Dave Moulton

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A new cycling hazard

There is a new hazard for cyclists that has been brought to my attention.

The chances of anyone experiencing this is remote, but never the less it would be remiss of me if I didn’t pass on this information.

It is a strange phenomenon known as Spontaneous Cyclo Combustion. (SCC.) It is similar to Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC.) but is relatively new.

The first recorded case took place in Southern Italy in 1985, whereas SHC has been around for hundreds of years.

Since the late 1990s there has been a rapid increase in the reported cases, last year (2007.) there were four incidents in the US alone. Two in Arizona, one in Nevada, and one Southern California. SCC seems to be more prevalent in hot, dry climates.

Unlike SHC caused by the melting of body fat known as the "Wicking effect," the cause of SCC is unknown. The end result is the same, the body burns completely, but cyclists have very little body fat, which has scientists somewhat baffled.

Prior to last year, in all known cases, the victims of SCC for some unknown reason, had all been riding alone. In each case the cyclist’s charred remains were found, usually a short distance from their bicycle, as if they had dropped their bike and tried to run from the source of heat before being totally consumed by fire.

However, in one of the Arizona incidents last year there was a witness. Two cyclists, let’s call them Tom and Brad. Tom is deceased; Brad wishes to have his name withheld for reasons that will become apparent. The two were riding in the desert somewhere north of Scottsdale, when Tom the stronger rider dropped Brad on a long climb.

By the top of the hill, Tom was some 300 yards ahead. Brad looked up and saw a bright glow ahead. At first he thought it was a trick of the sun on the hot asphalt, but then he heard cries for help from his friend. By the time Brad reached his friend, his bike lay by the roadside and Tom was fully engulfed in flames some thirty feet away.

Brad grabbed his water bottle and ran to help his friend. However, the heat was so intense he could only get within ten feet of the fire, and in less than a minute all that remained of Tom was a heap of smoldering black ash.

Brad called 911 and while he waited for the police and EMS he took pictures with his cell phone. When the police arrived Brad was promptly arrested on suspicion of murdering his friend. He was held for several days then interviewed by the FBI. After the interview, he was allowed to go home but never told that he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Which is why Brad wishes to remain anonymous.

On arriving home he discovered the pictures he took had been erased from his cell phone. It appears in such cases where some strange phenomenon occurs; our government becomes secretive, and suppresses information.

In the California incident, also last year, it is believed a cyclist who spontaneously combusted accidentally started one of the more serious wild fires that plagued that state. California fire investigators denied it, in what appears to be an official cover up. However, they did say if anyone should catch fire, to resist the urge to run into the surrounding chaparral.

So why the increase in cases of SCC in recent years? Scientists believe it is directly related to carbon fiber frames. It is believed that it is triggered by a build up of static electricity caused by the friction between the plastic saddle, and the polyester fibers in the shorts.

The padding in the shorts is usually highly flammable which adds to the problem, and may even be the primary key in this whole SCC issue. It's like the cyclist is sitting on a fuse to a potential incendiary bomb.

With the old steel frames this static electricity was constantly dispersed throughout the frame. A spokesman for Brooks Saddles in England said, " We have known about this for years, but were afraid to make it public because.......well......we might have appeared a little cuckoo."

He added, "It's the reason we increased the size of the copper rivets in our saddles. (Picture right.) Copper, as you know, is an excellent conductor of electricity and it directs the static electricity away from the danger zone."

So what can a cyclist do to avoid this slight but definite hazard, besides riding a steel frame with a Brooks saddle. Well help is on the way; manufacturers of plastic saddles and shorts are getting together to find which materials do not cause static build up.

It will be necessary to buy the correct shorts to go with a certain saddle. Each will have a warning label, and a code letter. (A, B, or C.) A type “A” saddle must be used with type “A” shorts, and it is not recommended that you mix code letters, or you may be actually be placing yourself at an increased risk.

These new saddles and shorts will not be available probably until early 2009. So what can a concerned cyclist do in the mean time? The incidents are so rare that I am not suggesting cyclists should become paranoid to the extent of carrying a fire extinguisher.

However, there are any number of proprietary flame retardant materials available, that you can use to treat the padding, and make your shorts fire proof. Or, you can simply keep the padding damp throughout your ride with water from your bottle.

There is a website with more information at BlazingSaddles.org


What does share the road really mean?

The following comment was made on my last post:

"I agree that we all share the roads, etc. What I do not understand is cyclists who will steadfastly ride in the middle of a thoroughfare lane while cars back up for blocks behind them not being able to pass.

Sure, bikes have as much right as anyone else to be on the street, but what they do not have the right to do is block a lane or impede traffic.

