Dr Alex Moulton had a keen interest in cycling during his childhood, and had cycled during his time at university in Cambridge. However, it was during the Suez Crisis of 1956 that he started thinking about cycling a serious mode of transportation.
He started using a Hetchins and while he marvelled at it’s light weight, he began to question the traditional bicycle design, and how it could be generally improved.
He noted that the bicycle had remained essentially unchanged since the introduction of the Starley Rover or “safety bicycle” in the 1880s.
Dr Moulton was directly influenced by his involvement with the Mini around this time, and how the reduction of the size of the Mini wheel had allowed the architecture of the car to be improved.
Hitherto, high quality smaller diameter tyres were not available, but Dr Moulton’s used his involvement with Dunlop, to have such a tyre developed for testing. His research found that using quality tyres, at high pressure, the performance of smaller diameter tyres was at least similar to, if not superior to larger diameter tyres. The optimum tyre size was found to be approximately 16 inches in diameter.
Dr Moulton considered that it was a natural thing for any vehicle carrying a human to have suspension, for comfort. The use of smaller diameter tyres also necessitated the use of suspension for comfort.
This allowed Dr Moulton to experiment with changes to the architecture of the bicycle, including the step through frame.
He had been dissatisfied with the “cross bar” on a conventional bicycle, which he regarded as unsafe, as it did not allow for easy mounting or fast dismount.
During prototyping, the concept of frame separation, and the name “Stowaway” were conceived. Dr Moulton was not interested in a folding frame. He considered advantageous the ability to split the weight in two, and carry or stow them separately.
Dr Moulton never intended manufacturing the bicycle himself, and instead tried to sell the idea to Raleigh. After some initial interest, Raleigh rejected the idea. Dr Moulton performed some market research, and based on this decided to go into production himself.
The Moulton Bicycle was launched at the Cycle & Motor Cycle Show at Earls Court in 1962. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and once the bicycle went into production, demand was high and the factory at Bradford on Avon was unable to keep up.
The British Motor Company, BMC, with whom Dr Moulton had worked with on the Mini and other cars, offered to build the bicycles at their factory in Kirkby, near Liverpool.
Dr Moulton was keen to prove that his bicycle was superior to the classic bicycle, and in December 1962, John Woodburn broke the Cardiff-London record on a Moulton Speed. The Moulton bicycle was also successful on the track.
After observing the commercial success of the Moulton Bicycle, Raleigh developed a competitor, the RSW. Under pressure commercially, Dr Moulton eventually sold his company to Raleigh, and went to work for Raleigh as a consultant.