Classic Lightweights UK
Condor CyclesAuthor: Hilary Stone
It’s rare to find a bikeshop plum in the middle of an important business district – in central London bikeshops tend not to last for long driven out by high property prices and the margins in the cycle trade are rarely enough to justify their existence. But it is is testimony to Condor that they have survived nearly 60 years and have managed to expand more than once.
Condor Cycles have been ridden to World Championship gold medals, ridden in the Tour de France and have perhaps most importantly been the choice of many figures in the public limelight ranging from judges to pop stars.
Condor Cycles started in the autumn of 1948. However, the story starts a little earlier; Walter Conway had secured the London agency for Triumph Cycles and had found retail premises at 90 Gray’s Inn Road. Gray’s Inn Road is sandwiched slightly to the north and east between the West End and the City, close to the Hatton Garden jewellery area, Fleet Street and the Inns of Court. Walter Conway was soon to marry Monty Young’s sister and it was to Monty that Walter turned to do the practical jobs. Soon Monty was able to buy into the business and a second shop was opened a little later at 211 Balls Pond Road between Dalston and Highbury and Islington. Monty had as a close neighbour at home Harry Rensch who ran Paris Cycles. This inspired both Monty and Walter with the idea of building top end lightweight sporting machines in addition to selling the Triumphs. They came up with the name Condor – a few frames were built and sold in 1948 and early 1949 but Monty was called up for National Service and frame building did not resume until he returned in 1951. They continued to sell Triumphs which were mostly straightforward roadsters but in 1953 Triumph decided to enter a team in the newly established Tour of Britain. Condor Cycles supplied the frames rebadged as Triumphs. However Raleigh bought Triumph in 1954 and the days of being the London agency for Triumph were over.
Monty had been in contact with a very talented framebuilder, Bill Hurlow, who had had a brief involvement with Paris Cycles before it had closed in 1953. Bill Hurlow had started framebuilding in the 1930s and had built frames for both F H Grubb and Holdsworth previously. He moved to Condors early in 1954.
Bill Hurlow set about designing some new frames which were to set Condors apart from the opposition. Fancy lug frames started in England with designs from Hobbs and Claud Butlers in the 1930s. Bill’s designs were highly refined – and with a wonderfully precise and clear cut edge to the lugs. There were essentially five standard designs – the WBH No 1, the Superbe, the WBH No 3, the Fleur de Lis and the Italia. The No 1 (as illustrated in the photos) and Superbe were the top models. From 1958 Bill Hurlow branched out on his own but still continued to build Condor’s top frames until 1968. The Italia featured simple plain single point lugs very much in the style of the Cinelli Super Corsa.
The 1960s was era of the Condor Mackeson team which nurtured many top riders such as Colin Lewis and Dave Bonner. Many were riders who were just starting out in their careers and some such as Hugh Porter (1968 World Pursuit Championship) had significant successes under their colours.
The 1970s saw a number of new models which adapted quickly to the changing and expanding market especially after the oil crisis of 1974. Their Montileggero model at one time featured such exotic touches as slotted chainstays in order to reduce frame weight to the minimum. Grant Young, Monty’s son, started working at the shop in 1972 and became a joint partner in the early 1980s. Condor have continually reacted to the changing marketplace and in the 1990s introduced frames built from aluminium and carbon fibre whilst still retaining a line of steel lugged frames especially in with touring, Audax, and fixed whel bikes. Condor have also continued with team sponsorship Angliasport-Condor and some individual sponsorship of promising riders. Bradley Wiggins has been one of their riders that achieved the most success.
Thanks to Grant Young and Peter Whifield’s book The Condor Years A Panorama of British Cycling published in 2005 ISBN 0-9514838-9-7
Condor – Did You Know?
90 Gray’s Inn Road - opened 1948, closed 1980
211 Balls Pond Road - opened late 40s, shut early 1960s
144 Gray’s Inn Road - opened 1980, closed 1998
51 Gray’s Inn Road - opened 1998
Famous customers include:
Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, John Snow, Geoff Banks (fashion designer), Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale of Eastenders)
Condor offer a wide range of frames with aluminium models starting from £350, retro lugged steel frames from £700 and fancy lug Superbe and the No1 are still available; with typical chrome plating and coloured panels from £1000.
At a recent Cycle Show held in London Condor Cycles showed the prototype of their ‘new’ Paris Galibier. They have held the rights to the name for many years now and Tom Board produced the Galibier during this time. Now Condor have decided to revive the model, which is shown below in fixed-wheel trim on a frame with track ends. For the purpose of the show the frame was built up with Campagnolo Record track components and finished in a stunning paint job. History is an ongoing thing and this new model now takes its position in the history of the Paris Marque.
© 2007 Classic Lightweights