Pashley & Moulton
Posted on 12 October 2008
Editors note: Meeting the late Alex Moulton was perhaps the greatest privilege we have ever had. And, looking back, we agree with his principles but not with the undemocratic pricing of his bikes. If the diamond frame is indeed wrong and "shape" can solve problems rather than materials, then some attempt would need to be made to lower the price of "space frame" design. We hope Pashley is interested in carrying that legacy. Pashley was our first stab at carrying real city bikes from Europe. Unlike the Dutch, who made it very difficult to do business, Pashley and Curbside had a lot of cultural connection (and no, it's wasn't just the queen). We needed a bike that was sturdy like Dutch bikes but with a self-reflexive sense of design, provenance, and craftsmanship (the Dutch build a better bike but tend to tastelessly commodify it - still a problem today). But, Pashley revealed a very sort of demographic problem. Unlike Holland, where everyone rides the same black bike - where bicycles may in fact be the great social leveller - Pashley is a bit of a "posh bike", most often seen in Notting Hill. That meant it tended to be more precious than it was durable, although the greatest problem was their use of the Sturmey Archer five speed hub (which is, simply put, awful). Today, Pashley does a much better job but we've since moved on to Achielle. Why? Because we get Dutch quality with good design, remarkable craftsmanship and the ability for you to customize color and spec as you see fit.
Ah, England. Undulating hills, stone-fenced pastures, and the local pub. Pashley may be the most romantic bicycle company on earth.
Based in Stratford-upon-Avon - the home of Shakespeare - the company has been making bikes for over 80 years, making them one of the most experienced bicycle manufacturers on earth. Like Brompton and Moulton, Pashley bikes are made entirely by hand in the UK. It may be argued that the last remaining vestige of the industrial revolution is the English bicycle industry, but that is not even true. These English companies operate more like a medieval guild where craft comes before output, and attention to craft beats out attention to logistics. Now, that’s a breath of English country air!
We love Pashley. The staff spend a great deal of time fussing with details like colour, fonts, and form. They are aesthetes of the highest order and are moved by such principles as elegance and fit. Watching the frames being hand brazed and painted in Stratford by grizzled old employees feels like the place hasn't changed since 1926 - when the company first started business. Pashley is the last-man-standing in the English bike industry. Through their commitment to artisinal manufacture and dedicated craft, the company makes a bike that is simply impossible to replicate elsewhere.
Many things are new at Pashley this year including a merger with the famous Alex Moulton bicycles. And we had a chance to meet the man himself.
Alex Moulton is something of a ‘doctor of the church’ for the bicycle world. By introducing the Moulton in the early 60’s, Alex Moulton revolutionized bikes into an easily storable, rapidly accelerating, vertically compliant, laterally rigid, and totally unisex frame. If this sounds like swahili to you, consider this: as all forms of transportation have evolved (the train, the car) the wheels have grown smaller. Smaller wheels have less contact, therefore less drag. Smaller wheels cut less air - again, less drag. Smaller wheels do not have the tire and spoke flex of a larger wheel, thus more efficiency. Finally, smaller wheels are stronger and accelerate rapidly. The Moultons are so fast that the UCI banned them from all races, it made the French bike companies angry. Well, ha!
The problem with small wheels, however, is that they do not absorb shock. No problem, sayeth Moulton. It is never the role of the wheels to absorb shock in the first place, it is the frame. And here we reach another sedimented problem. Bikes have large wheels and diamond frames for no other reason than tradition, but these are the two problems that must be changed - and not fixed with weaker materials like carbon fiber. A diamond frame is a vertical plane that flexes too much horizontally (in other words, it evaporates a great deal of pedal-input) and is stiff like the devil when it comes to absorbing the kind of shock that rattles your teeth out. The answer: the space frame. A space frame in an architectural term and refers to how a truss flexes one way but not the other. A Moulton frame absorbs nearly all high frequency vibration in the frames vertical flex and transfers all pedal-input with its horizontal rigidity. Add to this a full suspension system that only becomes active on big-hit bumps and you have the true evolution of the bicycle - on small wheels.
Alex Moulton is not only responsible for the revolution in small-wheeled bikes, but several automotive suspension systems (the Austin Mini being his most famous) and too many patents to count. The man is an engineering genius. He also lives on an estate. Not a little house, but a full-on estate in Bradford-upon-Avon constituting several acres and a beautiful Jacobian house in the center. The production of Moulton takes place in the old stables and the newest employee has worked there 18 years. When we met them they were putting together a Moulton New Series - no mean task. Welding stainless steel is impossibly difficult - and expensive, since it uses silver as the braze. The stainless steel Moultons are simply breathtaking in their beauty. Moulton has not only invented the worlds most advanced bicycle, he has also made it into a work of art. The first time we saw Moulton was at the MoMA in NYC, and this comes as no surprise. We’re a young bunch and we were thrilled when the 88 year old Alex Moulton gave us the thumbs up and told us he was impressed. Thanks Alex! We’ll do what we can to carry on your legacy.