Dave Moulton

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Some I remember

I don’t remember every individual frame I built, there were too many of them, but those I do remember it is usually some little detail about the frame or the particular customer that will trigger a memory. And when someone sends me pictures years later, often after the frame or bike has changed hands, I will say to myself, “Oh yes, I remember this one.”

The one pictured above for example was built for the manager of Two Wheel Transit Authority, a large bike store in Huntington Beach, California, that sold a lot of bikes for me through most of the 1980s. I remember the customer visiting my shop in San Marcos in 1985 as clearly as if it were a few weeks ago.

It was unusual to see a customer in person as most of my orders came through bike dealers,

However, this particular customer was representing one of my biggest dealers, so it was an exception.

The frame ordered was a custom ‘dave moulton’ built in Reynolds 753,

Another reason I remember this particular frame, when I asked the customer what color paint? He answered “Surprise me.”

This is a freedom I rarely experienced. On all my custom frames the paint was always “Understated.” I felt that gaudy or flashy paint schemes would take away from the fine detail in the metalwork of the frame.

This one I simply mixed black and white to come up with a rather plain looking grey. But after applying black decals, I added a blue pearl to the final clear coat overall, giving the whole frame a blue sheen, especially in bright sunlight, and the decals appear as a dark midnight blue.

The pearl additive comes in the form of a paste in a small jar. A tiny amount on the end of a mixing stick, stirred into the clear Imron, and the overall finish takes on the color of the additive. Blue, green, red, silver, gold, many variants are available.

Pictures of this second frame I remember, came to me recently. It is a Fuso LUX model built in Reynolds 653. One of a kind I believe, with many of the features that were usually reserved for my custom frames. But that is not why I remember this one.

It was a persnickety SOB of a customer who insisted I measure this frame from center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube. And stamp the bottom bracket to reflect this.

As most know I always measured my frames center to top, the standard English way.

Why did do that? It was all I knew, I had always measured frames that way.

I was not exposed to Italian frames (Measured Center to Center.) until I came to the US.

Also it was not something I discovered the moment I stepped of the plane at Kennedy Airport.

By the time I realized that most in the US measured center to center, it was too late. I had a ton of frames out there already measured and stamped center to top, and it would have been chaos to change at the height of production in the mid-1980s. I had to remain consistent.

This frame was a 54cm. by my usual standard, but I had to stamp it 52.5 C.

I added the letter “C” to alert any future owner this was not measured the same as every other frame I built.

This bike is now a show piece in a bike store in El Paso, Texas. The Bicycle Company, drop by and take a look if you are in that area.

So there you have it. Two frames I remember, but for two completely different reasons.

The one because I knew the customer and was given the freedom to create paint of my own choosing. The other because my freedom was taken from me. A piddling little detail that should not annoy me, but it does.

This second frame was built in 1990 when business was dropping off, and I allowed myself to be manipulated for monetary gain. Something I regret, and know it is the reason it still annoys me.


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Moving Target

Paul Theroux wrote a series of essays in a book titled “Fresh Air Fiend.” One of the stories is called “The Moving Target,”

It starts out by talking about a traveler named Nathaniel Bishop, who in 1877 rowed a small boat from upper New York State to New Orleans. A distance of 2,600 miles.

On arrival in New Orleans, as the exhausted Nathaniel Bishop tied up his boat, a group of young drunks approached, mocked him, swore at him, and threatened him with violence. Theroux commented:

“This, I have come to think, is a very American reaction, rewarding eccentric effort with scorn and violence.”

Theroux then goes on to write about a man named A F Tschiffely who in the 1920s rode a horse 10,000 miles from Buenos Aires to New York City.

His two and a half year journey took him over the Andes, through Central America, across deserts, swamps, and jungles. However, his worst part of the journey was traveling through the United States.

Cars would deliberately swerve close to scare him and his horse. He had bottles thrown at him, and shouts of “Ride ‘em Cowboy.” In the Blue Ridge Mountains a driver sideswiped him injuring his horse’s leg. Then honked and waved in triumph as he drove away.

