Levallois-Perret » The well-trained young man in the photo in white sports gear and on a narrow-cut bike, of course, that was himself about 25 years ago, says Olivier Csuka (small picture). “Don’t you see that?” He asks with a smile, mocked. Visually, it has changed a little since then. The passion for bicycles, however, has remained. After all, he “grew up on a saddle,” says the 56-year-old.
Family business for decades
The narrow wheel specimens are lined up in the salesroom, while the display case contains some of the trophies that Csuka once won as a hobby racing driver. The worn-out mosaic floor, an old-fashioned cash register and black and white photographs on the walls give the visitor the feeling of travelling back in time – until 1938 when Hungarian immigrant Alex Singer developed his idea for a bicycle manufacturer here. He implemented it with the help of the brothers and cousins of his Alsatian wife, who brought the technical know-how as a mechanic at Renault. He himself remained more of an entrepreneur than a craftsman, while his wife Maria took care of sales and administration.
“Alex Singer” has remained a family business. In November 1944, when Singer sold 80 to 110 bikes a year, he hired two of his nephews, Roland and Ernest Csuka – Olivier Csuka’s father, himself an avid cyclist. With his wife Leone, he took over the business in 1964 because Alex Singer had to retire for health reasons.
Ernest Csuka was a mechanic, designer and entrepreneur in one and stayed active until he handed the business over to his son Olivier in 2009. “In 82 years there were only three managing directors at Alex Singer,” he says proudly. He used to work for an insurance company, but today he devotes himself entirely to the business, which for him is more than just a simple job: this is where most of his life took place.
A lot has changed over the years, says Olivier Csuka. There is hardly any industrial production of bicycles and their accessories in France. The company remains specialized in custom-made bicycles. The handmade luggage rack is optically matched to the frame, other details such as the attachment of the rear lights are handmade. Only a few dozen are made each year.
France initially behind
In France, the country of the Tour de France, a cycling culture that was more widespread in northern countries such as Germany, Holland or Denmark only developed over time, says Csuka. It was a difficult business after the war because, with the advent of motorized vehicles, wheels were considered old-fashioned. The increasing public attention for the Tour de France then pushed the development. Today the fitness trend is showing its effect, says Csuka, and thanks to the Internet, many customers come with very precise ideas about tailoring their dreams: “A bike is complex and simple at the same time. I’m not reinventing it, but I’m trying to perfect it. ”
Before he starts building, he needs answers to the most important questions: where, how often and for how long does the customer want to use the bike, what is his build and how fit? Customers come from all over the world, from Australia, Japan and of course Europe because they cannot find what they are looking for on the market, says Csuka. Sometimes celebrities are among them, like ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy. When asked about the cost of a handcrafted bike, Csuka does not initially give a clear answer: depending on the price of the individual parts that the customer can choose, the average price is between 7,800 and 8,200 euros, he says. “But with that, you have your bike a whole life – no, for a lifetime!”