Alex Singer Randonneuse 1947

I realised that I have never featured one of my favourite bicycles, which was also the one that introduced me to the wonders of the French constructeurs. About 12 years ago I visited Neville March and his family near Bordeaux. I was already collecting Victorian and early 20th Century machines, and Neville had a great collection of these. But he also showed me his French touring machines of the 40’s and 50’s, and I was hugely impressed. It was the first time I had seen bicycles made by René Herse, Charrel, Barra and Alex Singer. His son Alexander, and daughter Helen were also very enthusiastic about them and they have continued the family collection after Neville’s passing. A number of the family’s beautiful machines are featured in Jan Heine’s essential book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.

What struck me about these bikes was the fact that they were envisaged as a completely integrated machine, designed as a whole rather than as a frame with an assortment of parts bolted on. Whilst British makers were selling frames to be fitted up with proprietary parts from Campagnolo, GB, Chater Lea, Williams etc.. the constructeurs were producing custom made racks, stems, gear hangers, front derailleurs and even brakes. There were many innovations, which came about largely because of the Concours, or Technical Trials, events of the 30’s and 40’s, where rival makers vied to make the lightest and most elegant bicycles and fittings. Those fittings weren’t just designed as novelties, but had to be practical and reliable over the rigours of the trials courses. Just look at the Alex Singer hanger for the Cyclo gear, not only beautiful, but strong and durable too:

They also made best use of the latest very light duralumin parts available from makers such as Stronglight, Mafac, Mavic, AVA, Lyotard etc.. The other feature that appealed was the fact that these bicycles are very subtle and understated in appearance. Lugwork was purely functional, without fancy decoration. Even colour schemes were restrained with some makers adopting a ‘house colour’, such as the Charrel Lyonnaise brown, and the Routens dark red metallic. I have often watched people on vintage bike rides not even give my French machines a second glance. It takes a keen eye to notice the beautiful details.

This Alex Singer was my first French bicycle of the Golden Age. It was built in early 1947 and it incorporates many of the innovations mentioned above. The frame is constructed from the superlight Super Vitus tubing, and is chrome plated. It has Nivex rear dropouts, with chain hanger on the drive side. The rear axle is split, allowing for easy removal of the rear wheel whilst leaving the chain in place on the chain hanger.

It has a Singer fillet brazed stem, clamped to the steerer tube like the modern a-head. It also has their own design of brake and hangers, with unusual arrangement for the cable anchorage at the back and an elegant little brazed on hanger under the handlebar stem. There are twin bolts for the seat pin, echoing the arrangement for the handlebar stem. The Cyclo derailleur hanger is a work of art in tiny tubing! Front and rear racks are custom made, and there are Mavic Inal mudguards and Mavic wheel rims. The spokes are the super thin and light Trois Étoiles, tied and soldered, laced to C.A.R. hubs (before the company became Maxicar). Tyres were supplied by Grand Bois in Kyoto, 650B x 42. Stronglight cranks are mated to Lyotard pedals, and the derailleur is the duralumin Cyclo 4-speed. Philippe Professionnel handlebars are fitted with Lefol brake levers. A very light Ideale 47 saddle with duralumin frame completes the picture.

It’s unusual that this machine doesn’t have a double chainset, particularly as the original owner came from an area not far from Lyon. As the bike is equipped with front and rear racks it seems to have been designed for touring. I can only assume that he was either a very strong rider, or that he avoided mountains when he went touring!

Chrome finish was usually reserved for the top level machines, and is a practical and hard wearing finish. However, after almost 65 years, some of it is peeling off, although there is no pitting to the metal beneath. I’m entirely happy with the patina and wouldn’t dream of re-plating it. From time to time I wipe over the peeling areas with an oily rag to protect it.

This is a fantastic bike to ride. Common to many of this period, the fork rake is very pronounced (and very elegant) and this leads to low trail geometry. Combined with large diameter tyres this contributes to a stable ride, with excellent cornering characteristics. To understand the theory behind low trail geometry there is an excellent article by Jan Heine here. The bike is very light, considerably more so than later machines of similar design by Singer that I have. The lightness is the more remarkable since it is equipped with racks, mudguards and dynamo lighting. I love the fat 42mm tyres, which I run at 55lbs. Rolling resistance is very low and it makes for a very comfortable and fast ride. It was my first French randonneuse, and it started something of an addiction!

Alex Singer Porteur c.1946


The frame of this Alex Singer was built around 1945/6. It has a very early frame number in the production of the Singer atelier. These early frames can be distinguished by having quite a different lug shape to the later type which became pretty much standardised from the late 40’s onward.