After two more serious incidents, Tschiffely had to abandon his ride in Washington, DC and finish the final leg to New York by train. Theroux goes on to write about intolerance towards cyclists and runners, or anyone engaged in any form of exercise in public.

After reading these accounts of how things used to be, I am reminded of a line from the 1969 movie “Easy Rider.”

“Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it.”

Isn’t that the truth? Haters are “Equal Opportunity” bigots. It is not just about race, and it probably never was. It is simply prejudice toward anyone appearing different, or doing something different, or behaving differently than the perceived norm.


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Crank Length

A reader recently asked me a question about crank length and suggested I might write an article on the subject. 

There is a reason I haven’t touched on this subject before in over eleven years writing here. It is one of those subjects like "Knee over Pedal." I feel it is unimportant and irrelevant.

However, when I started to think about it, I realized I could maybe throw some logic on the fire, rather than adding to the huge pile of horse shit that is already out there. The whole reason to mess with anything like crank length is to improve performance. Go faster for the same amount of effort.

Were it that simple someone would have figured it out long before now and we would all be using something different than we have been using for the last 100 years. And if ever there was a case for the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” this is it.

The part that most fail to grasp is that increasing crank length increases leverage, meaning (In theory.) you can push a bigger gear, but unless you can pedal this higher gear at the same RPM for the same amount of effort, you are not going any faster.

Because you have increased crank length you have also increased the diameter of the pedaling circle. Any advantage in leverage is canceled out by the disadvantage of the greater turning circle.

Your feet, and the leg muscles that drive the feet, are having to move a greater distance (Therefore greater speed.) per revolution of the crank. You may as well stick with the standard length crank and pedal the lower gear. You are traveling at the same road speed, relative to the speed your feet and legs are moving.

Also if you are switching from a 170 to a 175mm. crank, that is one centimeter greater pedaling circle. Your saddle needs to stay in the same place. (Let’s assume for this argument that your saddle height was right to start with.) If you lower the saddle by 5mm. your knees will be coming up a full centimeter higher at the top of the stroke.

Better to leave the saddle where it is. Your crank and pedals will still be at the center of the turning circle you are used to. The extra length of the crank will be equally spread 5mm. extra reach at the bottom of the stroke, and 5mm. higher at the top of the stroke.

I notice longer cranks are being touted as a cure for various leg pains. Often leg and other pains are because the rider is not in the peak of physical condition. Start any exercise regimen, not just cycling, and the participant will often feel discomfort. All one can do is slowly and carefully work through it, until the body becomes accustomed to the extra stress being placed on it.

I fail to see where pedaling in a larger circle can help. It is placing more stress on the body, not less. It is akin to telling your doctor that walking is painful, and he suggests you walk faster and take longer strides. Just because long legs can accommodate longer cranks, doesn’t mean they should, or that there is necessarily an advantage in doing so. Try adjusting your saddle height first. It costs nothing and it is less of a shock on your system.

Here is another analogy. A person with long legs could climb stairs two steps at a time. He may get to the top of the building quicker, but one thing for sure, he has expended a lot more energy in doing so. Just because he can climb stairs two at a time, doesn’t mean he should.

Of course there is nothing stopping him climbing stairs two at a time, and there is nothing stopping him from fitting different length cranks, I am just pointing out that anyone saying there is some big advantage in doing so, is simply blowing smoke.

So how did we arrive at the crank lengths we use today? Let’s first look back in history to the forerunner of the chain driven bike, the high wheeler.

The big wheel was around 60 inches or five feet diameter, cranks had to be short in order to keep the wheel diameter as large as possible.

When the chain driven bike came on the scene in 1885, there were no restrictions on crank length. However, its invention was soon followed by mass production of bicycles and standards had to be set. It was England that started the bike industry and so set the early standards. Even today the world uses half inch pitch bicycle chain as standard when the most of the world uses metric measure for almost everything else.

The standard crank length was soon established at 6 1/2 inches for most bicycles. Because twice 6 1/2 is 13 inches, which is an average stride length for a leisurely walk. However, later it was found for racing bikes 6 3/4 worked better. 7 inches was too long for all but the tallest riders. That 1/4 inch either way made a big difference.

