Alex Moulton: Designer whose eponymous lightweight bicycle became a symbol of the Sixties

 

The name Moulton is synonymous with the upright bicycle launched by Dr Alex Moulton in the early 1960s and known for its innovative design and ride comfort. The bike became as much a symbol of that era as the miniskirt and the Mini – which Moulton was also involved. His expertise was engaged in creating a number of less visible, but no less significant, inventions which have eased the journeys of millions of car drivers. These include the Hydrolastic and Hydragas suspension systems, used for four decades on British Motor Corporation (BMC), Leyland and MG vehicles.

Alex Moulton was born in 1920 and educated at Marlborough College and Kings College, Cambridge, where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He was the great grandson of Stephen Moulton, who began making vulcanised rubber in Britain in 1848, based on pioneering work by the American inventor Charles Goodyear.

During the Second World War Moulton worked at the Bristol Aeroplane Company as a test engineer and went on to become personal assistant to the company's chief engineer, Sir Roy Fedden. In the late 1950s, following the acquisition of the family firm by Avon Rubber, Moulton established a new enterprise, Moulton Developments.

One of the company's first projects was work on new suspension systems for cars. Moulton had studied the mechanics of Citroen's 2CV – whose suspension was famously intended to allow carrying a basket of eggs across a ploughed field – and DS models. While these worked well, Moulton devised a combination of rubber springs and fluid – a mixture of water and alcohol – to provide improved damping. He termed this the "Hydrolastic" system.

The year 1962 was an important one for Moulton. In August the BMC Morris 1100 was launched, based on design work by Sergio Pininfarina (Independent obituary 10 July 2012) and featuring Moulton's Hydrolastic suspension system. Writing in 2003 about the driving experience in the Morris 1100, the motoring journalist Keith Adams observed: "Back in 1962, family cars were expected to wallow, crash and bang – they were simply not interested in going around corners, and suffered A-roads because they had to. The 1100 changed all that. Venture on to a typical English B-road in it, and the first thing that strikes the driver when he hits a corner is the fact that there is almost no body roll."

In November 1962 he showed his newly designed bicycle at the Earl's Court Cycle Show. Having sought for several years to market an innovative design, he had discussed with Raleigh the possibility of collaborating with the company. When the negotiations did not work out, he decided to go it alone and set up Moulton Bicycles Ltd. The bicycle historian Tony Hadland told The Independent: "In the bicycle world this was the equivalent of Decca turning down the Beatles."

The basic concept of the bicycle had remained pretty much unchanged since Victorian times. With its small wheels, high saddle and rubber suspension, Moulton's design was a radical departure from this traditional shape. He explained in a later interview that the Moulton F-frame cycle design 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."

A month after the launch, the cyclist John Woodburn broke the Cardiff-to-London record on the company's "Speed" model, averaging 24 miles per hour over a distance of 162 miles and keeping the Moulton name firmly in the public imagination.

Within a year Moulton had become the second largest builder of bicycles in the country, manufacturing at its own site and at Fisher & Ludlow, part of BMC. Other manufacturers tried to copy elements of the design. Raleigh, for example, launched its RSW16, with a similar open-styled frame, but was unable to emulate the success of the original. Five years later Raleigh responded by acquiring the rights, and began manufacture based on Moulton's own designs, retaining him for the next 15 years as consultant.

In 1964, following collaboration between Moulton and the car designer Alec Issigonis, the Hydrolastic system was first fitted to the Mini and went on to be used in millions of vehicles over the next four decades. Moulton continued to develop and improve the suspension system. In 1973, when the Austin Allegro was launched, it implemented his new Hydragas concept, using nitrogen to provide the "spring" mechanism.

Moulton was awarded the Royal Designer for Industry award in 1968 for achieving "sustained excellence in aesthetic and efficient design for industry", and the CBE in 1976 for services to industry. In 2007 the book A Lifetime in Engineering, in the form of an interview with the cycling historian John Pinkerton, appeared, followed two years later by the autobiography Alex Moulton: from Bristol to Bradford-on-Avon.

Last month, guests, including the designer Sir James Dyson and the architect Lord Norman Foster, were invited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moulton bicycle at the inventor's home, The Hall, in Bradford on Avon. Foster said at the event: "The 50th anniversary of the Moulton bike – what an occasion, what an anniversary, what an icon. Synonymous with the Mini, the mini-skirt – the mini bike. So, heartiest congratulations – great occasion, great bike. And also great to ride, I have to add."

Dr Alexander Eric Moulton, engineer and designer: born Stratford upon Avon 9 April 1920; CBE 1976; died Bradford on Avon 9 December 2012.

News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer was final surviving member of seminal punk band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice