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British Justice: As it pertains to cyclists

In a civilized society, especially a democracy, there are laws that govern our behavior. If we perceive someone wrongs us, we can’t go taking the law into our own hands and start dishing out physical punishment. Not without some consequences.

In a perfect world there is a trial and an outcome where the punishment fits the crime. In the real world, there is a police department and prosecutors who decide if charges will be brought, and often none are forthcoming. No one goes to court, and no one gets punished.

If a case does go to trail it is up to judges, (Or magistrates for minor offences in the UK.) to decide what punishment is meted out. This is where the system falls apart, and there will be extremes where in one case there is little or no punishment, and in another the penalties are too harsh.

Take two recent cases in the UK. A little over two weeks ago, British cyclist Christopher Wade went to trial before a Magistrate’s Court in the town of Skipton, in Yorkshire. He was charged with assault on the driver of a white van, who Chris had alleged had driven too close.

Chris had banged on the side of the van with his fist, and the driver stopped. An argument ensued, and Chris handed the driver a bare knuckle sandwich.

In court Chris tried to claim self defense, saying the van driver bit him on the hand. However, reading between the lines, it seems to me the more likely scenario is that Chris’s fist was traveling towards the teeth, rather than the driver biting Chris’s hand as he rested it on the edge of the van door.

Had it been me I would have plead guilty, been very humble, but pointed out the extenuating circumstances such as the van being close enough to bang ones hand on the side.

The Magistrate handed Chris a penalty of 840 (British Pounds.) that is $1,300 US Dollars. Ouch. This was in the form of a fine, compensation to the victim, and court costs. My thought as I read this was, “Motorists on both sides of the pond get fined less than this for actually killing a cyclist.”

The injustice of this was rubbed in this week when another British cyclist was involved with yet another white van, when the driver got out, chased the cyclist, knocked him down, and assaulted him. The whole incident was recorded on the cyclist’s helmet video cam.

In spite of this overwhelming piece of evidence of an unprovoked assault, West Midlands Police in the town of Moseley, near Birmingham, England, have refused to press charges.

Taken together, these two cases show extreme injustice, with a strong bias against cyclists in the UK. Some consistency in police procedure, and the courts would be nice.




Piss Stop

When nature calls, man must answer. When you gotta go, you gotta go. “How do cyclists pee while racing?” is a question that gets asked a lot during online searches; it seems people are curious, and in many ways fascinated.

It is not uncommon for a professional bike race to last six hours or more, few other sporting events last that long without a break, and so other sports don’t have to deal with this issue.

First of all it is quite easy to ride a 100 mile race without the need to urinate, so the question of how do female racing cyclists do it does not arise as often because most women’s races are under 100 miles. A 100 mile professional race is a little over four hours, and remember cyclists are losing a lot of fluid through sweat.

Sometimes a cyclist will urinate while riding, see the picture above where another rider gives a friendly push so the peeing cyclist can coast. Notice the rider pushing is not even on the same team. Cycling is a different sport in so many ways.

Cycle racing is as competitive as any other sport, just not all the time. Races are long, and there is an atmosphere of comradely, respect, and friendly cooperation.

Many sports are played one team against another. Cycling is also a team sport, but there are many teams in the same event. A cycle road race is not, attack, attack, all the way there are quiet moments when the pace is moderate. This would be a time to pee.

Alliances are made between rival riders on different teams. These are unspoken alliances that simply occur because it is to everyone’s mutual benefit to work together. Forming a pace-line with each rider doing a short “Pull” at the front while the rest ride in each other’s slipstream making less effort.

A pace-line like this will form in a breakaway group, a chasing group, or often when one rider stops for a pee, others will stop because they can then form a pace-line and catch back up to the race. (See top picture.) It would be considered bad form to attack when guys have stopped to urinate.

One also has to realize that professional cycling is traditionally a Continental European sport, with the big races held in countries like France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy.

Britain and the US have only come onboard in more recent times. In places like France, Belgium, etc. the culture is different. People are less inclined to be offended or freak out if someone (Especially a man.) is seen urinating in public.

It is not unusual, on a long drive, for European motorists to simply stand by the road side (His back to the road of course.) while taking a leak. Therefore no one thinks it peculiar if cyclists do the same.

In France for many years now there have been public urinals for men (Above.) that used to have a minimum waist-high cover around it, in case of accidental exposure.

