open fields in either direction.

There was no alternative but to walk, and he had to walk on the road, tall grass and weeds at the side made it impossible to walk there. There was a white fog line painted on the edge of the road and no more than a few inches of paved road beyond that. AJ started to walk along this white line. He could have crossed over and walked facing the oncoming traffic, but he was hoping someone would stop and offer him a ride.

He had not walked far when he heard a car coming, he turned and waved a thumb. The car roared on by without even slowing. He walked on and the same thing happened again. He quickly realized his chances of getting a ride were slim. He was not particularly well dressed, and he never stopped to pick up hitchhikers.

He stopped pausing and turning every time a car approached from behind, it was pointless. For a while, he walked with his left thumb out, but then discontinued that as he resigned himself to a long walk home.

He noticed when there were no cars coming towards him, cars would swing over to the other side to pass. However, when there was traffic in both directions, they passed by a 60 mph with no thought of slowing down, often missing him by inches.

At one time, a large eighteen-wheeler went by, and although it missed him by at least two feet, its sheer size, and those huge wheels, gave AJ the scare of his life. And the back draft almost blew him off his feet.

He must have walked at least five or six miles and was by now in a trance like state when he heard a cheery “Good morning.” The same cyclist he had seen twice before that day sped silently by him. 

Somewhat startled AJ didn’t respond immediately, then called out, “Do you have a cell phone?” The cyclist had gone on by and did not understand what AJ had said. Then sensing it was a call for help, the cyclist slowed.

He looked back over his shoulder for traffic. It was clear and he did a U-turn and rode back to AJ. “Do you need help?” he asked. “Yes, do you have a cell phone?”
“I do,” answered the cyclist as he came to a stop and reached into his rear pocket for the phone.

“Thank God,” AJ said as he took the phone. “I broke down miles back and I must have walked for over an hour.” Just then, a car approached, “Here, let’s get off the road,” AJ said, “These damn cars won’t give you an inch.” 

“Tell me about it,” said the cyclist. “That’s why I always ride about two or three feet from the edge of the road. It forces drivers to slow and make a conscious effort to pass me. Otherwise they just blow by as if I wasn’t there, missing me by inches.”

“What motorists don’t realize is, if I ride on this white line,” the cyclist stomped on the line with his heel to emphasize. “There are large pot-holes or places where the road simply disappears, not to mention tree branches and other debris lying at the edge. If I come up on one of these obstacles, either I hit it, with the risk falling into the road, or I swerve out into the road. With cars passing within inches at a high rate of speed, both could be deadly.”

AJ was inclined to agree with the cyclist but didn’t answer as he felt rather hypocritical in view of his previous attitude. The cyclist continued, “That’s why I ride out there, the inside wheels of the cars having worn it smooth. It is safer, and people can see me.”

AJ called his wife and told her what had happened. “Help is on the way,” he said as he handed the phone back to the cyclist. “Thank you so much,” he added. He looked at the cyclist for the first time and was surprised that he was an older man, maybe about his own age. Earlier when he saw him, he imagined him to be much younger.

“Do you need a drink?” The cyclist offered AJ his water bottle. “Thanks, I will.” As AJ took a drink, the large brown dog appeared, wagging his tail and slinking down at AJ’s feet. ”Do you think he needs a drink too?” the cyclist asked.

“Probably,” AJ answered, “I saw him earlier on my way out here.” AJ cupped his hands together as the cyclist poured some water for the dog to drink.” The dog lapped up the water.

”Looks like you found yourself a dog.” 

"It would seem like it.” AJ answered as the cyclist mounted his bike again and pushed off. “Thank you again,” AJ called out as he pulled away. “Glad to be of help,” the cyclist called back.

AJ slipped his belt from his pants and looped it around the dog’s collarless neck. “Here boy, let’s sit under this tree and wait for Momma.”



Footnote: I wrote the above short story in 2008. A work of fiction, but one that could take place anywhere in the US. (Or the world.)

Just a different way to get the safety message across. Also, to explain to motorists that we ride a certain way in the interest of our own safety.