Politeness and common sense dictate that they get out of the way and allow others to pass if they cannot keep up with the flow of traffic."

To many non-cyclists “Share the road” means, “Okay I accept that you have a right to be on the road, but just stay out of my way.” This comes through in the last sentence of the above comment.

Politeness and common sense need to prevail on both sides, otherwise it is not a true “Sharing” of the road. I would be happy to stay out of the way and ride to the extreme right, if in return other road users would have a little concern for my safety and not pass me at 50 or 60 mph, missing me by inches.

Most people drive in the middle of the lane leaving equal space to the edge of the lane on either side. Many will simply hold that line when passing a cyclist, when “Politeness and common sense” would suggest steering to the outside edge of the lane thereby leaving more space on the inside.

If it is a two-lane, divided highway, and there is no one along side or about to overtake, signal and move to the other lane, or at least put the car’s wheels over the line. The same on narrow rural roads, cross that center line if it can be done safely, if not, stay behind for a brief moment, and then pass. A cyclist is less than 7 feet long and 3 feet wide, it is not like passing an eighteen-wheeler.

Many states are bringing in new laws to give cyclists a minimum of 3 feet when passing. If politeness and common sense prevailed, these laws would be unnecessary. So in the mean time, I exercise my right to “take the lane,” in other words move to the center of the lane when it is unsafe to pass.

A good example of this would be where there are cars parked at the side of the road. I will not ride within 5 feet of a parked car because people will fling open car doors without warning. Five feet will usually put me in the middle of the lane, if I ride any closer cars will still continue to pass at their normal speed.

If someone opens a car door I have nowhere to go. I am not only injured by running into the edge of the door, I will most likely fall in the path of a passing car. It is unfortunate that city planners allow parking for long stretches of city roads, without understanding the real danger this imposes on cyclists.

Another situation where I would take the lane is if I want to make a left turn ahead. (Right turn in the UK.) On a multi-lane highway I may need to start the maneuver several blocks before I actually turn.

From the right lane I will wait for a gap in traffic, signal and move to the center of the lane, stopping any further traffic from passing. I cannot safely get into the second lane from the extreme right edge of the first lane.

Then when there is a gap in traffic in the second lane, I signal move over again. Sometimes an impatient driver will also see this gap and try to go around me. If this stops me from changing lanes then all the traffic behind me continues to be delayed because one selfish driver didn’t allow me to get over and move out of the way.

When I reach the left turn lane, I stay in the middle of that lane. If I move to the left of the lane, cars will pass me on the outside and after I complete the turn, I am now stuck in the middle, needing to get back over to the right.

If I move to the right side of the turn lane, now I have traffic passing at speed on both sides. If one should hit me, I would be knocked into the path of another vehicle.

This is often a left turn at a traffic light. Everyone is rushing to make the green light, no one is concerned for my safety except me, so forgive me if I appear a little “selfish” at this point.

More people would commute to work by bicycle but they see it as dangerous. As time goes by, economic reasons will force some to overcome this fear. Every bicycle on the road means one less car; people will become more aware of bicycles and drive slower and with caution. People will actually get to their destination quicker and safer because there will be less congestion.


The picture at the top is Savannah Hwy. (Rt. 17.) the main road south out of Charleston, South Carolina where I live. Traffic is heavy during the week, but moderate at weekends. Not the best place to ride, but necessary to get from where I live to some of the more rural areas on John’s Island, and Wadmalaw Island.

The road has a narrow shoulder and “Share the road” signs are posted. It is a divided highway with two wide traffic lanes in either direction. I ride on the shoulder and in spite of this drivers will pass me within inches at 50 to 60 mph as I described earlier, even though there is no traffic in the outside lane.

I use my “take the lane” right sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. If I delay other road users briefly, I am doing it in the interest of my own safety, not just to piss people off.


Human Rights

After my last article when I expressed my faith in human decency, that faith was put to the test when I read of the aftermath of the Bay Area tragedy when two cyclists were killed by a sheriff’s deputy’s car.

The media reflecting public opinion take on a “Blame the Victim” attitude. Although not in this specific case, but in talking about cycling related accidents in general. Public opinion after a cyclist is killed or injured is often, “He or she asked for it by being on the road.”

This same attitude existed back in the 1940s and 1950s if a woman was sexually assaulted. Public attitude often was, “She asked for it by dressing provocatively.” Police would do little to pursue such a case; in other words blame the victim.

The press and public opinion go hand in hand. The media can influence public opinion, but at the same time, they pander to popular opinion. Newspaper columnists know if they write an anti-cyclist piece it will get the support of the anti-cyclist public, and sell newspapers.

