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Tubulars: Part I

A regular reader of this blog recently asked me if I would write a piece comparing tubular tires to clinchers.

My first reaction was that I am not qualified to do so because since I started riding seriously and racing in 1952 to this day, I have ridden tubulars exclusively.

How can I comment on the ride quality of a modern clincher tire when I have never ridden on them? I contacted a good friend Steve Farner, who lives in Southern California, for a second opinion. Steve has ridden and raced in the 1970s through the 1980s. In an email he wrote:

"I've noticed pro teams in the Tour that are using tubulars, even if they are sponsored by clincher tire companies, discreetly glued to tubular rims with other makers' names affixed. Seems many pros will use tubulars (even not admitting they do); I think they prefer the feel and ride compared to clinchers, in spite of manufacturers' claims they are the same now. I also use tubulars and will never ride clinchers; they don't compare. It is easier to manufacture clinchers and that is a big reason for the push to race clinchers, not at all because they are better. Thus the deception racing on tubulars instead of clinchers."

Steve makes a valid point about the cost of manufacture. I ride on Vittoria Evo Corsa CX tires; they cost me $47. (See top picture.) This is a top of the line tubular and they can go for twice that amount. I shop around.

From the same source, I could buy a Vittoria Diamante Pro clincher tire for $31.57. (Left.) Add the cost of the inner tube, (Included in the tubular price.) and the price is close. The big difference is the tubular tire is hand made, and the clincher I’m sure is manufactured by an automated process. There is bound to be more profit in the clincher tire.

Manufactures will tell you the ride quality and performance of the latest clinchers are the same as a tubular; they push the product that turns the most profit. Many tire companies don’t even make tubulars, so obviously they are not going to say their tire is inferior to another manufacturer’s product.

If pros and top amateurs still race on tubulars it is because the ride quality and the more important, the performance is superior. That is the way I see it, because pro riders will normally ride whatever they are paid to ride; all other things being equal.

If you are not racing, and not looking for a competitive edge, does it really matter? Of course not; a person rides clinchers for convenience; it is easier to fix a flat. (Puncture.)

Having said that, if I get a flat, I do like the convenience of being able to slip a spare tubular on the rim, without the use of tools, inflate it, and be on my way. A spare tubular folds up and fits neatly under my saddle, along with a CO2 inflator. In an absolute emergency, I can ride home on a tubular tire while it is flat, without damaging the rim.

They are lightweight, some can be inflated up to 130 psi so there is very little rolling resistance. At the same time because they are a complete tube, they absorb the shocks of riding over very rough road surfaces. They are extremely responsive and this is why they are preferred for racing, you make a sudden effort and the wheels and tires respond immediately.

The biggest factor in deciding whether to use tubulars is the cost. Not that they cost a lot more initially, but you have to consider the possibility of buying a new tire every time you get a flat. Some people don’t know how to repair a tubular tire, others can’t be bothered.

In my case, I ride purely for pleasure these days, so I ride tubulars because they give me pleasure in the way they ride. To me the cost is justified.

However, in researching for this piece, I discovered I can buy a lower price Vittoria Nuovo Pro TT tubular, still considered a racing tire for $22.78. (Left.) Alternatively, I can buy a Vittoria Rally training tubular for $15.77.

It is somewhat extravagant for me to be using one of the best tubulars available, when I am no longer racing. At these prices, it is less important to spend time repairing them. 

I should buy a few spare, because if a person can afford to do this, and they are stored in a cool dark place, like a closet; the rubber matures and becomes tougher with age; they wear longer and resist punctures.

If you have never ridden tubulars and are considering this, you will not be disappointed.

However, look on it as a possible high maintenance relationship. In such relationships you are let down flat a few times, and you wonder if it is worth it. Stick with it for the long term and you will find it is.

Footnote: Tubular tires are often refered to as "Sew-ups" or "Tubies" in the US, and as "Tubs" in the UK.

Pictures from Pro Bike Kit.

In part 2 I talk about repairing tubulars, and part 3, gluing the tire to the rim.


Vintage brake cable routing

If you own a vintage steel frame, chances are the rear brake cable is routed through braze-on cable guides along the top tube.

Every time the rear brake is applied the cable housing moves slightly. If it drags across the top tube, or touches the seat-stay caps, eventually it will wear through the paint.

