If the Moulton is the enthusiast’s small-wheeler, the Rohloff is the mile-eater’s hub gear. Dave Butler combined them to create the ultimate urban run around. Here he reviews his Rohloff-equipped Moulton TSR after 7,000 miles.
Moultons are different to other bikes – and my TSR (pictured above) is a bit of a one-off because I ordered it with a Rohloff hub gear. If the bike is a wonder of British engineering, this hub gear is top class German kit. The fourteen evenly spread gears have the same range as a 30-speed derailleur, with no overlaps of course. This hub gear is virtually bomb proof – needing only occasional oil changes by way of maintenance – but it is expensive, nearly doubling the price of the bike.
I added mudguards (why would you ride in Manchester without them?), front pannier racks, to increase its load carrying capacity, and Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, which are as near to puncture proof as you can get. I changed the saddle for a Brooks B17 – which always feel very unyielding for the first few hundred miles, but eventually become comfortable (maybe after your bottom has worn into them).
Why do I love it? It’s a unique design, beautifully made. It is comfortable on Manchester’s poor roads, and feels quick and responsive. The hub gear means maintenance is kept to a minimum. Downsides? It’s not cheap; nowadays a TSR with an 8-speed Sturmey Archer hub now costs £1300 without any extras. With a Rohloff 14-speed hub and accessories it would be pushing two grand. Mind you, a top-of-the-range Moulton would set you back eight times that.
In actual fact I am not a complete convert to the Rohloff. It’s nice in town to be able to change gear whilst stationary, the low maintenance makes it great for winter commuting – the chain will last for ever – and it is a lovely piece of engineering. But you have to back off a bit changing gear on the move, and a well set up derailleur still feels smoother out on the open road. It is noisy in the lower gears too, sounding a bit like a coffee grinder, though it gets quieter with more miles.
Wear and tear
In the 7,000 miles I’ve done on the TSR, the gears haven’t even needed adjusting, and the chain is still the original one with no perceptible wear. The frame and paintwork are as new. But I have had to replace the rims of both wheels, which had worn through. One failed quite catastrophically. (The rim fractured, the inner tube exploded, and a section of the rim wrapped itself round the brake caliper, bringing me to a rather abrupt halt. Potentially quite dangerous on a front wheel, but luckily I was going slowly.) I guess that was down to the greater hammer that the rims of small wheels get (more revolutions per mile). The experience has made me check the rims of my bikes fairly regularly, particularly if I notice any rubbing on the brakes.
The features of the Moulton TSR
The TSR is made by one of the few remaining British cycle manufacturers, the Moulton Bicycle Company. While the design has evolved since the 1960s, the following features have remained constant:
- A light-weight frame which fits riders of various sizes and provides a low step-through (great for oldies with stiff hips, or tight skirts, or both). The early bikes had a monocoque “F” frame, but this has evolved into a beautifully engineered lattice of thin tubes making up a “space frame”. It has good stiffness and ride quality and it separates into two pieces for storage or transport.
- 20” wheels. Small wheels are strong, they allow fast acceleration (because of a lower moment of inertia) and they provide responsive steering. They give this bike a low centre of gravity, making it stable when carrying loads. Finally, small wheels make for a compact bike that is easy to transport.
- High pressure tyres which reduce rolling resistance.
- Full suspension, providing a comfortable ride on uneven surfaces, despite the high pressure tyres.
The Moulton TSR range
There are currently five different types of TSR, distinguished mainly by the number of gears they have. The simplest bike in the range is a two-speed “kick shift” with an integrated back-pedal brake, belt drive, and straight handlebars, while the most complex is a 30-speed derailleur model with drop handlebars.
If you are attracted to the idea of a Moulton as a low-maintenance commuting machine, don’t have to cope with many hills, and haven’t won the lottery recently, the TSR2 (two-speed, belt drive) might be the one to go for. It looks great, particularly the one finished in bright orange, and is just under a grand to buy new. But you will need mudguards… and a decent lock!
Dave Butler, 29 May 2014
The current Moulton range can be viewed at the Moulton Bicycle Company website.
The Rohloff hub gear can be seen at the Rohloff website.
Dave Butler has cycled for transport for 45 years. He is a member of Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign and a CTC Right To Ride rep. He has also served on CTC Council. His other bikes include a 1990s Muddy Fox mountain bike and a Dawes tourer.