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.

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Barralumin Laterale Randonneuse c.1948

I’ve just completed this spectacular Barralumin aluminium bicycle made by Nicola Barra.

When I bought it there were a just a few parts missing including the wheels, and it has taken some time to find exactly the right period parts. No ‘restoration’ as such was carried out, just very careful cleaning and light hand polishing only… which took about 50 hours! It was very important not to damage the full set of original transfers. Being a large 62cm frame (c to c) Barra presumably added the extra lateral tubes for additional rigidity. All main tubes are in Barra’s extraordinary tubing which transitions from vertical oval at the head, to round, to horizontal oval at the BB.  The quality of workmanship is amongst the best I have ever seen on any bicycle and is a testament to Barra’s great skills as an innovative aluminium welder and frame builder.

Interesting features include the rear derailleur spring being INSIDE the chainstay. The spring is anchored inside the BB and a cable attached to the other end exits just in front of the RD. The handlebar stem is made by Barra and even has hand made aluminium nuts and bolts. Front changer is a Le Chat with a beautiful Barra-made sliding changer and lever. His own cantilever brakes are fitted and these have adjustable toe-in!

Barra custom parts: Front and rear racks, handlebar stem and bolts, Cyclo gear hanger, cantilever brakes with adjustable toe-in, duralumin brake wire hangers with adjustable rods (made from bicycle spokes), steel front and rear brake cable hangers (rear incorporating seat pin clamp), front changer mechanism and rod, internal rear derailleur spring. Internal dynamo wiring.

Other parts: Stronglight chainset with Cyclo Rosa alloy rings, Stronglight alloy BB, Lyotard pedals with Lapize duralumin toe clips, Cyclo alloy 4 speed rear derailleur, Le Chat front derailleur, AVA handlebars, GB end plugs, Mafac Guidonnet levers, Mavic 650B rims, MaxiCAR hubs (blue seals), Trois Etoiles spokes, Bell wingnuts, Grand Bois tyres, Ideale 57 saddle, Soubitez dynamo and lamps.

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L. Pitard Campeur Bicycle c.1948

Louis Pitard Cyclocamping bicycle c.1948. Frame number 388. Made in Paris to high specification this bike is light and has all the best parts of the period. The front rack is braced to the front brake cable hanger, whilst the rear low-rider rack is removable. I suspect the tubing is either Reynolds 531 or top of the range Vitus, due to the low weight of the frame.

The bike was quite rough looking when I got it, but many hours of careful cleaning brought it back to a very presentable state.

There was very little wear on any of the parts. Pedals and chainrings are like new, so it clearly didn’t do much camping! I suspect everything is original except for the rear lamp. I replaced the perished rubber handlebar grips with tape and shellac, and replaced the broken rubber mudflap and damaged toestraps with leather to exactly the same dimensions.

Parts are: Early Mavic rims on MaxiCAR hubs, Stronglight chainset with Cyclo Rosa chainrings, Cyclo rear mech, Le Chat/Pitard front mech, early MAFAC brakes and guidonnet levers, AVA randonneur bars, Soubitez lighting, Durex mudguards.

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Recent Discovery: G.Ferrand Randonneuse c.1950

A recent discovery in the UK, this is a rare machine built by little known constructeur George Ferrand in Macon, France around 1952 for Medwin Clutterbuck, a well known English Cycletourist. He travelled extensively in France, the UK and USA both pre and post-WW2. He was CTC Consul for Sussex and wrote a self-published memoir of his cycletouring adventures when he was in his 80’s. Prior to World War II Clutterbuck became friends with Rabauld, Editor of ‘Le Cycliste’, as well as the cartoonist Jacques Faizant, and he also met a jeweller and cyclotourist called Charles Daussin, who lived in Macon. It is assumed that Daussin introduced him to Ferrand.

The bike is on 650B wheels and is made of light tubing. It has numerous nice details: Finely electric welded frame, custom front and rear racks and bottle cage, hand made front changer, Herse type cartridge bottom bracket, custom stem with brazed on boss for bell, internal brake and dynamo cabling, internal expander seatpost, brazed on mileometer bracket, rear cable guide, chain slap guard.

Parts fitted are top quality too with the rare 5 speed Cyclo gear, MaxiCAR hubs, Bell wingnuts, Mavic canti’s, Stronglight 49D, AVA bars, GB end plugs, Lefol Le Paon guards, Ideale 48 Professionel alloy saddle, Wolber Super Randonneur tyres, Ad-Hoc pump, Radios lights and JOS dynamo.

It is completely original except for later Mavic rims. It is light and rides very well indeed.

Does anyone out there know anything about this fine maker?

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