In May 1997, while at the Second Folder Forum in Weymouth, I bought a second-hand Moulton APB-14 bicycle at the auction. This was somewhat on impulse, guided as to price by some indications from others present. However, I had visited the Bike '97 show at Olympia, where I had seen the "Birdy", and had been to Phoenix Cycles in Battersea to try one. The Forum also allowed me to examine and see in action a number of "portable" bikes. I wanted a folder or separable, so I could carry the bike in the boot of a car (as opposed to carrying it on a train, for which a compact folder like the Brompton would be preferable). As an engineer, I wanted a very good performance and a comfortable ride, and was open to new features such as full suspension. The space frame of the Moulton APB has a special appeal as the logical solution, which also looks unique - good for a "hi-tech" image. By the time of the auction, I knew just enough to favour the Moulton and all that I have learnt since has confirmed me in this choice.
Having taken my old (folding) Raleigh Stowaway down to Weymouth, I nevertheless succeeded in getting both it and the Moulton home in the back of my car, (a Cavalier hatchback), with the rear seats folded. On my return, and riding it, I soon found that the Moulton was a great advance on the Stowaway. The brakes, the ride (thanks to the full suspension), and transmission (14-speed derailleur) were all vastly better - and I was (and am) well pleased with my purchase. I found that I was lacking a manual and the special Moulton pump, which fits inside the seat tube. The Pashley shop in Stratford upon Avon kindly sent me the former free of charge, and I purchased one of the latter. I was pleased to find that it was highly effective, being capable of pumping a tyre up to 60 psi or so with only a reasonable effort - very desirable for roadside repairs. Like most owners, I still wanted to upgrade and personalise the bike. I have grouped the changes logically, rather than keeping to the strict chronological order.
The Moulton had come fitted with Schwalbe (German for Swallow) 47 x 406 tyres, which are somewhat chunky, and no mudguards. However, I was seeking as smooth a ride as possible, together with low road noise, and low rolling resistance. I decided on Nokian 40 x 406 City Runners, which are currently fitted to the APB-5 entry-level model, but are said to be well suited to road use, and occasional off-road use. After finding that my local Pashley dealer had no stock, I bought a pair of these tyres and a set of mudguards by mail order from the Pashley shop. Although marked 70 psi/5 bar, this apparently applies only when carrying their rated load. So I followed the advice given in "The Folder• magazine, issue 17, p 28, and adopted pressures of 45 psi front and 65 psi rear. I have adjusted the (Coulomb) friction dampers of the front suspension to be barely effective, in the belief that this would give the smoothest ride. I have never encountered wheel patter, but road discontinuities can cause a "clang" on full rebound. While "plunging" can be induced while "honking" up hills, this is not my riding style.
"The Folder" magazine, issue 17, p 28, also gave test results on smaller Primos (16 inch - on a Brompton) which showed notably low rolling resistance. Therefore, indulging myself in a further experiment, I bought a pair of Primo Comets, marked 37 x 406 (but actually only 33 mm wide), which had been newly imported from Taiwan by Custom Folders of Glasgow, and came at a good price. These tyres certainly look racy, with their slender section, a fine herringbone tread pattern, and light brown "gum" sidewalls. They were marked 100 psi, but again I ran them at 45 psi front and 65 psi rear. While they were very quiet running on smooth (eg old tar) road surfaces, I found them to give a somewhat harsher ride - especially on coarse (large stoned) and broken surfaces. I therefore decided that the Nokian City Runners were more suited to my taste. With these tyres, the bike also works well off-road - eg on bridle paths, which are often bumpy and sometimes muddy.
I had been used to a (3-speed) Sturmey-Archer hub gear on the Stowaway, so was a little doubtful about the Shimano derailleur on the Moulton APB-14. However, a lever on the handlebars provides indexed changing between the 7 sprockets at the rear, and is very easy to use. I had thought that I would prefer a grip shift, but now appreciate the comparative simplicity of the lever shift. It can even be set to friction operation, if the indexing mechanism should fail. Another lever on the handlebars gives friction changing between the two chainwheels at the front. This is easy enough to use, given that it is only required infrequently for the lowest gears. I have already found it necessary to clean and re-lubricate the chain, chainwheels and sprockets. However, this was made very much easier by the clip on degreaser mechanism sold by Halfords. This greater maintenance requirement is perhaps the main disadvantage of the (exposed) derailleur versus a hub gear.
