Friday, October 09, 2009

Hey, an interesting project.

A nice woman asked if we might possibly be interested in working on her "old racing bike." Of course we would. We assured her she should bring it in. She displayed the modesty verging on shame that seems to afflict many owners of older bikes. We are constantly urged to scorn and discard old products in favor of new ones. If we did not succumb to this pressure the economy would grind to a halt. Right?

What she brought was this fascinating Alex Singer Mixte-frame touring bike. The mix of componentry suggested it was made between 1979 and 1982. I'll dig deeper as I go forward with the overhaul and other work.

I grabbed a few quick shots when I checked the bike in. The afternoon darkened rapidly as rain clouds thickened.
Details, details.

The barcon shifters are an excellent choice. This bike would be far less fun to ride with down tube shifters. Notice that this master builder, known for clever innovation, did NOT put the cable stops right at the head tube.


Alex Singer's shop was known for making many parts beyond just the frame and fork. This stem bears his name stamp. I suspect the seatpost is Singer work as well.


Look at those nice long dropouts!
The wheels have Super Champion Arc-en Ciel rims, for sewup tires, laced with 36 stainless spokes to Campagnolo Record hubs. I'm going to rebuild those to nice clincher rims for her, so she can run a little wider tires on the challenging road surfaces she will encounter here.

She said she bought the bike to ride with a racing-oriented club in California in the early 1980s. Her husband picked it out for her. Then they had to move, so she never really rode it as much as she hoped she would. Now she wants that chance.

I had the little front rack that bolts to Mafac brakes, but I gave it to a friend of mine for one of his bikes. He's an eccentric character who is spending his under-funded retirement building and maintaining a small fleet of odd bikes. He's been a lot of things: prep school teacher, dish washer, bike mechanic, coma patient...when I show him this jewel he may decide it needs the rack to complete it. In any case, he'll like it.

Cheap production versions of the standard 1970s mixte bike were a dime a dozen back in the day. Even so, this bike just looks classy, even with its hard grips, center-pull brakes and bland aluminum brake levers. The frame details and componentry give it elegance like the deceptive simplicity of a designer suit.

When the owner asked what it might be worth I sounded like Antiques Roadshow as I explained what I have read about the vagaries of the collector bike market. According to the little I've gleaned so far about this particular brand, the fancy randonnee models with custom racks, fenders and light sets can go for thousands of dollars. The more stripped-down performance models draw less interest. And bike value is very subjective. To many people this would just look like a used "ladies' bike" they wouldn't buy for $20 at a yard sale. "How come the shifting doesn't click?"

It has some paint flaws and pinpoint rust in the chrome on the stem. I hope I can clean most of that off. It's great to have something in very good condition as a starting point. We're not equipped to handle a restoration project.

13 comments:

Steve A said...

I have never seen such a bike. If it were mine, I'd keep the sewups and get a second set of wheels. If you can, convince her to pose for a few shots with the bike & send the story over to the Mixte Gallery blog.

cafiend said...

Good thought on the wheels, Steve. I doubt she'll want to mess with sewups, though. But now you get me wondering about preserving authenticity. I need to find her another set of vintage hubs for the clincher wheels...and I need to do it quickly.

I am certainly going to disassemble those wheels carefully. I did notice, however, that the builder made some choices I would not have. Hm. A quandary. Preserve archaeological purity or pursue practicality?

Steve A said...

I hope there'll be follow-up on this post including about the builder choices. Amongst Mixte bikes, this one's royalty.

getinlost said...

A nice break from trying to rehab a "big-box" junk. In my forays into restoring good chrome like this I learned that brass wool dose a great job and won't leave behind slivers that would compound the issue.

As for the outdated parts there are companies that are making modern lookalikes or "period pieces" with somewhat higher quality. Velo Orange is the place I would suggest.

Good luck, go slow and savor this one.

greatpumpkin said...

Someone already suggested Velo Orange. I'm sure Chris would like to know about this bike. They have nice hubs and other suitable parts also, at surprisingly good prices. I also would be inclined to keep the old wheels together and build a new set. Remember, something can only be original once. On the other hand, the main reason to keep the wheels would be for a future owner, and the current owner might lose them in the meantime. VO has nice rims too.

cafiend said...

I can order wholesale anything VO has at retail.

The wheels are a bit disappointing on this bike. One has a spoke cross over the valve and both have outside spokes pulling. My own sense of craftsmanship demands that I correct these issues. Authentic mistakes are not as good as rebuilt correctness.

Steve A said...

Cafiend points out a dilemma for anybody restoring an old European car - do I make it the way they built it or the way they WOULD have built it had they not had too much vin at lunch that day?

No right answer. Sometimes I vote one way sometimes the other. When it comes to function, I usually go with intent rather than execution so I'd probably build the wheel right. I DID, however, save that light bulb I found in my Jaguar's fender for several years.

Anonymous said...

Nice Lady : How much do you think it is worth

Bike Mechanic:{poker face} Are you considering selling it ? my wife's mother had one before he mother was killed while riding it, to her it is priceless. Please let me know if you decide you find you don't want it.

greatpumpkin said...

Some of the VO parts are actually their own stuff, not available elsewhere--some are indeed items you can get through normal wholesalers. They are very accomodating to small wholesale orders through bike dealers. Contact Tom at VO Imports. You can actually set up a dealer account with them online. Tom told me he'd give wholesale prices to any dealer for even a special order for a customer--so I could support my LBS and VO at the same time.

greatpumpkin said...

Possible that the wheels--indeed the whole bike--were not built by Singer, but that it was created by someone local on the Singer frame. By all means correct defects. As a Morgan car owner, i can assure you that "factory original" is not always a desirable objective.

greatpumpkin said...

About the wheels--I personally would probably never ride tubular tires again, so if they were my wheels and had to be =fixed anyway, I would probably opt to rebuild them for modern clinchers.

Filigree said...

Holy Mother of Bikedom, she brought in an Alex Singer! What I wouldn't give to have a look at this bike. It is so wonderful that you get to work on it. I had just been searching the internets for Alex Singer mixtes, but could not find anything. Then Steve A pointed me to your blog. Thank you so much for posting it for us enthusiasts to enjoy.

As an aside, I used to live in rural NH as well - near Cornish. I think I can count on one hand how many people I saw cycling there in the entire time I live in the area! Maybe that's changed now?

cafiend said...

Hello, Filigree! Look for more pictures as I get further along with the refurb on this bike.

I live in the Wolfeboro-Ossipee area. There seem to be quite a few cyclists living in the woods hereabouts. I don't know about the Cornish area. Cycling conditions can vary widely, even in a small state.

Great Pumpkin, check out Sheldon Brown's guide to vintage bike pricing. He makes direct reference to the eclectic componentry spec common on Singer bicycles. This bike is almost a twin of the one featured on the site about Alex Singer I linked to from the post. That one has Tipo hubs and a Nuovo Record rear derailleur instead of Record hubs and the long-cage Suntour. But apparently all is fair with this marque.