Monday, October 7, 2013

Retrogrouch's New Old Bike: Dave Moulton Fuso

I just picked up a "new" old bike the other day -- a bike that I've wanted since I first saw one back in 1985: A Dave Moulton Fuso.
1986 Dave Moulton Fuso - 27 years old, but still
looking good.

Dave Moulton was a highly respected frame builder originally from Worcester, England (where he built bicycles full-time from 1974 - 1978 -- though his frame building experience goes back a lot farther), who later moved his frame building operation to the USA (from 1981 - 1993). Today, Dave is retired from the bicycle industry and is a successful writer and blogger. He built quite a few custom-built bicycles with his own name, as well as some very nicely hand-built production bikes under different brand names to distinguish them from the more exclusive custom-built bikes. One of these hand-built production bikes was the Fuso.

The Fuso line was launched in 1984 and continued until Dave retired from frame building in 1993. The name Fuso was an Italian twist on Dave's last name. The bike has an Italian vibe to it -- or at least, Dave felt that Italian bikes like Colnago, DeRosa, and Cinelli were the main competition. The word Fuso is Italian for molten. Clever. The head-tube logo features an image of molten metal being poured into a mold. On the bike I just acquired, which is from 1986, that head-tube logo is a classy enameled badge. Later ones used a decal instead of a badge.

Nice-looking head badge.
I first learned of the bike from a magazine article in 1985 -- I believe the magazine was the now-defunct Bicycle Guide -- and they did ride tests of several production bikes built by men primarily known at the time for their custom-built frames; people like Dave Moulton, Ben Serotta, Ray Gasiorowski (Romic Cycles), and others. (by the way, if any readers out there can dig up a copy of that article, let me know -- I'd love to get a scan of it). The editors loved Moulton's Fuso, saying it was a great bike for all kinds of fast riding and racing. (Update 4/15/2014: I have managed to track down that article -- it was actually Bicycling Magazine, 5/85)

Several color combinations were available in the Fuso line, and the example I found is the classy red and charcoal gray which was always my favorite. It is completely built with what was then the newly introduced Shimano Dura Ace SIS group. In 1986, I would have scoffed at the indexed shifting (yes, I was a Retrogrouch even back then -- though the name had yet to be coined). I suppose after about 27 years, it's proven itself effective, but part of me is still tempted to put on a pair of 80s vintage Simplex Retrofriction shift levers (I have a spare set somewhere). It's what I would have done back then. Actually, if I were the original owner, buying a Fuso frame in 1986 and selecting components for it, if I couldn't have gotten Campagnolo at the time, I almost certainly would have picked SunTour Superbe Pro -- I always preferred SunTour over Shimano. But now, after all these years, Dura Ace is still around, and SunTour is pretty much gone. And the Dura Ace of that generation undeniably looks and works great.

I really like the look of the seat-lug/seat-stay cluster. The seat-stay treatment is unique and lovely. The Dura Ace seat post is a classic-looking piece, and the Selle Italia Turbo saddle was the perfect choice in 1986. 
That is a monster-long stem -- 13 cm! I think I'm going to need to change that before I can ride this. 
It's over an inch longer than any stem I'd be tempted to ride on. My arms just aren't that long.
Dura Ace brakes, and a Chris King headset. Those headsets were available in 1986, but I'm certain 
this one was installed later in this bike's life.
Dura Ace drivetrain shows signs of use, but still looks pretty good for a 27-year-old bike.
Dura Ace SIS shifters. I still could put on some retrofriction levers. 
It would be a total Retrogrouch thing to do.
"From the Frame Shop of Dave Moulton." The original bike shop decal is still on the seat-tube, too. The bike needs a pair of pedals. I've looked for 80s vintage Dura Ace pedals, but they're ungodly expensive today. The Shimano 600 (pre-dates the Ultegra group) pedals are similar in style to the Dura Ace, but sell for a good bit less today. I could swear I had a pair of the 600 pedals buried in a box somewhere, in need of a rebuild, but I can't find them anywhere. They would be an acceptable choice.

One might ask what was the difference between a hand-built production bike and a custom-built one. That can vary a bit from builder to builder, but in this case, I think I can give a decent explanation. The Fuso line of bikes was hand-built to a standardized design, with standardized measurements and angles in a range of different sizes. A customer ordering one could select the size they needed, and pick from a set range of colors (though the palette of choices expanded over the years). Because most of the design was standardized, Dave could build a number of frames and keep some in stock, to be painted in the selected color when an order would come in. A fully custom-built frame, on the other hand, was built specifically to a customer's order -- likely made-to-measure. With a custom-built bike, things like tubing gauge and specific measurements and angles could be varied for the customer's particular needs, riding style, and weight. It's also possible that certain details could be selected by the customer, such as lug style, or braze-ons for things like water bottles, or whether or not to have fittings for fenders. Exactly how much input a customer would have on a custom-built bike would really depend on the builder. Dave Moulton was first and foremost a builder of racing bikes, so a customer probably didn't get to go too crazy with special requests. But the cost for a custom-built frame would be a good bit higher than the production Fuso.

