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Rescue Bike

Maintaining this blog is not always easy, but I will say there are times when it is highly rewarding. On the last piece I wrote, Andy commented “You might find this interesting.” There was a link to Retro Bike Forum, in the UK.

Over there a poster calling himself Marty P, wrote about a 1975 ‘dave moulton’ track bike, he found at his local dump. The bike missing its tubular tires is otherwise complete, and in reasonable condition for its age. I posted my own comments on the forum and asked for the frame serial number.

Marty then emailed me with the following story:

I run a smallish bicycle 'recycling' business on the side, in Hampshire, England and frequently come across rare, unusual and interesting vintage machines in the process...

So yesterday, at my local tip (Dump.) and found two 'racers' put aside for me. The first a nice complete 60's Claud Butler which is nice enough I guess, but behind it was poking out a rear track end which obviously caught my eye and my eye followed up the dusty gold tubing to reveal the words 'dave moulton' in a sober black lower-case type-face... Amazing what people will throw away.

£40 (British Pounds, about $62 US Dollars) for the pair changed hands and, back at work I could see what I had. A smallish un-drilled track frame and forks in gold with black lug lining, Cinelli stem, Cinelli Giro Bars, Campy 2-bolt Record Post, Selle Italia Condor Suede saddle, Campy Pista Crankset, Spanish Pista Pedals (inc a leather strap from an old LBS 'Jim Guard' cycles) and a pair of 27" Track Wheels with large flange Campy Record track hubs and 'Daisy' Tub Rims... 

Another contributor to the Retro Bike Forum mentioned an article I wrote in 1976 and published in the British “Cycling” weekly. By coincidence I had just posted a link to a PDF copy of this very same article on this blog. There was even a picture in the article of a similar looking track bike.

I started to get a little excited, “Could this be the same bike?” When Marty sent the serial number, and I looked it up in my record book, it was indeed the same bike.

It was built for a top British female rider, Margaret (Maggie) Gordon Smith. At that time a member of the Evesham Wheelers, a club in Worcestershire.

Margaret Gordon Smith’s specialty on the track was the Pursuit, over 3000m. She won the British National Championship in 1977 and again in 1978 beating big names such as Beryl Burton and her daughter Denise, Brenda Atkinson and Catherine Swinnerton.

Outside the UK, she rode in 1971, 1977 and 1978 track and road World Championships and gained third place overall in the 3-day Tour Feminine based at Le Havre, France in 1978.

Maggie was one of several local top amateur riders I supported. It was a two-way-street, these top riders being seen on my bikes was very good for business. It brought in a lot of orders, especially if a picture appeared in Cycling magazine. It is the reason the ‘dave moulton’ name is on both the down tube and seat tube of this bike. It was done for maximum exposure.

It was also the original reason I chose the bold all lower case lettering for my decals. Easy to read, and showed up well in photos. I got the idea from British road signs that were in a similar font style. Even my four “m” logo was easily recognizable and showed up in a head on shot photo.

There were strict rules in the 1970s regarding amateur status, and I could not publish the names top amateur riders using my frames, or even show a picture of them linked to an article like the one afore mentioned. They would have lost their amateur status even though I only gave them a frame, and never paid them any money. It is the reason Maggie’s head is cut off in the article. (Picture above.)

It saddens me that that the average Joe cannot see beyond two wheels and pedals. They casually toss a rare item like this on the scrap heap, to be buried in a land fill, or melted down for scrap. Thank goodness there are others like Marty who look out for these bikes and rescue them.

This bike has a past, and now a documented history. With a top female athalete as its engine, this bike won important races. Track bikes I built are rare, they were built to be raced on the track. I didn’t build that many.

Also track bikes are not like road bikes. Lugged steel is still used on velodromes. This being a very small frame would fit some up and coming youngster. Someone aspiring follow in the tread marks of a former champion like Margaret Gordon Smith.


Footnote: Here is a picture that showed up after I posted this piece. Margaret winning the 1977 British Pursuit Title on this very same bike.


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Large Printable Posters

A magazine ad from 1986 was brought to my attention last week. I remembered I had a large format file of that print. (Above.) The picture was composed and taken by photographer Mike Graves. He used an old sheet of plywood that was on the floor of his father’s garage for many years, to catch oil drips from an antique car.

On this somewhat dirty rustic backdrop, he laid out a brand new pristine Fuso frame, surrounded by various tools. Some were tools he borrowed from me, others were from his father’s antique tool collection. The result, a very interesting black and white art photo.

The magazie ad can be seen left. When Mike Graves sent me the original file a few years back, he described the picture as being, “Sharp as a tack.”