When I bought it, the frame had been modified by the Singer shop, probably in the 1970’s. It had some extra braze-on’s and the original Cyclo or Nivex gear mount had gone. As the frame wasn’t original I chose to make it into a porteur, inspired by Ernest Csuka’s own porteur which I photographed in the workshop many years ago, when Ernest was still alive and making frames. It is also an early 700c frame, modified over the years. Most porteurs of the period are single speed with a coaster brake but, like Ernest, I liked the idea of having some gears.


The rack for my bicycle was made by the Singer shop, and braze-on’s were added for the chain case. The finish is the Singer house ‘Bleu Foncé’.


Equipment includes MAFAC inverted brake levers on Philippe porteur bars, Singer stem, MAFAC brakes, Simplex gear, annular bearing BB, Stronglight chainset, Record 700c rims on MAXI small flange hubs, lightweight aluminium Porteur chain case (Thanks to Rob!) and Lefol mudguards. It has a Jos front lamp wired through the rack tubes, and an internally wired rear lamp on the chain stay.



The combination of the early frame with the lightest parts makes for a very lightweight machine, really great to ride. With the 4 speed gear it is suitable for longer journeys other than the post office run!

Alex Singer Sportif – Chrome c.1980


Constructed around 1980 by Ernest Csuka in Reynolds 531 tubing, this is a fairly minimal sporting machine for fast riding. It is light, and equipped with the finest French components of the period. The Tevano triple chainset, made by TA, is basically a copy of its Campagnolo contemporary, with some arguing that it is even nicer than the Italian piece of kit! Gearing is the excellent Simplex SLJ5500 group which functions smoothly and quietly. Braking is via Mafac Competition calipers fitted with new Koolstop blocks which are indistinguishable from the original rubbers in all but their considerably improved braking efficiency. Rims are Super Champion laced to Maillard hubs. The fittings are completed by Philippe bars and stem and a Brooks Professional saddle. There are the usual Singer refinements such as the custom made front brake cable hanger, chainstay protector loop, and brazed on rear cable hanger. Although the machine was filthy when I bought it, the chrome has cleaned up largely like new. 0000 steel wool was used to remove the worst grime and finally the frame was polished with Solvol Autosol. The bike had clearly seen little use.

Last week it was well tested on a ride in the Surrey Hills, including an ascent of Box Hill, as well as some steep and fast descending. The great thing about this machine is that it does everything well. The bike steers, brakes and changes gear without drama, and it inspires confidence. It compares very favourably with the very best Italian lightweights of the period, and the top of the range French components also match their Campagnolo cousins in pretty much every respect.

Click on photo for large scale image








Anjou Velo Vintage 2013 – Team Alex Singer to the rescue!


This year’s edition of Anjou Velo Vintage was an enjoyable affair, despite the weather trying its best to spoil it. Many hundreds of vintage bicycles gathered at Saumur, in the Loire Valley, for the weekend rides. There are many images of the event on the internet which capture the atmosphere far better than I could, but I’ve found no better than Romain’s fantastic photographs here. Tomoko was riding her Barra whilst I was on my 1948 Alex Singer. During the 87Km ride I glanced down at my Stronglight chain ring and saw that one of the bolts was coming undone. At the crest of the hill I stopped where a bunch of cyclists were congregated. By extraordinary chance they turned out to be Olivier Csuka ( the owner of the Alex Singer shop in Paris ) and ‘Team Singer’, all on beautiful Singer bikes, including a superb 1950 chrome tandem and Ernest Csuka’s personal bike, both illustrated in the ‘Golden Age’ book. An 8mm spanner was quickly produced and Olivier insisted on tightening the chain ring bolts for me. After many handshakes, the ‘Entente Cordiale’ was strengthened and I was on my way to complete the ride despite some vicious winds and heavy showers which necessitated hiding under a tree for a while.

Many thanks to Olivier Csuka and Team Singer!

Olivier Csuka lamenting my technique
Come on, let me do it!
Nearly there!

Hottest day of the year ride

First of all, my apologies for the lack of posts lately. Vintage Bicycle Blog is re-locating (subject to contract!) to the lovely countryside of the Lincolnshire Wolds, where a large coach house awaits the bicycle collection and workshop. I’ve been busy having a major clear-out and preparing for the move.

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year and, since its cooler on the bike, we went for a ride to the beer festival at the Compasses pub at Littley Green. The temperature soared to 32 degrees whilst we tasted a few fine real ales. There was a huge thunderstorm in the middle of the day, at which point we were safely under cover eating our lunch. In attendance was a very nice 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Le Mans replica, and there was ploughing by vintage tractors in the field behind. Fine examples of Fordson, Ferguson and Caterpillar tractors with period ploughs were in action. A lovely event with a very amiable atmosphere.

