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Condor Cycles – London
Established in 1948 by Montgomery Young, Condor Cycles is now a global brand. Building in excess of 2,000 bikes a year, about 250 of those are hand built to bespoke specifications. Neil Manning, Condor’s production manager, is responsible for sourcing materials and designing geometry and in addition to overseeing the entire bike building process, he also builds many of the custom frames. At 16, Neil became a student of south-London frame builder Tommy Quick, where he first learned to spot-weld on steel shoe racks. He next learned how to measure up customers for frames and then eventually graduated from repairs to building full frames in the workshop.
“From the first bike I had when I was two or three years old, I can only ever remember loving my bike. When I went to school, I used to walk past Ron Cooper’s. Ron is a frame builder from South London and I think he still builds frames today. We would always look in, looking at this guy filing frames in the back of the workshop. He was always too busy to let us come in. We didn't know at the time that he was making handmade race frames for a lot of good road racers in south London.
When I was 16, I wanted to work in Tommy Quick's, my local bike shop, because he ran the shop as well as a frame-building workshop. “If you really want a job, I can give you one,” Tommy said. “But you won't be working with bikes. You’ll start by working in our steel workshop. which was behind the store. He had me making steel shoe racks and various other things and it involved a lot of bending, cutting and spot welding, all the horrible stuff and nothing to do with bikes. The highlight of the week was Saturday, when we would take orders and do the measuring. That's the bit I enjoyed most.
After two or three years of working with steel and getting the feel of the materials, the tubes, rods and plates, Tommy's second-in-command suddenly left and I was thrust into the workshop. I was shown how to file and finish the frames Tommy had built and that eventually led to changing drop-outs, fitting chain stays and braze-ons, building new top and downtubes for people that had damaged frames. Steel frames are always repairable.
Then, after a couple of years of doing that I began to build complete frames and soon Tommy and I were working together. This helped speed up production, between two and four frames a week, plus frame repairs for customers and the trade as well. In those days we relied on a bell in the shop if a customer came in; in those days we were always in the workshop.”