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Dave Moulton

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My New On-Line Store

I have just opened a new online store:

The initial purpose is to sell the surplus of tee shirts left over from my October West Coast Tour, but I am hoping it will grow from there, and I can provide quality products that people will want to buy.

I knew before the tour that I was probably ordering more tee shirts than I would sell, but I was heading into uncharted territory. I had no idea how many people would show up and participate.

I didn’t want a situation where the people in Oregon and Northern California, scarfed up all the tee shirts and I had none left by the time I got to Los Angeles. As it was I did run out of certain sizes.

I have to be realistic, I still have a relatively small following, there are some 400 owners listed on my Bike Registry. Although quite a large number when you consider I retired 22 years ago, and I was just an individual builder, and my total lifetime production can be numbered in the thousands. Whereas the big Italian names had factories with a production numbering in the tens of thousands.

On the other hand I did build 2,400 Fuso frames, 300 John Howard, 200 Recherché, plus all my custom frames. So 400 frames on my registry is only really just scratching the surface, and there is potential for that number to grow.

I don’t consider my frames to be collector items. People are buying them to ride, not as an investment.

And that is fine with me, I make absolutely nothing when a frame sells somewhere on eBay or Craig’s List, whether it sells for $200 or $2,000.

I get a much greater satisfaction knowing someone enjoys riding a bike I built, over the idea that someone might make more on the sale of frame than I did when I built it.

It is still a buyer’s market out there. A brand new, Fuso LUX frame, built in 1986, that had never been built into a bike recently sold for $600.

An absolute bargain when you consider you could not get a new hand built frame from any reputable builder for that price today.

So here’s the deal. I am retired, I only do as much work as I care to do. I give of my time freely to my blog and the Registry, and the small amount of cost is covered by advertising here, and donations on the Registry. However, an online store is a different issue. There are monthly fees, inventory to buy and maintain. Only time will tell whether I can make it successful or not.

A following of 400 is enough to get things started, but will not sustain a venture like this for any length of time. I have an unknown following here on my blog. I get around 1,500 or 2,000 hits a day, but that is from around the World, and unfortunately shipping costs make it prohibitive for me to sell product outside the US. Also many of the hits are from Google searches, and there is no guarantee they stayed or will ever come back again.

I would love to do an event like the West Coast Tour again, maybe a Vintage Bike Show somewhere. Be assured that if the store is a success, any profit will go into running such an event.

The picture at the top is a tee shirt/sweat shirt design that I have planned for the near future. I hope it will have a wider appeal than the 400 or so ‘dave moulton’ bike fans. Your feedback as always is appreciated.


Udate 12/21/15: I now have XXL and XL in stock. 


When steel frames fail, and why

My last article drew the following comment that gave me food for thought:

I have seen a frame fail at the downtube shifter braze-on. The down tube was installed backwards, the short butt was at the top so this braze-on was installed in the thin center part of the tube. It weakened it enough that it buckled there.

First let me explain that the down tube in this case was not necessarily installed “Upside Down.” Double butted tubes are so-called because they are butted at either end. The butt at one end is longer. That is the end that is cut shorter when building smaller frames.

So yes, if the framebuilder was building a large frame and using the full length of the tube, he could put the long butt at the top, but this would not necessarily be normal practice.

In a production setting, which included small batch production like the Fuso, the down tubes would be pre-mitered at the top end, because that angle was the same across a range of sizes. The long butt was left at the bottom bracket end so it could be cut later to accommodate whatever size frame I was building.

Incidentally, a simple way to tell which end has the long butt, is to balance the tube on a finger in the center. The longer butted end is obviously heavier. Tubes are also usually marked with the maker’s name or trade mark on the end that is not cut, but these marks can get stamped on the wrong end, so best to double check.

The short butt is usually 3 or 4 inches of the heaviest wall thickness, then it tapers down gradually for 3 or 4 more inches to the thinnest part in the middle of the tube. So the gear lever boss would not normally be on the absolute thinnest part of the tube, and even if it was, under normal circumstances it shouldn’t fail.

