Dave Moulton

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Hidden Motors

No doubt you will have read about the brouhaha caused by Pinarello advertising their new electric motor assist bike, as being suitable for female riders so they could keep up with their boyfriends. The ladies responded by saying, they have no problem keeping up with their boyfriends, thank you very much.  

All that aside, the question I have is, why do we need bikes with “Hidden” motors? Unless someone is trying to hide the fact their bike is electric assist. It is cheating on some level, even if it amongst people on a Sunday morning ride. There is always friendly rivalry in such groups.

I think anyone caught using a hidden motor in a sanctioned race, amateur or professional, should be barred for life. In professional cycling the excuse for doping was always, “Everyone was doing it.” The problem is, what happens in the professional ranks, trickles down to the amateur level.

If you get to a situation where everyone is using hidden motors, bicycle racing will become a complete farce. In the past as an amateur racing cyclist, I spent many hours and hundreds of miles training, so I could race at a level I could enjoy. I would not make that sacrifice today if I thought I was competing with people either doped up or using electric motors.

There are those who would say someone like me might be justified using an electric assist bike, so I could ride with the “Big Boys” again. What would be the point, what would I prove to myself or anyone else. No thank you. I get all the exercise and enjoyment I need riding at a leisurely pace these days. At least I am doing it under my own steam.

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On a totally different subject. Has anyone noticed how all modern cars are all different and yet all look the same? No doubt due the fact they are all computer designed. Computers then control the machines that make the dies to stamp out the steel panels that form the car body. That make the molds for plastic tail and headlight fittings, etc., etc.

The end result is some multi-faceted nightmare of an object that not only pollutes the atmosphere, but is in itself, visual pollution. Tone it down for Cri’sakes. A few less curved lines that start at the front, undulate along the sides, to somehow morph into a tail-light cluster at the rear.

Less is more, just because you can do all that on a computer doesn’t mean you should. Go back to the old way of sketching something with a pencil on paper. Something that comes from a design artist’s head. Then trace the lines with a computer drawing program, and take it from there.   

The best looking modern cars are the one’s made to simulate the vintage cars. Therein lies a clue.


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Brass vs. Silver

Joining metal by brazing became the method of choice when the bicycle was invented in the late 1800s. Early bicycle lugs were in fact pipe fittings, but greater strength was needed, so brass was used instead of lead base solder.

Soldering and brazing are pretty much the same process, flux is required to allow the solder or brazing material to flow. The difference is the melting temperature of the different materials.

Soldering takes place at 427 degrees centigrade and below. Brazing between 593 and 895 degrees centigrade. Different sources will give a slightly different range, but as silver and brass will both melt within the range for brazing, that is the correct term. Brass brazing or silver brazing,

Silver is often known as Silver Solder, but strictly speaking it is not soldering because the melting temperature is above 427 degrees. Silver brazing rods come in soft, medium and hard, the soft being at the low end of the temperature range, progressing to a higher melting point for the medium and hard.

Silver is more expensive as it is for the most part silver, alloyed with other materials such as cadmium, or nickel. The price of silver brazing rods, will fluctuate with the price of silver on the Precious Metals Market.

Brass is already an alloy of copper and zinc, other materials will be added to give desired characteristics, like flow properties and workability. Brass melts at the higher end of the brazing range.

Often silver brazing is quoted as being best for lightweight bicycle frames because it melts at lower temperature. However, in the hands of a novice it is just as easy to overheat a joint using either silver or brass. In fact if you overheat a joint using silver, the silver will no longer flow, and the joint will have to be torn apart, thoroughly cleaned and start all over again.

Most framebuilders become proficient in either silver or brass, but my guess is, only a few totally master both. I became proficient with brass, but never built a complete frame using silver. The only time I used silver, was for brazing water bottle bosses, and top tube cable guides. The reason: Using the higher temperature brass would put a slight ripple in the thin un-butted part of the tube that would show after painting.

The traditional front and rear drop-outs, (Campagnolo for example. (picture left.)

The type where the front fork blade, chainstay and seatstay are slotted to take the drop out, have to be brass brazed.

Silver will not fill in the gaps, or fill the hole in the end of the tube. So even a builder who uses silver for the main frame will use brass for this type of drop-out.

Silver requires closer tolerances for example where the tubes fit in the lug. My method of altering the angle of the lug with a small hammer as I brazed, could not have been done with silver. The steel lug had to be at a bright red heat in order to be malleable enough to reshape. This would be too hot for silver.

