Riding with the Alex Singer Club

uphill
Returning to Paris after a trip to the Alps, there was an e-mail from Olivier Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer: “We will meet tomorrow at 7 at the boutique. About 150 km.”
champs_elysees
I set my alarm, and in the first light of day, I rode up the Champs Elysées as everything was being set up for the last stage of the Tour de France. The Singer shop isn’t far from there. Soon after I arrived at the shop, the group had assembled, and we rolled through the quiet suburbs of Paris.
boulangerie
Due to the late notice and early departure, I had not been able to eat breakfast. Fortunately, in France, there are bakeries almost everywhere. The first few we passed were closed this early on Sunday morning, but on one street corner, there was the unmistakeable scent of fresh bread. I popped inside as the others continued. One rider waited outside, ready to bring me back to the peloton.
Inside, one of the clerks looked at me and the departing peloton, and without asking the other customers, waved me to the front of the line and sold me three petits pains au chocolat. Less than a minute after I stopped, I was on the wheel of the other rider as we sprinted back to the group. That mission accomplished, I started eating my deliciously warm croissant, the chocolate still half-molten inside.
ride_under_gate
Paris can be intimidating to me. I don’t mind riding in the city, but getting out into the country seems impossible, as the suburbs stretch on forever. However, Olivier knows the best routes, and in no time, we were cycling on quiet roads through picturesque villages.
olivier_catherine
The riding was spirited without being competitive, and everybody was having a good time. Above is Olivier with his wife Catherine.
strong_rider
During Ernest Csuka’s last years, there were two groups, one with the young riders and one with Ernest’s friends who were in their sixties and seventies. Now there is only one, and the age of our group ranged from the 20s to the late 60s. As so often, looks can be deceiving, as shown by this rider who pedaled smoothly and without showing any effort, yet tended to be among the first on top of the hills. He has been a friend of the family for a long time – 45 years ago, he baby-sat Olivier Csuka…
lunch_stop
There was one mock sprint, and I soon realized why. We were approaching our lunch stop, a small brasserie (pub). Olivier and a few others rode into the town center to buy charcuterie (cold cuts) and bread. Everybody ordered their drinks – beer, Coca Cola or Orangina were popular. A well-organized operation sprang into action as one rider cut the bread, two others put the meat on them, and soon everybody was eating, drinking and chatting merrily. At the end, everybody pitched in five Euros, and the tab was settled.
bikes_outside
The bikes waited outside. Not all were Alex Singers, as some riders prefer modern carbon. The bike with the handlebar bag is mine – I found it useful to store the chocolate croissants!
group_singer
For the benefit of the two guests – there also was a Japanese journalist on the ride – we went to the local château for a group photo.
As we returned to Paris, we saw spectators lining the road, waiting for the Tour stage that night. There was still time for a shower, dinner, and then I joined the crowds welcoming the professionals at the end of their big race.

16 Responses to Riding with the Alex Singer Club

  1. Jason Marshall September 15, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Pretty awesome Jan

  2. Mikko September 15, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    This is a dream for some of us, and the Parisians get to do every sunday… what more could you ask than a dozen Alex Singers and some pain au chocolat? Some day I’ll be there, too.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly September 15, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      There is great riding in many places. You may not have a dozen Alex Singers along for the ride, but the friendship and shared joy are the same.

      • Mikko September 15, 2013 at 11:02 am #

        You’re absolutely right Jan.
        Journalism-wise, it would be great to read an interview with Olivier Csuka from BQ. The magazine has tons of information of Cycles Alex Singer, but most of it are Ernest’s views and of historical point of view. But of present and the future, it would be interesting to read Olivier’s thoughts.

