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Me and my bike: Condor

20 Mar 2019

This article was originally published in Issue 83 of Cyclist Magazine

Trends come and trends go, but like the progress of the tides each receding wave leaves behind a residue.

Individually those residues fade, but collectively they create a lasting impression on their environment.

So it is with bicycles.

The ‘one to rule them all’ mantra has been chanted for donkey’s years (incidentally Suzy, from New Mexico, is officially recognised as the oldest ever donkey at 54), and until recently a garage of one looked an unlikely goal.

N+1 ruled.

Then came gravel bikes. Specifically, one gravel bike, whose makers probably don’t even want to use the term.

‘This whole category of bikes was probably triggered by the Open,’ says Condor’s head of design, Ben Spurrier.

‘These are bikes where ultimately your frame becomes a platform for you to do whatever you want with it, whether that’s on-road riding, off-road or anything in between.’

The Open UP (or Unbeaten Path) to which Spurrier is referring was developed by Cervélo founder Gerard Vroomen, with the express intent of creating a bike that could tackle a wide range of off-road terrain while still being handy on the road.

The secret was adaptability through compatibility, and that’s exactly the mantle this Condor Gravel Stainless has taken up, a bike that by all accounts can do it all.

What’s in a word?

A picture is worth a thousand words, but no amount of pictures can capture just how striking this bike is in the flesh.

It’s a mixture of glistening metal and orange paint so bright that it could be picked up from space.

As the name suggests, the frame is made exclusively from Columbus XCr stainless steel, which has been polished to mirror lustre and then had sections masked off for paint.

That has left it with crisp lines of exposed steel running up the back of the seat tube, along the top tube and down the head tube, as well as a polished steel Condor logo.

The rear triangle is similarly ‘naked’, reminiscent of the chromed racers of yesteryear, as well as another bike eagle-eyed Condor fans might know.

‘This is born of a variation of our Acciaio Stainless road bike,’ says Spurrier.

‘We call it the Gravel but for a time I didn’t rename it because it shares so much with that road bike.

‘“Acciaio” means “steel” in Italian, and I thought maybe the Italian for “Platform” could work.

‘But I looked it up and it wasn’t exactly the best name for a bike.’

That word is Impalcatura – so make of that what you will – but Spurrier’s reasons for wanting to call it that are easier to understand, since the Gravel is an exceptionally versatile beast, every bit the ‘platform’ spoken of earlier.

The basic blueprint is full custom geometry, with the Gravel made in Italy to Condor’s designs by the same team of framebuilders that makes the Acciaio Stainless.

However, there are some central themes that permeate each build (unless a customer specifically requests otherwise), such as mounts for racks and mudguards and extra bottles, a removable front mech mount for running clean-looking 1x set-ups and disc brakes.

Crucially, it also has the ability to run various wheel and tyre combinations.

Thus the Gravel accepts two different sizes of wheel, regular 700c or 29in road bike-sized wheels and 650b, a 27.5in diameter wheel popular in mountain bikes.

Because changing a bike’s wheel size will also change its geometry (for example, a larger radius wheel will create a longer wheelbase), the thinking is that a 650b wheel with a 2.1in mountain bike-style tyre will have a near-identical radius to a 700c wheel with a 28mm road tyre or 32mm cyclocross tyre.

The benefit is that a 650b/2.1in setup offers far more grip, comfort and shock absorption, transforming a road bike into a mud and rock munching machine, all without upsetting the geometry.

The Gravel officially accepts tyres up to 40mm (1.57in), dependent on manufacturer, although Spurrier says he’s squeezed in 42mm and even 44mm quite happily.

There is even room for mudguards with a 40mm tyre.

Not quite in the same road-mountain bike crossover league as a 2.1in tyre-clearance bike, but it’s indicative of where Condor is coming from.

‘I see this as a versatile road bike, instead of a gravel bike you can stick road wheels in,’ says Spurrier.

‘You can bang a set of road bike wheels on this and it will be as fast as any road bike.

‘As bikepacking and endurance events such as the Transcontinental Race become more and more popular, the line between what a gravel bike is and what constitutes a road bike is becoming increasingly blurred, and you end up with a road bike but with big clearances for tyres.

‘They share the same properties.’

It’s an interesting indictment of the road bike industry, which some people will find agreeable, and others will continue to gnash teeth at.

But so long as it produces bikes this pretty, and with this much potential, what’s not to like?