Dr Alex Moulton: 'An inspiration for generations of engineers'
Inventor of small-wheel bike, Mini suspension dies at 92
Obit Dr Alex Moulton, the engineer and inventor famous for designing small-wheeled bicycles and car suspension gear, has died at the age of 92.
Moulton pioneered full-suspension small-wheel bikes, which were super popular in the 1960s and are still being built by hand in Bradford on Avon by The Moulton Bicycle Company.
He also worked with Sir Alec Issigonis on what eventually became known as Moulton suspension - specifically the "Hydrolastic" and "Hydragas" systems - which have been used in more than twelve million British cars, from the original Mini to the MGF.
The Moulton Bicycle Company said the inventor was "an inspiration for generations of engineers, designers and inventors".
Moulton was the great-grandson of rubber pioneer Stephen Moulton, and he was educated at Marlborough College before going on to Cambridge University.
During World War II, he worked at the Engine Research Department of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, where he was a personal assistant to Sir Roy Fedden, the chief engineer, for two years. After the war, he worked at the family rubber firm Spencer Moulton and Co, where he set up a research department specialising in rubber suspension systems for vehicles.
In the late 1950s, he worked with Issigonis on suspension and he launched his iconic bicycle in 1962 at the Earls Court Cycle Show.
According to the bicycle company, Moulton said his bike was "born out of my resolve to challenge and improve upon the classic bicycle, with its diamond frame and large wheels, which has locked bicycle design into that form since the pioneering work in England of Starley and others at the end of the 19th century".
The F-frame design, front and rear suspension systems and even the small wheels for a full size bicycle were all revolutionary innovations in 1962.
Fellow British engineer and inventor Sir James Dyson, who attended the 50th anniversary event for The Moulton Bicycle Company in Bradford on Avon last month, said at the time that Moulton was "an inspiration" for Dyson engineers. ®
Its a shame to hear this news. Bicycles have been a passion of mine, that brought balance to my teenage years that else would have been spent indoors trying to get PCs to play games (whilst my peers had Amigas and Megadrives).
Small wheels make a suspension system essential almost essential, unless you have the toughened skeleton of a twenty year-old. Larger wheels offer inherently lower rolling resistance, but efficiency is far from the only consideration- you only have to see the hallway of a city flat blocked by 26"-wheeled bicycles to realise that the traditional design is not convenient for city living. For small trips, a BMX is the better urban machine than bigger bikes- there are no gears to got wrong, it takes up less space in the hallway, and the wheels are damned near indestructible and won't end up pringled like those on the poor machines one sees chained to railings after pissheads have decided to kick them in.
It's a shame that Moulton have never managed to get the price down to become more mainstream. My heart sinks when I see the hideous 'full suspension' bikes that are sold for children these days, the suspension on them is worse than useless and just makes the whole machine so heavy that it is likely to kill any enthusiasm for cycling the child might have possessed. If you can't afford the better materials and parts required to make suspension worthwhile, it is best to Keep It Simple.
First Patrick, now Alex...not a good week.
Moulton bikes are deceptively awesome - the old ones look like the small wheeled Raleighs, but had incredible geometries and suspension which made them lovely to ride.
The later ones looked odd, but you wouldn't really give them a second glance, appearing to be made out of space frame, but again, stunning geometries and balance mean these small wheeled bikes dismantle for travelling, and when you got there they could carry you and your luggage in comfort. You soon got over the shock of a 1200 pound starting price (and the AM7 - if you gotta ask, you can't afford...).
It's almost impossible to build a better bike, but Alex certainly came the closest. I do wish I could afford one :(
Dyson is not an Engineer!
Sir James Dyson is an Industrial Designer. That does not make him an Engineer!
Re: I took the opportunity
Much less than £100 - all you need to lower a Mini is a hacksaw, and some big washers when you overdo it.
Unfortunately the MGF, which did use Hydragas, compromised by having the units isolated and adding conventional dampers.
One of the big problems with both Hydralastic and Hydragas systems is development time. Altering the spring, rebound and damp rates requires depressurisation, the changing of the valves and then repressurisation. Tuning conventional suspension involves swapping parts that can be changed in moments.
The Metro also used isolated units, but without additional dampers. Moulton had a Metro he'd reworked to reinstate the fore / after interlinking that the system was designed for and then tuned the setup himself. Everyone who tried it said that it was far better than the vanilla product.