I have bought - or considered buying - several from the Halford range, which are both widely available and excellent value. I already had the large rectangular bag, which I had used strapped to the rear carrier of the Stowaway. I asked Pashleys about the Moulton rear carrier, only to learn that it was £ 50, so decided to leave it - at least until I really needed it (eg for touring). My main use is recreational exercise rides of 5 to 12 miles, so I settled initially on a Tool Bag, and a Small Dirt Bag. The former keeps most of the tools separate from any luggage, and can be fitted very conveniently on the lower down tube of the Moulton, just forward of the joint. It is kept in place by the knurled wheel, even when the bike is separated. The Small Dirt Bag fits with straps onto the saddle rails and stem, and holds a Halford‘s rain top, a dial pressure gauge, and other oddments. However, I later decided that I would like somewhat more room, to hold in addition either Halford‘s rain trousers or a light sweat shirt. I first tried the Halford‘s saddle bag, but found that - at least when hung from the saddle rails - it was in the way of my legs. Luckily they allowed me to change it for a Large Dirt Bag, and this fits the bill exactly. Like the Small Dirt Bag, it fits with straps onto the saddle rails and stem, and looks more sporting than a saddle bag or rectangular bag. I can certainly recommend carrying a spare tube at all times, since merely changing it is far preferable to trying to repair a puncture on the roadside - especially if it is raining !
I first transferred my Halford‘s 8-function unit to the Moulton, and adjusted the wheel circumference setting to suit the different wheels and tyres. This gave me current, average, and maximum speeds, as well as trip and total distances, and trip and clock times - all for a very good price. However, being an automobile engineer, and wanting to monitor more about myself - the human engine - I later bought a Raleigh Pro 12 (made by Echowell of Taiwan) by mail order. This has a second sensor, enabling it to measure "cadence• or pedal speed (in rpm), and can also display maximum and average cadence for the trip. I chose this cycle computer because - though more expensive at about £ 30 - it has three separate displays - eg speed, cadence, and distance - unlike some which only have two. It was a little more fiddly to install, but is supplied with enough cable ties, and looks quite neat - especially as the black wires are unobtrusive against the black bike. Since the pedal speed sensor has to be on the rear part of the bike, the finishing touch was to introduce a plug and socket into the pedal speed sensor wire - so that the bike could still be separated. I used a 3.5 mm audio plug and socket, bought from Tandy. Although fiddly, it proved possible to solder the cut ends of the thin cable into the plug and socket, and it still works. I am well satisfied with this computer in use, and much prefer it over the previous one.
Initially, I simply transferred the battery powered Ever Ready front and rear lamps from the Stowaway. These clamp onto the front fork and the rear seat tube respectively. However, they were not very secure, and looked somewhat ungainly and heavy. The weight for the pair, with batteries, was 600 g. On seeing a Cateye set which look light and neat, newly available in Halfords, I was therefore ready to buy. The front lamp clips onto a mount which clamps onto the handlebar, while the rear lamp is intended to strap directly to the seat tube. However, not only is the Moulton seat tube too large for the strap, but in such a position it would be obscured by the Dirt Bag. I therefore removed the strap, and used the securing screw to mount it upside down on the bracket which carried the rear reflector. The weight for the pair as mounted, with batteries, was 416 g. I then fitted another - and much larger - rear reflector vertically above it. When leaving the bike, I plan to leave the rear lamp screwed in place, and simply unclip the front lamp, which will fit easily in a pocket - and can act as a hand torch. As with the front and rear lamps of Japanese cars, the optics of these Cateye cycle lamps - both front and rear - are excellent. For the HL500 front lamp, with a 1.25 watt halogen bulb and 2 x C batteries, the Cateye web site gives a continuous run time of 8 hours. For the TL510 rear lamp, with a 0.75 watt standard bulb and 4 x AA batteries, the continuous run time may be estimated (from other data given) as about 9 hours. In order to reduce the running costs, I have bought rechargeable batteries for both lamps, and normally use them, but also carry a full set of dry batteries as spares. Since the bike came without, I have fitted large white reflectors in both of the wheels, and stuck yellow reflective tape to the edges of the pedals, and red reflective tape to the back of the rear mudguard.
For those who have access to the Internet, a great deal of information is available on bikes and accessories. I have used the Alta Vista search engine to look for information on cycle tyres, and found it for many manufacturers, including Michelin, Continental, Vredestein, and others. Some is on manufacturers‘ own sites, and some on distributor‘s sites. Unfortunately, compared with that available for conventional larger sizes (26 inch and 700 mm), the range of choice for 406 mm rims is somewhat limited. Even so, there is plenty of information on the latest developments - eg on clinchers for racing, and on silica compounds. I also searched for "cycle computer", which found me the Cateye and Echowell sites, both with full specification details, and in English. I now know that if I want also to measure my heart rate, I can do so with models costing about £ 100, or up to £ 300. This last measures data at regular time intervals, and stores it internally, for later down-loading into a personal computer. The Cateye site also has information on their cycle lamps, including some very large and powerful models, such as Americans use when riding "trails• at night.
I am very well pleased with the Moulton, which has made cycling a pleasure again. This has been increased by buying and reading two books by Tony Hadland - "The Moulton Bicycle" on the original "F-frame" machines, and "The Space Frame Moultons", covering the AM and APB series. The books are available from the Moulton Bicycle Club, which I have also joined. This holds events and publishes both a magazine and a more frequent "flyer" - the text of which is also on their a web site. Last but not least, the Moulton is designed and made in Britain. As a British engineer myself, I am delighted with the Moulton as an excellent example of British engineering design and manufacturing.
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