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« Pablo Escobar’s Bike | Main | Stolen... Be on the Lookout »

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, (Page 97.) 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.


This article was first posted  March 2008.

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Reader Comments (5)

Or the frames with a dimple on the back of the seat tube to allow tire clearance.
I ride an old Alan frame that has so little clearance that with any tires larger than 22mm you need to deflate them to get them in and out. But on that frame anything to stiffen it is worth doing. And it has enough trail in the front that will ride in a line.

June 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteredstainless

Which components were titanium? I thought at first it was the lugs but didn't know if they would stick via braze. I used to fit 700C wheels into frames for 26" x 1 3/8 and had to deflate the tyre to fit and remove the wheel.

June 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

Campy had Titanium Bottom Bracket and Pedal Spindles, they also had titanium hub spindles briefly I heard, though I never used those. The two largest pivot and mounting bolts on the beautiful Super Record rear derailleur were titanium, but I don't recall any titanium used on their elegant SR Brakes, Headset or front mech.

I never rode with my titanium pedals, as I had heard they would fail at the most inopportune time. Titanium replaced some steel parts of the gruppo, not the aluminum elements (being heavier than AL), but didn't always work out as the best material. That still applies today.

Oh, and I did have a 1980 Super Record crankarm fail, drive-side, and not till many years later read Campagnolo knew of this weakness so stopped fluting the arms, and would etch not engrave markings. I also had several rear, drive-side Campy dropouts break. It caused a clicking noise that was difficult to pin-point. Dave Tesch welded it one time to fix it, as they never failed catastrophically. Another plus for steel.

One thing I don't miss is Campy's Headsets, which pitted in a few weeks.
And finally, the single-bolt SR Seat Post, the threaded upper AL clamp would strip, so I Helicoiled it and it lasted forever after that. I think Campy also started doing this.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve


Just read a piece about Pablo "El Chapo" Escobar owning a custom Dave Moulton. You'll have to write about that some day!


June 9, 2017 | Unregistered Commentered

Hi Dave,

interesting look at the extremes gone to in the pursuit to gain whatever advantage one could. Just read an article where team Sky were having front wheel failures on their time trial bikes because they put 23 mm. tires on for an aero advantage instead of the recommended 25mm.

It was an obsession with bikies to get the bike as light as possible with a few grams being discussed with the seriousness of the source of all life, along with the ultra fine tuning of the mechanics to squeeze every drop of performance out of the thing, usually over a couple of pints and fish and chips which negated most of the “marginal gains”. Some of us can recall the titanium bolt kits that were about at the time.

The super record group set started out with a titanium bottom bracket spindle but was quietly changed to steel because of incidents like this. Laurent Fignon 1982...


Campag continued with titanium in some later hub sets and with the exquisite record seat post but as far as I know didn’t go back to anything like the super rec, titanium.

Also Omas of Italy produced a lot of titanium goodies including the “big slider” b.b. – alloy cups with a titanium spindle but if you saw what happened to Laurent, is the weight saving worth the risk,? just like the closeness of the tire to the downtube you described.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

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