Ben clinches 3rd place in the recent Red Bull Hill Chasers event. Photography by Roman Skyver
Condor Cycles is a London institution, with their own iconic brand of bikes, and long-standing shop on Gray’s Inn Road. They’ve been serving the local cycling community since 1948, and have strong ties with the racing scene, their bikes having been ridden in the Tour de France and by the likes of Tommy Simpson and Bradley Wiggins. They’re also currently co-sponsors of the Rapha Condor Sharp professional team. Ben Spurrier has the enviable job of designing the Condor range, and with his own racing pedigree, the brand is in good hands…
Give us a brief account of your cycling background. I grew up in London and cut my teeth racing at Beastway and in the London Cyclo Cross League. I got my first job in a bike shop at 15 which I kept going through the holidays when at university. I did a block of time as a workshop manager in a large chain where I gained a Cytech 3 mechanic’s qualification, then in 2005 I started at the head office working on the up-coming own brand. This wasn’t the most creative role but it was my big break and it got my foot in the door. It gave me the opportunity to travel to the Far East and I racked up a lot of invaluable experience. I also did a stint in the Product Department at Madison, the importer and distributer of Shimano and other brands such as Cervelo, San Marco and more. I’ve done ten 24hr MTB races (one solo), the Paris-Roubaix VTT stage race twice, Cape Epic MTB stage race, 3 peaks Cyclocross race 3 times, I race cyclocross at league level and in the National Trophy and I have worked as mechanic and tech-support on a UK pro road team.
What’s been your greatest achievement on a bike? On Saturday I came 3rd in the inaugural Red Bull Hill Chasers, first knocking out the event favourite Chris Akrigg, and then Raleigh pro and National Hill Climb champ Dan Fleeman!
How did you come to work with Condor designing bikes? I’ve been in the industry now for a while and without wanting to sound big-headed I don’t think there are many people in London with the experience that I have. I came out of university with a degree in Industrial Product Design in 2001 and we all naively assumed we’d be fighting off the job offers but it all counts for nothing if you don’t have experience. I then endured almost 10 years where I thought I’d never get a job in design. It was frustrating and depressing at times but I knew my time would come and I just had to try and make the best of the situation I was in. It’s so difficult to gain that all-important experience when no one is willing to hire you if you don’t have any; and to be fair, I wouldn’t have hired me just on the strength of my degree work. In the end, Condor were struggling to fill the role because it requires more than just coming up with good looking bikes. I think I’m still young for someone with my level of experience, especially in this industry and I feel incredibly lucky to have got where I have – but I’m almost 32 and I have been working towards this for half my life so I’d like to think it’s more than just luck. I have my dream job and not many people can say that.
Above right: The Condor World Series range that was recently voted ‘Best Ride’ in the Wallpaper* 2011 Design Awards. Above: Details of Condor’s Italia, Acciaio, and Terra-X bikes.
Where do you look for inspiration when designing? I look at everything around me, all of the time. I come from a family of artists, designers and craftsmen and from an early age my grandmother used to make me draw plants and flowers, telling me how many of the shapes we see around us are derived from nature. I’m not saying my design work is all based on nature, but it taught me to look at everything in a different way. I’m also working with a brand which has 62 years of heritage so there’s a lot there to draw from.
There seems to be a certain look that unifies the Condor range – is this very deliberate, or a result of the range reflecting your tastes and personality as a designer? It’s both. I work closely with the brand manager Claire Beaumont and we spent our first year unifying and consolidating the brand. When we came on board there were some bikes that had up to four different Condor logos on them so we worked hard to bring everything together and instil some consistency. You can’t please everyone but I try and be as open as I can with what I’m doing and get feedback from everyone around me during the process. One thing I know from my previous roles is that something I like doesn’t always translate into something which is right for the customer – maybe that’s what part of being a designer is about.
Can you run down the process of how a new design typically comes into existence, from drawing board to road? For example, is there an extensive prototyping and testing stage? Most of our testing is in-house and involves us riding and racing stuff ourselves. Obviously having the Rapha Condor Sharp pro team is a huge bonus as it lets us get some really valuable feedback from those guys. I recently redesigned our ‘cross bike from scratch. That involved me doing concept sketches of how I invisaged it looking, making geometry suggestions and ultimately doing a frame drawing accompanied by a wish-list of features. I talked through my ideas with our builder in Italy and a first prototype was produced. I then raced on this for the whole season including some off road summer rides and from here we made a couple of alternations. We’ve now set our sights on some more advancements; the industry doesn’t stand still and nor should we. Some more prototypes are being made as I type. In terms of the graphic elements, we sit and chat, go for a ride and come up with a specific brief regarding what we want to acheive and who we aiming the product at.
Do you have a favourite from the current range? Which ones do you own or ride regularly? I regularly race my Team Leggero and my prototype ‘cross bike. My favourites are the Heritage touring bike and the brown and blue ‘cross bike. But I’m most proud of the World Series which was the first project that that Claire and I were responsible for, from conception through to it winning ‘Best Ride’ in the Wallpaper* Design Awards.
What’s the biggest perk or most enjoyable aspect of working for Condor? Occasionally we get the use of one of the team cars and I get to race on one of our bikes in Rapha Condor kit which is all great. However, I love the warmth that people, not just customers but peers in the industry all have for the brand. It’s amazing to be given almost complete creative freedom within a brand with such rich history, but with that comes a lot of responsibility. Every aspect of cycling is booming at the moment, I’ve never seen anything like it in London and it’s great to be right at the centre of it all. I’ve always been fascinated with how things are made and because I live and breath cycling, I love being under the skin of it all and at the end of the day, the best feeling comes from seeing my artwork published or clothing designs being worn or bikes being ridden that I’ve designed!
What are you working on at the moment? Is there anything exciting in the pipeline from Condor that you can tell us about? There is always a prototype as our bikes compete on the world stage. We’ve spent the last year creating a new website and we’re just changing some bits so I’ve been putting together the creative elements of that. I’m putting together a new catalogue and some smaller stuff like owners’ manuals. I’m also doing some in-house things like clothing and bottles which needed refreshing. There is a special edition coming soon, that we are making for Sharp UK – their MD is riding every stage of the Giro for Prostate Cancer.