The Marvellous Moulton Mini


In the autumn of 1965 Raleigh's new RSW (Raleigh Small Wheel) shopping bicycle was beginning to make a serious dent on Moulton's profits. That's understating the situation; the sales of Moultons were evaporating fast, and something had to be done. Around the middle of September 1965 a number of design modifications were brought in to try to save money on making the range of Moulton bicycles. In 1966 the range was rationalised so that even the Standard was deleted. More exotic models such as the Safari were only built to special order. Only the Deluxe and the Speedsix continued into 1967. We can see this as the beginning of the adult Moulton concept as a more aspirational product. This trend has continued to accelerate as the years have passed.

jimbo at braddieBut I digress. We are looking at the Moulton Mini. A feature of the full-size Moulton is that it's lazy F frame is on the long side. It is really too much of a stretch for women and children. In his excellent book, "The Marvellous Moulton Mini", Paul Grogan reproduces an article from Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader magazine from May 1966. In it, Alex Moulton describes all the good reasons for the introduction of the smaller 7/8ths size Moulton whilst studiously ignoring the fact that Raleigh's RSW was of a size designed for the average female. There was certainly an element of counter-attack with the introduction of the Moulton Mini. It was a small-wheel trade war.

If you dismantle a Mini, you will find that the bike is a perfect reproduction of the full-size Moulton, but only after going through a shrinking ray. In the front suspension, all the parts are identical but in 7/8ths scale. The rear forks do not have the "compression and shear" curved rubber sandwich, but a simpler "clapperbox" suspension. Nevertheless, the forks themselves are stronger than the original curved blade type. The Mini was a considerable success and Moulton sold around 10,000 by the end of the 1960's. These are extra sales that almost certainly did not come out of the full-size market. So, it seems disappointing that most Moulton fans do not regard the Mini as worth saving. In fact, at the annual Bradford-on-Avon meet in 2006, the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Mini, it was hard-heartedly ignored.

Celestine smallThere's no doubt about it; Minis are first-class Moultons and made to a good standard. They are like the Vespa Primavera of the Moulton Bicycle world and deserve to be cherished. The photo at the top of this page is of a "Super 4" model from 1966 that has aluminium alloy rims, a four-speed hub, full-size bars, levers, saddlepost and cranks. It was designed for adult use, whereas some later versions of the Mini were definitely aimed more at children. I've ridden them for twenty years and my first Moulton was a Mini. Shaun Moulton's first Moulton was a Mini. It is still in the Museum at BoA. More recently, I have experimented with different components and gearing and had some great results.

The Origin of Bicycle Hub

The short photo sequence below is of my first Moulton Mini. Note that the rear carrier was cut off- not advisable and in fact probably caused the seat tube to crack at the base a few years later. The bike was taken out of the scrap metal skip at Eastleigh Dump, together with another mini a few years younger. Rust was a feature, particularly on the chromework. I had to take the best parts from both bikes and combine them, and paint the saddlepost, stem and front wheel. The front suspension was completely useless, the rubber having lost all springing. Also, the cranks were very short which seemed to make it go very slowly. Nevertheless, I loved the bike and used it to ride all over Newcastle as a first year student. Novocastrians will recognise the magnificent Heaton Park pavilion, constructed from the remnants of the old Manors station, an elegant piece of recycling. At Christmas I well recall pedalling down the Coast Road to try to get some Renault 5 piston rings from the dealer, only to be told that delivery could be up to 6 weeks. In my second year, I'd got hold of a full size Moulton so the Mini gained less attention. But nothing seemed quite so much fun.

Mini Rescue

Issy of "Issy's Cycle Jumble" and I decided to try to do something to raise the status of the Moulton Mini and make sure that no more were callously discarded. We began buying them up and taking on unwanted bikes, and also trying to provide people in need with the parts to finish their restorations. Our name for this service was Mini Rescue. We were contacted by the late Mark Apsey who was also a fan, and over the years he had stored around twenty Minis in a shed. One evening he brought them all around and donated them to Mini Rescue FOC. Since then we have re-homed all of the good bikes and cannibalised the few rusty ones.

forty spoke wheelWith Minis, the key problem areas are the wheels, the mudguards and less so, the front suspension. Only the first Bradford bicycles and the later hub geared models were made with 28 spoke wheels. Raleigh reduced the spoke count to 20 to save cost, and these wheels generally need rebuilding. To be honest, a Mini with no gears is not a good proposition. You really need the 3rd gear to get the most from such small wheels, and Minis are also a little slow on inclines. We got a spoke roller and began making the very short spokes to build new Mini wheels with hubs, and radial front wheels on good QR hubs. I discovered that using a 40 hole rear hub and a 20 hole rim, it's possible to build a 20 spoke wheel with a hub gear and 40 hole hubs are plentiful. Look carefully at how the spokes are arranged on the hub by clicking on the photo.

Issy BoA Jumble SmallAt the 2001 Bradford-on-Avon Jumble Issy bought the gold Moulton Mini Deluxe that you see in the photo on the left. This was the bike that launched Mini Rescue in the Moulton club Magazine, "The Moultoneer". The result was a steady stream of great enthusiasm from a small number of people. Club member Nick Hando bought a Mini from the Magazine's then Editor Tony Hadland. He entitled his e-mail "Tony Hadland and the Super 4" following this by saying (hilariously) that it sounded like a cheesy beat combo. Some time later we finished the restoration of the gold Mini Deluxe and in fact it is the purple and green machine in the photo on this page.

