Dave Moulton

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Hand Magic

In the mid-1990s I met a Native American from the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon. He told me about “Hand Magic.”

Native Americans view themselves as a part of Nature, not separate from it. Their belief is that there is but one creative source, and man is just the vehicle through which art appears. In much the same way as a bird builds a nest, or ants build an ant hill.

When it comes to humans the Native American calls this “Hand Magic,” The Great Spirit guiding the artist’s hand through the mind and creating a piece of pottery, a blanket or some other object.

In the Middle Ages in England as in the rest of Europe men built houses with the minimum of planning or measuring. Just as there is very little planning or measuring in a piece of Indian pottery or weaving.

Today these old crooked thatched roofed cottages still stand and the blend perfectly into the surrounding landscape. They actually add to the beauty of the English countryside.

I have come to realize only man is capable of creating ugliness. A man builds a barn in a field and paints it red, it is ugly, a blight on the environment. But as Nature takes over and the barn becomes derelict it becomes a thing of beauty. People come to photograph it, and artists paint it on canvas. (Above.)

Everything in Nature is beautiful, and if the artist is connected to this Spirit within as he/she creates, the art cannot help but be beautiful.

I have not always subscribed to this thinking, but over the years as I built bicycle frames it became an automatic process, second nature, so to speak.

Metal expands and contracts when it is heated then cools again. In time, through repetition, I knew which way the frame would distort and would actually start brazing with the frame out of alignment so it would be in alignment after it cooled.

The amount the frame was out of line at the start of the process was not a measured amount, it was an amount determined by eye, a feeling if you will.

After a frame was brazed and had cooled it was checked on a surface table and measured with a dial indicator. The frames were always within ten or fifteen thousandth of an inch and therefore required a minimum of cold setting to achieve the final alignment.

In my early years as a frame builder I had also made ornamental iron work, and had painted pictures in oils. When I left the bike business, I was aware that whatever it was within my makeup that allowed me to successfully build bicycle frames, would allow me to embark on other creative endeavors.

Meeting that old Coquille Indian in Oregon confirmed what I had begun to figure out for myself. Now as a writer and songwriter, I believe as many other songwriters do that songs are already written and songwriters just pick them out of the air as they float by.

Some reading this will dismiss it as “New Age” bullshit, and that is okay because thirty or forty years ago I would have done the same.


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I first got into bike racing at the age of 16, in 1952. To the present day as I write, that is 67 years of racing bikes, studying and writing about bikes, and designing and building bikes. Looking back over this period, there were very few technological changes in the first thirty years from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Frames were brass brazed, lugged steel, built by craftsmen. With standard size steel tubes as they had been for fifty years prior to that. All had level top tubes, it was the framebuilder’s point of reference. An individual could establish his frame size, and after that could buy any make of frame in that size, and it would fit.

There were subtle changes in racing frame geometry, but not so much that all but the most avid bike enthusiast would even know about, and apart from that we went from 5 speed to 6 speed and that was it.

However, in the next thirty or more years that followed, from the 1980s to the present day, the bicycle has changed at an alarming rate, as has technology in general. The mountain bike, indexed gear shifting, which lead to 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 speed, clipless pedals and Carbon fiber frames.

For more than thirty years all professional cyclists and almost all amateur cyclists used Christophe steel toe clips and Binda toe straps. It was a common standard of excellence. Then in the late 1980s clipless or clip in pedals appeared and in a few short years toe clips and straps were obsolete.

That is progress, and yes I will agree it is an improvement, but imagine how the owners of Christophe and Binda must have felt seeing their lucrative business as the major suppliers of toe clips and straps for the entire world, disappear in a very short period of time.

What has changed is not only the bicycle itself, but the whole structure of the bicycle industry. Individual craftsmen are now obsolete. Racing bicycles are produced by a few large corporations worldwide. Individual craftsmen were content to make a good living wage, which probably accounts for the lack of progress in the first thirty years I speak of.

This can be viewed as a good or bad thing, but bicycle racing is a simple sport and requires a simple machine to participate. Individual builders like myself in the UK and the rest of Europe catered almost exclusively to amateur racing cyclists. Everyone wanted to emulate the professional cyclists, and use whatever they were riding.

Everything changed in the 1970s with the “Bike Boom” in America. A few die hard enthusiasts wanted what the pros rode. But to the general American public, the race bike was over geared and very uncomfortable to ride. This is why the Mountain Bike became a huge hit in the 1990s, more comfortable, and easier to ride.