The commenter mentioned that the tube buckled. This usually means the bike had a front end shunt at some point, and it does not have to be a serious crash. I remember one time in the UK, I built myself a brand new cyclo-cross frame. The first time out I dropped my front wheel in a mud hole, and did a spectacular vertical stand on my front wheel.

I did not go over the top, but simply fell over sideways. Later I noticed the down tube was buckled right behind the bottom head lug. Once a tube is rippled, it will crack and eventually fail.

Barring such accidents a good steel frame will last fifty years or more. Ridden hard enough and long enough metal fatigue will eventually cause it to fail. But how many frames are ridden that hard and that long? Although sometimes a tiny crack can happen during building.

Metal like wood has a grain. Actually nothing like wood, but the only reason I draw that parallel is to remind me that wood will crack or split along the grain, whereas metal will usually crack across the grain.

When metal cools from its molten state, it forms a crystalline structure. Steel is then often cold rolled into bars or sheets. Wire and tubes are drawn though dies. Either process crushes and elongates the crystals in the metal forming a grain that runs along the length of the bar or tube. This actually strengthens the metal. (See above picture.)  

I found from experience that damage can be done to the very thin bicycle tubes, not only by overheating, but more often than not, by heating cold metal too quickly. Overheating while brazing causes the brass to flow in between the crystals of the steel, thus weakening it greatly. However, for this to occur the metal would have to be white hot and in the verge of melting.

More common is heating too quickly and this often happens when tacking a frame together. The metal is cold, and the framebuilder comes in with a small, hot flame to put a little blob of brass to hold the tubes in a lug, or a part like a brake or chainstay bridge.

Metal expands when it is heated, but if the metal is heated in one tiny spot, the surrounding cold metal will not expand and a minute crack can form, often so tiny it cannot be seen with the naked eye. The crack can fill with brass and may not fail until many years down the road.

My advice. Preheat the area first, and always tack at a point where the grain in the tube is a 90 degrees to the component part you are tacking. Not parallel with the grain. (See picture above.) Follow this simple rule and there will be less chance of a tube cracking.

This really applies to the initial tacks when the metal is cold. After two or three tacks and the metal warms up, others can be safely added. And don’t forget when fully brazing later and the frame is cold again. Start in a safe place at right angles to the grain, although not necessarily the same place or you will melt the original tack.

Earlier I mentioned a front end shunt, or crash. When this happens either the down tube ripples, or the front fork bends, occasionally both will happen. If the down tube ripples, it will break eventually, and so needs replacing. It will not fail suddenly, a crack will appear first.

If the front fork gets bent, don’t replace it unless the fork blades are rippled. It can be safely straightened. Let’s face it, the fork blade was first rolled into a round tube. This was done while the tube was in a cold state.

Next it was rolled into a taper and during this operation the wall thickness increased at the thin end. The excess metal has to go somewhere, right. The top end was pressed from a round to an oval shape. All these operations where done while the tube was in a cold state, no heat was required. Cold working actually strengthened the steel.

Finally the framebuilder cold bends the fork blade into a curve. So if the fork is bent slightly in a front end crash, and re-straightened (Cold.) by a skilled person with the right tools and know-how. Why should that compromise the integrity of the fork?

Of course I am not advocating you bend and re-straighten a fork more than once, but that is the beauty of steel. It will rarely fail suddenly, and when it does it can be fixed quite easily.



Selling the Benefit

Go to any seminar, or read a book on selling, (Or marketing as people prefer to call It.) and you will learn that you always “Sell the Benefit” to the consumer.

In other words, “How will the consumer’s life be made better” if he buys whatever it is you are selling. In the case of a bicycle, how will it improve his performance?

One can build or manufacture just about anything then put up some wonderful sounding argument stating why it is of benefit to the user. Most of these statements cannot be proved or disproved.

Even when these theories are disproved, nobody really cares least of all the company who has made a lot of money, and everyone just moves on to whatever the next trend is.

In the late 1960s Cinelli built a frame that was absolutely devoid of all brazed-on fittings, stating that braze-ons weakened the frame. Gear levers, cable guides, etc. all had to be clamped on to the frame. (Picture top left.)

