Monday, September 20, 2010

Bikes, glorious bikes

Here in Halifax, we are pretty much a Cervelo and Trek town. Down in Yarmouth you'll be riding a Giant. A few have Gurus or Marinonis from Montreal, and these (sometimes bespoke) bikes are about as exotic as bikes get here.

Fundamentally, there's nothing wrong with a Cervelo, Giant, Guru, Marinoni or, God help you, a Trek, but travel opens the mind. For a real bike junkie, someone who values a well proportioned frame or a neat lug just for the the sheer aesthetics of it, then a trip to London is like going to one massive Hamleys

Of course we went to Hamleys as well;

The "kid in an, er, toy-store" look was pretty much the same whether we were in Hamleys or Condor.

In fact, outside Hamleys I could swear I saw a Marinoni. For a split second it seemed so normal, "Oh look, there's a Marinoni" before logic kicked in "How did that get here?".

Before we got to London there was Edinburgh. There was plenty of bike-porn on display at World Du's. However, past a bit of surreptitious bike-fondling on the morning on the age-group race at the TZ entrance bike-check, which was really touching-up-under-the-guise-of-checking-brakes-bars-and-frame-number, I wasn't in a position to take any pictures.

I have to say, I was more taken by the tandems in the paraduathlon, but I am a self-confessed retro-grouch. The only bike I took pics of was this Trek (not sure if it's the Speed Concept or the 7 series) at the "sports expo", which was a small pop-up tent outside registration selling Rapha jerseys and power-bars. This is the one with the Kammtail tubes, integrated brake and Draftbox.

No denying it looks fast, but you'll never catch me on one! Green? With my eyes? Naaah

Counterintuitively, the bike-porn of the trip started after we left World Dus and got to London.

There are a lot of bikes in London. Plenty of foldables, like Bromptons, which makes sense as well as the species we are used to. I think the success of the British team at the Olympics; think Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins (before he, ahem, "became" a Tour rider), Shanaze Reade and Victoria Pendleton (schwing) has popularised cycling in a way no amount of traffic calming could ever do. And London is aggressively traffic-calmed now. The weather helps too; in four years in London I rode in the snow a handful of times. It's hardly ever too cold to ride and cycling can be a viable, 365 days a year transportation option. Plus there are all those studies (are there really that many studies or is it just one study reported a bunch of times) showing that a bicycle is the fastest way around central London.

I felt a little like a biologist on a field-trip to the jungle; able to see an categorise all of Bikesnob's cycling types in their natural environment; the hipsters, the roadies, the triathletes, the beautiful Godzillas, the bike-salmon, the retrogrouches and the contraption-captains. Stuff you don't really see in Halifax, with it's token example from each category. And yes, I am well aware I just implied that "Bikesnob; Systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling; BikesnobNYC. ChronicleBooks, pp223 as a text-book. Just read it and see why!

Not surprisingly, the public face of cycling in London has changed in twenty years. Condor Cycles has moved across the road from it's pokey little shop-front I remember to a larger, airier building with one floor given to accessories and one just for bikes. I could swear that Evans Cycles had just the one shop in sarf London, in fact I think a club-mate used to be a frame-builder there, but now there are Evans all over London and even all over the country.

We'll start at Evans first.

A bit more of a chain-store feel;

You see that yellow l/s jersey in the window? I got it! On sale (but of course). It's got a crash-dummy theme to it, which is fitting because that was pretty much what the guys in the Crest CC called me once upon a time. It may be cliched, but's it's surely time to play, in honour to the jersey, the Primitives...

Sorry about that, but it had to be done! Anyway, it's more uplifting than the alternative!

It was nice to see a Colnago; they have a bit of a mythic status to us here in Nova Scotia; the bikes you read about but never see. Some of the Colnagos had Colnago-branded brakes; cool huh?

Even if it's no more than a bog-standard, repainted stock Ultegra dual-pivot. However desirable the bike, I understand Colnago's after-sales service to be less than stellar :(

Apparently it's mandatory to have a bell on your bike, so every bike from the urban runaround costing a few hundred to the dog's-bollocks racer costing many thousands, had a bell on it!

Interestingly, they were not under the same compunction to sell a bike with two brakes, as many of the fixies had only one. Then again, the Highway Code does recognise the fixed-gear as being a brake in it's own right....

Top-tube brake-cable clips! How old-school is that?

I should have bought some :S

Quite literally next door to Evans in Spitalfields was the Cyclesurgery, which was depressingly nondescript. I did see this Brooks leather bag/satchel thingy and had to be lured out of the store by a hot salt-beef bagel.

There used to be a bike-shop in Kilburn run by a famously taciturn and grumpy Irishman who considered himself the "gatekeeper" to cycling. Or put it another way, legend had it he wouldn't sell you what you wanted if he didn't think you deserved it. For completeness, I Googled it but couldn't find it; I think it might have become a Cyclesurgery and that Irish bloke is likely well pissed off as they sell Campy Record to City types with high disposable incomes whereas in my day you had to beg to get a Stronglight TA crank-set!