Do you ever wonder why Campagnolo offer a 172.5 mm. crank? Up until WWII Britain led the world in bicycles and components, including the high end racing equipment.  6 3/4 inch cranks were the standard for racing worldwide.

After WWII, Italy really moved into the component market. 172.5 mm. is pretty close to 6 3/4 inches. So this became the new standard. It did in the UK anyway. Everyone I knew, myself included, used 172.5, a few taller guys used 175. It is interesting that Campagnolo is the oldest established out of the big three companies. Campagnolo, Shimano, and Scram, and they still only offer 170. 172.5, and 175mm. crank lengths. Maybe it is all we need.

There may be a case for 180 cranks for someone with exceptionally long legs, say 36 inch or longer. Conversely, 165 cranks for a person with 29 or less inseam. But this whole range of crank lengths throughout the complete range of body sizes I feel is just hype put out there by the bike fitting industry.

Many of the best bike riders in the world range in height roughly between 5’ 7” and 5’ 11.” They ride small to mid-size bikes, and use standard length cranks. It has always been that way for years. Of course there are exceptions, but he day tall, long legged guys using long cranks, start dominating professional racing, is the day I will change my views on crank length.

Certain things in bicycle design were established many years ago, and remain the same because it happens to be right. Half inch pitch chain, already mentioned. 27 in. wheel diameter. (Measure your 700c tire.) 73 degrees is the best head angle for a road bike. The same with crank lengths.

The original crank lengths set over 100 years ago were: 6 1/2 inches (Almost exactly 165mm.) 6 3/4 inches, which is right in between 170 and 175mm. And 7 inches (Slightly less than 180mm.) That is all the range you need. It works, why fuck with it?

To sum up, yes there is a case for different crank lengths, but only over the relatively small range of a centimeter and a half. 165mm. to 180mm. This should accommodate the extreme range of leg lengths well beyond normal averages. Campagnolo's range, 170, 172.5, and 175 is fine for most of us.

Remember too, I don't have a pig in this market, I’m not trying to sell you anything. My final advice, just enjoy the bike, and stop trying to over-think it.


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Prices then and now

Above is a retail price list for my bikes in 1990. The most expensive is the Fuso Lux which was custom built to order, with chrome plating, and retailed at $3,150 equipped with Campagnolo C Record components. This was probably the most you would pay for any top of the line racing bicycle.

I say this because my competition back then were the Italian imports like Colnago and Pinerello. You would pay a something over $3,000 for one of these lugged steel Italian bikes equipped with the same Campagnolo C Record group.

My production was only a fraction of these much larger companies, they probably each produced far more frames in a month than I did in a year. But I was able to compete because I had a much lower overhead, and I did not need a distributor to sell my frames in the US. It was the shipping and middle man cost that the Italian companies had to deal with that allowed me to compete.

I attended the big bicycle trade shows each year, and gradually built up a network of bicycle dealers all over the US. I could then sell and ship direct to them. My competition, the Italian bike builders, could not do this. The shipping costs alone on individual bikes or frames would have been prohibitive.

They had to ship frames over by the container load to a distributor, who would then market and sell to the individual American bike dealers just as I did. The Italian import frames were mostly built on a system made by a company called “Marchetti and Lange.” This was a conveyer track system, where the frames were completely assembled, front and rear triangle, and “Pinned” together, then placed on the conveyer.

Gas jets pre-heated first the bottom bracket area, the conveyer then moved on, with the bottom bracket and tubes glowing red hot from the pre-heating, and an operator quickly hand brazed the bottom bracket. While this was happening, gas jets were pre-heating the head lugs. Then the conveyor moved on to a second operator who would then braze the already pre-heated head lugs, and so on until a completed frame came off the other end.

By comparison I brazed together batches of 5 frames at a time, using a hand held oxy-acetylene torch with no pre-heating. This meant less heat went into the tubes, so the Columbus tubing retained more of its inherent strength. I don’t mean that the Italian frames were over-heated, but just a larger area of the tube beyond the lugs was heated, due to the use of pre-heaters.

The Italian frames came off the Marchetti and Lange track, were cleaned up and went to be chromed and painted. They mostly left the factory, with the bottom bracket threads not cleaned out, the BB and head tube were un-faced, and the frames were unchecked for alignment.

