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London Cycle Show -
London, UK, October 11-14, 2007
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Part 4 - Condor Cycles' 60 years of passion
By Gerry McManus in London, England
When Monty Young opened his new bike shop in central London just after the Second World War, rationing and national service were still in force. Britain was only just returning the factories back to the way they were before they were switched to making arms and munitions, and the capitol city of London was still strewn with bomb sites. Amid the rows of decimated houses, the idea that his new shop would evolve into one of Britain's strongest bike businesses was likely far from Young's immediate thoughts, but thankfully the economic climate since those days has changed and the business thrived.
"We are just coming up to our 60th anniversary and we are celebrating it at the Cycle Show this year," said Condor's current owner, Grant Young. "My father opened the shop in 1948 with his late brother-in-law. I've only been around in the business for 35 years. Even as a kid I remember there were only about four cycle shops in the whole of central London."
"There were a few cyclists around in the early days," continued Young, "but there was nothing like the commuting there is now-a-days. There were racing tracks at Paddington and Herne Hill so the sporting side of the business was always there but obviously it has grown over the years. The biggest growth area now is the leisure industry. In the early days the commuter had a three speed bike and wore a bowler hat."
With such a rich history, Condor naturally has become somewhat ingrained in the local culture. As such, one of the bikes on display at this year's London Cycle Show had 'Mick Jagger' printed on the top tube, but Young wanted to play down the fact that the lead singer of the Rolling Stones rode a Condor bike. "He very kindly loaned us his bike for the show. We built it for him in the seventies and it is has now been renovated. We have many, many celebrities as customers and they all enjoy cycling."
Not surprisingly, Condor's customers will see a few new things being produced for the anniversary celebrations. "Everything has been re-designed for 2008 to represent 60 years. Although we don't do a lot of frame building now in the UK, we still try to be as pro-European as we can. Everything is designed in house from the frame up and the frames are built under license from a couple of companies that we work with in Italy. We have good relationships with the factories and my production manager is out there once a week. We design our tube profiles, our frame designs, our colours, our decals and everything like that. Being a medium sized manufacturer, we can make changes to designs fairly quickly. If we get asked enough for something then we will produce it."
"We created the single-speed market about twelve years ago when no one else thought of it," continued Young: "It was really created for the London cycle couriers. Each year they asked us for something different and we changed designs and frame materials and so on. This has helped us come up with a fantastic single speed bike which has now become a cult thing. Now people are also buying single speed bikes for commuting and leisure use because it has become a trendy thing to do. We also offer customers the traditional bikes as they were made in the 60's and 70's as there is a bit of a revival there and then we are also bang up to date with the latest technology and materials."
Condor Cycles has also been heavily involved in the sport of cycling over its years and has sponsored a number of notable UK-based teams over the years. For 2008, the company will continue in that vein as the co-sponsor of the Rapha-Condor-Recycling.co.uk team. "Somewhere we have a record of many notable races have been won on our frames. Hugh Porter became world pursuit champion riding for the Condor Mackeson team in the 60's and we looked after Bradley Wiggins when he first came into the sport. This coming year is a big thing for us. We are really excited about it. The team will be to UCI standards and we will be looking to ride abroad in some big events."
To this day, Condor bicycles are still only available through extremely exclusive channels in the UK. With such a strong presence in the local market, one has to wonder why Condor hasn't expanded outwards. According to Young, "We have grown a lot in 60 years but we have always kept to a certain standard. Nearly every day someone asks why Condor doesn't open up more outlets but that's not what we are about. Believe it or not, it is not just a money making thing. It is 60 years of passion really. I would say that the bikes we build today are made to the same standards as they were fifty years ago. People think we are crazy. Some mechanics we employ think we are mad because every little detail has to be perfect before we send something out."
Nevertheless, business may still be set to boom in the near future, but not due to expansion. Condor Cycles is about to get new neighbour when the Eurostar train completes its cross channel journey at London's Kings Cross railway station next year. The newly built terminal will be a short walk away from the cycle shop in the Grays Inn Road in Clerkenwell, and it could mean that a lot of the British branded bikes might find their way to French and Belgian customers. "I only really thought of that about two weeks ago," declared Young. "We quite possibly might have an influx of new customers."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Gerry McManus/www.gerrymcmanus.co.uk