It used to be, “What the Pros rode” that drove the market. Today it is the American leisure market that drives the Industry, and the pros ride what the corporations who sponsor them, tell them to ride. A wider range of gears, is probably the single most technological improvement that has benefited professional cycling.

Disc brakes being forced on the pros is a prime example of unwanted and unnecessary technology that complicates a fast wheel change that is vital in pro cycling. However, for the corporations it creates built in obsolescence so necessary to create continued sales.

Professional Cycling is harder and more demanding than many other sports, and in many cases less rewarding financially. What makes the sport unique is the fact that one rider can draft behind another, making the cycle racing highly tactical as well as physical. It is what makes the sport unpredictable, and exciting to watch. No amount of technology will ever change this.


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Riding my bike to Grandma’s house

For ten years, from the age of 13 until I was 23, (1949 - 1959) I lived in Luton, an industrial town some 30 miles north of London.

This was where I started cycling, and throughout my teen years I rode my bike all over the South East corner of England, within a hundred mile radius of Luton.

My grandmother lived in a little seaside town called Hythe, in the county of Kent. It is on the South Coast of England, near Folkstone and Dover. On a clear day you can look out over the English Channel and see the coast of France.

On many occasions I rode my bike to visit my Grandma, who at that time still lived in the same house on High Street (Left.) where my mother was born.

The shortest route was 100 miles, and I would usually ride down on Saturday, stay overnight, and ride back on Sunday. 

The direct route took me right through the dead center of London, right down the Edgware Road to Hyde Park Corner.

If I could get an early start, usually around 5:00 am., I would be clear of London’s center before 8:00 am. when the traffic got heavier. This was a Saturday, and it was the 1950s when traffic was a lot lighter than today.

On the way back, I would take a detour north and east to Gravesend, where I would catch a ferry boat over the River Thames to Tilbury on the North Bank. This route was about 110 miles, taking me through Brentwood, Harlow, Hertford and Welwyn Garden City.

On one occasion, I rose early for my ride to Granma’s, I ate a large breakfast and immediacy threw up. Throughout my childhood and teen years I would periodically have these stomach upsets that my mother always called a “Bilious Attack.”

Looking back, I now suspect it was nothing more than food poisoning.

We never owned a refrigerator, and meat would be cooked, and then eaten over several days.

I really had no choice but to make the trip, neither my parents nor my grandma had a phone.

I had written a letter the week before saying I was coming, had I not arrived she would be terribly worried.

I rested a couple of hours, then ate something again and set out. By now it was too late to take the direct route through London. I would have to go the long way.

I hadn’t gone but a few miles when I brought up the food I had just eaten. I struggled on, and somewhere out between Harlow and Brentwood, weak from lack of food inside me, I collapsed in the long grass at the roadside.

I hadn’t laid there long when I felt something biting me and I discovered I was lying on a red ant’s nest. I was not having a good day.

However, it did get me up and back on the bike again. Soon after I was forced to eat again, and this time it stayed down. Once I was able to eat, my strength returned and I completed the ride.

If you ever have a chance to visit Hythe, be sure to check out St. Leonard’s Church. (Above, right.) Originally a Norman Church built in 1080, it was later enlarged in 1120.

An unusual feature is the Ossuary, or Crypt under the church, it houses a stack of human bones, and some 1,200 skulls. These are the remains of some 4,000 men, women and children, some who may have lived in the first millennium.

They are believed to have been placed there when the church was expanded, and later when the graveyard became full and bodies were removed to make room for more.

I went there as a child in the 1940s, and always wanted to return, but during the 1950s through the 1970s it was closed to the public. Now it is open again and there is a small fee to visit, which helps in the upkeep of the church.


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Bikes and Auto Insurance: Do they run on the same business model?

I am sometimes asked: “You were a frame builder, so you didn’t actually make complete bicycles?”

I explain that I built frames that either had the ‘dave moulton’ name on them, or Fuso, or Recherché. And when these frames were later built up into a bicycle, the assembled item became a ‘dave moulton, Fuso or Recherché bicycle.

I further explained that the bike business is not like the auto or motorcycle industry, where a company manufactures all the parts, and then assembles them into a car or motorcycle. When it comes to high end bicycles the components are either Shimano, Campagnolo, or Sram. And even the lower priced bikes are mostly built up with the lower priced Shimano groups.

Even the big three American companies, Trek, Cannondale and Specialized design and produce a frame with their company name on it, and that’s it. All three companies’ bikes are then built up with Shimano, Campagnolo, or Sram and the end consumer gets to decide which he/she wants.