To avoid this, route the cable so it is slightly above the seat lug, clear of the paint, and the cable housing rests against the aluminum seat post, as shown in the top picture.

Try not to have too big of a loop in the cable housing, or it will push the side pull brake off center.

To hold the cable housing in this position, place a small rubber “O” ring just behind the last cable guide.

Cut a groove in the plastic sheathing of the cable housing, with a sharp knife, so the “O” ring will drop in this groove and stay in place. See the close up detail shot above.

Use a # 60 “O” ring (¼” O.D. x 1/8” I.D.) These can be found in the plumbing section of your local hardware store.


On life’s journey

Paths cross and we meet
Face to face, hands shake
Names soon forgotten or never remembered
Faces stay a little longer.

Others meet on the Information Highway
Paths cross the same, often by chance
No face to see, no hand to shake
Just a name.

Either meeting good or bad
Mostly good, reflecting how people are
That is, mostly good
Lives are touched.

Some glance our way and move on
We never see them again
Others sharing a common interest
Stay a little longer


Tagged Again

I was tagged last December and said at the time, if you keep multiplying by five people, how long before every blogger on the planet has been tagged.

Here we are some seven months later and I am tagged again by Lisa, a local Charleston, Goddess and Bloggess. This time the number of unknown facts about me is increased to seven.

There has to be limit to unknown facts, because each time I write about them they are no longer unknown. Anyway, here goes. Seven previously unpublished, trivial facts from my life.

The tag called for “Seven Random Facts,” but I think they read better in chronological order.

1.) I lived in the South of England, early in 1944, the months leading up to the Normandy Invasion. I was eight years old. American soldiers were everywhere, taking part in training exercises in nearby fields and woodlands.

In the days that followed each exercise, my friends and I would go out and collect empty brass rifle shell casings. Sometimes we would find live rounds; these were blank shells without the bullet. I seem to remember they had a cardboard plug to hold the powder in.

My friends and I collected these live rounds, opened them and poured the powder into a glass jam jar. We used the powder to make homemade fireworks.

One day the group decided for whatever reason to climb a tree and set off a firework in its branches. They left me at the base of the tree holding the glass jar of gunpowder.

A spark from the firework above fell into the open jar and it ignited immediately. I felt the hot flames in my face, and I threw the jar, whereon it exploded as it hit the ground, glass flying everywhere.

The other kids came down the tree and beat me up, for wasting all their gunpowder.

2.) At age thirteen I got my first brand new bike; a Hercules Roadster with a three-speed hub gear. (Picture left.)

It had dropped handlebars so to me this made it a racing bike. Everything on the bike was steel, even the mudguards. It must have weighed at least 40 lbs.

One weekend my mother took my younger sister and me on a long bus trip to visit relatives. On returning, we discovered my sister had left a sweater behind.

This was not important but I decided to ride my bike over to my Aunt’s house, the following Saturday, to pick up this item of clothing. I did not tell my mother of my plans; I thought I would surprise her.

The round trip was over a 100 miles and all I had to find my way there was a little pocket diary that measured about 3 1/2 inches by 2 1/2 inches. It contained maps of the whole of England on about five or six tiny pages.

I set out very early in the morning and made it back just before sunset that same day. I proudly walked in with my sister’s sweater; my mother just about had a fit when she realized what I had done. Instead of thanks for my effort, I was severely chastised.

3.) As a teenager all my friends smoked, this was the 1950s and it was the norm to smoke. I never did, because I was serious about my cycling and racing.

Many racing cyclists of that era did smoke, and it was kind of strange when I look back and remember riders collapsing from exhaustion at the side of the road after the finishing sprint in a road race, and the first thing they did was light up a cigarette.

4.) In the early 1960s I worked as a milkman. I would arrive at the dairy at 6:00 a.m. and load up my battery powered electric milk truck. It had a top speed of about 15 mph.

After driving to the start of my round, I would park the truck and carry the bottles of milk by hand to nearby houses, before moving the truck down the road and repeating the process.

The great thing about this job, I was paid for an eight-hour day, but was encouraged to finish earlier. I would memorize the amount of milk for every house so I didn’t need to look at my order book, and I ran the entire round which covered about ten miles.

I would be finished each day by 10:00 a.m. This gave me the rest of the day to ride my bike, and build the occasional bike frame. The only day I worked later was Friday when I had to collect the money and take orders for the following week.

I bought rubber sole “Doc Martin” work boots that were guaranteed for six months, and would wear them out in three, take them back and get a free pair.

5.) When I had my framebuilding business in Worcester, England in the 1970s, a young boy from the neighborhood, aged about eight or nine years old would often stop by on his way home from school, and watch me build frames.

One day he brought his older brother, aged about fourteen, to look at my frames. After studying some finished frames, I had hanging in the shop, the older boy remarked, “They are very good; as good as the ones you can buy at the bike store.”

6.) While working in the Masi shop in California, in the early 1980s I was doing a frame repair. I was replacing the right chainstay on a Masi frame. I had removed the damaged stay and was preparing the frame to receive the new one.

I stabbed my arm on the sharp point on the bottom bracket shell, and hit a main artery. Blood spurted out in a two-foot jet, pulsating to the rhythm of my heartbeat.

I stuck my thumb over the wound and applied pressure, while I was driven to the hospital. On arrival, I was placed in a wheelchair and taken to the emergency room.

I sat there, waited, and waited my thumb still pressed tightly against my arm, afraid to let go, or I would surely bleed to death.

When I finally did see a doctor, I took my thumb away, there was no blood, and I could barely see a puncture wound. The doctor stuck a band-aid on it and charged me fifty bucks. A lot of money back then.

7.) In 1983 I opened my own frameshop in San Marcos, California. It was all work back then trying to get the business off the ground.

The bane of my life was people soliciting and selling all manner of stuff I didn’t need. It got so bad that I would lock the door to the front office.

One day a guy walked in selling Kermit the Frog glove puppets. He had a puppet on each hand, with little red tongues that shot in and out, and immediately when into his sales pitch.

I shouted, “Who the fuck left the front door unlocked.” I walked towards the guy to show him the way out and lock the door behind him.

He must have thought I was about to attack him and he turned to run. The problem was the door had closed behind him, and he couldn’t turn the door knob because he had a Kermit the Frog puppet on each hand.

As I got closer, and closer, he kept glancing back over his shoulder with a look of sheer terror like an animal in the slaughter house.

Just as I reached him, he got the door open and was through the front office and out the front door in a flash. I locked the door behind him and went back to work.

I wonder about this guy. Did he realize he was not really cut out to be a Kermit the Frog puppet salesman, and get a real job?

Maybe after this incident he at least left one hand free to open the door for a quick get away.

There you have it. I am changing the rules set by the Great Bogging Poobah, whoever he might be. I am dropping it back down to five unknown facts, and passing this on to five other bloggers.

If you don’t want to participate, just pretend you didn’t read this. That’s what I am going to do if this comes back around before the end of 2008.

I tag:



My low-tech bicycle computer

I have no desire to fit a computer to my bike; it would probably give me way more information than I need.

If I were seriously training for competition it would be a different matter, but now a days I ride for two reasons only. Physical fitness and pleasure.

The two go hand in hand; the more physically fit I become, the more my riding pleasure. The more my riding pleasure, the more I ride, which leads to increased physical fitness.

It is not necessary that I know my exact speed and mileage. However, I have a regular seven-mile circuit that I ride on; it takes in quite residential streets and some yet to be developed areas of the city. As my fitness increases, the more laps of the circuit I complete.

When I was doing up to five laps there was no problem, but now I am doing 7, 8, or 9 laps it becomes difficult to keep track. So, I installed this simple counting device; five beads on my brake cable housing.

When I start my ride, I reset my computer by sliding all five beads to just above my brake lever. Each lap completed, I slide one bead to rest just above my front brake.

The circuit is in a rough “T” formation; there are three dead turns. Each turn is at the end of a stretch of divided highway, so I ride on the left as I approach the turn. That way I do not have to cut across traffic behind me when I turn.

There are also three speed bumps to negotiate, and eight stop signs. Because of all this stopping and starting, this circuit is not particularly fast.

However, I am not out to break any speed records, and it makes for some excellent interval training, which is really the best in terms of burning calories and achieving aerobic fitness.

My immediate goal is to reach ten laps, (70 miles.) and by the end of this year when the weather cools, a century. (15 laps, 105 miles.) I like it because I pass my home on every lap and I can make a pit stop whenever I need to; replenish water and get something to eat.

My low-tech computer never needs batteries, and is unaffected by moisture and vibration. Of course, it will only work on the old skool, non-aero brake levers with the exterior cables.