When Matthew Parris wrote in the London Times, advocating decapitation of cyclists with piano wire, there was an outcry from the cycling community, but little support from the general public.

Mr. Parris is not the only one to have written such inflammatory anti-cyclist articles. If these journalists used the words, Black, Jew, or Moslem in the place of “Cyclist” they would have been hauled off to jail.

In the same way that the media panders to public opinion, so too does it influence police attitude. Sheriffs are elected and police chiefs are beholding to elected officials. If police took the same “Blame the victim” attitude towards rape victims as they did 50 or 60 years ago, there would be an outcry from the media and the public.

There would also be public outcry if there was a racially motivated attack on a black man and the police failed to pursue the matter. Yet in Tucson, Arizona police refuse to pursue a case after a cyclist was struck with a baseball bat. Even though the victim provided a license plate number, and the cyclist’s lawyer knows who the assailant is, and where he lives.

In America a person can no longer attack a black or Jewish person, or a gay guy without serious consequences, these are hate crimes. Why is it then a driver consumed with road rage can take a baseball bat to a cyclist and the police look the other way?

Just read any online rant by someone on a blog or forum concerning cyclists, and they inevitably start talking about the skin tight shorts, those ridiculous shoes, and of Lance Armstrong wanna-bes. Totally irrelevant to the original complaint, but showing that all too human trait, to hate those perceived a little different.

Viewed in this light, isn’t the whole issue of people riding bikes on public roads a human rights issue? Cyclists are human, and they have a definite right to be on the road. Yet I have never heard of a cycling advocate pursuing it in this light, or a lawyer arguing that a cyclist’s civil rights were violated.

In the US, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, etc. etc. Maybe mode of transport should be added to that list. Discriminating against, or hating someone because they are riding a bicycle, is just as ludicrous as any other form of discrimination, and has no basis.

I still stand by the sentiments of my last post. Cyclists behaving badly serves no useful purpose, and only provides fuel for the hate mongers. It can increase the danger; if not to you then to other cyclists. People on the roads are already insane; you would hardly give the finger to someone coming at you with a baseball bat, so don’t do to the guy in a three ton SUV.

That doesn’t mean we keep taking this crap and do nothing. We keep making our presence known, and people will realize we are not going away; in fact our ranks will swell.

To draw a parallel with the human or civil rights movement of the 1960s, people achieved what they did by protesting in a peaceful manner, even though violence was used against them.

I will keep writing about the issue whenever it arises, and I am hoping others will pick it up and run with it. As I have said before, in time the message will reach the mainstream media.

Now, if I could only make the case that cycling is my religion……hmm.


Prejudice and intolerance

Chicago’s Mayor Daley introduced an ordinance last month that would impose fines ranging from $150 to $500 on motorists who turn left or right in front of someone on a bicycle; pass with less than three feet of space between car and bike; and open a vehicle door into the path of a cyclist.

When the Chicago Tribune posted the story on their website in the form of a very short two-paragraph piece. I thought the comments from readers that followed were disappointing.

One would have thought cyclists would have welcomed this as good news; instead, cyclists commented with attacks on car drivers, and of course, drivers responded. It showed that prejudice and intolerance between people who drive cars and cyclists is alive and well in Chicago, as it is the world over.

The same old rhetoric on each side; each one canceling the other out. Nothing achieved. Just a whole lot of hatred stirred up on both sides. Cyclists recalling times they have been hit, and their many near misses. Auto drivers using the same old clichés like, “Cyclists are always running red lights and stop signs.”

Just as in racial prejudice, the actions of a few are used to tarnish the whole group, and give the bigots an excuse for their verbal attacks and behavior. To say all cyclists disregard the laws of the road is akin to saying that all people of a certain ethnic group are criminals.

As cyclists, we can be guilty of the same prejudice. There are many bad drivers out there, and we tend to focus on these and view all drivers as the same. However, I still believe in human decency and that the majority of drivers would not deliberately put another human being in harms way.

Bad drivers are careless and inattentive, but still I believe it is a tiny minority that are malicious. By focusing on this minority, cyclists are practicing the same prejudice as drivers who condemn us for the actions of a few.

I do not run red lights, even if I stop and there is no vehicle coming in the opposite direction; I wait for the light to change. Not out of fear of getting a ticket, that possibility is remote. My reasons are simple, I would not do it in my car, and therefore if I expect others to view my bike as a vehicle; I must behave as any other vehicle.

In addition, when drivers expect me to ride though it creates a good impression when I don’t. A driver seeing me do this is more likely to think favorably of me, and maybe will exercise caution when he passes me a short distance down the road. It is human nature to show consideration for those we see in a good light.

