As redolent a symbol of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ as a Mary Quant mini skirt or a Beatles’ mop-top haircut, the Moulton bicycle is a design classic with a passionate worldwide following. Low-cost bike imports from the Far East all but obliterated British cycle makers in the 1960s and 1970s, so it is a nice irony that Asia is now one of the best markets for The Moulton Bicycle Company, which still manufactures solely in England.
Dr Alex Moulton helped design another iconic British vehicle, the Mini, before he set himself the task of creating an alternative to the common diamond-frame pushbike. In 1962 he unveiled the result: an extraordinary small-wheeled, open-frame machine with unisex appeal. It was an instant success and to satisfy demand the inventor-engineer built a factory in the grounds of his Jacobean home in Bradford-on-Avon in the county of Wiltshire. Today, this is a place of pilgrimage for a global clan of ‘Moultoneers’.
Over the past 50 years the instantly recognisable Moulton models have proved themselves as stylish bikes for urban journeys, comfortable touring machines for long trips and even fast-track bikes for racing.
The entry-level models, which cost about £950, are made by Pashley, another British bike maker with a passionate fan club; while the original Moulton workshop specialises in hand-built special commissions and the technically advanced New Series Double Pylon, which carries a £16,500 price tag.
These bicycles are constructed by a team of just 15 workers, which employs a huge amount of painstaking handwork; on the Double Pylon, for example, there are more than 200 points at which sections of metal are joined together by a heating process called brazing.
The Japanese were among the first to recognise Alex Moulton’s design genius, fascinated by his attention to detail, structural innovation and good sense. They embraced his bikes as ground-breaking, unisex high-performance machines that looked like objets d’art. There are more than 100 Moulton bicycle dealers in Japan. Regular Moulton ‘summits’ bring fanatics together in Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore. Malaysia
and Indonesia are new additions to the Moultoneers’ network.
Dr Moulton died aged 92 on 9 December 2012. Tributes on the company’s website came from all over the world. “Rest in peace and thank you very much for the best bicycle of all,” wrote one admirer in Thailand.