Dave Moulton

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Thursday
Apr232009

A 100 year legacy

I initially learned my framebuilding skills from a man known as Albert “Pop” Hodge. Born in 1877, he was almost 80 when I first met him in the mid 1950s; he had been building frames since 1907.

Pop assembled his frames without the use of jigs. He measured and cut the tubes and measured the angles with a protractor. He drilled and pinned the tubes in the lugs with penny nails. He then laid the frame on the brick floor of his shop; the lines made by the mortar between the bricks told him if the geometry was right.

He brazed the lugged joints, blacksmith style, in a hearth of hot coals. He had a hand held torch which he used to add braze-ons; it was fueled by the town gas supply, which at that time was coal gas. The flame was boosted by compressed air supplied by a small compressor.

The air compressor was the only piece of electrical equipment Pop used, he had a bench drill and a hand drill, both were hand cranked.

I learned the basic skills from Pop Hodge, but in later years when I started my own framebuilding business, I no longer brazed in a hearth. I used an oxy-acetylene torch with a small but extremely hot flame, and controlled the heat by working quickly. I used jigs to assemble the frames, and aligning tools to ensure accuracy. I had taken framebuilding to the next level.

Fast forward to 1985, when a young Native American boy named Russell Denny came to work for me. 18 years old, and fresh out of high school, Russ became my apprentice. He learned every aspect of the craft of framebuilding; learning and mastering one task at a time before moving onto the next. Learning is like climbing a tree in the dark, one needs to be firmly placed on each branch before moving to the next.

By the end of the 1980s and in the early part of the 1990s the bike business was going through some drastic changes. An ugly beast had appeared known as the Mountain bike, and like some strange species introduced to a new environment, it took over and destroyed the road bike.

I knew that change had come but I wanted no part of it; I was bitter and burned out. I was ready to liquidate everything and leave. Russ Denny begged me not to, and I felt I had a certain obligation to him. I had taught him a skill, the only skill he knew. I stayed on as long as I could but in the end had to leave and turned the whole thing over to Russ.

For the next ten years I turned my back on the bike business, and even lost touch with Russ Denny. When I did finally get back in touch, Russ was doing well and had taken framebuilding to the next level, just as I had done.

He was building racing frames in aluminum, and carbon fiber. By this time I was living on the East Coast and Russ was still in Southern California. I have yet to get back for a visit or to see firsthand what Russ Denny is doing.

I was pleased when recently a good friend, Steve Farner (Picture at top of page.) who lives in So. Cal. Decided to start racing again after a break of twenty some years, and needed a modern bike to do so. He had Russ build him a custom frame. Here was someone I trusted that could truly compare the old with the new, and give me feed back.

Above: Russ Denny with his new creation

Russ Denny can build a frame in aluminum or carbon tubes with aluminum lugs, or any combination of the two, like aluminum main triangle with carbon fork and rear triangle. He can also still build a steel frame, lugged or filet brazed if you so desire.

Steve Farner chose an all aluminum frame with a carbon fork, simply for reasons of cost. Russ built him a custom fitted 52 cm. frame. Writing about the bike, Steve said:

From sitting position the top tube looks round and the same diameter; from the side it goes from diamond to oval, and Russ made it only slightly sloping, which I like better than “compact” frames. The seat tube is an oversize single diameter. The down tube is fat, sort of clover shaped and highlights Russ Denny’s decals, including his feather. The entire bike is painted metallic red, screaming speed like a Ferrari Dino. I have always liked red bikes.

Steve previously owned a custom frame that I built in 1984 a year before Russ Denny came to work for me, and incidentally the year I met Steve as a twenty-something young racer. His ‘dave moulton’ weighed 21 lbs. The Denny weighs slightly over 16 lbs. The ride was of course totally different, but it took Steve only about a week to grow to love his new ride. He said:

The Denny absorbs rough sections similar to steel bikes, which was surprising. The harder I push it, the more it gives back in forward motion. This bike tracks absolutely dead-on: throw it into a corner, sprint as powerful as you can, emergency brake, shift in a corner, hit potholes and it doesn’t flinch (or flex out of control). Of course Russ knows how to weld a straight frame.