It is, the detail is pretty amazing. I set this picture up in PDF format as a printable 24 in. x 18 in. poster, and downloaded the file to my Bike Registry website.

You can open the link here:

It is a large file and may take a while to open. Hit refresh if it is taking too long. Or maybe try a different browser. There is no need to copy the file, if you know of someone who has a large format digital printer, you can simply email them the above link, and they can print you a copy direct from the web page. I had two test copies printed on semi-gloss paper and the results were good. Try not to handle the prints too much before they are dry.

Another 24 x 18 poster I have (Above.) is a copy of one I had printed for the 1990 Interbike Show. It is a color picture of a Fuso frame built in Columbus Max tubing. It has all the specs printed at the bottom. The PDF for this poster is here:

Make sure the printer is set on “Print full size.” Feel free to print copies for your own use without further permission from me. Both these posters will fit in a standard 24 x 18 inch poster frame. These are quite inexpensive to buy from places like Target and Wal-Mart.

These links are now permanently on the Bike Registry website. There are other PDF files of articles I wrote for “Cycling” and “Velo-News” back in the 1970s. Also other interesting stuff, like spec sheets for the Fuso and Recherche, and prices from the late 1980s


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Clear prescription lenses for my Rudy Project glasses

You may remember earlier this year when I wrote about my new sunglasses that I ordered from SportRX, a company in San Diego that specialize in prescription sports eyewear.

I was able to choose from a selection of cycling specific glasses.

I settled for a pair of Rudy Project Horus frames, and when these Italian made glasses arrived I noticed that the lenses were mounted in separate individual frames around each lens.

The main eyewear frame is then flexible enough that these eye-pieces clip in place, making it easy to change lenses for different occasions. (Picture left.)

The silver coated “Win-win” sunglass lenses served me well through this last summer and autumn, when here in South Carolina most days come with extremely bright sunshine. However, winter is closing in, and although temperatures are still good for riding, days are often overcast and cloudy.

Also I sometimes ride early morning when it is still dark. I realized it was time to order a spare pair of clear (No tint.) prescription lenses. I got back in touch with SportRX. They still had my prescription on file, so it was a simple matter of shooting them an email, and my new lenses arrived in a little over a week.

I went with the progressive no-line bi-focal lenses, the same as I did for the sunglasses. I find the distance vision and close up/reading bi-focal set up is not a problem when riding, and it saves having to carry separate reading glasses, should I need to fix a flat or actually read something. You never know.

The thing I like about this interchangeable lens set up is that there is no need to carry a separate pair of glasses. The curved style of these type of glasses, means they fit great on your face, but don't fold flat and so are bulky when in a case. The hard-shell case that came with my original sunglass order is quite large, it measures 6.5 x 3.5 x 2.5 inches. (165 x 90 x 65mm.) Takes up a lot of pocket space.

Often on longer weekend rides, I start out when it is dark or cloudy, then the sun comes out later. The glasses are always on my face while riding, all I need to carry is the spare lenses that fit in a little soft bag they came in. It has two separate pockets inside the bag so the lenses are not rubbing together.

This then fits in a small hard plastic case that is actually a traveling soap case, but is the perfect size to fit in my jersey pocket. (Picture right.)

The thing I love about both the tinted and clear lenses is the size and shape, and the way they fit close to the face.

When I look up, down, or sideways, I don’t see the frames. I have clear all-round vision. This includes my normal riding position, head down, looking up.

I have always been a believer in having the right clothing and equipment for my riding comfort, safety and pleasure. I can’t believe I went so long before getting cycling specific eye-wear. It is one of those things you don’t notice the benefit until you try it.

Then after using the sunglasses through the summer, and I had to go back to my regular glasses when the weather turned cloudy, I soon realized it was time to order some clear lenses for the Rudy Project frames. I’m glad I did.


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The Bicycle: Evolution or Intelligent Design. Part III


This is the final part of a three part series. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read Part I, and Part II first.

The slump in bicycle sales that lasted through the 1960s, ended during the 1970s spurred on by a bicycle boom in the United States. In America people were realizing that exercise was an important part of a healthy lifestyle. In Europe those who had given up on cycling in the late 1950s, were coming back to the sport after the initial love affair with the motor car had subdued.

If you remember from part one of this series, the standard racing frame of the early 1950s had a 71 degree seat angle, and 73 head angle. If you also remember that 2 degree difference, with the seat tube leaning back slightly from the head angle, benefited the framebuilder because when building larger (Taller.) frames, the top tube automatically became longer.

