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Classic Moulton Buyer's Guide

One day on the Moulton Yahoo-hosted Forum "Lou G." wrote: I am always checking ebay for Moultons, unfortunately most of them are pick-up only. I was wondering what should be my primary check when buying a F frame or an APB. I saw some ads on ebay stating that the rear fork was bent or too much rust etc. I am aware on I and II generations on the rear fork assembly matter, but was wondering what else should I inspect to make sure I made a good buy. Cheers! Lou.

Billiard Cue Small Here is what looks like a very acceptable early "billiard cue" Moulton Deluxe, bought from ebaY by my friend Andrew Simms. It has a rivetted and brazed frame and the original equipment: GB Hiduminium bars and stem, Middlemores saddle and the pedals they only fitted in the first year. Although there is some spray touching up, the frame is free from rust, nasty scratches and dings. Mudguards are fairly good and the rear carrier not at all bad. There is even a dynamo bracket brazed on to the rear forks which you hardly ever see on a series one.

We will look at the billiard cue machine in more detail as this page progresses. In the mean time, here are 10 things to look at (if you can) before scoring a Classic Moulton:

1. Rear forks.

The early curved series 1 forks are a bit weak and although most have survived well for nearly 50 years, others can develop cracks. See this page of Bicycle Hub to see where. As long as the cracks are not too serious, you can get them repaired and the forks strengthened. Contact Michael Woolf of Moulton Preservation using the address in the back of the Moultoneer. The blades of rear forks can occasionally bend and the forks are certainly prone to twisting. Stand behind the bike and check if the wheel stands vertically, in line with the frame. This happens most to the very first brazed forks made up until 1964. None of the above comments apply to the straight rear forks that were fitted to Series 2 machines. They are pretty much indestructible. One can't help but recommend bikes with these stronger forks.

Billiard Cue Forks Small

Aha! I might have known. These are early brazed forks, not the welded ones that are so often blamed for this trouble. They are not too far gone to repair, however. Notice that there is some evidence of a brazed repair to the frame near the forks. We will be coming back to this area later.

Billiard Cue Rear Small

2. Rust.

All bikes can be repainted, but if rust has developed to the stage of pitting, it is too serious and the bike is best left. What you hope for is that rubbing the surface with a piece of emery paper, you ought to be able to get a shining metal finish. Turn the bike upside down and look at the underside of the main beam, around the bottom bracket, all around the rear forks, particularly at the welded joint seams.

Underneath Rear forks under

Take out the saddle post and look down the tube to see how severe the rust looks inside the frame. If the bike has been left outside it will ofeten have become rusty internally. Mudguards can sometimes be okay on the outside but completely rusted on the inside. Chrome mudguards often get worn out by polishing. Chromework should be able to be brought shiny by scraping off the rust or brushing with a wire brush. If it can't, you will need replacement parts or the bike will always look a little lacklustre.

Lamp bracket Chainwheel

3. Bent front forks.

It is surprising how often you see front forks that have been bent back on one or both blades. The tubes are very small bore. The steering of the Moulton is very sensitive to bent forks and handling will be ruined. Look carefully along the forks to see that they are perfectly in line with the axis of the steering. Also that they have not been bent sideways.

Down headtube Billiard Cue Front Forks

4. Other bent tubes.

Problem areas are the base of the long head-tube tube at the junction with the main beam. This gets bent forward in a crash and you can feel ripples on the front of the bike just above the joint.

Headtube ripple area Billiard Cue Front Joint

Note the rivets in this joint. The frames of early Moultons were made without heavy lugs, like most ordinary bikes of that time. First, the tubes were assembled in jigs and the joints drilled and rivetted. This would hold the frame in alignment until brazing was finished. Later on they adopted a welding technique that did away with the rivets, but was itself neat and clever.

Particularly on early bikes with no lower carrier strut, the seat tube bends backwards. If there is a lower carrier strut fitted, it should be a nice tight fit to give the frame rigidity. You should examine carefully the line of the seat tube. Often you will find that the front of the tube is a straight line from the top to the bottom, with the taper formed on the rear of the tube only. Though this does not always seem to be true. If the seat tube has been chronically overloaded, it can develop a crack at the pierced joint, starting at the front and running around. Very often people wanting a lightweight sports Moulton cut the rear carrier beam and the support struts off! These docked frames are prone to cracking. My brother's seat-tube snapped off, but we did manage to braze it on again.

Pierced joint Billiard Cue Pierced joint

The horizontal tapered beam sometimes bends down if the rear carrier has been overloaded, although this fault is surprisingly very uncommon. (Not in Moulton minis!)

Rear carrier and bracket Billiard Cue right

5. Suspension.

Both suspension units are fairly robust and durable. Play in the front suspension, I believe, was probably there from the outset because of ill-fitting top bearings. Pull the front brake on and rock the bike forward and back to check for play. Make sure that this is not coming from the head bearings. A bit of play won't be felt when riding, but too much will make give unpleasant rattles when braking. Bounce the front suspension up and down to see if it works smoothly. Listen for roughness, scraping sounds. Check the rubber boot (or bellows if you prefer)to see that it isn't split on the folds or torn at the back.

Rubber bellows Rubber bellows

This is the most common bellows that you will find, but the Mk3 Moulton had a more wavy design made from a shinier plastic that doesn't split. In the very early days, they used a narrower bellows and the forks fitted into a collar in the frame. I've always assumed that this was a temporary arrangement due to, say, the special wide diameter lower bearing cup not being ready.

