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Friday
Mar312006

The John Howard Frame Saga


There is a part of the story I have not told before; how I opened my frameshop in San Marcos, California in 1983 and started producing John Howard frames and why this arrangement only lasted about a year?

I went to work for Masi in October 1980 and through the following year I built about 25 or 30 frames a month. The problem was they were not selling close to that number and by the end of 1981 there were hundreds of Masi frames hanging from every available space in the shop. I had in effect worked myself out of a job, and in December 1981 I was laid off temporarily and told to sign on unemployment.

I actually got as far as standing in line at the unemployment office. I found it very degrading and left without actually signing on. I went back to Masi and asked if I could build my own frames in their shop using their equipment. I had already been building a few of my own frames on my own time the year before and I had a few orders to get me started. I started calling bike dealers all over the US offering to build custom frames. I could build a custom frame within two weeks which was unheard of at the time.

Enough work came in that I did not have to sign on unemployment. The problem came six months later when Masi had made inroads into their stockpile of frames and wanted to start production again. I now had enough work on my own frames and didn’t want to go back to building Masis. It just so happened that Dave Tesch had come along and was able to step into the breach for Masi. But the problem was we were all using the same equipment, and it became obvious that I would soon need my own shop.

I had about $7,000 of my own money saved but needed to borrow another $23,000 to open a full production frameshop. I managed to borrow this from a local bank which was somewhat of a miracle because I had only been in the US for three years and didn’t have enough of a credit rating to even get a credit card.

One of the things that helped me get the loan was that John Howard an ex Olympian and had won the prestigious Iron Man Triathlon in 1980, had asked me to build a line of frames with his name on them. I opened my frameshop around July of 1983 in a brand new industrial building in San Marcos, CA about a mile from the Masi shop. John wanted his frames to be of the same standard of workmanship and quality as the Masi frames, but he intended to sell them for less. Tough to do but we agreed on a price; the agreement was that I would build five frames all the same size at one time, and repeat that every week.

Now here is were the story gets interesting and is the part I have not told before. There was an individual who had a business in La Jolla, next to San Diego. He was a broker dealing in foreign currencies. He had salesmen going around getting investors and everyone was making lots of money. He was sponsoring the local triathletes and paying John Howard a considerable amount as their coach.

This was the money John was using to buy frames from me. Every thing went great for about a year then the investment broker it appears was not investing in anything. He was a crook and the whole thing was a Ponzi scheme, a scam using new investors money to pay off old investors.

John Howard was of course a victim of all this as much as anybody, as well as losing his source of income; he too had invested heavily with this guy. John no longer had the means to order five frames a week from me, and I had to scramble to fill the void in my production. This is when the Fuso was born.

I don’t remember the name of this individual from La Jolla which is perhaps as well. He did go to prison for a long time. He also indirectly helped the then new sport of triathlons get a boost, helped me get my frameshop going and forced me to start a line of frames called Fuso.

Tuesday
Mar212006

A Paris Sport frame has surfaced

I was recently sent these pictures and asked if I could identify this frame, the person who sent the photos said he had bought the frame in the Spring of 2005 and the seller told him the frame had been built at Paris Sport in New Jersey about the time I was there, which was January 1979 to October 1980.

I was able to tell him that I did recognize my own work and that I did indeed build this frame. Points of recognition are: The seatstay caps:


Compare this to this later frame built in California in 1983


The rear drop outs. This was how I finished them at that time

 


Compare these to this English built frame from 1975


Later after working for Masi I decided the way they finished their drop outs was a more aesthetically pleasing style so all frames built after 1980 were finished like this one.


This fork crown on the Paris Sport frame was forged (Hot stamped from a steel blank, not cast.) and somewhat unique in that I brazed a washer over the brake hole so the brake would have a flat surface to seat on.


The Prugnat lugs and the top tube cable guides I remember using these. Lastly the little round stop under the down tube to prevent the gear lever clamp from sliding down the tube. I went to a factory in England where they did metal stamping and collected a number of 3/16 in. diameter blanks that were left over from stamping holes in sheet metal. They made perfect clamp stops and I brought a number with me when I came to the US.


The frames I built at Paris Sport did not have my name on them. They either had the Paris Sport name or they were sold like this one with no decals or frame number. It is quite rare for one of these to surface and as they had no markings I'm sure a few are laying around unidentified.

 

Friday
Mar102006

History Lesson


1968 Pugliaghi. Everything clamp on even the bottom bracket gear cable guides. Pictures from TheRacingBicycle.com

In the late 1950s through the early 1970s there was a slump in bicycle sales in Europe. In the 1960s the economy was booming and although in many places the bicycle had always been the mode of transport for the working classes; many were now buying cars for the first time. At the same time the fitness craze had not yet begun; that started in the 1970s.

Racing bicycles and framebuilders were also hit by this slump and the price of a frame rose very little in that decade even though inflation did. Framebuilders had to look for ways to cut costs and one of them was to leave off all braze-ons. Building a frame without braze-ons does save a considerable amount of time and therefore labor costs. The only braze-ons seen in this era was a chainstay stop and sometimes a little stop under the down tube to prevent the gear lever clamp from sliding down the tube.