One of the most prolific Mini restorers of recent years is the multi-coloured Mark Harbun. He has been through most of the palette of RAL colours at Redditch Shotblasters. His bicycles are often not the perfect ones that others would go for; one or two have the rear racks missing but they all end up looking fabulous, with eye-popping colour combinations.

Unfortunately Minis do have the irresistable temptation of an extra seat at the back in the form of the rear carrier. As a result, around half of Minis have a bent down tail tube. These were the ones ridden by children. What you tend to find is that the earlier bikes are often damaged whilst the later unsprung Minis are still straight. Raleigh must have used a stronger tube on the tail.

Miserable Raleigh Penny-Pinching

So, I've touched on the miserable, penny-pinching Raleigh feature of the lack of a front spring. This happened on the last series of Mini after 1971. The name of the offender was the Midi, and it took over from one of the best Minis, the Minx. Unfortunately there are still plenty of these rotters around. My guess is that Raleigh were just winding up the whole Moulton operation and wanted to use up stocks of parts.

A small-wheeled bike without a front spring is a rough ride. So much so that reports began to come in of cracking at the main beam - headtube joint. A special bracket was designed having a laughable "Starsky and Hutch" Ford Torino stripe. There was nothing amusing about the weight of it though, or the possible damage to the Moulton name. John Noakes showed you how to fit it on Blue Peter. After saying this, I have never seen an unsprung Mini frame with cracking. It must have happened in only one or two isolated cases.

Purple midi 01 thumbThe purple Midi on the right shows you the extended frame below the main tube where the spring should be. But note; I have tried a pair of sprung forks in the frame. The rubber bellows would not normally be present. It seemed that modifying unsprung frames was quite feasible, given that the front forks are usually saved from scrapped-off bikes. In fact, I have done this quite easily by simply hacksawing off the bottom of the headtube and fitting a shim inside the wider section to fit the lower race.

Racing Minis

Green midiAnd here is one that has been done. I later welded in the shim to make sure that it did not loosen. These two frames both have very straight tail tubes and nice un-bent rear carriers. Note that the carrier stays are brazed in, which makes the frame rattle-free and and rigid. It is a tough little unit, albeit with slightly more flex than the larger-tubed lazy F frames. It is well-known that a special version of the Mini was made in 1967 for racing; that was, the Moulton S Speed. This bicycle was made to order by the S works at Bradford-on-Avon and used Reynolds tubing. It had larger wheels and the main tube had a taller profile, but basically the design was Mini derived. The time-triallist Vic Nicholson broke the Cardiff-London record on this machine in 1967, taking the route over the newly-opened Severn Bridge.

Vic Nicholson Moulton S SpeedWell, I was intrigued. I was sure that even an ordinary Mini would be strong enough to carry me at least ten miles in a time trial. The Tin Can Ten is a fun time trial, based in 2008 on a route near Kegworth. I'd never raced in my life, but it seemed like the ideal opportunity to combine some experiments with some classic Sturmey componentry. So, I got busy on my Racing Midi project. The small 14" wheel is a bit hampered by the quality of tyre that is available for it. Utility and as soft as a space hopper. Nevertheless I did set up a bike to give the original wheels a serious appraisal. A racing hub gear (the four speed medium ratio) was built into the rear and the front suspension firmed up. This bike rode really well, but I couldn't meet the performance I was capable of on my ordinary Moulton APB.

A much more successful racing bicycle was made from a very unusual frame given to me by Shaun Moulton. This came directly from the Museum, as far as I know. It was originally pop purple, but then oversprayed in green. It has a full-size headtube that can accommodate the 16" wheel forks, but it has Midi decals on. I can only assume that it was a test-bed for all sorts of experiments. My idea was to fit the best modern tyres that are available in the smallest size. I tried Schwalbe Stelvios but found them a bit disappointing. They weren't that fast. Much better were continental Grand Prixs. These are ETRTO 406 size (around 18" diameter) very lightweight and can be inflated to 120psi. The challenge was to do a bit of agricultural engineering to the forks to get larger wheels to fit, then mess about with the bars and stem to get the bike to steer properly. These settings are very sensitive. After many tests and laps of my ten mile circuit, the ideal design evolved.

There are actually two bikes shown in the slideshow above, the racing Midi and iterations of the Mini 4 speed. The bikes change a couple of times through the sequence. Thanks to Geoff Perkins for the photos of the Midi at Bradford-on-Avon in 2008. I cycled several different circuits around the local lanes and got up to an average 18mph over 10 miles. On slight downhill sections I could easily get over 25 mph and with only a moderate following wind I was able to go at 32mph for three miles. This was using a Sturmey-Archer FM hub gear and I'm hardly athletic, so the Midi must be pretty good. Problems with pins and needles in my hands forced me to raise the bars to take weight off them, but the steering improved as a result. Disappointingly, the Tin Can Ten abandoned the Kegworth course and changed the format to a series of races. It didn't look so light-hearted so I never entered.

Modded Mini thumbMy small-wheeled Mini was downgraded from racing status and now serves as a fast, lightweight day ride machine. With the full-size alloy components and high saddle you are actually unaware of the small diameter of the wheels. It feels just as adult as any of the larger Moultons and every bit as quick as a Raleigh Record shod Deluxe. Interestingly, with the introduction of the Mk3, Moulton adopted the shorter length of the Mini in their adult machines. This has carried on ever since, through the AM spaceframes, the APB and now the TSR. I hope that you are persuaded that the Mini deserves a place in this illustrious company.