When Pop Hodge built frames from 1907 until the early 1960s they were the racing frames of the day. The 1922 World Road Championship was won on one of his bikes.

The bikes I built were the racing bikes of the 1970s and 1980s, and now Russ Denny has taken frame building to the next level and into the 21st Century.

We can all lament about the beauty and the passing of lugged steel, but the sport of bicycle racing has changed and if someone wants to compete seriously he must do so on a modern machine.

As is evident by the North American Handmade Bicycle Show there are still plenty of builders offering “Pieces of Art,” lugged steel, for those who want that; I am pleased to see this tradition carried on. But how many framebuilders can build you a one off custom frame, that builds into a modern bike that you can race on, and more importantly, someone who knows what he is are doing.

I doubt if there are more than a handful of framebuilders in the whole world who can boast a direct unbroken connection of 100 years of framebuilding. I am proud to be that living connection between the old and the new.

 

Here is a link to Russ Denny's Website.

You can read Steve Farner's complete article here as a PDF.

 

Sunday
Apr192009

Lock your bike

Thursday
Apr162009

Mixed Signals

More and more states are passing new laws to protect cyclists. In most cases part of the package gives the cyclist the option of signaling a right turn with either their left or right arm. I have not heard any protest from cyclists over this until now.

On a Portland, Oregon blog named Two Five Fix, was this quote:

Please stop pressing the issue to pass the right-hand right-turn turn signal! There are three standardized hand signals that have been in place for years. By changing the rules for cyclist, you are saying "we get special treatment" and causing more us-them mentality. Motorists can't signal a right hand turn with their right hand so why should cyclists? Maybe we can start using blue lights on the back of our bikes too?

When I came to the United States thirty years ago, I accepted the rules, laws and customs of this country. I would ride my bike on the opposite side of the road, I would even refer to “chips” as French Fries and eat them with ketchup instead of vinegar, but I would be damned if I would signal a right turn with my left arm.

It seemed ludicrous to me to signal my intention to turn right by pointing my left forearm towards the sky.

The driver of a motor vehicle can only signal with one arm, and for those who drive on the right it is the left arm.

But people on bicycles, or for that matter motorcycles, mopeds, or scooters have their whole body exposed and both arms can be clearly seen.

So when I arrived on these shores in 1979, I continued to do as I had done all my life, and signaled a right turn with my right arm. To do any different may have been the law, but to me went against all common sense and logic.

I am not 100% sure, but I believe in almost every country in the world, cyclists and motorcyclists use their left arm to signal left, and their right to signal right; America is the exception.

Even to this day I am still caught offgaurd driving behind a motorcyclist on the freeway, when he raises his left left arm with clenched fist, like some militant biker power salute, then suddenly swerves right into the next lane. I am left to wonder, doesn't pointing in the direction you intend to go register in the human brain a split second faster.

Anyway, I have for the last thirty years; riding my bike on the roads of these United States always signaled a right turn with my right arm, pointing to the right. I may have been breaking the law, but there has never been any confusion as to the direction I intended to go.

However, it became a rebellion that no one noticed or even cared about; I was never locked up, or threatened with deportation. In thirty years no one has ever question why I chose to signal that way; not law enforcement, motorist, or cyclist.

The writer of the above comment is concerned that motorists will see different hand signals for cyclists as “special treatment.” It is my opinion that the motoring public could care less about hand signals. When do you last see a motor vehicle driver give one? Heck, many are too lazy to lift one finger to operate the mechanical turn signals.

I believe hand signals for motorists are obsolete. The average American motorist steers with his left hand, if he suddenly had to signal with it, he would be totally flummoxed. The right hand holds the cell phone, the coffee cup, or is used to communicate displeasure with other road users.

Be grateful that many states are giving cyclists the option to signal either way, with the left or right arm. Those used to indicating a right turn with their left arm their entire life, can continue to do so and do not have to learn a new procedure. And foreign nonconformists like me finally become law abiding citizens.