Brass historically has always been used in Europe, which of course includes the UK where I learned to braze using brass. As a framebuilder becomes proficient at brass brazing, he learns to braze a joint cleanly, and not spill globs of brass over the edges of the lug. If this happens the builder will spend hour’s hand filing the excess brass away. Possibly leaving behind ugly file marks.

Silver on the other hand is softer and the excess can be sand-blasted away, or even scraped away with a small penknife. The fine and intricate, sharp edge lug work carried out by the late Brian Baylis, could not have been achieved using brass. English builder Hetchins did some fine elaborate brass brazed lug work, but on close inspection the corners and edges are not as fine and sharp as one can achieve with silver. (Baylis below left. Hetchins below right.) 

Silver brazing bicycle frames on the scale it is used today is an American development that can be traced all the way back to the Schwinn Paramount. Read the history here. One of the reasons the Schwinn Paramount was built using silver, was the easy clean up.

The intricate Nervex lugs used (Right.) would have been a pain to brass braze cleanly.

Many of the early American builders were influenced by the Schwinn Paramount, and a few even apprenticed there.

Brass or Silver? Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Both require different skill-sets.

I could never have done what Brian Baylis did, and on the other hand, he could not have built the number of frames I built using the methods he did.

Brass is more suited to production, silver is more suited to the artisan builder, custom building frames one at a time.

In my opinion, brass in many ways is more forgiving from a workability standpoint. For an absolute beginner, don’t be misled into thinking silver is easier.

Try brass brazing a few pieces of scrap metal together. You will have a lot of fun for not too much money. And a lot less heartache, than spending a ton of money by plunging straight in, and trying to silver braze a frame with little or no experience.


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Brass Brazing Reynolds 753

When I had my frame business in Worcester, England I was only about 25 miles from the Reynolds tube factory in Birmingham. Over the years I developed a close working relationship with Reynolds.

In time I got to know the engineers and management at the factory, and we exchanged various frame design and material input. I knew about Reynolds 753 long before its introduction in 1975 and always made it clear if I couldn’t brass braze it I wasn’t interested.

Traditional brazing by European framebuilders was done with a large soft oxyacetylene flame that heated the lug and several inches of the tube uniformly which allowed the brass to flow through the joint with a minimum of distortion. This was a hangover from the days when frames were hearth brazed in a forge filled with hot coals.

I had developed my own method of brazing with a smaller much hotter flame, working quickly, and heating the tube no more than a quarter of an inch from the lug. I asked the Reynolds engineers if I could submit a test sample brass brazed in this manner to compare with a silver brazed sample.

The way Reynolds tested these samples was to measure the hardness of the 753 tubing a certain distance from the lug to see how much hardness had been lost or retained. My sample did not officially pass but they were sufficiently impressed to ask if I would build six brass brazed 753 frames to be ridden and tested by the Raleigh Team in the 1976 Tour de France.

The Reynolds Company was a part of the TI (Tube Investments.) Group of companies that included Raleigh and Carlton. When I delivered the finished but unpainted frames to the Raleigh Experimental Facility in Derbyshire where the Raleigh Team bikes were built I felt a slight animosity. Possibly because they felt 753 was their baby and I was an outsider.

However my arrangement was with Reynolds not Raleigh and the frames I built were ridden in the Tour along with the Derbyshire built frames. I never knew who rode what in the Tour but I was told that all the frames performed equally well. The result of this was I was told unofficially that I could brass braze 753 but I was asked not to advertise the fact or tell others.

My working relationship with Reynolds continued when I came to the US in 1979. They invested a considerable amount of money in providing special aerodynamic tubing for the American Team Time Trial bikes. I built these at Vic and Mike Fraysee’s shop in New Jersey with the help of Mike Melton.

When I went to work for Masi in late 1980 it was required that I take the 753 test and I did submit a silver soldered sample which passed. I never built any 753 Masi frames but over the years I did build many custom ‘dave moulton’ and Fuso frames in the material. All brass brazed.

What about my promise to Reynolds not to tell? I have been retired from framebuilding since 1993, and so too are all the management and engineers I worked with at Reynolds. 753 is no longer produced, and it is not a secret that will affect National Security.