Modern street urinals have dispensed with even that. (Picture above right, and below.)

In Britain and the US it seems we are still stuck in the Victorian era, and normal bodily functions are taboo. 

We can’t even call a lavatory or a urinal by its proper name, and instead call it a “Toilet” in the UK.

Even this term is too strong for the US where it is called a “Rest Room” or “Bathroom.”

The act of urinating is referred to as “Going to the Bathroom.” I once heard a lady say that her dog picked up a toad and the toad “Went to the bathroom" in the dog's mouth. Think about it: how ludicrous is that statement? I have never seen a toad in a bathroom, much less a bathroom inside a dog's mouth.

So if you are a recreational rider in the UK or the USA and you need to take a leak, I suggest you find a bush or a tree to go behind. You may look like a professional cyclist but this is not France or Belgium. At worst you could get a ticket for public urination.

At the very least you will offend someone, and give all cyclists a bad name. Look on this small inconvenience as part of the price we pay for freedom. I am being facetious of course.

Above: Just imagine if these kind of urinals were used at all outdoor events, festivals, and rock concerts etc. How much cheaper, less space required, and leave the enclosed "Porta-Johns" for the ladies. 





I remember some years ago in the UK, I believe it was during the 1970s, the British Government decided to do a study to find out why pedestrians did not bump into each other, or cause a huge gridlock in the middle of the street when crossing the road at a light.

In big cities like London during rush hour, large numbers of people would wait to cross on opposing sides of the street. When the light turned green, they would all cross at the same time, in what must have appeared to traffic engineers, complete chaos.

Someone in their wisdom decided to do a study, because that’s what engineers do when they don’t have answers. After spending several tens of thousands British Pounds, of the tax payer’s money, they came up with this astounding discovery: “People just go around each other.”

Walking, the original means to get from A to B; just putting one foot in front of the other. Look down on any busy street in any large city and it appears to be chaos, with people going every which way. However, beneath the chaos there is order; each individual has a destination and is just taking the route necessary to get there.

Watch the video (Above.) of Market Street in San Francisco in 1905. Into the mix of people walking, has been added horse drawn vehicles, automobiles, and bicycles. The same chaos prevails, but people simply go around each other.

The reason it works is because there are less people and everyone is going very slow. I wonder how long it took in 1905 to get from one end of Market Street to the other, and I wonder how that time compares to today?

It is the huge variation in speed between people walking, bicycles and autos that cause most of the problems in our large cities. If pedestrians kept to the sidewalks, and crossed the streets at a light; if cars slowed down to closer the speed of a bicycle, I believe everyone would get to their destination just as fast.

Try making that argument to the guy who has spent thousands on the latest auto that does zero to 60 in seconds; it will never happen, but allow me my flight of the imagination.

The strange thing I find is that there is more sanity in the chaotic street scene above than I see in a typical rush hour street scene of today




Weight Distribution

It was pointed out to me recently that of all the articles I had written about bicycle design, I had not written one about weight distribution.

It is a subject that while somewhat important, it is not as important as a good riding position, and once a frame or bike is built and the rider has set it up to his or her absolute best position, are they then going to alter that position to achieve a certain weight distribution? That would be counter productive.

The rider is the engine that propels the bike forward, and a proper riding position is of the utmost importance for the body to work at maximum efficiency. I am talking of the racing cyclist who is looking to get optimum performance from body and machine.

If you are riding for leisure or exercise, you may sacrifice some efficiency for comfort, especially if you are older or not in top physical condition. You will adjust your riding position accordingly and weight distribution is probably not important enough to be even thinking about.

Under normal riding conditions there is always be more weight on the rear wheel that the front, simply because of the mass of the rider’s weight is behind the center point between the two wheels. I always pump my tires up to 120 psi in the rear, and 100 psi in the front for this reason.

A figure that is often quoted as being ideal weight distribution for a racing bicycle is 55% of the weight on the rear wheel, 45% on the front. It is one of those figures that sound about right, but has anyone ever taken the time to prove that this figure is best. I certainly didn’t in all the years I built bikes.

How would you come up with such a measurement? Maybe set a bike and rider on two sets of scales. And then the weight ratio from front to rear wheel would vary from one rider to the next because of their differing physical build.

Any vehicle or moving object will hold a straight line better if the weight is towards the front. An arrow flies straight because its weight is at the front tip, if it were at the rear it would not fly straight. In the 1960s I once owned a rear engine VW Mini-Bus. It was awful to drive in a strong wind; I would be blown all over the road.

