THIS year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr Alex Moulton, one of the most significant design engineers of the 20th century. Next Wednesday (December 9) marks the eighth anniversary of his death in 2012.

Alexander Eric Moulton CBE, FREng, specialised in suspension design for vehicles. His works include the innovative rubber cone suspension system for the original Issigonis Mini, and the later Hydrolastic and Hydragas interconnected systems that graced millions of British cars from 1959 to 2002.

But he is perhaps more popularly known these days for the iconic Moulton Bicycle, launched in 1962 at the Earl’s Court Cycle and Motorcycle show and still made in Bradford on Avon.

Gareth Slater, volunteer steward at the Bradford on Avon Museum, said: “It was some time previous, back in 1962, that this small-wheeled bicycle had been introduced and became as much an icon of the ‘60s as the mini-skirt.

“The standard bicycle was now out of date; riding a Moulton became a symbol of belonging to the new age, part of Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’, of Concorde and the high-speed train.”

After his early work on aero engines Dr Moulton had worked on car suspension systems and was closely associated with Alec Issigonis in the design of the Mini and the Morris 1100.

Did the Mini’s small wheels suggest a fresh look at the bicycle? Small wheels with high pressure tyres gave less rolling resistance, but made for a rougher ride on a bumpy road, compensated in a car by good suspension.

So the new bicycle would have to be sprung. At the front, this required a long head tube to contain the spring; at the rear a pivoted fork acting against a rubber buffer. New types of steel tube made it possible to replace the traditional diamond frame with a radical new design, the ‘F’ frame.

It seems that Dr Moulton was surprised at the popularity of his bicycles and the surge in demand. He ordered that the new factory being built in the grounds of The Hall should be doubled in size. A Moulton Bicycle shop was opened in St Margaret’s Street. The Standard model cost £25-9s-6d going up to £43-19s-6d for the ‘Safari’ - more expensive than ordinary bicycles, but well worth it for those hooked on the new cycling fashion.

With frames being made by BMC at Kirkby (Liverpool) production surged to 1,000 a week with more being made abroad under licence.

Bicycle makers Raleigh countered in 1965 with their own small wheeler, cheaper than the Moulton but without the springing. Sales of the Moulton dropped and in 1967 the company was sold to Raleigh with Alex Moulton as their consultant.

His new Mark III was made by Raleigh until it was dropped in 1974. Cycling was going out of fashion as more people owned cars and in the early 1980s Alex Moulton bought back the rights from Raleigh.

The Moulton still had its enthusiasts and new more refined designs were developed and made in the workshops in the stables of The Hall, with a test track laid out in its garden.

The new bicycles with their space frame construction have become expensive playthings, costing from £1,250 to £16,950 but still with an enthusiastic following, especially in Japan.

The Bradford on Avon Museum's website gives details of its openingtimes and events.

The museum has published 15 books on local history: the complete list is on the website, and they can be ordered from Ex Libris in The Shambles while the museum remains closed. Modestly priced, they make great Christmas presents. One of the titles - a history of rubber production in Bradford on Avon - has recently been revised and updated with new material. It is titled Rubber Town.