The rear suspension never seizes up, as such; it will always work. But if your bike has been left outside the steel pivot bolt will usually seize in the pivot tube, meaning that it is difficult to get the forks off for painting. Can be done though, so not a reason to turn the bike away.

Dynamo bracket Billiard Cue brazed repair

It can be done, yes; but not by turning the bike on it's side and braying the pivot bolt with a heavy hammer. The previous owner of the Deluxe found that application of brute force doesn't always result in submission, and must have been horrified to find out that instead, the entire pivot tube has been pushed sideways in the frame. A heroic repair has been carried out, but in this highly stressed area it has not been strong enough.

Frame skewed Broken strut

I looked for a long time at this horrible sight and was forced to the conclusion that the frame was at best, not going to last much longer even with a fresh repair and at worst, could deposit the unlucky rider in front of a Routemaster without warning. So, for safety's sake the frame will be written off. All other parts can be used with a fresh frame. The lesson is, if you can't get the pivot bolt out pretty quickly with moderate hammering, saw the forks off with a hacksaw.

6. General maladjustment.

Check for looseness in the cranks (bottom bracket) steering, wheels, brakes if you intend to ride the bike straight away. Adjust where necessary. Old Moultons almost always are out of adjustment and the difference between an as found bike and one that has had only a couple of hours tuning up is incredible. Oh, and see if the crank arms are nice and straight.

Crank arm

Note on the photo to the right, the flared nut has been fitted to the left hand of the bike when it should really be on the right. A special nut with a tube should go on the left to protect the end of the indicator rod. The previous owner has mixed these nuts up.

Alloy stem Hub nut left

7. Brakes

Old brake cables may be weak and should really be renewed, but if you pull the brake levers and find no fraying, they are probably fairly safe. Check that brake blocks line up with the rim properly, not on the tyre, certainly. Look for fraying of the cable at the brakes, and make sure there is not too much rust on the chrome. Brakes can be stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt in an hour or so.

Alloy brake Steel lever

Note that this is a very early Moulton Deluxe that was fitted with GB Sport Mk3 alloy brakes and levers. Sadly, the bike has lost one of the original levers, to be replaced by what looks like a steel Raleigh RSW lever. Whilst GB callipers are certainly lightweight, the stopping power is not in the league of modern dual pivot callipers, to say the least. And John Bull brake blocks on a chrome rim on a wet day require plenty of advance planning. If you do keep the GB brakes, it is very very wise to upgrade to modern Aztec or Koolstop blocks, and maybe replace the steel rims with alloy Brompton made ones too.

GB alloy brake rear Front brake

8. Gears.

The four speed hub is easy to adjust, but it does have to be bang on to work without jumping gears. There should be no play in the wheel bearings and the cable should work smoothly and easily. Even if you can't get all the gears at first, this can almost always be fixed with lubrication, adjustment and a new cable. Check that the toggle chain is not absolutely mangled. The 4 speed trigger sometimes has a weak spring that allows the gear to jump out of first. This can be re-tensioned, but it is not that easy. Moulton Standards had 3 speed hubs which are generally trouble free.

Hub left Trigger

9. Wheels.

Look for broken or loose spokes, worn rims, wobbles, buckles, excessively rusty surfaces, cracks. Spin the wheel and try to assess if the bearings are very worn. The early 36 spoke wheels don't break spokes, but the 28 hole rear wheels are much more likely to have broken or loose spokes. The rims on the bicycle in the photograph are in excellent condition. Rims usually get a lot more worn than this, and if rust starts you will have juddery brakes. Check the tyres for cuts, bulges, wear, perishing. New tyres don't cost much and it gives you an excuse to upgrade to easy-rolling, puncture-resistant high pressure rubber, with a reflective sidewall. The superb Schwalbe Marathon of course! If it has a Dynohub, see if it works.

Front Wheel Fairy Cycle

10. Accessories.

Early bikes have GB Hiduminium stem and alloy bars and levers- very desirable. Check they have not been mangled. The Moulton bell is a nice feature that is inexplicably growing in value. A propstand is worth having, although a little bit heavy. Front racks are quite rare, and well worth having. The series 2 front rack is most desirable. By the way, rear racks are made from thin tubing that can easily get bent, but if the bends are not too severe it is feasible to bend the tubes back to their original profile.

Handlebars Deluxe rear carrier

The saddle shown below is the original horsehair-stuffed Middlemores, in very good condition. They can often split at the stitching. They are quite comfortable on journeys of, say, up to 20 miles. Moulton Stowaways are very much more sought-after than fixed frame models. In fact, any model with an S in the name apart from a Standard is always worth a lot more, and should be saved regardless of condition. The Major is generally better than the earlier F frames simply because it is all brazed by hand, not welded.

Fairy Cycle sawn in half Middlemores saddle

One other thing worth doing is to stand at the front of the bike and line up the head tube and set tube to see if they are in line. Some bikes are not quite spot on and it doesn't seem to matter, but if you have a frame that has been twisted in an accident it will always want to turn one way or the other. This may annoy you after a while. Generally faults with the front fork being bent affect the steering more than an out-of-alignment frame.

Headbadge Fairy Cycle
Last Updated on Friday, 06 April 2012 22:27