The only exception to stopping on red would be, early in the morning and there is not another car in sight. My bike will not trigger the light, and after stopping and looking all around I go on through. No one sees me, no harm, no foul, and I have not really broken the law. I may have to wait an unreasonable time for a car to come along and change the light.

The same with stop signs, if I am in a quiet neighborhood and there is not another vehicle in sight, I slow, and then ride through. If there is other traffic there, I come to a complete stop and wait my turn. One of the grievances drivers have with cyclists is that they are unpredictable. No one can say I am unpredictable if I obey the law as if I were in my car.

Cyclists who run red lights and stop signs argue that they do it in the interest of their own safety, to stay ahead of traffic. Only another cyclist could understand this logic, to everyone else they are breaking the law. And it pisses people off.

You never stay ahead of traffic entirely, eventually the driver you pissed off at the last light will catch up, and when he does, he is then expected to treat you with respect and consideration.

Cyclists who still run red lights and stop signs might ask themselves this, “Am I really doing this in the interest of my own safety, or am I doing it out of habit because I have been doing it for so long, and because I can get away with it.”

This is not the first time I have touched on this subject, and as before, it is not my place to tell others what to do. However, verbally attacking drivers achieves nothing except to stir up more conflict. It is far more difficult to change the behavior of others, easier to change our own.

If cyclists stopped running red lights and stop signs, if nothing else, there would be one less piece of useless rhetoric that can be used against us.


Like finding an old Corvette in a barn

The smiling face you see above is Tom Cook of Chandler, Arizona. Tom has good reason to smile; a friend of his, knowing he was an avid cyclist, gave him his old bike that had been sitting in this original owners garage for many years.

When Tom emailed me last week, he said, “I feel like I have discovered an old Corvette in a barn.” The bike, covered in dust and minus wheels, was otherwise complete with the old Campagnolo equipment that was on it when the original owner bought it as a teenager in 1981.

The frame number (N814) recorded the date it was built; November 1981, the last digit showed it was the 4th frame built that month.

At that time I was still working full time for Masi in their San Marcos, California shop, so to build four of my own custom frames in one month, in my spare time, shows I was putting in some long days back then.

The DB57 is the frame size (Center to Top.) The DB was an identification mark I used on 1981 and 1982 frames. DB came from Dave and Brenda. (My ex wife.)

This particular frame and its components seem unaffected by the years of neglect, and actually cleaned up nicely to reveal the original paint.

The oval panels were an idea I had used in England in the late 1970s. See the picture of me on the left, holding my personal bike with similar painted on panels. This picture was taken late in 1978 a few weeks before I moved to the US in January 1979.

When I started building my own frames again in 1981 I used the same decals I brought with me from England, even using the logo with the words “Worcester, England.”

I did this partly for economic reasons; I couldn’t afford to re-design my decals. Also I was proud of my heritage and where I had come from.

I had a small extra decal made that stated, “Frame guaranteed handcrafted by Dave Moulton in California USA.” This was to avoid any confusion as to where the frames were built.

The oval panels were a big hit in England, not so much in America. In the UK customers wanted my name prominently displayed; in the US, I was an unknown and it seemed customers preferred to have the name understated.

Only a few frames were painted in this fashion in the US; I am guessing two or three. By 1982 when I started building my own frames full time I had dropped the oval panel idea.

This particular frame has only one set of water bottle mounts on the down tube. It is a “Criterium” frame designed to be raced in short events.

I remember it drove me nuts when I started working for Masi and the frame had two water bottle mounts and a pump peg behind the head tube.

To me the Masi was a classic frame, one which I was every bit as proud of as my own frames. To carry a pump under the top tube was, in my opinion, downright “Hokey” for want of a better word. It spoiled the look and the lines of the whole bike. Plus it got in the way when shifting gears.

I built frames with water bottle mounts on the seat tube in England, but riders would only use two bottles when racing and they were not carrying a pump. The rest of the time the pump was carried in front of the seat tube.

So on these early frames I refused to add a pump peg. I soon capitulated, realizing I was not selling frames in England any more. I had to adapt to my customer, not the other way around. In addition, I began to see that in the hot California and Arizona climate, people really needed two water bottles.

These strange little quirks of the framebuilder back then, made these frames different.

Now it serves to remind me what an ornery, stubborn bastard I was at that time, and it was a wonder I didn’t drive away more potential customers than I sometimes did.

Apart from that, it does my heart good when one of these old examples show up like this, bringing back so many bitter, sweet, sweet memories.