Some years later people realized that the clamps held moisture and started rust spots, and the clamps sometimes caused stress risers and tubes often broke adjacent to the clamp.

For a while every other framebuilder followed suit, because it saved a tremendous amount of time. (Which was of course the real reason.) Cinelli had stumbled on an incredibly simple way to cut labor costs, then actually sold the idea to the consumer as a benefit.

At the time Cinelli charged double what anyone else did for a frame. The psychology was, it costs more, and therefore it must be better. Also if it costs more you win the one-upmanship game. A psychology that is still being played out in today’s high end bicycle market.

Weight saving is always an easy sale to the bicycle enthusiast. Push weight saving to its limits and in the case of a frame, it becomes flexible. Then you sell the idea that a flexible frame is an actual benefit to the rider. The big question here is, “How much flex?” Aluminum for example makes a very strong and lightweight frame. However, it has little or no flexing qualities.

Back when I built frames they were made by brazing a high tensile steel tube into a lugged joint. In the case of Columbus, the tubes were heat treated and were like a very strong steel spring. When the framebuilder heated the tubes to braze the joint it actually softened the tubes, thereby losing a tiny amount of the strength, and spring qualities.

Remember Cinelli’s argument that braze-ons weakened the frame. Actually there was a grain of truth in that statement. However, brazing the lugged joint and attaching braze-ons is part of the frame building process. The tubes are actually designed to withstand losing some of the strength during the building process. Brazed correctly, the end product is still far stronger than it need be.

This is why steel tubes are butted, (Greater wall thickness at each end.) so there is still adequate strength left after the joint is made. The trick is to use just enough heat to get the job done, but not heating the tube a greater distance from the lug or braze-on than necessary, thus retaining as much of the tube’s inherent strength as possible.

Because a frame is like a very stiff steel spring, when the rider makes a sudden effort as when he jumps in a sprint, the frame gives or flexes slightly. This is desirable, but the operative word here is “Slightly." It is like the difference between an athlete jumping from a concrete track or floor, and one jumping from a Tartan track surface or a floor made from wooden boards.

There is an old Briticism, (A saying from the UK.) that “Bull shit baffles brains.” So whenever you are reading the sales pitch for the latest and greatest high tech wonder. (Not just bicycles, but any consumer product.) Keep an open mind.

They are selling the benefit. Your life will somehow be better for owning this product. Turn that idea around and ask, “What is the benefit to the manufacturer?” Is this product really better than the old one, or has the manufacturer found a cheaper way to make it.

Or has the manufacturer simply come up with something "New and Improved," that serves no real purpose other than to make the old one obsolete.



The Wave

A wave of the hand has to be one of the most simple and yet basic of human gestures.

A wave can say, “Hi,” or it can say, Thank you.” 

Most important a wave to a stranger is saying, “I acknowledge your existence, I am not ignoring you.”

The wave immediately says, “I am friendly towards you.” Even the most hostile and aggressive of drivers, will give another driver a thank you wave, if they slow and let them in. 

In fact if you don’t get a thank you wave, you feel slightly offended, somehow deprived, “Hey, I let you in and I didn’t get a thank you wave, where’s my thank you wave?”

Some cyclists will not return a wave to another cyclist, or will not do so unless they are wearing Lycra like them. Total bull-shit. I know it must be terribly hard if you are lying down comfortably on those aero bars, to struggle up to give a proper wave, but at least raise a hand, make the effort.

Unless you are a serious time-trialist, or tri-athlete, it might be a good excuse to dump the aero bars. Set yourself free to sit up and wave to the whole world.

I wave to everybody when I am riding, not just people who look like me, other people on any kind of a bike, those walking, running, or on skate-boards.

Even ladies pushing babies in strollers. They are all people like me, out getting some fresh air, and exercise. Sometimes, I get a wave back but not always, I don’t feel deprived or offended if I don’t. 

If I see a driver waiting to turn in front of me, or pull out from a side road, I give a wave. This time it is more of an attention getter, “See me, I’m over here.” Rather like the wave to a waiter in a busy restaurant.