As previously stated, Dave Moulton retired from frame building in 1993. I've read articles on his blog where he explains that one of the things that affected that decision was the popularity of the mountain bike. By the late 80s and early 90s, sales of road bikes really suffered as mountain bikes surged. I remember visiting bike shops at that time and being struck by how few road bikes, whether for racing or touring, there were on the showroom floors. (A similar phenomenon happened not long afterwards where one would go to a car dealership or an auto show and find nothing but SUVs.). Dave did try his hand at making some mountain bikes -- which were very different from the competition's. He approached the mountain bike from a road bike perspective, making it lighter and more nimble, with much steeper angles and shorter wheelbase than the MTB norm of the day. I guess they didn't sell well (though I sure wouldn't mind finding one), and road racing bikes were really his thing. Eventually, it just wasn't economically viable to keep him going.

An interesting note on the Fuso bicycles is that the brand has been revived in recent years by Russ Denny, who was once an apprentice to Dave. He still builds bikes out of steel, some with lugs -- some more traditional in design, and some with a more modern aesthetic. Here's wishing him the best of luck.

Addendum: A coincidence. As I was writing this, 10/07/13, I was double-checking a fact on Dave Moulton's site and found that his latest blog post is all about how and why he left the bike business. Apparently it was 20 years ago this month.


  1. The Fuso frames were built in batches of 5 all the same, this lowered the cost and enabled me to keep frames in stock unpainted, until someone ordered that particular size. The seatstay caps were made with that angled curve so the same cap would fit on either side. I didn't need a left and a right.
    Dave Moulton

    1. Wow! Thanks for the info, Dave! And thanks for sharing it here. I really like that seatstay cap treatment -- it's cool to know the reason for it being that way, too.

  2. I have a Fuso that I bought as a frameset several years ago and built up with Campagnolo Croce d'Aune components. It is indexed shifting, but there's a retrogrouch component in being able to setup the first-generation Campy Syncro shifting so that it actually works well. It is a very nice riding bike and it climbs our steep Vermont hills quite nimbly compared to many other classic steel frames with standard diameter tubes. The only thing I don't really like is the pump pip on the back of the head tube. It looks a bit cheesy, like a short piece of 1/8" welding rod.

    One of the aspects of stock frames was that they gave builders work when in-between custom orders. Of course, the time savings of jigging up and doing the same procedure to several frames of the same size at the same time would be significant, as well. When purchasing a used bike, it is more likely that one of these production frames would be a better choice than a custom which, by it's nature and name, was specially built for someone else, not you.

  3. Nice bike. I'm fortunate that while "too tall" I can ride a standard or stock geometry frame providing it's large enough. So even with a "custom" build, I end up with a frame that would match a stock frame for angles and lengths. A lot of builders didn't really think too hard about how they specced their larger frames, though, and 531 Reynolds gets a bit whippy on large frames unless oversized tubes were used. Those downtube shifters are a looooong way away, though :-)

  4. Hello, i have a bike of yours and I do not know the size or the year of it. Would you be able to help me in any way? Thank you

    1. Isabella B, if you look on the underside of the bottom bracket you will see two stamped numbers. One will be the frame size in cm measured C-T (center of bottom bracket to top of toptube). The other is the serial number of the frame. You can go to Dave Moulton's Frame Registry and find more information about the likely production year. Please send your frame information to Dave to have him add it to the registry. Dave built approximately 2,500 FUSOs and it is exciting to have more of them surface. There is a Dave Moulton Bikes group on Facebook and it is open to new members.

  5. I have a 30th Anniversary Fuso (on Dave's registry) for which I am the original owner, original paint. When I bought it, I spec'd with Suntour Superbe Pro components (you're right, Brooks, a fabulous group that was much better than DA at the time), Mavic GP4's, Cinelli cockpit, Selle Italia saddle, and in my nod to the new age, Look clipless pedals (black). I've changed out pretty much everything on it except the cockpit (every shop I've ever taken it too has said "Why would you ever change that?". It is still a fabulous, fast bike, and every time I ride it I always note that it is a very aggressive bike to ride.

    I don't take it out in the rain anymore... it is more or less a Sunday, nice weather bike. It's been ridden through rains, snows, desert heat...

    I remember when I bought it, the shop told me "If you saw how Dave built these, you'd never buy another bike". I have, but I've always kept this.

    BTW... for you weight weenies... fully equipped, it comes in under 20lbs, and is 1.5 lbs heavier than my CF bike. Not significant.

  6. Back in my bicycle business days, our shop sold any number of steel framesets (Davidson, Serotta, any number of Italian makes). My favorite, though, was Dave Moulton, for a combination of craftsmanship, value, ride quality, and access to the framebuilder himself.

    I left the business about the same time Dave quit building frames. I kept my 753 Fuso Lux (Blue/Black, Mavic equipped) and my Fuso FRX (White, Campagnolo Chorus). Sadly, the 2000's wife (on short selling her house) sold every bit of bicycle stuff I had (Fit Kit, Campy full tool kit, NECA frame table plus 20 years of accumulated tools) as well as the Fusos, a Super Record equipped Gios Torino, and a heavily modified Bridgestone XO-2 for pennies on the dollar, and didn't say a word to me until the deal was done.

    I could easily rebuild the tool collection. The Fusos, though, are irreplaceable.