Later we cycled on to teas in Pleshey Churchyard, with wonderful home made cakes and lashings of tea. Tomoko was riding her 1946 René Herse, which she reports hardly needs pedalling at all, and I was on my 1970 Alex Singer.

All in all, a grand day out!

Autumn Ride – Herse/Singer

Today was a most splendid Autumn day… Crystal clear, very mild but hellishly windy. Tomoko and I set off from Leaden Roding through the small Essex lanes, to High Easter, High Roding and Mashbury, via Pleshey to our Lunch stop – The Compasses at Littley Green. It was warm enough to sit in the garden and enjoy a pint of newly formed micro-brewery ‘Bishop Nick’ 1555 Ale, and a roasted vegetable ‘huffer’. Bishop Nick is the brainchild of Nelion Ridley, formerly of Ridley’s Brewery. Ridley’s was bought by Greene King in 2005, and was shut down shortly afterwards leaving beer enthusiasts the poorer and Ridley’s pubs with inferior Greene King products. Now Nelion and brother Joss have revived their family’s brewing tradition with three fine new ales… all highly recommended, the 1555 being the slightly stronger special bitter. Suitably refreshed we pressed on, largely against the wind, through Hartford End where the now sadly derelict Ridley’s brewery stands, to Bishop’s End, High Easter again, and back to Leaden Roding. The Autumn colours are coming on nicely, hinting that there will be a magnificent display this year. Tomoko was mounted on her 1947 René Herse whilst I was on my chrome Alex Singer of similar vintage.

Click on photo’s for large scale detailed images

Alex Singer 650B Randonneuse c.1970

This is a fine example of an Alex Singer 650B Randonneuse constructed by Ernest Czuka in 1970. It has the Singer fillet brazed handlebar stem, internal expander seat post, and front and rear racks. Huret gears, Mafac cantilever brakes, TA triple cycletouriste chainset and lyotard pedals, Singer bottom bracket, internal dynamo wiring, Super Champion rims on Maxicar hubs. It was in one family ownership before I acquired it and the gentleman that it came from also gave me the original Sologne pannier bags, and the petite front bag. Everything works as it should, including the excellent dynamo lighting, and the bike, although not particularly light, rides beautifully. The previous owner, the son of the original owner who ordered the bike from the Singer shop, was a real pleasure to deal with (merci Gerard!) and this is definitely a ‘keeper’…… since it fits me so well, rides great, and the experience of acquiring it was such a joy.

Click on pictures for large scale detailed images

It’s in the detail… 1980 Alex Singer built by Ernest Csuka

I’ve noticed that, more often than not, people who are ‘interested’ in bicycles don’t give my French bikes a second look. It’s actually something that I rather like, because these bikes don’t shout…. like, say, a Hetchins ‘Magnum Bonum’ does… they speak in a quiet voice, and I prefer that. At a time when British builders top end benchmark was ‘fancy lugwork’ and ‘flamboyant’ paint schemes, the French constructeurs were building subtle, understated machines of the highest quality, bristling with beautiful details…. integrated racks, internal cabling and dynamo wiring, internal expander seat stems, fabricated front derailleurs etc.. Lugwork was restrained, but crisp and functional, fillet brazing superbly finished to make the lightest of frames. Ernest Csuka, not long passed away, was perhaps the last of the great constructeurs, and he carried on the traditions up until the last. These details from my 1980 Alex Singer 650b Randonneuse built by Ernest Csuka serve to illustrate the point…. In the third photo, the wiring for the front lamp passes through the slender tubes of the rack and is entirely hidden. In the last, the pump peg is neatly incorporated into the extended point of the BB lug.

Click on images for full size

Alex Singer 1970

An excellent example of the work of the great Paris constructeur Alex Singer, or rather Ernest Csuka, who took over the business when Singer passed away. Dating from 1970 it has beautifully filed simple spearpoint lugwork and is finished in the house pale blue metallic with part chrome stays and forks. This randonneuse is on 700c’s and is fitted with the Singer hand-made stem and front rack, and chainstay protector braze-ons. Mavic rims on Campagnolo hubs, Spidel derailleur and simplex retro-friction changers. TA cyclotouriste triple chainset and 6 speed block. Maillard 700 pedals. Mafac Racer brakes. Brooks Professional saddle on Simplex alloy post. Lined alloy mudguards with Singer custom mounting reinforcements. Shellac coated handlebar tape.