Notice I said the Big Three “Produce” a frame. With a few exceptions they don’t actually make it. That is done in a factory in China or Taiwan, and it is possible that some of these different brands are made in the same factory. Frame design is pretty standard these days, same angles, tube lengths, fork rake, etc. No one is going out on a limb to make anything too radical.

So all three are basically selling the same item, each is no better, no worse than the other. This is why there is so much spent on marketing, the cost of which gets added to the cost of the bicycle, and passed on down to the end consumer. In most cases the consumer gladly pays this price because the marketing has convinced him that it should cost this much for the very best bike.

It occurred to me that this business model is not far removed from that of the large auto insurance companies. The Big Three bike companies assemble a bicycle with a frame that costs about the same as their competitors’ frame, with the same components that also have a fixed cost.

The Insurance companies assemble a package of insurance services that boil down to the same repairs carried out by independent body shops all over the US, at the same basic cost. The reason we see so much advertising on TV for auto insurance is because these companies are all going after the same consumer.

The one who spends the most on marketing, convinces the consumer that their insurance is the best, when if the truth be known, each is probably no better, no worse than the rest.

Part of bike marketing is supporting a professional team, which is a tremendous cost, Specialized does not support a team, but is an equipment supplier only. Cannondale used to have a team, but had to give up when costs got too high, and like Specialized stay in the sport as equipment supplier In other words, they are co-sponsors of teams.

This just leaves Trek with a fully sponsored factory team. So it will be interesting to see if they will continue to support a complete team. And if so, will their product cost more, and will it be perceived as better?


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Raymond Poulidor: A Working Class Hero 

Raymond Poulidor never won the Tour de France, or for that matter never wore the race leader's Yellow Jersey during any of the Tours.

He did place second in 1964, 1965, and 1974, and placed third in 1962, 1966, 1969, 1972, and 1976. He entered the Tour de France 14 times and finished 12 times, he was consistently in the top ten. 

He had a longer career than is usual for a professional cyclist. His first major victory was in the classic Milan-San Remo in 1961. His third place in the Tour in 1976, came at age 40.

His inability to win the Tour de France won him the nick-name in the press as the "Eternal Second." However in spite of this he was immensely popular with the French public, and was more often than not known affectionately as "Pou Pou." 

During the first part of his career, Poulidor had to race against Jacques Anquetil, and although the former could get the better of Anquetil on the bigger climbs, he lacked Anquetil's tactical ability, especially in the discipline of the time-trial. Poulidor’s riding style was aggressive and attacking, whereas Anquetil would control the race in the climbing stages, then win in the time trial. 

There was always intense rivalry between these two riders. (Pictured together, left.) Anquetil was the top French rider of his day, and it always irked him that Poulidor was in many ways more popular with the French public, and was often given more favorable coverage in the French press.

For example in 1965, when Poulidor was perceived to have received more credit for dropping Anquetil the previous year on the Puy-de-Dôme than Anquetil had received for winning the whole Tour. 

Long after their retirement, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor would finally become friends. Anquetil died of stomach cancer in 1987, and the day before he died, he told Poulidor, “Once again my friend you will be second to me.” 

When Anquetil retired, Poulidor faced a second nemesis in a young Eddy Merckx. The “Eternal Second” label continued. In 1974 at the age of 38, he was second to Merckx, not only in the TDF, but 2nd also in the World Road Championship that year.

Incidentally, Poulidor also placed 3rd in the World Championships in 1961, 1964, and 1966. He does hold one record, in that he finished in the top three in the Tour de France no fewer than eight times. No one has done that before or since. 

Today Raymond Poulidor is still immensely popular with the French people, making regular appearances at the Tour de France and other races. Seen above singing autographs in recent years.

A national survey in 1991 asked the question, which celebrity they would like to invite for a Christmas dinner, a French audience overwhelmingly answered Raymond Poulidor, beating out famous movie stars. 

What could be the reason for such popularity? He came from peasant stock, from the farming midlands of France. He speaks with a regional accent. In other words, he is a "Working Class Hero."

There is something about a person who attains success in life, but they retain their "down-to-earth" qualities that the ordinary man on the street can relate to. Think of the continuing popularity of rock stars like Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young, they have that same working class persona.

Or maybe Raymond Poulidor’s popularity was in the fact that he never did win the big one, but at the same time never gave up trying. The world will always admire such spirit, that of the underdog.


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