This old framebuilding design philosophy had not been forgotten among the older established framebuilders that had been around for years. However, no one was prepared to go back to 71 degree seat angles, so 73 seat, 75 head angle became the new norm.

The sales pitch made for this steeper head angle trend was that it made the bike feel livelier when sprinting. It also made a bike that was squirrely and sometimes difficult to handle. The other gradual trend that had happened in the period from the 1950s through to the 1970s was that racing cyclists were riding smaller frames. Frame sizes had shrunk as much as 5cm. or 2 inches.

Smaller frames were lighter, and stiffer. Improvements to aluminum alloys meant that longer seat posts and handlebar stems could be used, and of course this was necessary when using a smaller frame.

I initially got into framebuilding trying to build a frame that suited me. I am short in stature, 5’ 6”, I found that even with a 73 degree seat angle, I still found myself sliding forward in the saddle when sprinting or anytime I was making maximum effort. I came to the conclusion that a body will always find a natural position for any physical task. One where it can perform at maximum efficiency.

When you teach a child to ride a bicycle, you teach them to balance, and that is about it. They are seldom taught how to ride out of the saddle, and yet once they have mastered the balance part, you will see them standing on the pedals when the going gets tough, or extra speed is needed. It is the human body finding the best way to do the job efficiently.

The Ordinary or High Wheeler bicycle, had a simple efficient riding position. Not aerodynamically of course, but in terms of getting power to the pedals, the arms worked in direct opposition the legs. Over the years that followed in an effort to get the rider’s back horizontal to be aerodynamically efficient, the handlebars were moved further and further forward without lowering them a significant amount, and without changing where the rider was sitting.

It wasn’t until the trend went to smaller frames, that handlebars could be placed lower in relation the saddle. Today saddle to handlebar height difference is probably greater than ever, and I believe the riding position of today’s racing cyclist is the most efficient it has ever been.

The only time I see a lot of sliding forward in the saddle is on time-trial bikes, where the arms are once again stretched forward in an effort to gain the most aerodynamic advantage. It would seem to me that the saddles on these bikes should go even further forward. Although UCI regulations might prevent that happening.

Incidentally, the leisure cyclist who has neither the ability or desire to ride in an extreme racing position, often set their bike up with the handlebars high and forward, when lower but closer (Shorter stem.) might be just as comfortable and a more efficient position.

Getting back to the steep head angle trend of the 1970s. It was just that, a trend that really served no useful purpose other than to make something different as the racing bicycle was reborn after a long slump. The other reason was old established framebuilders clinging to this notion that, “The seat angle must be shallower than the head angle.” Because that is the way it has always been.

I never followed that trend though the 1970s. In fact I went the exact opposite, staying with the 73 head angle on most road frames, and on small frames especially, I made the seat tube steeper than the head angle. My customers in the UK were exclusively racing cyclists, and rarely questioned the geometry, all they cared about was, “How did it ride?”

Evolution has been happening in the bicycle business since its invention, and is still happening. Look at what happened in the last thirty or so years. The Mountain Bike began with a handful of enthusiasts downhill racing on trails in Northern California. When it went mainstream in the late 1980s, it appealed to mainly young adults who had grown up riding BMX bikes in the 1970s.

When I built road frames in the 1980s, the technology was there that I could have built welded frames. However, racing frames were traditionally lugged steel, hand brazed. A welded road frame was not acceptable to my customers. Sloping top tubes also were not acceptable to me, or my customers.

The Mountain Bike was a different animal altogether, not bound by any framebuilding traditions of the last 100 years. The welded frame was accepted, and lent itself to mass production in aluminum as well as steel. The BMX bike had been a basically a “One size fits all,” frame. The mountain bike became available in Small, Medium, and Large sizes.

The old school framebuilders like myself disappeared and the corporations took over. It was not surprising when the road bike made a comeback it would look similar to the Mountain Bike and be available in S, M, and L sizes.

The level top tube started out as a point of reference for the frame builder, but it also became a point of reference for the customer. If a person always rode a 56cm. frame, he knew what a 56 frame would look like, and you couldn’t sell him a 54 with a longer seat post, and different stem.

By radically changing the look of the road frame, it left the door open for limited sizes to become acceptable. Once again something that suits the manufacturer, not necessarily the customer.

In the 1980s, even with my knowledge of bikes, I could not have sat down and designed a road bike like today's machine. Even if I did, would it have been accepted? It had to evolve, and that is the way it has always been.


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The Bicycle: Evolution or Intelligent Design. Part II

This is Part II of a three part series, If you haven’t already read Part I, you can read it here.

