It is with great pleasure, then, that I introduce the first in a series of occasional blog posts reviewing what I believe to be the best bikes on the market suitable for getting about town. And the first bike to be tested and reviewed is a new product from a British bike design legend; Moulton.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Moulton Bicycle Company, their super light-weight ‘space frames’ have been making waves (and winning races) since the 1960s. Designed and pioneered by industrialist Alex Moulton the hallmark of all Moulton bikes are their small wheel set ups, stiff, unisex, low-slung separable frames, full suspension (a good 30 years before suspension bikes became mainstream), and an unusual 40:60 weight distribution for the rider. Having been through some significant ups and downs over the past 30 years, this resilient British bike builder now produces all of its designs from the Moulton HQ in Bradford on Avon, near Bath. Many of their bikes are at the top end of the price spectrum with the very best designs (the sort that set speed records or could take you around the world) costing 1000s of pounds and commanding an enthusiastic group of avid followers. But a new model is about to change all that...
The Moulton TSR2 has been specifically designed to appeal to the urban and commuter market and is set up with lots of nifty new ideas to make your ride around town all that more appealing. At first glance this is just a cool looking bike, but a closer inspection reveals all manner of unusual and exciting features. Most obvious of all is the absence of a chain. You’ll never have to clean and oil a chain again with the TSR2 as it’s propelled by an 11mm 3/32 rubber belt drive. This makes for really smooth and super quiet running. Having never ridden a belt driven bike before I was worried that the rubber would be flimsy and susceptible to perish but my friendly Moulton expert who joined me for the test ride assured me it would out-last your average bicycle chain, and perform better too, by an order of 10 and without any of the maintenance associated with a traditional bicycle chain.
This bike is a real fixie-killer, too. It’s got all the uncluttered elegance of a fixed wheel bike, and handles superbly due to its tiny 20” high-pressure wheels and rigid frame – you could fling this bike around any urban obstacle course and it would perform outstandingly for you. But this is no single speed hipster fad bike; concealed inside the rear wheel is a Sturmey-Archer S2C 2-speed kick-shift hub. Kick back one click to change up or down a gear, kick back again for a very effective back-pedal brake. The gears are suitably far apart to actually make a difference to your riding speed and comfort, and whilst the two-click back-kick system takes a little bit of practice and getting used to it makes for a very easy to use bike, with elegant uncluttered handlebars with no rear brake lever or gear shifter and cable. On my test ride I was first off at the traffic lights and soon cruising along at a rate of knots, despite feeling like I was putting in hardly any effort. When I did push the pedals the TSR2 fairly flew, but there was none of that shaky vibrating ‘about to disintegrate’ feeling I’ve had when riding other small wheeled folders at speed.
Moulton have been the pioneers of bike suspension for nearly 50 years now, so have had plenty of time to perfect their technique. Despite the TSR2 being an entry-level model in the Moulton stable, it doesn’t disappoint; the attention to detail, knowledge of design and engineering, and skilled craftsmanship is as much in evidence here as it is in their high end bikes. With high pressure tyres you’d expect the ride to be a real bone shaker, but the unique frame ball and front suspension make for a super smooth ride. When riding along at cruising speed I felt like I was gliding along on a tiny-wheeled cushion of comfort; when I put the bike through its paces and stepped up the rating the feeling changed; gone was the soft cushiony feeling, replaced with a firm, fast and responsive ride, but one which absorbed every bump and hole in the road. There aren’t many rides on the market which could give you that kind of diversity. So many bikes are designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, but here’s a bike which could get a lady to work in high heels in high comfort and which you could win races on at the weekend.
The frame is available in a gorgeous electric orange or more conservative black, and black mud guards are an optional upgrade. A series of luggage options are also available, though it’s a shame the beautiful frame doesn’t have braze-ons for more heavy duty bags and panniers suitable for touring. It’s a shame, too, that Moulton didn’t choose a harder working hub to support lights. I think integrated lights using a front and rear hub, whilst adding to the weight of the bike, would have truly set this bike aside as a serious contender on the commuter market. Indeed, the lack of lights and luggage options, and the fact that this bike separates, rather than folds, makes it unlikely that the TSR2 will be a challenge to that other British bike designer Brompton, who currently dominate the small-wheel market. The ability to fold a Brompton in seconds and jump on a bus or tube just gives them the edge.
But if you are bored of middle of the road bog-standard commuter hybrids and are looking for a new bike with a bit of class, a shock of colour, and a little patriotic zeal, you’d struggle to do better than the TSR2. If you like to be able to arrive in style having barely worked up a sweat, but also want a bike which responds when you put some effort in (Dutch town bike riders, you know what I’m talking about!) then this could be the new ride for you. Priced at around £950 it qualifies for the Government ride-to-work scheme, and for that price is guaranteed to put a smile on your face each and every ride.
When I took the TSR2 for a test ride around Hammersmith I was wary of just what all the fuss was about. My friendly Moulton enthusiast who I rode with is so passionate about the bikes that I was instantly sceptical (I’m always sceptical of enthusiasts!) By the end of the ride however all feelings of scepticism had evaporated; this is a beautifully built, wonderfully designed, great fun bike – and I want one!
The Moulton TSR2 is available to order direct from the Moulton factory, or via Evans Cycles and other selected London bike shops.
This review is formed of my own feelings and opinions; I have not received cash or favours from the bike designer or their associates in return for this review.
Are you a practical town bike designer? Get in touch via the ‘About Me’ section if you’d like me to test your ride!