Condor is the real deal, a boutique retailer. If you want a Condor, your options are to get thyself to the south end of Grays Inn Road, and that's that. They are also the co-sponsor of Rapha Condor. Condor used to be "my shop" back in the day. I still have wheels built by Monty at Condor and 20 years later they're going strong. It's Monty's 80th this year and they say that when the TdB finishes in London later this week, the British riders are forgoing the end-of-race party and going to Monty's 80th instead! Yup, the guy has that much pull in the British cycling scene.

My sense was as much as I loved, love, Condor, it's sold out a bit, to (literally) fat bankers buying $10 000 CAD carbon wonder-machines to be strapped to the back of their BMWs and driven out to the country for a 20 miler and then calling themselves cyclists. People who are trying to buy into cycling without doing their apprenticeship, sans fait le metier. I remember Condor as a place I went to when my inner tubes were beyond patching and I actually had to buy a new one, rather than paying someone to change my flats for me! The Condor Rapha club seems to exemplify this culture of buying into cycling to me; a place for rich people to spend their money on expensive memberships, expensive bikes and expensive clothing (any and all of which I would give my eye-teeth for) and pretend to be cyclists on "epic" Rapha rides. And by epic I mean out of iPhone range.

They still have their soul and still cater for the couriers and other, skinnier types with unironically shaved legs. I heard of a promising junior who had a tab at Condor (get now, pay later); in other words Condor were literally banking on him to make good and wouldn't necessarily hold the price of a new pair tubs against him. Such people are a million miles (and probably a million pounds) away from the banker buying the Rapha/Paul Smith tweed. Perhaps the corporate market is what they have to do to be able to do what they do.

Condor sells many Condor branded bikes; steel, aluminium (note the extra 'i', we're in the UK now), carbon and titanium. Frame-sets or complete builds. Road, track, urban, cross or mountain. Sure, they stock a token Trek or Cervelo but they pale next to the Condors.

First thing you see walking down the stairs are the fixies.

Don't know about you, but I'm not sure about the gold rims and matching chain on that one nearest the camera;

The Specialised Langster Tokyo Edition has a lot to answer for! Besides, if you didn't like gold rims, take your pick

Of course, a fixie needs a gear, and Condor have their own range of gears, all with the logo etched on

A little deeper into the shop, a Condor TT bike; aluminium frame and 105 gruppo for a grand (sterling). not bad for a bike you'll only ride ten times a year

On the seat-tube, the Condor Eagle is in red, white and blue. Made me come over all patriotic

Getting to the very back of the shop is the good stuff; you've been tempted by the fixies of many colours and the good-value builds and even a cyclocross bike or two but if you survive these almost biblical trials at the very back is the mix-n-match section for the real snobs, sorry, I mean connoisseurs.

These are two titanium frames; the upper one is a 49cm track frame - 50% off, the one underneath a stock Moda

Some of the frames are sourced and built in Italy and sold in England, hence the decal on the down-tube

God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet indeed!

The Moda is nude titanium, really sweet. In ye olden days (which to a triathlete means before Greg Lemond won the Tour de France with aerobars) Condor made steel frames with fancy lugs; in homage to this the Moda has the lug-work etched onto the bare metal before varnishing

Any frame needs a gruppo and below the frames were cabinets with full gruppos; this is a case full of Campy

Call 999 immediately!

The Moda caught la belle's eye. Good job Condor was one of the first shops we visited in London as every conversation for the next three days ended up with "so, that frame-set then". We decided she should at least try out the frame to see how it fit her; after all it wasn't WSD and she could have been all over the place! Even though they didn't have a 49cm Moda built up, they had a bike-fitting gizmo thingy dowstairs at the shop;

which interestingly was made in Canada.

She got a full hour of bike-fitting from a nice guy called Conrad, who as well as helping fit the bike, spent a little time slagging off Cervelo, which was interesting, as the mark-up on a P3 is greater than the mark-up on an own-label frame so really he should have been trying to sell us a Cervelo. Then again, that would be like selling coals to Newcastle.

The deal was done; there was no compelling reason not to get what I was assured was "the frame of her dreams". Then again, she did ride a Y-Foil for a few years, so exactly what entails a "dream" is open to interpretation. At least we agree on the Moda!

Conrad asked us to come back on Friday so they could pack the bike. When we got there it was all ready to go; in a Cervelo box! Bastard! He assured la belle she was now also the proud owner of the cardboard box with the highest environmental footprint in the world.

That pretty much concluded the bike-porn aspect of the trip, but we sat in a cafe and reflected on building this bad-boy up, it underwent an identity change and is henceforth to be known as the Silver Lady.



  1. There still are a few nice Norco and Devinci frames floating around locally. I find the Devinci rather fetching myself.

  2. Devinci being designed (and sometimes made!) in Québec. :)