Dave Moulton

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1970s Time-Trial 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 loose 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 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, 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 drew an interesting parallel to this, 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.

My thanks to Lance Woodman for reminding me of this bike.

Reader Comments (12)

The leaders all on DM's bikes...that's fair. And thanks to the link to Cycling Weekly, another must read.
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
“The Penguin Book of the Bicycle” from 30 years ago is a good one to pick up if you come across it in a used book store. Dave is not big on blowing his own horn, so I'll mention that he is featured prominently in a section on custom builders in the British bike industry.
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter johnb
19 lbs? wow.

i don't have a bike now that clocks in at 19 lbs.
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter jhota
That's quite the price range on "The Penguin Book of the Bicycle".
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter db
Hi Dave, what a beautiful looking bike. Lines that are so clean, simple cable routing and what looks like Campy equipment. Wonderful, none of todays carbon bikes come close.

Even though this was a little before my time (1983-1989) racing as a junior in England you bring back a lot of memories that are good for the soul. The weekend TT's, the comic, dreaming of Campy equipment...

March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Robert Winder
Having owned a few Lotus-Cortina's in my time, I always coveted a John Player Lotus. I've been a fan of that black/gold coloring for a long, long time. I'll have to see if I can find a Penguin Book at my local used book store.

Another great blog, Dave
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter maltese falcon
I had a Matchbox JPS F1 car when I was kid :-)
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter lemmiwinks
Dave, your frame in that photo and the whole bike (because of the frame) has beautiful lines. I have surfed my whole life as well ridden bikes mostly for fun or transportation (raced some too), and find it very easy to become transfixed admiring the sculpture of either type of vehicle. It's in the knowing where each can take you and the way it feels when it feels the best. Thanks for the post.
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter KYScoast
I wonder who still having this bike now :) must cost alot for collection....
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Vince
Dave, I remember doing TTs back in the 70s here in the states. All we did different then from riding a road race is tuck in our jerseys! Some guys would use a track jersey that didn't have pockets...
March 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I learned about you from my copy of the Penguin Book of the Bicycle. It's a great little book, and a wonderful snapshot of the industry in the mid 1970s, when it was going through such a massive transition. (There was a profile of Dawes, calling them one of the last independent medium-sized manufacturers in the UK. It ends with the footnote that the company was sold shortly before the book was sent to the publisher.)
March 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Smasher

Hi Dave, thanks for posting the article.Paul Carbutt was a friend of mine back in the day. I remember going to stay with him in Wythall and borrowing one of his bikes. It was a gold and white Dave Moulton and it rode superbly.

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Bell
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