Soon after the chain driven bicycle was invented in 1885, a whole bicycle industry sprang up in Britain. Bicycles were mass produced, making them affordable for the working man. For the next 60 years the bicycle became the working man’s form of transport. And bicycle racing the working man’s sport.

Because Britain was the first to industrialize bicycle manufacture, certain standards were set, and the rest of the world followed. The half an inch pitch bicycle chain is a good example, it is still the standard today worldwide, even in countries that have always used the metric system of measurement.

Bicycle frame tubes were a standard 1 1/8 inch seat and down tubes, 1 inch top tube, 1 1/4 inch head tube. With the exception of the French who used metric size tubes, most of the rest of the world used the Standard English size tubes, even the Italians. And this would remain the standard, especially for lightweight racing frames for almost 100 years.

The horizontal, level top tube became standard. It was the framebuilder’s point of reference. All other angles were measured off the top tube, it was parallel to a line drawn though the wheel centers. (Assuming both wheel are the same size.)

Traditionally, lightweight frames were custom built, one at a time. My mentor, Pop Hodge, would assemble a frame, measure all the angles and tube lengths. Then lay it out on the brick floor of his shop. The top tube would line up with the edge of a row of bricks. There were marks scratched into the bricks where the Bottom Bracket should be, the same with the rear drop-outs, the bottom head lug, etc.

He would then drill a hole with a hand cranked drill, (He used no power tools.) and pin the tubes in the lugs with a penny nail. (A penny nail was a reference to its size.) When the whole frame was assembled, he would place it in a hearth of hot coals, (Again with a hand cranked blower.) Heat the whole joint to a light red heat, when he would feed in the brass, and braze the joint.

The first framebuilders were blacksmiths, and Pop Hodge had been building frames since 1907 built in that traditional way. He had a hand held torch that he used to add braze-ons and other small parts. It burned coal gas, from the town’s supply that was piped in to all homes and businesses for cooking and heating. The flame was boosted by foot operated air bellows.

The level top tube also had the advantage that once a person established what size frame suited them, any make of frame in that same size would fit. Even though seat angles, and top tube lengths may vary, it would only be slight and could be taken care of with a longer or shorter handlebar stem.

The main reason different makes of frames worked as long as the frame size was the same. When the saddle was set at the correct height, and the handlebars would then be automatically the correct height in relation to the top of the saddle. No one spoke of “Handlebar Drop,” it was an unnecessary measurement, as long as the top tube was level.

In the late 1950s and through the 1960s there was a huge social change taking place in the UK and the rest of Europe. Economies were booming, (Because of the WWII recovery.) and the working man was buying a car for the first time. My parents never owned or even learned to drive a car, but the younger generations were abandoning their bicycles and buying a car.

Even the racing cyclists, mostly owned one bike. They rode to work on it, which was a big part of their training. On the weekends, the fenders (Mudguards.) and saddle bag came off, racing wheels were fitted, and a time-trial was ridden.

For many cyclists, Time-Trialing in the UK in the 1950s and before was more a social event than a serious athletic event. Owning a car for the first time changed the whole social structure of the working man, and many gave up cycling completely.

The result was a huge slump in the bicycle business at all levels. Prices of lightweight frames remained stagnant for many years and framebuilders had to look to ways to cut costs. The ones who survived were the ones who moved away from building frames one at a time, and managed to produce large numbers of frames sold at a reasonable price. See top picture.

I mentioned in Part I of this series, that the standard racing frame geometry of that era was 71 degree seat angle, 73 head. To simplify the design the parallel frame was introduced, that is one where the head and seat angles are the same.

People were not ready to make a big jump from 71 to 73 degree seat angle, so a compromise was made and the 72 degree parallel frame was introduced. Advertised as a “Massed Start” or Road Racing Frame, the parallel frame had the advantage that a complete range of sizes could be made using only two, maybe three top tube lengths.

Simple jigs were used to assemble the frames, the same length top tube could be slid up or down between the parallel head and seat tubes, to build several different size frames. Maybe not the ideal set up, but it did cut the cost of building frames, and as I mentioned before the reach could be adjusted with a different length stem.

Tubes could be pre-mitered using the same angles, another time saver. By the mid-1960s the parallel frame concept was accepted by most people, and the 73 degree parallel became the norm. 73 was a better head angle, and riders soon found that the 73 degree seat was better too. Less tendency to slide forward on the saddle.

So once again here was a trend started by framebuilders because it suited them, but actually lead to a better riding bike. This series will have to run into a third part. Next I will touch on the steep head angle trend of the 1970s and how that came about, and then bring the story up to the present day.


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