However, it is still a friendly gesture, and the driver may interpret it as, “Thank you for waiting, and not pulling in front of me. Often they will wave back, which is very nice. It means they have seen me, but more important they acknowledge my existence, and my right to be on the road.

A wave costs me nothing, and yet it gives so much. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure, makes my ride a better experience.

If you are not in the habit of waving, I can recommend it. It is good for the soul, yours and your fellow travelers.


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If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, who is the Father?

Have you noticed how simplest things in life have become high tech when they don’t really need to? For example the paper towel dispenser.

What was wrong with just pulling on the paper, or operating a simple lever at the side?

Every one of these devices is different, so you stand there like an idiot with your hands dripping wet, trying to figure out where the “electronic eye” is.

Is it on the front, is it underneath. Shouldn’t there be a little red light somewhere? You wave your hands all around this abominable black plastic box. How about one that delivers paper towel when you punch it? Dry your hands and relieve your frustrations at the same time.

Invariably someone will come to your rescue and show you how it operates, making you feel like a total retard. (That used to be a politically incorrect term, but no one ever uses it to refer to a mentally challenged person anymore, it is only used when referring the type of person who can’t operate a stupid paper towel dispenser.)

Why make the simple things in life high tech, when there is no good reason other than we can? Or because we have the technology. The makers of these “Black Box” towel dispensers will argue that by eliminating the handle, they eliminate a source of germs that could re-contaminate our clean hands.

Now wait a minute, every person using the towel dispenser has clean hands. They have just washed them, that’s why they need a paper towel. And, anyway after sterilizing our hands thoroughly, we grab the filthy door handle as we leave. 

Why do we need electric can openers? One of the times we really need a can opener is during an emergency when the power is out. And the bicycle, one of the simplest and most efficient machines man has ever invented, is being made more and more complicated.

To be honest, it took me many years to get over index shifting in the late 1980s. At the time, I was in step with the European cycling community who scoffed at the idea, as did Campagnolo. This was tantamount to a violinist needing marks on the neck of the fiddle to show where to place your fingers.

Of course, the engineers at Shimano knew better. They knew that in America there were people who actually did not know how to operate a friction shift lever. Maybe they had great foresight and could see this same nation of people, who in the future, would not be able to operate a paper towel dispenser.

I always felt that index shifting was developed to cater to the “Instant Gratification” element. Nothing that requires a degree of skill, gives instant gratification. Muffing gear changes on a hill is no fun, but then neither is learning to play a musical instrument. However, the rewards are far greater once you master the skill. The satisfaction of doing something other people cannot, for a start. 

In the case of indexed shifting, Shimano was proved to be right, and Campagnolo spent years playing catch up. I will agree that indexed shifting has developed into something that is useful to all cyclists, including the pros. No one wants to go back to friction shifting, even old farts purists like me.

When I started cycling in the 1950s, racing bikes were the exact same machines as those ridden by the Pros in the Tour de France. It was like that up into the 1980s. What the professionals used, dictated what was sold on the open market. If you were a newbie and wanted to ride a racing bike, you had to deal with friction shifting. There was nothing else.

The mountain bike changed all that. Here was a whole new animal, and a whole new breed of cyclist. They were not trying to emulate the pros in the TDF, and they didn’t want to learn friction shifting. So indexed or click shifting came first to the mountain bike, then the road bike. This lead to more and more gears. This was not necessarily a bad thing, although I think they should have stopped at 10 gears, no one really needed 11.

Today, it is no longer what the pros ride and want, but rather what the corporations that sponsor the pros want them to ride. And that is, new stuff they can sell to the American leisure rider.

A prime example is Disc Brakes. The pros don’t really want it but it will be forced on them. I have never used disc brakes, so I can’t speak from experience. I understand they work better than caliper rim brakes in wet conditions. But I do know enough about bikes, to know that the last thing I need in the wet is more stopping power when the real problem is the tires gripping the road.

If it is raining I can lock my wheels up without even trying, with my old tech caliper brake. I don’t need a brake that will lock my wheels up a split second faster.

There is an old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I always wondered who the Father was. Today I know the father is the one who takes something simple that works, and fucks with it to make something that is more complicated, costs more, and doesn’t work any better.


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