Hoop Dreams

In an extract from our new book 'Past Present Future', we focus on how wheel building has been an integral part of the service from Condor and why with the advent of factory built wheels there is still a place for a set of 'hand-builts'.

"I learnt to build my first wheel as soon as the shop opened. I was given a wheel from someone at Triumph Cycles and he said, "If you copy this design you'll be fine." I taught myself from that and my reputation began from that point. The wheels were for riders who wanted durability. Hugh Porter's world-championship wheels took me almost a week to make. They were 28-hole rims with 4½oz silk tubulars. As they were ridden on the banking, the tyres were glued with layers of shellac, which was made of shellac crystals and methylated spirits mixed together, left to stand, and then coated in layers around the rim. All the spoke joins were tied and soldered as well," explains Monty Young.

In the fifties through to seventies factory built wheels didn't exist so, the only thing to do was go to a performance cycle shop and have a pair made. The builder would size you up, mentally work out how much you weighed and then figure out the lace pattern and number of holes (sometimes up to 40) you needed.

During the eighties new techniques using carbon meant fashion changed, riders became captivated by aero blades, flat spokes and deep rims. Yet still, factory wheels weren't for everyone, they didn't offer the strength and durability needed by touring cyclists or the combined value for money, compliance and stiffness for local racers to take to an evening criterium.

Riders who opted for the perceived aero advantages of factory built carbon wheel found they compromised on comfort. Fine if you grabbed the evening win, but it felt a long ride home over pot-holed roads if you didn't.

By the nineties factory wheels were the norm and mass production on a global scale brought the costs down. Cycle shop owners without the time to invest in training youngsters to build wheels and those lacking the knowledge to offer a trusted hand-built wheel, turned to factory-built wheels because of the quick turnaround and availability. The factory built wheels offered the assurance that, should anything go wrong, the onus lay with the brand of wheel rather than the shop's workmanship.

"The people who benefit from hand-built wheels are urban cyclists, commuters and tourers. Buying a hand-built wheel is a bit like buying a tennis racket. You can get it strung with different strings and get a very different feel from it." Production Director, Neil Manning continues "With hand-built wheels, if you wear out a rim it's much easier to change it, and they are often more comfortable and compliant when riding on pot-hole-riddled roads through a city or up a mountain pass."

Monty's wheels were legendary. For Condor it is part of what makes our brand. "Every other day someone will come up to me and say they're still riding on the wheel that Monty built," remembers Grant Young, the current Managing Director of Condor.

And so, the skill and training has been passed to each of our mechanics. Though we have a dedicated building, each of our mechanics is trained to build a variety of wheels. It's part of our history and part of the service.

The video of Martin Muller was filmed and edited by Ben Leighton for the 'Power of Making' exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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