A short ride through lockdown London on 1946 Alex Singer Porteur

As we are allowed an exercise ride or walk each day, I chose to have a quick ride through central London, making sure to keep well distanced from other cyclists and walkers. I equipped the Singer Porteur with my Sologne fishing basket to carry my camera and a drink. First stop was Trafalgar Square, which was deserted, with only a security guard visible in the above photo.

Piccadilly Circus was similarly very quiet, with only a handful of people walking and cycling. There were very few cars on the roads generally. Buses were quite frequent but carrying very few people.

Piccadilly Circus

Moving swiftly on, I rode back through Shoreditch where I passed through quiet streets, one lined with graffiti.

A graffiti lined street in Shoreditch, with an advert for Gucci from the campaign photographed by Martin Parr

In Brick Lane I was surprised to see the 24 hour Beigel bakery open, but then I suppose they would probably only close in the event of nuclear war!

Good to see that the queue was keeping well distanced.

Just around the corner, in Redchurch Street, is one of my favourite shops, Labour and Wait. It’s an old fashioned style hardware store, where you can buy all manner of traditionally made household items including brushes, enamel ware, tools, and even some very nice work wear. The outside is finished in beautiful Victorian green glazed tiles.

The porteur has everything you could need in a city bike: Good Mafac brakes with Koolstop pads, mudguards, mud flap, chain guard, and a big front rack! Four gears are more than enough for London, which doesn’t really have any significant hills. It’s light and quick too, on Grand Bois 700c x 28 tyres.

I found that quite a lot of cyclists, in our current unprecedented situation, have failed to grasp the idea of passing other cyclists 2 metres apart. Because of the very light traffic this was easy and safe to do, but a number passed me annoyingly close. I kept moving quickly so that it was mostly me doing the passing, at the required distance, hanging back if necessary until traffic conditions allowed.

London is looking very unfamiliar, but the most noticeable thing for me, apart from the lack of vehicles, was the difference in air quality… and the quiet. The air was very noticeably fresher, and the few vehicles and absence of aircraft overhead made it pleasantly though uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps we can learn some lessons about our environment from the current crisis. Personally, I think we should have one traffic free day per week in central London and other major cities, so we can enjoy the benefits of clean air and the quietness of being vehicle free, and some respite from the norm. This should have the added advantage of encouraging the use of bicycles, which is always a positive!

Alex Singer Porteur c.1946

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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!