Throwback Thursday: Moulton APB
In the second of our regular series of posts about past Pashley and Moulton models, I talk to Dan Farrell from Moulton Bicycles and Adrian Williams from Pashley Cycles about the Moulton APB.
The Moulton APB (All Purpose Bicycle) first appeared in 1992. I asked Dan Farrell what he could tell me about the development of the APB...
Last year I looked briefly at the Alex Moulton AM-ATB and its place in history as the world’s first full-suspension production mountain bike. In Moulton circles, it introduced many new ideas – the simplified ‘hairpin’ frame construction and the adoption of 20” wheels being the most notable. Following the demise of the Moulton MkIII in 1974, all Moulton bicycles had been equipped with the unique 17” ‘Moulton’ wheel size and some owners found this limiting. Not so with the AM-ATB, as any ‘BMX’ size tyre would fit and the world of tracks and trails opened up to Moulton riders. As more tyres became available in the 20” size, the AM-ATB looked more attractive as an expedition tourer than the AM series did. Others equipped their AM-ATBs unashamedly for road use. The AM-ATB was somewhat appropriated for universal use, and it became a real ‘all-purpose’ bicycle.
Alex Moulton remained unsatisfied. His original intention was to reduce costs and bring Moulton ownership within reach of most discerning cyclists. The AM-ATB ticked the versatility box but it was still built in low numbers – and available in framekit form only – in his stable block in Bradford on Avon, and was reassuringly expensive. In an interview in Cycle Industry magazine in October 1990 he mused that “it would certainly be possible to make a less sophisticated version of the Moulton bicycle yet containing all the essential features. Of course it would be. And if anyone were interested in doing that, obviously I’d like to talk to them … I don’t put down the idea of somebody being interested in making a lower-priced on, a lower-cost one, under licence. ”
As it turned out, there were several ‘somebodies’ who were interested in such an opportunity and by early 1991 discussions were taking place between Alex Moulton and Pashley Cycles in Stratford-upon-Avon, based around fulfilling the pent-up demand for a ‘Moulton for the masses’. Several design changes developed the AM-ATB into what became known as the Moulton APB – All-Purpose Bicycle. The frame separation method was improved to functionally mirror the standard AM bicycle with the introduction of the AM-style hook joint (the AM-ATB had a separate tie-bar under the frame which was cumbersome to deal with) and the bottom bracket height was lowered. Both frame materials and manufacturing methods were changed to reduce costs – very much a necessity as the 1992 launch price of the Moulton APB would be just under £495, a quarter of that of a typical AM-ATB build. Componentry was also down-graded, and in hindsight some of the compromises required to get the price under £500 led to a bicycle that was overweight yet was ripe for upgrading. The original Moulton APB 12 was followed by the APB 5 and, in 1993, the APB 14 – the latter perhaps being the first model to feature components worthy of the frame onto which they were being fitted.
So – over twenty-five years on – how can you spot these early APBs? Most obviously, they’re black. All of them – 12, 5, 14; the former two being gloss black, and the latter satin black. Very early bikes have the centre joint fitted ‘the wrong way round’ (i.e. the kingpin is withdrawn from the left, as on the AM-ATB) as it was easier to build the frame jig that way. The first six months or so of production had no front carrier mounting tubes – like the 1970s Moulton MarkIII, a front carrier was not part of the original specification. Some early bikes had stainless-steel dropouts and other quirks as AM-ATB part stocks were used out. Rumour has it that at least the first five APBs built used 531 tubing from the AM-ATB, but whether this is true and indeed if any of the first five made it out into the wild is unknown.
In September 1995 the Land Rover APB was released. This was a 21 speed Moulton APB using the Land Rover name under licence.
Adrian Williams, owner of Pashley Cycles, recently recounted an APB story: "One morning before the launch of the Land Rover bike, the car manufacturer delivered two vehicles to the Pashley factory to test the APB on the Land Rover bike carrier. After a quick twenty minutes spent testing the bike on the carrier, the Pashley team disappeared for the rest of the day for a Range Rover road trip."
He went on to talk about the launch of the Land Rover APB and the striking point-of-sale display that went with it: "It was a rack for two bikes with a camouflage-netting background. It was well-received by retailers apart from the fact the camo-netting was previously used by the British Army in the desert and would scatter sand and dust throughout the bike shop every time it was touched."
1997 brought with it the RAC-badged APB 7. Writing for The Independent in that year, Mathew Hoffman called it a beautifully functioning machine: "My route to work is mainly along the Grand Union Canal towpath, which provides a good obstacle course for testing a bike. There is much stopping and starting to avoid pedestrians, fishermen and other cyclists - and the powerful cantilever V-brakes do the job very well. The surface of the towpath is made up of uneven paving stones and loose gravel, over which the wide tyres and Moulton front and rear wheel suspension floated serenely.
The most obvious feature of the APB is its small wheels, which provide several advantages. They are naturally strong - useful on potholed urban streets; the short overall length of the bike makes turning in and out of traffic easy; and the lowered centre of gravity makes for good balance at slow speeds and when carrying loads on the rear carrier rack. The RAC says it will be endorsing other bikes for other purposes. It has chosen wisely on the first outing."
In 2005 the APB was replaced by the TSR which was lighter and had over thirty design improvements.
Moulton Bicycles have recently fabricated 50 rear carriers for the APB and they are available at £135. Call 01789 290703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.