When I first started racing in the early 1950s seat angles were around 71 degrees. We sat further back and also rode with our saddles lower than today. Gearing was a lot lower, and the theory (Back then.) was in order to pedal fast a rider had to sit back.

I always questioned this because whenever I had to make a maximum effort as in sprinting for the finish line or just to bridge a gap to a break-away, I would end up sitting on the front tip of my saddle. I would see photos of other riders sprinting and they would also be in this same forward position.

“Riding the rivet” is an expression still used today when a rider is making maximum effort. It pre-dates the 1950s when saddles were real leather and actually had rivets. Riding on the front tip where the saddle is narrower had the effect of the saddle being even lower than it already was and to my way of thinking was definitely not efficient.

It was one of the reasons I started building my own frames in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It seemed to me that when I needed to go fast, my body took up a natural position that was a lot further forward that a 71 degree seat angle would allow.

Pushing the seat angle forward actually pushed the whole frame forward making a longer wheelbase. To avoid this I made the top tube shorter and used a longer handlebar stem. This put my weight out over the front wheel and I found I had a much better handling bike. It went round corners faster and descending hills at speed felt safer.

It is often said that bike riders who are good sprinters are often good at descending hills. It is sometimes speculated that their nerves of steel that allow them to mix it up shoulder to shoulder in the chaos that is a bunch sprint, makes them fearless when descending mountains at 50 mph or more.

Maybe so, but many sprinters are big guys with a lot of weight in their upper body, chest, shoulders and arms. When in a low tuck aero position this extra weight is towards the front making bike and rider much more stable.

I have written here about “Shimmy” or speed wobble. It is a subject that gets discussed over and over on forums all over the world. It has occurred to me that these bikes with the shimmy problem are often the same well known brand of bikes that the pros use in the Grand Tours and other races throughout the season.

None of the pros experience speed wobbles, there would sure to be a video of it if they did, especially if they crashed. It has occurred to me that the fault is not with the bike, it is with the rider, and the way they have their bike set up. Or rather the way they position themselves when descending.

The pros have their bikes set with the bars set low in relation the saddle. Their weight is therefore more over the front wheel, especially when in a low tuck aero position.

If a person buys this same bike and sets it up in a more upright position because his physical limitations do not allow him to ride like a pro. They should then accept the limitations in the design of the bike which after all is designed as a racing bicycle, and if it develops a speed wobble at 45 mph. the rider should consider either a change of position or keep the speed below 45.

You will notice the pros descend by moving forward on the saddle, or sometimes squatting down on the top tube in front of the saddle, then rest their chest on the handlebars. This not only reduces their frontal area, but it places much of their weight over the front wheel. Therein lays a clue.

While descending you may not feel safe or comfortable going to the extreme of some of the riders in the picture above. But don’t go to the other extreme of the “Old Skool” position shown at the top. Study the picture, most of the rider’s weight is behind the bottom bracket, this is just asking for shimmy to develop.

Descending with your butt hanging off the back of the saddle is good for Mountain Bikes or Cyclo-Cross, because if you hit a bump or your front wheel drops on a hole, you could be thrown over the handlebars. However, on a smooth road at high speed this is unlikely to happen.  

Move forward, lower your back and try to position most of your weight ahead of the Bottom bracket. If you achieve at least a 50/50 weight distribution you will be less likely to encounter the dreaded speed wobble.




Do you recognize this bike?

BART Bay Area Rapid Transit have pictures of recovered stolen bikes on their website. Interestingly the first bike shown is a pink, white and blue Fuso FR1. If you recognize it call (510) 464 7040.

They will need to see proof of ownership, like a receipt with a frame number, which may be difficult to produce. So if your bike was stolen and recovered how would you prove ownership? Do you at least have the frame number written down somewhere; or better yet a photo of the bottom bracket with the number clearly showing.

If it was a frame I built, do you have it registered, possibly with pictures on my registry? That would be a good way to prove ownership. Another idea is to place a business card or maybe a copy of your driver’s license inside the seatpost. That way you ask that the seatpost be pulled and state what will be found there.

If you live in the San Francisco area you may know who owns this, and even if not please spread the word any way you can. Post it on Facebook and Twitter

My thanks to Karl Fundenberger for bringing the BART website to my attention.