 

Friday
Apr032009

Success and Fame

Success and fame are two things that many strive for in a lifetime, but they are two entities that cannot be measured. By what yardstick do you measure them anyway? Can you measure success by money? I don’t think so. The brokers and bankers on Wall Street made a great deal of money, but I would hardly call them successful.

How do you measure fame? There are probably more people who know me as an ex-bicycle framebuilder, than when I was actually building frames in the 1980s. This is because of the Internet, and anyone can build a following with blogs and the social media. But is this fame, can I take it to the bank, and do I even need to take it to the bank in order to be successful in life?

I think I can safely say I was a successful framebuilder. I think one of the reasons for that is that I didn’t set out to be a “famous” framebuilder. In my youth I wanted to be a famous racing cyclist. When that didn’t happen, framebuilding was an offshoot of the bike racing.

I became a good framebuilder because I built a lot of frames, like any skill the more you practice the better you become. I didn’t want to be famous, I just wanted to make a lot of money. Back then, I believed success was money.

People strive for fame because they want to be noticed. It’s why teens dress in outrageous fashions. I’m not knocking it, I did exactly the same in my teen years. Without this drive there would be no artists, no music, no books, no movies.

Who would even stand up in front of others to perform in some way or other, if they were not saying, “Look at me, look at me, look at me?

So if I say, “Look at me,” I had better have something worthwhile to offer when people do look. Alternatively, if I don’t have anything worthwhile yet because I am only just starting out, (Everyone must start somewhere.) then at least I should recognize this and strive to be better.

The young and the inexperienced would actually be better off if they didn’t draw attention to themselves by dressing or behaving in an outrageous manner. They say, “Look at me,” and when people look there is nothing to see. Nothing substantial. Talent will always shine through in the end, and people will look because they want to.

I have come to realize that what drives me now is not any desire to be noticed, or famous, but to have a positive affect on the lives of others. I have been fortunate enough to build bikes that people still enjoy riding. I am fortunate that I am able to share the knowledge I have gained over the years.

When someone reads my book, or something I have written here, and they tell me it made them think, or they learned something, or they were entertained. That is a positive effect, it is all the success I need. I can’t measure it, but it is pretty big.

 

Wednesday
Apr012009

Tour de France could become fixed again

A recent Wall Street Journal article about the Tour de France and the fact that the family owned company that puts on this anual event, is considering selling it.

There was speculation that Lance Armstrong might be interested in buying, however, Lance immediately rejected the idea saying. “I love the Tour de France, but I am not interested in owning it.”

The latest news is that a young French Internet Billionaire, named Jacques LeLad, is the latest to show interest in the event. If this happens, it will change the Tour de France as we know it. LeLad is a twenty-something French Hipster and fixed wheel enthusiast. His plans are to change the TDF to a fixed only event.

The Tour de France does of course have a fixed wheel history. From its beginnings in 1903 up until 1938, the event was restricted to a single fixed gear. This was at the whim of then owner Henri Desgrange, whose opinion was that multiple gears took away from the purity and simplicity of the sport. Multiple gears had been available some years before 1938.

In the old days of the race, it took a course over the French Alps as it does today.

The single gear riders would stop at the foot of a climb, remove the rear wheel, and turn it around to a larger sprocket on the opposite side of the wheel. Repeating the process again at the top of the mountain in readiness for the descent.

In a recent interview, Jacques LeLad said that if his bid was successful there would be no more mountain stages. Through a translator he said,

“Fixie Bikes are of the street, and that is where the race should be.”

It will become a series of street races held in the larger French cities. The competitors will travel from one stage to the next in tour buses.

When asked if he thought the French public would come out to watch such an event, LeLad replied that he was unconcerned about spectators, as the event would draw fixie enthusiasts from all over the world. “They will be ’ere in their millions.” He quipped.

The sad thing is that he is probably right, and in this economy the French government is not going to turn away millions of potential tourists. It is doubtful the French government will stand in the way of this move.

The UCI, (The world governing body of cycling.) is powerless in the matter, as the Tour de France organizers, are a privately owned company.

There is a website where fans of the Tour de France as we know it can lodge a protest. At this time it is all we can do.