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Alex Singer Cycles and culture

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Alex Singer Cycles and culture

Old 11-07-21, 02:41 AM
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Alex Singer Cycles and culture

BF C&Vers,
I've been on a bit of a cycling journey of sorts these past few years. Moving to Paris wasn't the cycling heaven I had expected, and I found the urban terrain much less welcoming than the easily navigable and relatively safe bike lanes and trails in the DC area. As I mentioned in another post, combined with a new job that kept me on the road about 3 months out of the year my first two years here, the riding for me dropped off to almost nothing. I basically returned to running for the more time-efficient fitness benefits, then COVID hit and Paris became one of the most locked-down cities on the planet. I started doing longer trainer rides in the apartment to alleviate some of the boredom, and when we had a brief break between lockdowns in summer 2020 headed outdoors. I was just starting to regain some fitness and passion for the sport when I had a bad collision that took me out of it for months, and into another long lockdown period. All the above really harshed my cycling vibe.
At the start of this year I had a friend from work and her husband who got into cycling,and then into vintage bikes. Helping them out sparked my interest again, and that eventually led to a visit to Singer Cycles, the only place in Paris where I knew they'd be able to get the kind of parts and work their Dardenne bikes (see my recent post on these lovely rides) deserved. After that visit I couldn't get the bikes there out of my head.

I knew of AS Cycles from Bicycle Quarterly articles back in the early 2000s. I visited the shop once on a trip from Luxembourg during my last European assignment:
My first visit, almost ten years ago

The bikes and shop stayed with me after that. I hadn't met Olivier on that trip, but seeing the bikes was enough to make a real impact on me. Seeing them in person is much more impressive than photos. You can read about Olivier, son of Ernest Csuka and one of the original builders at the shop online. There's plenty of info out there, but one of the best is here:
Alex Singer article

On that trip this summer he let me ride one of the randonneur bikes that he'd built for a local gentleman to do the PBP. It was only around the block and in street clothes, but it was enough to get the wheels turning. You can't judge a bike (especially one built for someone else) by a ten minute ride, but you can feel the way a frame moves and handles bumps and potholes. A few hard pedal strokes let me see how it responded to power input. I'm not a professional by any stretch, but I have ridden my share of nice bikes. This was special.

So, I joined a French gentleman there one August morning (the French all take vacation in August, only one club member was present that day) for a 70km or so ride out of Paris. He was nice enough to not go on ahead as my low fitness and injury issues took their toll. It was the longest ride I'd done since the accident, and it took a week to recover from it. But...it showed promise...

My C'Dale Slate across the street at 7 AM, shop windows soaped over because just about everything in Paris closes in August, AS included.

Spool forward a couple of months and I found myself back at the shop, discussing the possibilities with Olivier one Saturday. It was a conversation about bikes, French culture, riding in Paris, and life. He wasn't trying to sell me a bike, and I wasn't pushing for any sort of answers about frames or prices. I'd said earlier I'd happily buy the bike I'd ridden on my last time at the shop, which he quickly dismissed as ridiculous. He builds bikes for individuals, and buying a bike made for someone else was as outlandish an idea as buying a suit tailored for another. As we talked the discussion turned to what sort of riding I intend to do, and what I would use a bike from them for. At some fuzzy point it became a talk about the bike he was going to build for me. I made a (substantial) down payment and that was a far as the crude subject of money went.


Some bikes on the floor, this one ready for shipping to a lucky customer in the U.S.

Rack detail.

This gentleman came in to discuss a routine repair

We went upstairs at the shop to share a congratulatory drink of one of his favorites:


So, I went back to my apartment that afternoon with a Singer on order. No, I don't know what it's going to cost, or how long it's going to take. Neither of those is the point. I have a bike from Alex Singer Cycles on order, and for now that's enough.

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Old 11-07-21, 03:04 AM
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Waaaaay cool!
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Old 11-07-21, 03:23 AM
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Congratulations, poprad ! I suppose the Banyuls 'sweetened' the deal.

BTW, that blue bike pictured above is awesome. Very inspirational.
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Old 11-07-21, 04:03 AM
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Terrific.
or, how could you not?
it is amazing the key components that are new and one assumes long out of production.
Mafac brakes, Maxi-Car hubs (which may still exist, I think they make some for wheelchair racers?)
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Old 11-07-21, 04:07 AM
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So when I left that afternoon Olivier said "we will see you for the ride tomorrow." It wasn't a question. I'd told him about my ride earlier and about my injury. Neither of these were relevant facts in Olivier's world. "you have to ride" was his answer.