  3. Cory September 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    How did you find riding with his group? It seems you are the odd man out with some luggage and very wide tires. Did you find yourself riding over bumps softly while the other riders avoided or bounced around on them? Did this group seem zippy on narrower tires?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly September 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      My bike is at least as fast as any other – we’ve tested Mark’s similar bike – so that isn’t a problem. The wide 650B tires actually have roughly the same rotational inertia as mid-size 700C tires, so there is no difference there.
      Most of all, the ride’s pace was spirited, but not all-out. It wasn’t a race…

  4. Patrick Moore September 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Great story!

  5. David Pearce September 15, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Hey Jan, Bonjour Monsieur,
    What a fine fine story! I think I can see your front derailleur lever as described in BQ Vol. 11 #1, p. 37, Autumn 2012, in the third photo here. (Where your rear cogs shifter is, I don’t know–maybe shifted all the way down. Bike looks great, though!)
    I wish I could have been there with you then, or by myself, and perhaps I can be there after certain senior family obligations are over.
    Anyway, I like to cycle to GET somewhere, and see some nice scenery on the way. Any chance you could tell us the name of the “local château” in your picture?
    BTW, the whole idea behind the circumflex I have been told, as in “château”, is that it usually represents a missing “s”, so one can see how a [person’s] “château” is closely related to [their] “castle”.
    My Sister, on the other hand, 3-1/2 years younger than me, is more scared of paved city streets with cars, but yet is an absolute demon on off-road mountain bike trails. So, because I love my Sis very much, I follow her into the woods on my Mtn. bike, because all biking is good, but I can’t wait ’til I finish building my randonneur, and I can give it a shakedown trial on the pavement! Thanks.

  6. Matt September 16, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    The boulangerie anecdote is what cycling is France is all about, I’ve cycled other places where people have been interested or courteous but, in France, they “get” cycling. I’ve had drivers waiting patiently behind me waiting to pass for minutes at a time and give a wave when they got by.

  7. marmotte27 September 16, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Really nice ride.
    However, your pictures show how far the French have come, or rather gone, since the heigh-days of randonneuring. Even it that group it’s racing bikes all round, carbon frames, hardly any fenders, thin tires, the lot. (Brevets too are ridden on the same kind of bikes: http://velomaxou.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/p1110540.jpg?w=300&h=225
    There’s a whole history that’s been lost along the way.)
    At least hardly anybody seems to be wearing helmets.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly September 16, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      You are right, there was a big rupture during the 1960s, when cyclotouring almost died out. There were no young riders entering the sport, and when cycling became popular again during the 1970s, the old cyclotourists were too old to serve as useful role models for the young riders coming into cycling. And so the young riders oriented themselves toward racing. This even includes the children of great constructeurs like Ernest Csuka (Cycles Alex Singer) and Jo Routens.
      French cyclotouring hasn’t really recovered from this.

      • Larry T. September 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

        The bici d’epoca movement in Italy is recreating a bit of this idea, and of course it’s spreading over to France as well. It’s hard to fault the younger folks – when you go to a typical bike shop, what are your choices? Bikes built for racing with a follow car behind are all the rage despite their impracticality for most other purposes. I always say a bike optimized for Paris-Roubaix would serve the user better, but they all (helped by marketing too) want the one optimized to race up Alpe d’Huez. At least the bike industry, in their never-ending quest for more sales, is now offering “endurance” or even “gravel road bikes” that can handle decent-sized tires, etc. so you’re not forced to have a custom-built cyclotouring machine if you want to have fun on a bike that won’t beat the crap out of you.

  8. David Pearce September 17, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    I don’t know how to quantify it exactly, but there seems to be a natural affinity between written French and the style of “Art Deco”. I believe virtual lines can be drawn connecting, say, the classic logo and style of Cycles Alex Singer and his intersected pinstriping, all the way to the title style of your book on René HERSE. I think what I’m getting is this: Bicycles are an excellent example of form following function and yet also inviting beauty, decoration and style–and I think this is the whole essence of Art Deco, where form follows function, yet beauty is required in the juxtaposition of the various materials.

  9. Robert September 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    I ride with several gentlemen in the 70s and 80s, and they have such a deep base of fitness that they have not trouble staying with a fast peleton. What they don’t have is the fast-twitch fitness that wins sprints to town lines and intersections. But it’s such a treat to ride with them. They are heroes.

  10. Doug Wagner September 23, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Pas de casques? You must have been odd man
    out without a helmet. I remember those days
    but I wouldn’t go back to them.
    What a wonderful ride. Thanks for the report.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly September 23, 2013 at 7:11 am #

      Several riders wore helmets. Generally speaking, riding skills that avoid accidents are more important to safety than helmets that may protect you in an accident. A helmet serves only as the last link in a long chain of safety measures, after everything else fails.