Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Small-Wheeled Bicycles?

I've been fascinated by small-wheeled bicycles ever since I saw my first Moulton in London when I was about ten years old. Suddenly, a bike that wasn't essentially just a refined version of Starley's Rover design of 1885. It was the product of a professional engineer looking at bicycle design from the perspective of the motor industry, in which design had advanced far faster over the same eighty years.

Launched in 1962, the Moulton rolled on sixteen-inch wheels with high-pressure tyres and smoothed the ride with suspension at front and rear. It was a real vehicle with mudguards, integral luggage racks and a step-through frame that allowed easy mounting in any clothing. It was revolutionary in a cycling world which was then, and remains today, intensely conservative. It was cool, hip and unisex; it was so... Sixties. Swinging London loved it.

Roughly 200,000 Moultons were built between 1962 and 1975 (when Raleigh bought the rights to the design and promptly stopped production), making it probably the most successful challenge ever mounted to the conventional diamond frame (though I confess I don't know how many recumbents have been sold). Yet now one can walk into bicycle shops all over the world, and it is as if the Moulton had never existed.

With the notable exception of Dr. Moulton's own current designs (sadly hardly available in Australia), the small wheel has been consigned to the specialised world of folding bicycles, and stigmatised by association with the many inferior, or at least heavily compromised, designs of folder that have been produced over the years. However, well-designed folding bicycles, constructed with high quality materials and components, have a great deal to offer the cyclist in my opinion, and fulfil some at least of the promise of the small-wheeled bike.

Of course, there is one audience I cannot hope to reach. The roadies; racing cyclists and those who worship at the same altar. Long ago the Union Cycliste Internationale (high priests of their cult), facing the disgraceful sight of Moultons breaking cycling records, did the only thing such guardians of stagnation could decently do. They banned them.

"Sacrebleu! What eez zees? Zees is not our holy object! À la lanterne!"

1 comment:

Recumbent bike said...

to achieve better rotation per minute and reduce the weight of bicycle. if bicycle wheel are small then its base are must be long.