So, early the next day in late September I was pedaling back to the AS shop. I met a lovely group of cyclists that morning. most of whom seemed older than I at 52. There were two young guys, and everyone was welcoming and friendly despite my poor language skills. Some were on Singers, some on vintage Peugeot and Colnago road bikes and a few newer fancy machines. My Slate was the oddball with its fat 650b tires and lefty fork. Combined with my lousy state of fitness I definitely felt some trepidation. Olivier led out with a brisk warmup along the Seine, heading out of town towards Versailles. I realized as soon as we hit some hills that I was without a doubt the weakest link of this chain. I was OK to keep up in the group, shielded from the wind and chatting away in my broken French, but once the road went upwards I was quickly spit off the back.

They were all nice enough to wait at the top, and there was no ribbing or eyerolls one gets in the "serious" road groups I've ridden with. This continued for the ride all the way to the halfway point near Rambouillet (the PBP start last time BTW) where we stopped for a pause of coffee and food. Many had heavy Belgian beers...in the middle of a brisk 100k ride...OK then. The conversation flowed, much of which I wasn't getting. My French really suffered during COVID with staying home so much, and I never did have a lot of the slang and shorthand versions of things. It was, nonetheless, a very enjoyable, if short, break.

On the way back I was definitely unable to keep pace. Olivier would drift back and encourage me to "pedale plus forte!" He was encouraging but I had the impression he wanted to judge my level of commitment as a rider. It was clear to me this was a part of the process when you order a bike from him. At one point the guy in front of me dropped his chain and I stopped to catch my breath and hold his bike up as he remounted it. We lost thr group and ended up riding all the way back together, he waiting for me at every hillcrest. I kept telling him to go ahead, as I knew the area well and could find my own way, but he claimed to not know the way. He's lived in Paris for decades mind you. Nice guy.

We got back and parted ways as we neared where I live. I needed to get home and ice my knee, as much as a few drinks with the group sounded attractive. It took a week to recover, again, but it showed me that I can still push and improve. I was glad I went to find that out, but all the more so to meet some of the wonderful folks in this circle.

The next week Olivier asked me to swing by the shop to discuss some build details...handlebar choices and such. I came by in the early afternoon, and while we did discuss some details (and he convinced me to change some choices), it ended up being an intro to a few of the group that hangs around. I met Thomas and Christian, a couple of French guys my age who both ride Singers and had their bikes with them to prep for the ride the next day. We drank a few friendly libations... and then a few more, all while talking bikes, the group there, and rides we'd all done. It was like an ad hoc welcome into a circle of friends, the crowd of cycling enthusiasts who orbit the sun of Olivier's shop.

We went downstairs and worked on their bikes (I watched and took pics), as they tuned and cleaned their Singers for the next day. Thomas's bike is close to exactly what I've ordered, a true randonneur in chrome and leather. We're also the same height, but I demurred when he offered to let me take it for a ride. Just didn't seem right. Christian had a lovely blue single speed fixie, but the frame is built so that he can run a derailleur for "when he gets older and weaker" as he put it.

Then Christian went and grabbed a few beers and brought them back, and we had one last drink before going our separate ways. Nice folks, warm and welcoming, even to a weird American who speaks lousy French. Oliver showed some photos from their group rides and their annual group journey down south to the Dordogne region. We all went our separate ways, although I will not join the group ride again until my strength and fitness improve. I now have good reasons to set up the trainer this winter and interval hell my way through the dark days of December and January.

I grabbed some pics while there:

Thomas and his gorgeous randonneur

Rack detail



Christian and Olivier (in the dark sweatshirt) discussing his brakes

Scads of hanging classics

Bike about to be shipped to a customer in France


This frame caught my eye, one of dozens hanging in the shop

Christian's fixie
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Old 11-07-21, 04:14 AM
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A few more pics to share from that lovely day:


Thomas was adding shellac to his bar tape

A real warm scene. Bike people just being around bikes

Lead vice jaw covers to prevent marring parts...note the spring that auto-opens the laws to make it easier





Thomas's bike...close to what I am getting

Ready for shellac...you just keep adding as the years go by and color gets richer

I have no words for the history that seeps from this workbench
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Old 11-07-21, 04:37 AM
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OK, that's enough of the story for now. Point of note: I saw a really low end Decathlon mountain bike leaning against the wall and Thomas noted my look. He explained that Olivier works on any bikes, not just his high end specials. This was just a local customer's bike in for some regular maintenance. You can see some reviews online of the Singer shop that are unfavorable, but they're from people who don't get what they stepped into. Olivier can be a funny guy to deal with, but he has a heart of gold when it comes to keeping people on their bikes and pedaling.