Having done that framebuilders could not tell their customers they were doing this to cut costs, hence the story that braze-ons weaken the frame. I think Cinelli started it; framebuilding was never their main source of income (Handlebar stems was.) so the price of a Cinelli frame was always high. So everyone’s thinking was if Cinelli can get away with it so can we, and they followed suit.

Do braze-ons weaken the frame? Maybe very marginally but then so does brazing the lugged joints; it is part of the framebuilding process. I have seen down tubes break right at the clamp on gear lever. Clamps require more maintenance they collect moisture under them and if they are over tightened they can dig into the tube and start a stress riser. But I feel if anyone is restoring a bike from this era they should keep the cable clamps they are authentic for the period.


Monday
Mar062006

Rear Dropouts


Have you ever had the misfortune to break an adjuster screw in a rear dropout? Or worse still a thread tap which is hardened and can’t be drilled out.

The best way to deal with this problem is to seek out an engineering company who have Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) equipment. This machine can burn through steel with precision using very little heat. I would occasionally break a tap in the dropout of a brand new painted and finished frame. I would take it to a local EDM shop where they would burn out the broken tap and not even touch or mar the paint work, and not charge me too much money.

On another subject have you ever wondered what those two little threaded holes are for in the right hand side Campagnolo short rear dropout. Mostly seen on frames built through the 1980s. (See the picture above.)

This was for a special chain hanger introduced in 1977. (Portacatena) It consisted of a “C” shaped steel plate that attached to the inside of the rear dropout with two screws in the threaded holes. The idea was in the event of a flat tire, with the aid of a special extra lever on your down tube shift lever, the chain could be shifted onto the Portacatena chain holder where it would stay while the wheel was being changed.

After the wheel had been changed the rider got a push start and then shifted the chain onto the rear freewheel cluster in the usual way. The idea never really caught on because it was only suited to a race team with support kind of situation. It was also necessary to use a five-speed cluster on a six-speed hub spacing (125mm.)

Soon after its introduction six speed freewheels became commonplace and the idea died a natural death. In spite of this Campagnola continued to produce rear dropouts with these two threaded holes to my knowledge through the early 1990s. Why? I have no idea.

Monday
Feb272006

A Different Thought on Frame Sizing


After measuring and studying hundreds if not thousands of customer’s measurements over the years as a custom frame builder. I came to the conclusion that although human bodies are all different; they do follow certain rules of nature.

Choosing frame size on inseam alone does not work across the board because for example it is common for a 6 foot man to have an inseam as short as 30 inches; and you can’t put a 6 foot man on a 51 cm. frame which is what his inseam suggests.

Tall people are not scaled up models of short people. Most of the height difference is in the legs; body length differs by a lesser proportion. If you have long legs then you also have long arms. Short legs; short arms. This makes sense since most animals are four legged; why should we be any different?

Leg length is a combination of the inside leg measurement plus the length of the foot. Length of the foot is important because when pedaling the toe is pointed downward at the bottom of the pedal stroke; so the foot becomes an extension of the leg.

People, who have a short inside leg measurement for their height, generally have longer feet. (Bigger shoe size.) It is as if they were designed as a much taller person, but their heel got turned further up their leg; making a short leg, long foot.

Imagine two people both six feet tall standing side by side; one has a 34 inch inside leg, the other a 32 inch leg measurement. Because they are the same height it follows the one with the shorter leg has a body 2 inches longer; he also has longer feet and shorter arms than the other guy. They can both fit on the same size frame, (59 cm. center to top i.e. 57 center to center.)

They will both have close to the same seat height, because the short leg guy has a longer foot so his seat needs to go higher than his inseam would suggest. They can also use the same top tube length and handlebar stem, because one has short body long arms; the other long body, short arms; making their reach the same. Minor adjustments in seat height and stem length may be called for.

It has occurred to me that with these compact frames on the market now and only available in small, medium, and large; customers are only ball parking frame size anyway. It has long been my opinion that frame size is linked to the overall height of the rider more than any other measurement because of the rules of nature I have just spoken of.

I have formulated this based on my own frame sizing chart. If you are 5’ 3” to 5’ 5” frame size equals Height divide by 3.3. For people 5’ 6” to 5’ 10” frame size = Height divide by 3.2 and if you are 5’ 11” to 6’ 4” frame size = Height divide by 3.1

A example would be someone 6’ 2” = 74” divide this by 3.1 = 23.87 in. (61 cm. measured center to top. i.e. 59cm. center to center. A person 5’ 7” = 67” divide this by 3.2 = 20.93 in. (53cm. center to top. i.e. 51cm. center to center.) The easiest way to convert from inches to centimeters is to get a tape measure with both metric and inches on and simply read across. If you don’t have a tape measure the formula is “inches x 2.54”

Reach which is top tube plus stem length; is frame size center to top plus 10cm. If you want something more accurate go to the chart on my website The chart was derived not by any mathematical formula but by records of custom frames built over many years. Most people find it pretty accurate. What I have put forward here in this Blog is an attempt to come up with a simple formula that comes close to this. If you are an experienced rider don’t change your position based on this alone because this is new thinking. It is intended as a place to start for a newcomer to the sport.

Feedback would be apprecated.