This work was done after the frames arrived in the US, either by the distributor, but most often by the bicycle shop. Any top of the line bike shop in the 1980s or 1990s had a full Campagnolo tool kit in a wooden case.

By comparison, I would braze 5 bottom brackets, check for alignment. Braze 5 head tubes, check the alignment, and so on. Every frame had the BB thread tapped and faced, and the head tube was reamed and faced ready to accept the head bearings. The seat tube was reamed, so the seat post would slide right in. All this was done before painting, along with a final check for alignment. When a dealer got the frame it was ready for assembly.

What I find interesting is the price comparison from 1990 to now. The most you would pay for a top of the line race bike was a little over $3,000. You might go to $4,000 for something special like Columbus Max tubing. (Picture above.) However, this would be an exception. Today a top of the line carbon fiber Colnago or Pinarello can set you back $12,000.

The average income in 1990 was $29,000, today it is more than 2 1/2 times that at around $73,300. A Ford Mustang convertible cost $14,250 in 1990, today it would be less than twice as much at $25,500. So the cost of a CF bicycle today would almost buy you a Ford Mustang in 1990. Whereas the cost of a Ford Mustang is less today when compared against income.

Back when I built frames, as a small individual builder, I could compete with the larger import companies and still make a fair profit. Today, top of the line bikes are made by large corporations, and prices are not based on what it costs to produce, but rather by what the market will stand. With a consumer, it seems, who would rather pay more, if only for the bragging rights.


Previously posted in Feb. 2014. The price comparisons have been updated to reflect today's figures. It seems CF prices have dropped since 2014. Could it be consumers are balking at these over inflated prices. What do you think?

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It is the 30th. Anniversary of my 30th. Anniversary


I introduced the Fuso frame in 1984. Sales went pretty well right from the start, and I was able to quickly establish the Fuso name amongst all the many import brands from Italy and Japan. I built 18 different sizes in one centimeter increments. My aim was to have every size in stock (Unpainted.) at all time.

With top tube lengths and frame angles varying throughout this range of sizes, it meant one could get a custom fit from a frame that was in stock, and could be delivered, painted in your choice of color, in two or three weeks rather than having to wait several months to have one custom built individually. Plus the price was reasonable.

In 1987 I realized it had been 30 years since I built my first frame in 1957, under the tutelage of Albert “Pop” Hodge. (Picture right.)

I was 21 years old at the time, and had worked part time for Pop since I was 17. Pop Hodge was born in 1877, so was 80 years old at the time. Roughly the age I am now.

In 1987 I realized it was probably a good marketing strategy to label frames sold that year with a special 30th. Anniversary decal on the left chainstay.

As I already mentioned I tried to keep all sizes in stock, so I had between 60 and 100 unpainted frames hanging on the wall at any given time.

Many of the frames sold in the early part of 1987 were actually built in 1986, but were painted and sold in 1987, so therefore got the special decal. It was the only practical way to do it. Likewise many frames built in the last months of 1987 were unsold and unpainted on December 31st. that year. Those frames did not get the Anniversary decal.

I recently realized it is now another 30 years since 1987, so it is the 30th. Anniversary of my 30th. Anniversary. I other words 60 years ago I built my first frame. A point I would like to make is this, the chain driven bicycle was invented in 1885. Pop Hodge was born 8 years before that date, and started building frames around 1907.

Those early framebuilders were blacksmiths, and Pop brazed his frames in a hearth of hot coals. I not only learned framebuilding from this man, but learned the history of bicycle building and design.

I have lost count over recent years of the number of times I have written to bike manufacturers offering my knowledge for the price of my expenses in getting to their facility. Not once have I even got the courtesy of a reply.

The last one was just a few weeks ago, my attitude now is fuck it, I’m done. Please don’t suggest that I write a book, I am also through with writing books that no one buys. It is what I should expect really. The top bike makers are now large corporations, and my emails are probably getting deleted by some junior clerk who doesn’t even ride a bike.

Excuse the little rant there at the end, but I get frustrated at times. 


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