The message is one of tolerance, and I felt Christmas was as good a time as any to repost it, given it is the Season of Peace, Love, and Understanding.  

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all reading this a Joyous Christmas, (Or whatever it is you celebrate at this time of year.) and a Happy New Year. Thanks especially to the regular readers, Your support is very much appreciated. Thank you. 

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Monday
Dec182017

Book Learning

I hated school because I hated teachers. What was there to like? They were constantly abusing me physically and verbally, with their put downs, and telling me I was stupid. I realize now I was actually a bright kid, and my mind was constantly wandering outside what the teacher was telling me. Today I would have been labeled ADD, and medicated. Back then in the 1940s, I was beaten with a stick.

Through it all I had a feeling deep inside that, given the resources, I could build or make anything with my hands. When I left school and became an apprentice machine tool engineer, and I blossomed. No more boring book learning but hands on learning. Little “Tricks of the Trade,” not written in books, but passed on by showing. Later I would learn and develop my own “Tricks.”

In 1952 at age 16, I began a 5 year engineering apprenticeship with a Swedish company called Skefco, (SKF.) in Luton, England.

They were a ball and roller bearing manufacturer, and I worked in the shop that built the specialist machines for grinding ball races.

Rough iron and steel castings were shipped from Sweden, and machined at the Luton factory, and all the other parts were made from drawings, also sent from Sweden.

All measurement was metric, and I learned to work in millimeters and centimeters years before the metric system became standard throughout British industry. Micrometers measured 100th of a millimeter that was actually a finer measurement than 1,000th of an inch.

There is a huge difference between book learning and “Hands on Learning.” Book learning is working with the memory part of the brain. Remembering all the words and facts exactly as they are written. There is not much scope for free thinking.

Whereas, with hands on experience, although we had to follow drawings and specifications, along with extremely close tolerances. When it came to assembling the whole machine, it was a matter of following the drawing and figuring it out. If we couldn’t figure it out, we would ask someone who had previously figured it out.

Book learning is all about learning the rules. Hands on learning is often about making the rules as you go along. I carried this mindset over to my bicycle building. I discovered things were a certain way because that was the way they had always been. Even today I still see this trend continued in bicycle design.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s I worked a wide variety of engineering jobs. I worked for an Aircraft Manufacturer, (Hunting Aircraft.) and for Vauxhall Motors, a division of General Motors at that time. I worked for a company that designed and built machines that made cardboard boxes, and machines that put things in cardboard boxes, and sealed them.

One time I worked for a Lithographic Printing company that had been in business since the early 1800s, before electricity. The printing presses were originally powered by a central steam engine that drove line shafts throughout the building. The steam engine was long gone, and the business electrified, but the old line shafts were still in place along the walls and in the rafters. These collected dirt and dust which dropped on the printing machines below. Part of my job was to dismantle and remove these.

In the mid-1960s I worked for a company called Harold Potter, in Nottingham, England. (Yes, I once worked for Harry Potter.) The company bought used cranes, refurbished and resold them. This was the realm of Heavy Engineering, and I learned a whole new approach. Using bigger hammers for a start. I supervised and worked hands-on during the installation of dockside cranes on rivers and sea ports, and indoor overhead cranes in steel foundries in Sheffield, England.

In the early 1970s I went to work for a farmer in Worcestershire, repairing farm equipment. My employer allowed me to use the workshop to build bicycle frames in my own time. This eventually led to my building frames full time in 1974.

When I left the bike business in 1993, I went to work for a company in Orange County, California, that manufactured Bowling Equipment, and refurbished bowling pin setting machines. I soon realized pin setting machines were nothing more than material handling devices. No different from a machine that places items in boxes.

All machinery and mechanical devices are basically made up of gears, cams, levers, belt and chain drives. Even todays computer controlled machines, the guts will be mechanical the computer replaces the human, setting the dials and pushing the buttons.

Writing this piece has brought back many memories, and a realization I have accomplished much outside the bike business. Accomplishments that I will probably never see again, but the memories bring as great a satisfaction as any bicycle frame I built.

It all stemmed from a childhood notion that I could build or make anything with my hands.  

 

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