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.
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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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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.