The agreement was a verbal one, sealed with a handshake. A kind of “We won’t tell if you don’t.” Over the years I never lied to a customer if they asked me outright. I told them it was brass brazed as was every other frame I built. If they didn’t ask, I didn’t offer that information.

To coin an old phrase, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” There are many 753 frames I built still out there, between 25 and 40 years old, and I have not heard of any that have failed. Any super light frame is not going to last forever, so 40 years or more is a good lifespan.

Reynolds 753 was one of the best frame materials ever produced in my opinion. I always felt that properly done brass brazing annealed the tubing at the joint just enough to take out some of the harsh riding characteristics. And remember I was only annealing the tube a very short distance from the lug and this is the stronger butted portion of the tube.



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Twelve years and still going

Twelve years ago on this day November 12th. 2005 the first post appeared here and “Dave’s Bike Blog” was born.

Blogging was still relatively new in 2005, probably a few million of them. Today it is tens if not hundreds of millions.

However, how many blogs that started back in 2005 are still going today? Not many, I would guess. In fact on August 25th. 2008, I quit writing here.

I was writing two, sometime three articles a week, and that is tough to maintain, and I had self-doubts that it was even worthwhile.

I recall, people were so kind. My post, “The Party’s Over,” drew 88 comments. No criticism, just thanks and well wishes. It was people’s kindness that would bring me back six months later in February 2009. A group of people got together and presented me with a “Tribute Bike.” Built with one of my rare custom frames

I was deeply touched, and could not let the occasion pass, without writing a thank you post here, and that was enough to get me restarted. Quitting was a huge mistake, I lost the large readership I had built and had to start over. It left me with a resolve never to quit again.

I will keep going until A.) No one reads it anymore, or B.)  My health does not allow me to continue. Even then, I would hope someone else would take it over and continue.

I am amazed to think that this blog has lasted longer than my California business. I started in San Marcos in 1982, later moved about 60 mile north to Temecula and was forced to quit in 1993. That is only eleven years. Because of the Internet and this blog, more people know of me as a framebuilder now, than when I was actually building bikes.

In August 2010 I opened a Bike Registry. Wow, that’s been seven years already. I have a few bikes short of 500 listed. Not many really when you consider I built 2,400 of the Fuso Brand alone, plus all the others.

There is a Facebook Group for owners of bikes I built. With 910 members there, they are not all ‘Dave Moulton Bike’ owners. but, that is okay, some are future owners.

Over the years I had tried to get a group like this going, there was a short lived Google Group, and a Forum that went the same way. This Facebook Group was started by Texas DM Bike enthusiast Mitch Pullen. Mitch also started an ‘American Built’ group. Please take a moment to check these groups out and possibly join.

I think back 30 or 40 years when I was building some of these frames. I never could have envisioned the Internet. That people would be corresponding with me thirty or more years down the road, sending pictures of these very same bikes I was working on at that very moment, and asking questions.

The same when I started this blog twelve years ago, I was a young man just 69 years old, today I am… Well you can do the math’s. I never thought about where it would lead. It is all part of this strange and mysterious journey that is life, where it takes us, no one knows?

So I wonder as I type these words and post them here, where will they go, how many will they reach, and how long will they last?

I would love to hear your experiences via your comments, were you here in the early days, or have you found the blog recently? What would you like to see from me in the future?


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Look what just showed up

Way back in 2007, I wrote this article about the US Team Time Trial Bike Fiasco. Wow, has that been ten years already. Yet another chapter in my life that I would just soon forget about, but never-the-less popped up again when Dan Kehey emailed me pictures of one of these frames.

Dan had bought the frame from framebuilder Bruce Gordon, who is in the process of selling off his collection of frames. It has to be one of the US Team frames, they were the only ones built in this fashion. There are no frame numbers stamped on the bottom brack, which was normal for Paris Sport frames. Don’t ask me why, I don’t have the answer.

I am not suggesting for one moment that Bruce Gordon stole it, but somewhere along the line of ownership someone did. Of course as people were stripping these bikes of their Campagnolo parts, back at the USCF Headquarters in Colorado Springs, their excuse would be, “Well, everyone else was doing it.” Which is no excuse at all really. Remember how your Mom told you. “If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you follow him?”  

If you don’t remember this story, you will need to read the original post from 2007 for what I have written here to make sense. In the meantime here are the photos Dan sent. If the build seems a little crude, remember they were built under a very tight time schedule.


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