From issue 50 • Words/images by James Startt
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It’s not every day a custom frame builder rubs elbows with rock stars. But for Grant Young, owner of Condor Cycles, such occurrences are almost commonplace. “I remember Eric Clapton as a 14-year-old kid, maybe even before he was a guitar player. He was always a keen cyclist. And he still is,” Young said. “I remember making him a hand-built lugged frame like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget him picking it up and putting it in the back of this open-topped Ferrari that he had at the time! Then just a couple of years ago we got a call and he came in and ordered five bikes for his best friends in the world, each with their name on it, and one for himself.”
According to Young, Condor also served as the non-official bike sponsor to The Rolling Stones. “Mick [Jagger] has always been a bike fan and we started building bikes for him in the late-’60s or early-’70s. But all of the Stones were keen on cycling. My dad would invite them to the old [London] six-day races and they would all come.” Young insists that even the roguish Keith Richards had a Condor!
Doubters beware. Young can easily back up his claims with hand-signed photographs and even a detailed letter of thanks on official red-lipped Rolling Stones letterhead while they were away recording their legendary “Exile On Main St.” album in 1972.
There’s no doubt, when it comes to quality British bikes, Condor has been topping the list for decades.
Grant’s father, Monty Young, (who passed away July 2018), opened his first shop in 1948, when London was still reeling from the devastation brought on by World War II. And though Condor has moved to different locations, the shop still has a Gray’s Inn Road address in central London. “Monty was a keen cyclist himself and his goal was always to produce the best hand-built, quality racing frames possible. That’s what he set out to do. And that is what he achieved really from Day 1. And that is something I strive to continue to do.”
Grant recalls how he first started with his father, helping out after school and on weekends. Monty’s passion was the hands-on nature of frame building, and so Grant took over much of the day-to-day business within the ever-growing company. “We would be down in the cellar, building and fitting frames, and then running upstairs every time the bell rang!”
Because of his father’s passion for racing, Condor always sponsored national-level bike teams, a tradition it maintains with the JLT-Condor pro team. As a result, Condor has consistently worked with Great Britain’s best up-and-coming cyclists. Facing Young’s desk is a framed photograph of their most celebrated prodigy, Sir Bradley Wiggins. “One day, his mother came in with a friend of our amateur team and asked me, ‘Could you help this young boy? He is going to be something special!’ It was the last thing we needed at the time, because we were a small operation. But he showed promise straight away.”
Clearly, Young has no regrets when it comes to making room for the young Wiggins—and Britain’s first-ever Tour de France champion remains eternally grateful. “Condor Cycles were a great support for me when I was a young bike rider,” Wiggins said. “At 17 they provided me with a track and road bike which was invaluable and it really helped me get where I am today.”
But Young admits there are constant challenges in the British bike industry. Cycling may have boomed in England in recent years, but it remains a niche market. And even an established brand like Condor must continually prove that it’s up to date. One look inside the Condor boutique shop on Gray’s Inn Road however puts any doubts to rest. From city bikes, to vintage steel road bikes and state-of-the-art carbon, it’s clear that Condor produces a high-end product for every cyclist.
“Working with steel gave us a lot in developing a great carbon bike,” Young said. “It’s not all about weight, and steel gave us the knowledge of where strengths need to be in a frame, where you need to make things stiffer and where you can cut weight. So…we can apply our years of experience in steel with today’s top carbon bikes.”
From issue 50.