Nine brilliant (and quirky) bikes
1 My Triang tricycle
My number one bike is actually a trike, not a bike! It was a Christmas present from my grandfather, when I was about four or five years old. I was crazy about that trike, and the feelings I had about it then have stayed with me throughout my life.
Tellingly, the thing I loved most about it, was its tin-can ‘boot’ (or ‘trunk’) that you could fill with toys and other important stuff.
The photo here is from a recent posting I found on eBay, but I’m pretty sure my trike was exactly the same model, and the exact same bright red colour.
2 My first bicycle
My father bought me my first bicycle when I was about 12 years old. It was a second-hand bike, brightly re-painted in maroon and white, with no gears, and one ‘lever-and-rod’ brake. With my dad, I proudly wheeled it home from the ‘Barrows’ market in Glasgow. It’s one of the few positive memories I have of my dad — to be cherished, after all these years.
We took it on a couple of holidays, to Tiree in the Hebrides, and to the East Neuk of Fife. I’ve got no memory of it after that. But I loved that bike, and I can still savour the intense feeling of freedom it gave me, on the few occasions that I rode it on my own.
3 Moulton APB
Several decades later, I began cycling again, when I bought this second-hand Moulton APB on eBay.
I’d always admired the Moulton's quirky design, yet I’d never seen one in the flesh. The Moulton APB is a cheaper (but heavier and clunkier) version of Alex Moulton’s original AM bike. But it still has the AM’s unique combination of small wheels, front and rear suspension, and a space-frame that splits into two parts.
I loved it on sight, and it carried me on my first tentative cycle tours across England’s classic C2C route, and along the West Coast of Scotland.
4 Brompton folding bike
I bought my Brompton in 2006, looking for a bike that folded properly, to take on trains, or into cafés and hotel rooms. This was a couple of years before Brompton transformed their bike’s old-fashioned ‘nerdy’ image, into the trendy urban steed that it’s become today.
I set off with my Brompton on my first ever solo cycling tour, through Mull and Ardnarmuchan in the Hebrides, after I’d fitted it with fancy custom gearing called a Schlumpf MountainDrive to help me up the hills. I’ve still got this bike; it’s still much loved, and I’ve ridden more miles on it than any other.
My wife now has a (green) Brompton too, and we’ve taken our Bromptons on cycling trips all over Europe, by ferry, plane and rail. And of course it’s now become cool and fashionable to be seen riding one!
Although the Brompton is now heavily marketed as ‘city’ bike, (with some crazy-expensive designer-labelled accessories), it’s actually a superb all-rounder too.
It’s not the best ride in the world, but it’s sporty and nimble, and much better than you’d expect. It’s very strong and reliable, and happily carries big loads, including full camping kit (for up to two people!). There’s a sturdy rear rack, and a great range of integrated luggage, including a padded carrying case for the folded bike.
So, the Brompton is actually a great choice for a first bike, or as an all-purpose bike — easy and great fun to ride, easy to store and carry, and very adaptable for a wide range of uses and users.
5 Moulton AM7
An elderly gentleman approached me outside our local post office. Looking at my Moulton APB leaning against the post-box, he said: “I’ve got one of these”.
He told me that he still owned one of the original Moulton bikes from the 1980s, and we chatted about it for a few minutes.
Then, out-of-the-blue, he said that he wasn’t able to ride his bike any more, and he offered to give it to me. Of course, I said yes! Harry and his wife became our good friends, and his fantastic gift has been my pride and joy, and favourite bike, ever since.
The Moulton AM7 is a classic bike design, featured in museums and collections throughout the world. The photo alongside is a Moulton AM2 2-speed, on display in the New York Museum of Modern Art, and my AM7 7-speed is almost identical.
I ride it only occasionally now, as its original gearing is well-worn, but irreplaceable. I’ll never sell it, but like Harry, I might have to pass it on sometime. Hopefully not too soon!
6 Moulton TSR
This is a lighter and (slightly) more refined version of the Moulton APB. I bought this shiny black Moulton TSR 27 to replace my APB, although in honesty, the ‘improvements’ were fairly minor.
