In 1948, Monty Young opened the Condor Cycles shop at 90 Gray’s Inn Road, London. For over 65 years, the store has supplied and serviced the city’s cyclists, and supported racers like Tom Simpson and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
The shop has also been manufacturing bespoke bicycles since opening. The original builder of steel frames was the legendary W. B. (Bill) Hurlow, a specialist in what was, at the time, elaborate and curly lugs, such as those used on the Condor Superbe.
This Superbe belongs to West Sussex cyclist, David Leech. David is, understandably, very proud of his Condor and considers it, and his other impeccable examples of classic steel racers, to be the benchmark by which modern custom bicycles should be compared.
It’s a fair call. A custom Condor was, in its day, the ultimate in British bicycles. The brand’s history can be explored elsewhere; for now, let’s hear how David’s own Condor came into being.
David tells the story: “Long before Robert Penn’s excellent book “It’s All about the Bike”, I set about building my ideal bike. It was 1994, the year of my 50th birthday, and my wife was keen to give me a memorable present. Obviously a new bike fitted the bill just perfectly, but it had to be a bit special.
“For a long time I had been an admirer of Bill Hurlow’s lug-work and Condor Cycles in London were still cataloguing a frame with his Superbe lugs.
“Grant Young (son of Condor’s founder, Monty — Ed) was enthusiastic about the idea, but warned that a frame to my spec was going to take some time. My regular size of 54cm was decided on; slightly more relaxed than the Italian frames I was used to, and built with 531 tubing.
“Colour was a metallic British Racing Green with silver head and seat panels. I was insistent that the lugs, fork crown and ends should be chrome plated. This all took some effort as I was not pleased with some of the first chroming and the frame was returned for re-finishing. After several months I had a beautiful frame just waiting to be built up.
“I had decided on a mainly-vintage theme for the build, but incorporating a few other favourite pieces as well. I had the wheels, chainset and brakes. Most of my bike builds start off with one perfect item, a set of wheels maybe, which gradually evolve into a complete bike.
“I was using Dauphin Sport as my main shop; I already had a Daccordi and a Gios they had built, both immaculate Italian classics. At this time the shop was almost exclusively Italian, certainly no Shimano or far eastern kit to darken the door!
“They were not best pleased when they saw the quintessentially English frame come in for a build. They allowed me to rifle through their old stock Campag equipment and I was able to get most pieces off the shelf. Campag gears and chainset were de rigueur and I used Nuovo Record front and rear changers, the chainset is a very late Super Record — no fluting on the cranks and lighter chainrings.
“I’ve always loved Modolo brakes, more elegant and better finished than Campag Records. Wheels were built by Tony Mills, C Record L/F hubs on Ambrosio Prisma rims — so beautiful. Bars and stem are Cinelli and the Turbo Bernard Hinault saddle was hiding at the back of a shelf, just right in silver.
“This bike is still a dream to ride, very comfortable, but now more than 20 years later a little too high geared. However I never tire of looking at it and it is the only bike in my collection that has not been modified since the original build (recent new tyres and bar tape excepted!).”
Now that’s a fine birthday present if ever there was one. Special thanks to David Leech for the story and photographs.