Saturday, December 22, 2012

rip alex moulton

Today, I learned of the death of Dr. Alex Moulton.

That's a photo from 1963.Dr. Moulton was instrumental in inventing suspension systems used in British car manufacture, but that's not what he's best known for.

There are corners of the bicycle world where partisans natter on endlessly about various mechanical and technical preferences and oddities. Some of the most dogged are the adherents of the Brooks Saddle sect. Dr. Moulton invented the Moulton Bicycle, and you may think from the picture above that his partisans should be classified among these fanatics, too... but I disagree.

Moulton bicycles (and there are many, see this page for models) since their beginning have been designed for many uses: for speed, for simple transportation, for carrying things... and for convenience. Most Moulton bikes fold. Many fold or disassemble to a size small enough to fit in a small suitcase. The small wheels were included partly for that, and partly for increased strength. The available gearing is adjusted from standard-sized bicycles to compensate for the wheel size, so that the Moultons have similar mechanical advantage to bikes with larger wheels. Many Moulton bicycles also have suspensions of one type or another - and suspensions have become common on town and (especially) mountain bikes.

In the 19th century, to be working on bicycles was to be on the cutting edge of technological advance, perhaps as software or device engineers are today. Dr. Moulton continued that heritage, in his own way, for a small, but dedicated group of enthusiasts. I wonder if, thirty years from now, there will be another engineer who will have a similar following among the bike tribes.

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