Paris Cycles was started in the early 1940s by Harry Rensch, a close friend and neighbour of Monty Young, Condor's founder. The lightweight thoroughbred frames soon became sought after pieces, famous for their continental flair.
Condor Cycles has recreated what was formerly known as the Tour de France frame, incorporating the original bi-lamination design and using the experience gained from building frames by hand and working in steel. The new Paris uses modern technology and materials but stays true to the original iconic design.
Although the frame is made using modern technology, it is a time consuming process and Condor will make 30 Paris frames per year.
Harry ‘Spanner' Rensch was known for his elaborate continental designs. The frames struck a chord with some but were viewed with suspicion by others, for the bikes didn't carry the typical lugged design used on most racing cycles of that era.
Just a boy at the time, Monty Young was the neighbour to Harry at Church Street, London, N16. It was here that Harry first planted a seed in Monty's head about the joys of cycling and mass start racing. They strike up conversation and before long Monty is sucked into something that would take over his life. Monty began to assist as a soigneur and mechanic to the Paris and Triumph cycling teams, eventually opening a shop across town as his enthusiasm for cycling developed ten-fold.
Nineteen forties frame makers were confined to using tubes of a similar diameter and build quality. Each marque sought to find a way to differentiate and establish their reputation and name. Harry pioneered a fanciful frame construction using bronze welding, allowing him to create the lugless frames and at the head tube he wrapped a Gothic styled bi-lamination.
The Paris name grew exponentially and Harry struggled to maintain it. He moved his business to a larger factory in the fifties to keep up with demand. Pre-ordering materials meant invariably there was a shortage of cash. Whilst the name had its fans it didn't strike a cord with every club cyclist. In tough times it takes the astute to continue momentum of a brand, and for Paris, like so many others in the mid fifties, it met its match, formally dissolving in 1955.
Young and Rensch remained close in the years following. Out of war torn London they were some of the first to build lightweight racing cycles at the forefront of British cycle sport.
The lust to innovate has remained strong in cycling. By the eighties, fashion and trends in cycling were dramatically different to when Condor formed more than forty years previous.
Designs fought against tradition and retro styling. In amongst the new wave of sci-fi styling was Monty Young with his memories of the golden age of cycling. But driving Condor forward with new materials and radical designs was his son, Grant. Monty decided the tradition shouldn't be lost but at the same the Condor values shouldn't be confused as a backward thinking. The idea for a revival of Paris was born. He joined with Tom Board, a builder and former apprentice to Rensch, and with another Paris enthusiast registered the Paris Lightweight Cycle Company in 1981.
The new Paris frames remained true to their original formally exotic looks, but the construction embraced the knowledge the industry had learnt over the years. The Galibier remained a stable in the range as did the Tour de France. Fillet brazing at the joins was introduced while the same bi-lamination pattern remained at the head of the steed. Paris continued to be sold as commissioned pieces. Three strong years of Paris Lightweight ensued before Harry Rensch passed away in 1984, safe in the knowledge that Paris bicycles were well on the way to revival.
Over the last twenty years Paris frames have been built by Condor Cycles. The tubing has been upgraded to a super lightweight steel that has been heat treated for tensile strength, whilst welding, cutting and testing techniques honed. But a sticking point was the length of production. Each frame had a year long waiting list, partly due to the lack of workman skill available and partly due to the intricate bi-lamination design.
Paris Cycles stand at the 1949 Cycle Show, Earls Court
In late 2008 Grant decided he wanted to bring the frames up to date and make them as accessible as they were in the past. He began to test construction methods to reduce the build time. A two year search led Condor to invest in laser cutting technology. The search harked back to a business model set by Rensch; to use the latest available technology to create performance race machines. His original literature played up the use of new technology and experimental welding, innovations in enamelling, metallic lustre paint and 'infra red finishing processes'.
For 2011 the latest incarnation of Paris Path and Paris Road by Condor is a handmade, lightweight, fillet brazed frame made from steel tubing with manganese and vanadium, featuring laser cut bi-laminations and a frame livery with a twist on a retro style icon.
Bi-lams, not lugs
Lugged frames are as popular now as in the 1940s. In the early years of cycling using lugs was the easiest way to make a frame. A lug is a socket that forms the junction between two or more frame tubes. Frame builders would use lug design as a method of differentiating their frames. Lugs are still used today both in carbon, aluminium and steel frame production. The Paris frames were innovative; the head tube design was created using a bi-lamination rather than a hand cut lug.
A bi-lamination requires more precision in the manufacturing process. Firstly on a flat sheet of steel a design is cut. It is then manipulated by hand to join both ends together so that it resembles a lug. Paris bi-lams are then slotted onto the head tube.
Next comes the tricky part. The tubes meeting the bi-lam must perfectly meet the back of the bi-lam and sit flush. Tubing must be cut and mitred exactly to the curve of the head tube.If it doesn't, either the bi-lam or the tube must be reworked or thrown away and the process begins again.
The tube must sit perfectly because any gaps will compromise the integrity of the join. Brass is then built up around the bi-lam and adjoining tube - a technique known as fillet brazing. The frame is then cooled and cleaned using water and a wire brush. Finally the brass is filed down by hand to achieve a smooth finish.
Why use bi-lams? The overall effect is a lighter frame and strong weld. Bi-lamination designs don't feature as much as lugs because of the man hours that goes into producing the frame. There is less room for error and error is costly to the frame builder. As fashion changed simple frame styles grew in popularity. Tig welding techniques meant a frame could be made quickly with the same strength but less weight compared with a lugged frame and, importantly, at a better price. Equipment for tig welding became precise and tig welding became an industry standard.