We have a bit of a penchant for small wheeled, collapsible bikes around here. In recent times Graham showed us how easy it was to stow a Strida 5 inside a closet, Andrew loves how he can squeeze his Bike Friday into a suitcase and Lloyd enthuses about how quick his Strida folds, so he can sneak it onto trains. Birds of a feather flock together, I guess.
Anyhow, my Moulton AM7 is about 20 years old. It is both much loved, and much neglected. For much of the first half of our time together, it was my sole means of independent transport. We've been on long distance tours, we once commuted 40 km daily, and we've continued to sashay through log-jammed city traffic. Imbued with incredible versatility the Moulton remains my preferred means of getting somewhere. That's not to say it doesn't have its quirks.Small Wheels
The most obvious of these might be its small 17 inch wheels. Although these afford the Moulton a most remarkable manoeuvrability and strength, there is another side to coin. Firstly they don't track well on loose surfaces, they are the absolute perfect size for being swallowed up by Sydney's roadside stormwater grates. And finally, the almost exclusive size means that tyre and tubes are rather expensive to replace. (More recent models use a 20" wheel, which is more readily sourced.)
The other thing about the small wheels is that it they are skittish. They want to always be going somewhere. Even after I've locked the bike to a street post. Back on the sliver lining side of the cloud, the smaller tyres can be inflated to 100 psi (700kpa), providing excellent low rolling resistance. More distance for less effort.
Front and Rear Suspension
The front and rear suspension is a dream. It just soaks up the lumps and bumps of the road. I so rarely feel tired in the upper body from the usual jarring that non suspended bikes suffer from. The front suspension can be adjusted by twirling a knob at the base of head tube. This adjusts the tension in the massive spring hidden above. You can also tension/loosen the nylon bushes on the dual leading link forks. It is possible to make the suspension really floppy, or lock it off entirely.
The rear suspension is designed not to detract from your pedalling effort. It consists of a rubber cone on the lower half of the seat tube, that absorbs shock travelling up through the rear forks.
Looking more like a mini bridge truss, the triangulated frame has been crafted from Reynolds 531 manganese-molybdenum steel, which in its day was the standard for lightweight, high performance racing bikes. This frame was the result of nearly thirty years of design development. You see, the first generation Moultons were unveiled in 1962 and were sold for the next 12 years. Then in 1983 Alex Moulton released his completely redesigned bicycle, with what he termed a "Space Frame." It makes for a rock solid structure, with lots of nooks and crannies to stash stuff when you're touring. But it also means there is lots of frame surface to rub on stuff. My poor old AM7 (Alex Moulton, seven speed) is scratched up all over the show. Still it is two decades old and proudly displays the marks of having lived a eventful life. It's been a work horse, not a show pony.
The shape and the frame construction intrigues people no end. It sure gets them thinking outside the square. I've had motorists and motorcycles want to start up conversations while we're waiting for the traffic lights to change. They think it is some new fangled design. But in this form it's 25 years old. And its heritage goes back 46 years.
Another attribute of the 'space frame' is that provides for a low step through area. Riders don't have to throw their leg over the frame to get aboard. So it's gender neutral, as well as being safer when you come a gutzer (no top tube to smash delicate anatomy on.) But an added advantage of this geometry is that the option front and rear carrier--attached swiftly with an allen (hex) key--afford a low centre of gravity for luggage. Although only officially rated for about 13.6 kg (30 lb) I've regularly hauled 20-25kg of heavy groceries home from the organic food co-op (which might be why its developed an ever so slight droop.)
Purpose-made front and rear bags are as well conceived as the bike itself. The rear bag folds flat and secures with velcro when not in use. Velcro tabs are provided to hold a spare tyre in place. It can be carried by hand or shoulder straps and features an inside zippered pocket. It makes for a brilliant overnight bag just as it is. The front bag sports a transparent map slot for touring. Not being side panniers, there is nothing to tangle in the spokes or chain, weight is carried centrally along the bike frame. I don't need to try an balance out a left and right pannier.
I've never bothered timing how long it takes to separate the AM7, but I'm guessing 5 minutes max. You release the gear change lever, unhook the lower king pin and twirl open the central ? That's it really. It's not a folder. But then not many folders hold the world speed record (51.29 mph) for an upright production bicycle either. I have once had a lift, where myself and the complete bike travelled in the front seat of a car. So it's very portable.
Then there are all the little touches that show someone was thinking about what they created, not just churning something out to hit a marketing pricepoint. The braze-ons for the water bottle cage. The flanges on the base of the rear carrier to hold a U lock. (I've found it faster to just hang one from the middle frame.) The pump that came fitted into the seat post. The brazed-on slot at the rear of the carrier for a reflector or light. The single size 6 mm allen (hex) key that adjusts everything, has its own rubber slot under the seat. The optional front and rear mud guards (fenders) essential for winter commuting. The mounting plate on the central frame so you can fix the gear change lever (shifter) after you've quickly unscrewed it to separate the frame halves.
My Moulton AM7 is now an eight speed bike. After the original chain and rear seven speed gear cluster finally wore out, the only economically viable replacement was an eight speed. Whilst I gained a gear, unfortunately I lost the full breadth of range provided in the initial Moulton gearing -- while it slightly easier to climb hills, I can no longer get up as much speed on the flats or long downhills. My biggest gripe regarding the newer gear cluster is that the chain seems more prone to jumping off.
The overall ride is superb. It does, however, take some getting use to. Because of the full suspension, the bike performs best when the rider is seated. Staying glued to the saddle when tackling a gruesome hill requires concerted restraint, but is rewarded by a significantly smoother ride. On the flat the small wheels have a tighter turning radius, so are highly conducive to ducking and weaving through stalled traffic. Bucketloads of fun. On a congested city road it gives me the same thrill I recall from days of whitewater kayaking.
I'd hate to have my AM7 ripped off. Or pretzeled in a bingle. I'd be lost. It is such a delight, a joy, to ride.
(For quite a few years I also owned a 14 speed Moulton APB (All Purpose Bike) with knobbly 20" BMX tyres. It was a heavier, yet much cheaper, version of the much feted Moulton ATB (All Terrain Bike). The APB and I had some very memorable offroad trips, from rain soaked mountain tracks to corrugated outback dirt roads, but in the end the weight, the gearing and riding position led me to sell it on. I believe the new APBs are much lighter and sportier.)
PS. And, unless I'm mistaken, fellow TreeHugger correspondent, Christine, is also a Moultoneer.
For more information on Moulton Bicycles visit:
::Alex Moulton Bicycles
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