When seen alongside the original AM7, my TSR is not nearly as elegant or thoughtfully designed as Moulton’s first space-frame bike. But it’s a solid workhorse, very comfortable to ride, with wide range SRAM Dual Drive gearing, and it’s easily capable of carrying full camping kit for a couple of weeks in the North of Scotland’s version of summer.
I’ve still got my TSR, and it’s become an old friend. As I’ve mentioned below, I recently converted it to electric-assist, so it should happily see me though my last few cycling years!
7 ToutTerrain Silkroad touring bike
I love my small-wheeled bikes, for their aesthetics, comfort, and capability. There are only a few minor compromises, compared to traditional diamond-framed bikes with full-sized wheels. They are ideal for touring, with a low centre of gravity, and comfortable suspension to soak up the miles. There’s even a hidden benefit — that I discovered everywhere I went cycle touring, especially when I was on my own — they are fantastic conversation starters!
Nevertheless, for a few years I was seduced by the Silkroad, ToutTerrain’s full-sized trekking bike. When I bought it, after meeting its designer at a CTC rally in York, this was a brand-new and innovative concept: a touring bike with disc brakes, an integral stainless steel rack, and a Rohloff full-range hub gearing system.
The Silkroad was designed expressly for unsupported, long-distance cycle expeditions, and has since been used for several record-breaking round-the-world trips.
Of course, it was expensive, and over-the-top for my needs. But it’s much less indulgent than an expensive gas-guzzling car, and it always made me feel I was off on an adventure, even on a 30-minute trip to the post office.
It took me on a couple of ‘real’ adventures, too. With my son S, on our wonderful, mud-encrusted, off-road, winter ride along the South-Downs Way. And, with a fierce gale behind me, I barrelled along the Atlantic shore of the Outer Hebrides, years before it became the Hebridean Way.
I loved my Silkroad’s engineering, innovation, and style — but I was still pleased when I sold it to a younger, and much fitter man in Folkestone, who was overjoyed at getting such a fantastic machine at a bargain price.
8 My first Moulton TSR electric conversion
In 2018 I did a lot of research into electric-assist bikes (another blog post waiting to be written). I wanted to keep my small-wheeled bikes, or get new ones, but either way I didn’t want to lose the things I already loved about riding steel-framed, small-wheeled bicycles.
So, I ordered a front-wheel conversion kit from Nano Electric Bikes, and I fitted it to my Moulton TSR at home. The motor was blissfully silent, and the complete kit added less than 2 kg to the bike’s weight (plus 1 kg for each small battery carried). Easily light enough to still get up hills with the power off, with handling that felt almost exactly the same as before. It was straightforward to fit, and less than half the cost of the other alternatives.
In the blistering summer heatwave of 2019, the Nano gently assisted me on a perfect four-week cycle camping trip, exploring the shady cycleways of central Brittany.
9 My second Moulton TSR electric conversion
But when I got back home to the hilly north of England, what I’d suspected on a few coastal climbs in Brittany, turned out to be true…
The Nano motor wasn’t any help to me on steep hills!
I discovered that all front wheel motors are custom made for specific wheel diameters, and my motor was actually specified for a smaller 16-inch wheeled Brompton.
This meant that on my Moulton’s 20-inch wheels, the Nano motor provided its maximum power output at too high a speed to be useful for my aging legs. It took me up hills much faster — but with no reduction in effort. I found myself panting and struggling to get up to the speed where its maximum torque kicked in.
Lots of disappointing emails with Nano ensued. Eventually, I removed the Nano from my TSR, and re-fitted a motor, controller, and wiring components that I bought online from Chinese and German websites. (And since then, Nano have stopped listing Moulton conversion kits on their website.)
It took me months to research and install this new kit, but I’m super-delighted with the results. Even though, in the depths of this pandemic, I can’t ride my bike very far.
I hope to describe this second electric conversion in more detail in a future post. Also, I’ll try to take some better photos!