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Dave Moulton

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Head Angles and Steering

If the head angle of a bicycle was vertical (90 degrees.) when you turned the handlebars to round a corner, the front and rear hubs would remain in the same plane.

Because the steering tube on a road bike is angled forward, usually at an angle of 73 degrees, when the steering is turned, the fork blade that is on the inside of the turn drops and the other side raises. Therefore the front and rear hubs are not in the same plane.

Going through a turn the front wheel is leaning slightly more than the rear wheel. This adds to the stability of the bike because the front wheel is outside the centerline of the frame.

Because the front wheel is leaning slightly more than the rear wheel, it is turning at a slightly tighter turning radius, creating over steer. This is a good thing; centrifugal forces are pushing the bike wide on the corner, over steer is counteracting this.

Now try this demonstration. Hold your front wheel vertical with both hands while turning the wheel to the left or right. You will notice the bike will lean in the opposite direction to the turn. (Left.)

As stated in the second paragraph above, when the steering is turned, the fork blade on the inside drops. Only this time it cannot drop because you are physically holding the front wheel vertical. Instead of dropping, it pushes the bike in the opposite direction.

You have just demonstrated the action of counter steer. Widely taught and practiced in motorcycle riding, though not as essential in bicycle riding, counter steer can never the less be used very effectively.

Imagine you are riding your bike at speed in a straight line and you want to make a sharp right hand turn. Because you are riding straight the gyroscopic action of the spinning wheels, plus your own weight and momentum, is holding you vertical just as surely as if you were physically holding the front wheel.

When you reach the point where you wish to turn right, nudge your handlebars slightly to the left. (Hence, counter steer.) A good way to do this initially is to push the right side of your bars forward, thus steering left. The slightest touch is all it takes to immediately push the bike over into a right hand lean and the bike steers itself around the corner.

The reason the bike turns to the right the moment it leans to the right is that three different forces come into play.

1.) The law of gyroscopic action states; a spinning wheel will turn in the direction it is leaning. If you roll a coin on a flat surface, it will roll in a circle because it turns in the direction it is falling.

2.) Because the front fork is bent or raked forward, there is more of the wheel ahead of the steering axis than behind it, and its own weight will cause it to turn in the direction it leans. In addition, the weight of the handlebars is in front of the steering axis. You can demonstrate this by leaning a stationary bike, the front wheel will turn in the direction it is leaning

3.) If you draw a line through the steering axis (The center of the head tube.) and extend it to the ground; it will reach the ground at a point slightly ahead of the point where the wheel contacts the ground. This is known as “trail” and gives the steering a caster action that helps keep the bike straight, but also as the bike leans to the right, the head tube and the steering axis move to the right. The front wheel pivoting on its point of contact with the road will therefore turn to the right.

It has been established since at least the 1930s that the ideal head angle for a road bike is 73 degrees. (Give or take a degree either way.) Track bikes designed to be ridden on a banked track or velodrome are a different matter.

The banking of the track counteracts the centrifugal forces of turning. In theory the bike is at 90 degrees to the track surface when traveling at speed, and acts as if the bike were traveling in a straight line with no corners.

The only time a rider needs to deviate from a straight line is to go around an opponent. The rider needs to be able to physically steer around another rider without throwing the bike into a lean to the left or right. Steeper head angles of 75 or 76 degrees achieve this characteristic, along with less fork rake and less trail.

So how will a track bike handle on the street when it is designed for a banked velodrome? Not too badly actually. The steeper head angle is going to make the steering more sensitive, it may call for smooth pedaling to keep the bike going straight.

On the other hand the steeper more sensitive steering needs less trail to keep it straight. It may not corner as well as a bike designed for the road, but as long as a rider is experienced and considers this, there should be no problem.


1930s Moulton Special

About a year and a half ago, I received the following message:

Sir: I have a bike that was custom made for me by a Lockheed Engineer by the name of Mike Moulton, his name is stamped on the fork. He made this for me in 1949 and I raced it all over America as well as a member of the All American Team that toured Japan in 1951. I won three California State Championships on the bike, 49,50, 51. Are you any kin to Mike?----Joe Cirone.

I did not receive pictures of this bike, but Joe later described it as being all chrome. I replied that I was not related to this framebuilder, Moulton is a fairly common English name. This was the first time I had heard of Mike Moulton.

Recently I received pictures of a 1930s “Moulton Special.” The owner found the original decals, buried under many coats of paint, when he started sanding.

I am inclined to think that the same person built the two frames. They were built within a decade or so of each other, and how many framebuilders named Moulton can there be?

If there is anyone reading this who has heard of Mike Moulton or the “Moulton Special” please let me know. I would be interested, and so would the current owner of this bike.

You can view more pictures here.


The Recherche

The Recherche was a private label frame that I built for two brothers, Kent and Kyle Radford. They owned a specialist bicycle store in Rancho Bernardo, which is in San Diego County, California.

They sold the frame out of their own store and also marketed the frame to other dealers, primarily in Southern California. The frame was first built in 1985 up to late 1987 or 1988. There were a little over two hundred of them built.

