CONDOR CLASSICO STAINLESS
English-designed, Italian-made and mirror-finished
MODEL Condor Classico Stainless FRAME AND FORK Fillet brazed Columbus SLX and XCR; 1 ⅛in lugged Columbus XCR GROUPSET Shimano Ultegra 6800 GEARING 52/36t chainset; 11-28t cassette WHEELS Ambrosio Excellence rims on Shimano Ultegra 6800 hubs TYRES Continental GP4000 II 23mm FINISHING KIT Fizik Cyrano R3 bars, R1 stem, R3 seatpost, Fizik Aliante VS saddle WEIGHT 9.00kg (56cm) PRICE £1,800 (frameset), approx £4,500 as tested CONTACT condorcycles.com
I absolutely love this bike. If this is what steel is like, I’m a convert. I spent all day trying to pick holes in the Classico, to find even the slightest chink in its Columbus armour, but I failed. When I first picked it up it felt heavy, but that apparent heaviness just didn’t come across when pedalling uphill. A sprinter could bemoan a slightly flexy frame, but given the tubes are so skinny that’s hardly a surprise, and the bike was more than stiff enough for me.
If I can fault it at all it’s that I would have enjoyed an even higher-end build. Condor sells this as a frameset so anything is possible, but the colour really draws attention and the components should back up the statement the frame is making. It would look even more amazing with Campagnolo Super Record and Mavic’s new Open Pro rims with stainless spokes laced to shiny hubs. Considered as just frame and fork, though, the Classico is fantastic.
Chris suggests you may need a fair bit of luck getting a L’eroica commissaire here to accept it. Apparently they’re pretty dyed in the wool.
To this end, my Bianchi has non-indexed down tube shifters, which to begin with makes finding a gear about as accurate as a carnival ring toss in a force-nine gale. Made by DiaCompe, an entry-level Japanese manufacturer that’s been busily making everything that no one else will make since 1930, the shifters do have an endearing ratchet mechanism that acts as a kind of brake to stop the cable untwizzling under tension. Anyone who remembers down tube shifters of old will know how often you had to wind up the little pre-load wingnut to stop this from happening, so in certain respects my primitive shifters are highly advanced.
Simon and Nick both have integrated gear/ brake levers, the De Rosa’s courtesy of Campagnolo Super Record and the Condor’s from Shimano Ultegra. They also have modern dual-pivot calliper brakes, while mine are oldfashioned centre-pull. They’re finicky to set up, requiring two spanners (remember spanners?) and a tissue to mop up the blood from my finger after an altercation with a frayed cable.
Style over substance
It’s clear from our opening descent through the Chianti hills that my brakes aren’t very good.
The De Rosa’s stout head tube and short chainstays are seemingly perfect for the twisting descents
I do eventually slow, but the way in which Simon drops me suggests his Super Record brakes are far superior, allowing him to duck late into apexes with confidence, and fly out the other side. Nick is at it too, and my shortcomings are only compounded by my 48x13 top gear.
When we regroup, Simon declares the De Rosa a fantastic descender. While polished lugs and pantographed fork look the vintage part, the De Rosa’s stout 153mm head tube and short 408mm chainstays are every inch the modern racer’s geometry and seemingly perfect for the twisting descents. That’s not the only inch that matters, however.
The big draw in Tuscany is the sterrati, the dusty chalk tracks that have set L’eroica and the Strade Bianche one-day race apart from every event outside the Flandrian cobbles. Despite generally benefitting from untold hours of blistering sunshine, it rained heavily across Tuscany yesterday and the graveliness of the sterrato we’re now on is all the better for it. Two of our three bikes, however, are not, and it’s all down to what’s going on inside the head tube.
Today head tubes have more in common with those massive Italian pepper pots, but once upon a time they were one-inch diameter affairs, where the fork and headset were secured by two locknuts threaded onto the steerer.
Happily for Nick, Condor built his Classico Stainless around a 1 ⅛in head tube with modern threadless assembly. Unhappily for Simon and me, De Rosa and Bianchi have been more historically accurate and furnished our bikes with one-inch head tubes and threaded headsets. Thus by the third stretch of rutted track the front of our bikes sound like jars of marbles, the locknuts having disregarded their functional designation and shaken loose.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of a threaded headset that I’ve forgotten to pack the requisite spanners, so from here on
in Simon and I resort to what Nick calls ‘God’s own spanners’. That is, our hands. It kind of works… a bit. If there’s a plus side, though, it’s that our bicycles are definitely the prettier for their mechanical limitations. Threaded headsets mean quill stems, and while the Condor is pretty, we all agree its modern front end is incongruous with the rest of the bike’s aesthetic. Someone once told me your stem should never be fatter than your top tube, and I think they’re right.
So far the vote is with the modern gear on the Condor and De Rosa. My old-school brakes have admittedly now bedded in, and I’m coming to terms with having to select a gear long before the start of a climb, and having to sit down during shifts on said climbs. However, beyond that, all the touch points of the Bianchi feel lacking.
The cloth bar tape is period-correct but scratchy, as well as offering zero cushioning,
I’m coming to terms with having to select a gear long before the start of a climb
the skinny nature of the brake levers and traditional bend of the bar mean holding the hoods is like pointing two pistols at the floor, and there’s a noise like a creaking tree coming from the Lycra of my bibs sliding on the polished leather of the Brooks saddle. Despite all this, I’m falling for the Bianchi.