I'll update this when things get moving on my bike. I've asked to do the build up myself and that's pending... We shall see.

A few last pics:

Cool poster

The "new" Ideals. Yeah, I'm gonna have one.

You say you need to press a bearing?

Christian caught this shot of me and Thomas.
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Old 11-07-21, 05:15 AM
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Thanks fo this. Very enjoyable reading.
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Old 11-07-21, 05:15 AM
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I suspect you have half the C&V forum contemplating a relocation to Paris. Good stuff.
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Old 11-07-21, 05:32 AM
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It all sounds like a bike dream I would have. Here is are pics of my 1980’s Singer,



And the 3 others that I have since sold due to fit.


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Old 11-07-21, 05:54 AM
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We really can't have enough threads about Singers.
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Old 11-07-21, 06:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Vonruden View Post
It all sounds like a bike dream I would have.
Yup, this pretty much sums it up.

poprad Nice Portland representation there on the last pic, with the River City Bicycles cap you're wearing.
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Old 11-07-21, 06:48 AM
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poprad , very enjoyable thread. Thanks. Just in case you worried about 'too many photos' and 'too wordy', cast such worries away. I enjoyed it all. I really like your eye, the details that you photographed and the wee details you added to the story. I'll be watching for more. Having been a part time LBS wrench for a few years now, I wish I could work for Oliver. Great vibe that I can relate too.

Lucky guy!!!!
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Old 11-07-21, 06:52 AM
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Lovely pics and I sure enjoy living vicariously through you.
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Old 11-07-21, 07:11 AM
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Industrial espionage at its best. More please.
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Old 11-07-21, 07:29 AM
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I am an extreme Chartreuse-green with envy of your experience and the bicycle you'll end up with......! Thanks for posting!
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Old 11-07-21, 08:02 AM
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Cool thread. I know the cycling in Paris is much, much better than when I lived and cycled there in the early 80s (!). But it's hard to beat, IMO, the cycling in the French countryside.

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Old 11-07-21, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Prowler View Post
Just in case you worried about 'too many photos' and 'too wordy', cast such worries away. I enjoyed it all. I really like your eye, the details that you photographed and the wee details you added to the story. I'll be watching for more.
I'll second that! Looking forward to your ongoing saga.
I have dreamt of making a pilgrimage there with my bike one day.
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Old 11-07-21, 09:33 AM
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Fascinating thread! Thanks for starting it.
I'm curious about the criteria that Mr. Csuka uses to fit the frame to you, or have you not gotten to that stage yet?
Brent
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Old 11-07-21, 09:37 AM
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Wow - I would love to hang out there for a day. Felt like I almost did thanks to your lovely photos and commentary. Thanks for posting!
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Old 11-07-21, 09:38 AM
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thanks for this update and great pics. Having a Singer "built for you" is a special thing, like having a custom suit from Bijan or a Holland & Holland shotgun.
It is kind of amazing how primative the shop is, huh? the stories that workbench could tell.
Here's mine, built for me in '03. I might sell it. I respectfully suggest that you let Olivier do the build, let him do his thing. You'll have it for a long time.

/markp



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Old 11-07-21, 09:45 AM
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Fantastic photo and essay.

note the framework suspended over the central surface table- that drops down and is the fixture to set up the frame for brazing.
earlier saw tub of borax, my guess to dip the filler rod into after preheating to coat it.

chrome…. Practical, luxurious, but I really like the Singer Blue also.

No way you could miss this opportunity.

I have had a chance to ride to Versailles, on a rented Giant Mtb. Really should have brought my own bike that trip. Was slightly worried as my bike was French… I could imagine, “what is the declared value?”…. At the time the excess baggage fees would have been about equal to the rental. I did not go to the Singer shop on purpose. I was saving for a house.
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Old 11-07-21, 09:51 AM
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On my return to Paris from Versailles, I was warned, were the working women sitting on the Bois de Boulogne park benches with open jackets, presenting the offerings.

writing this, I realize this was 30 years ago!
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Old 11-07-21, 09:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Vonruden View Post
It all sounds like a bike dream I would have. Here is are pics of my 1980’s Singer,



And the 3 others that I have since sold due to fit.
quite a parade
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Old 11-07-21, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Vonruden View Post
It all sounds like a bike dream I would have. Here is are pics of my 1980’s Singer,



And the 3 others that I have since sold due to fit.


Thanks for sharing these fantastic looking bikes, what an incredible set of Singers!
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