I have been in touch with Kent Radford in the last year, he still owns the number one Recherche. The name and the decal design was the Radford brother’s creation. They always pronounced it Reh-shur-shay. I believe it means “to search” in French, (Please correct me if I am wrong on that.) and that is probably not the correct French pronunciation.

It was a “no frills” frame, painted in a single color with the white Mylar panel decals; at first available only in red; later it was offered in blue and black also. Although I describe the frame as “no frills” it was of course built by me to the same high standard as any frame from my shop.

The frame was the exact same geometry as the Fuso; in fact the production of the Recherche was grouped together with the Fuso on the same jig setting, and both brand names brazed in small batches at the same time.

The frame was built in the same Columbus tubing, with Campagnolo or Columbus front and rear dropouts. With a Cinelli investment cast bottom bracket shell. The Recherche lugs were also investment cast but a different style than the Fuso; the seat stay caps were also different.

Most Recherche’s had a distinct cast fork crown with two decorative grooves cast into the top. (See left.) Towards the end of production this crown became unavailable and a plain sloping crown was substituted.


The way the tubes were finished at the front and rear drop outs was distinctive. The tube ends were scalloped with a round file and the brass allowed to sink inside as the brazing cooled. I was imitating a style that is common to many French frame builders.

These small but unique features made the Recherche different in appearance, but because the design and workmanship was equal to other frames from my shop, the finished bike rides and handles the same as any other I built.

The red paint finish that the majority of Recherche frames had was achieved by painting a candy red over a bright orange base coat. Most red paint jobs appear orange, especially after they start to fade in bright sunlight. The candy red method I used was labor intense because of the extra steps in painting, but the end result was a truer longer lasting deep red.

My thanks to Lorin Youde, who lives in Southern California not far from my original San Marcos shop, for sending me these pictures. He picked up this 62 cm. Recherche last year, with original red paint and very few miles on it. It is number 201 so one of the last few built.

With so few of these built compared with close to 3,000 Fuso frames produced and with the small but unique differences I have described here; the Recherche could be a desirable frame to own should anyone be lucky enough to come across one.

Because so few were built the chances of finding one in any given size is slim, especially in the less popular very large or small sizes. If Recherche does indeed mean “to search” then maybe the name will become prophetic.


The National Enquirer to Sponsor a Pro Cycling Team

Regular readers of my blog will remember an early story I did about a special bike I built in 1978 for the National Enquirer, and how they owed me a story. It appears that a few weeks ago an executive at that publication found my blog during a Google search.

I am pleased to announce that The Enquirer has gone way above and beyond just doing an article, and are talking about full-blown sponsorship of a professional team to be entered in the 2008 Tour de France.

The exiting news is that the team will be riding my bikes. As I write this, people at the Enquirer are scouring EBay and Craigslist looking for suitable bikes and equipment.

The executive I spoke with, whose name I am not at liberty to divulge just happens to be a huge fan of 1980s lugged steel. I questioned how he expected the team to compete on “old tech” equipment. His answer was simple. Steroids.

This just goes to show the forward-thinking-ness of the Enquirer. At a time when everyone else is trying to rid sport of drugs, here is an outfit with the balls to come out and say that modern professional sport demands stimulants.

As he pointed out to me, people these days go to a ballpark and want to see some freak with a large head, knock one over the stands. So, what greater spectacle than a guy built like a semi-truck, winning stage after stage, charging through the pack like a 280 lb. ball through a set of bowling pins.

While on the subject of large heads he doubted anyone on the team would fit into a modern Styrofoam helmet. With this in mind, his plans are to go full retro with wool jerseys and leather hairnet style helmets that would be easier to custom fit.

The intention is to hand select team members as soon as possible so they can start ’roiding up for the rest of this year in preparation for the 2008 season. It was mentioned that it is essential for the team to be on lugged steel. “These guys will tear a carbon fiber frame apart like a baby with a balsa wood airplane.” Was one quote.

No one at the Enquirer seemed too perturbed when I pointed out the Tour has stringent rules and drug tests in place. Again, I quote, “We’ll deal with that issue when the time comes with good old American ingenuity, good attorneys, and a few well placed bribes.”

I have to admit when it comes to bullshit, no one is better equipped to deal with it than the Enquirer; they have been specializing in it for years. It should be interesting.

Charleston, SC April 1st, 2007.


Recovery Report

I’ve been getting quite a few emails recently concerning my recovery from my accident last December. Here’s an update on my progress.

The biggest problem was that I damaged a nerve in my right eye and it left me with severe double vision. The nerve controls the movement of that eye.

A few days ago, I got up in the morning and found my vision was almost normal. Naturally, I was extremely exited about this sudden and quite dramatic improvement, but it turned out to be short lived. After being up for an hour or so, the double vision returned.

Since then this re-occurs every morning, I can see normally on waking but it only lasts a short time. However, I feel this is a definite good sign that something good is happening and permanent normal vision will return eventually.

I am riding my bike about three times a week. When I do, I use a thin strip of black tape stuck to the right lens of my glasses, which cuts out the double vision, but allows me to see off to the side. In other words I don’t have a blind spot that a complete eye patch would cause.

Thanks again to everyone for the well wishes; these are greatly appreciated. I will keep you posted on my progress from time to time.