Stopping in the beautiful town of Castelnuovo Berardenga for espressos, we’re faced with an army of cyclotourists on carbon fibre Bianchi Intensos. By rights these are more accomplished bicycles, yet all eyes are drawn to my L’eroica. Chris translates some chatter from two grizzled cafe patrons, who are praising the bike as some kind of well-kept classic.
In many respects that’s enough of a validation that nothing else matters. But that’s not all. On the scales it weighs a healthy 9.39kg, a figure I usually baulk at, but on these roads it makes for a supremely smooth ride. It seems to cut into the looser gravel to find traction in corners, and the steel fork bends like a leaf spring over bumps.
The De Rosa is the lightest here at 8.61kg, the Condor 9kg on the nose, and it seems these generally higher weights together with the natural flex of skinny tubes are presenting comfortable rides and stable platforms on which to descend. Climbing, though, is another matter.
Where in the world
I’ve been lucky enough to ride bikes all over Europe, and while France and Belgium boast excellent cycle paths, and Spain has stunning weather, I’ve found nowhere that compares to
this corner of Italy. So great is the love of bikes that the road signs here encompass specially added – and permanent – turn-by-turn directions for the L’eroica route. As Chris puts it, ‘L’eroica put this area on the map,’ and its inhabitants seem thankful for it.
Motorists are few and courteous, and as we ascend a chalk track towards the Castello di Brolio I’m reminded of another pearl from Chris: if you know where you’re going you can spend weeks here and never do the same climb twice.
The crest of the hill on which the castle is perched peers over a huge expanse of vineyards and arable land, bisected by rows of cypress trees flanking ancient roads. It’s enough to make a visitor weak at the knees, and as I watch Nick disappear further up the climb with his stainless steel frame glinting in the sunshine, my knees do very nearly give way.
Nick is a climber by nature, and Simon isn’t far off, and while I’d tentatively throw my hat in the rouleur ring the constant slipping of my tyres and sudden feeling of my legs dropping through thin air isn’t just down to my lack of climbing prowess.
I have a special place in my heart for Vittoria, and its new Corsa G tyres are some of the best around, but these Zaffiros just aren’t cutting it up the climb – as demonstrated by the way Simon and Nick are putting the power down through their Continental rubber. Simon is definitely the better off of the two on 25mm Grandsports, but on 23mm GP4000 IIS, Nick is still finding good traction.
At the top a quick eyeball suggests that even though Nick and I have the same Ambrosio Excellence rims, my tyres have come up substantially skinnier, and a few fingernail
If you know where you’re going you can spend weeks in Tuscany and never do the same climb twice
scrapes and thumb squeezes of either tyre indicates that his tread and carcass is a damn sight tackier and more supple than mine.
Beyond the vintage style components, this is my first real complaint of the day. The Bianchi costs £2,700, is designed explicitly for L’eroica and yet comes with 60tpi, 23mm entry-level tyres. These are fine if you’re commuting or training, but I can’t see they have proper application here, which is the area that gives the bike its name in the first place, after all.
Cycling in Tuscany is possibly one of the greatest experiences you can have on two wheels. Take it slow and steady and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable ramble, but hit it hard and there’s plenty of terrain to test guile and mettle. However, the day-to-day reality for these bikes will more likely be one of relatively smooth tarmac and a bit of rain back in the UK.
We’re unable to critique them in the wet, but as the sun grows a heavier orange and the last of the chalk roads surrender to asphalt, we’re provided terrain to test the more general abilities of our steeds.
Simon disappears down a descent, which would suggest his De Rosa really is something of a marvel as a road bike, followed by Nick, whose comfortable-looking progress speaks to his Condor’s well-rounded persona. I, on the other hand, need a boost to get back on to their breakaway tails, and as if to remind me why we chose Tuscany, the countryside smiles on me.
While mopeds are de rigeur in Italian cities, in the countryside one vehicle reigns supreme: the Piaggio Ape, a curious three-wheeled truck whose engine sounds like a hairdryer full of bees.
A beckoning hand out of his window tells me he realises I need a free ride, and he helps me to urge the Bianchi home. We won’t be setting any records out here, but then getting motor-paced by a farmer in a miniature truck isn’t something you can quantify on Strava.
It’s a timely reminder that while experiences like these may come from a bygone age, there’s nothing stopping us revisiting them. The tools, the people and the places still exist – it’s just a matter of getting out there and finding them.
Above: Bikes such as these tend to create a certain conviviality, but when the road calls for it they still have a competitive streak. On the downhills, the Bianchi causes a few concerns owing to sketchy braking performance
The Bianchi and De Rosa stick well to the corners and deal happily with the rougher stuff Below: Unfortunately, when the going gets fast the Bianchi’s low gearing is deficient enough to call for a motor-pace from this Piaggio Ape
Each bike features compliant steel forks, but of the three the Condor’s stainless fork is arguably the stiffest fore-aft. Luckily Nick brought along his mitts
All the carbon in the world can’t touch the glinting elegance of chrome-lugged steel, especially when it’s pantographed with the maker’s name