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November 4, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, Paul Braybrook shares the story behind the modern remake of Paris’ unique and iconic Galibier.
by Paul Braybrook
I developed a keen interest in vintage race bikes a few years ago and was initially drawn to the typical Italian scene of Colnagos and Bianchis. This led me to research and learn more about English race bikes. I eventually stumbled on a picture of a Paris Galibier from the 1950s and was blown away by the frame design.
With so many classic racing bicycles essentially looking the same since 1940, the Galibier really stood out for me. However, the original frames are extremely rare (and therefore expensive) so I never had much hope of ever owning one until Condor Cycles got in touch with me with the news that they were planning on building a modern remake.
While it may not seem obvious, there are strong ties between Condor Cycles and Paris that go back to the 1940s. That was when the man behind Paris, Harry Rensch, befriended a local boy by the name of Monty Young. Monty lived in the same street where Harry’s workshop was located, and he would eventually go on to found Condor Cycles.
Harry Rensch had been building racing bicycles under his own name for some years before the outbreak of World War II. However, in the aftermath, rumour has it that he was worried his name was too Germanic-sounding, so he adopted the name Paris. The business thrived for a little while but closed in 1953 due to financial difficulties (and perhaps Harry’s ailing health and home life).
Monty Young resurrected Paris in 1981, joining together with Tom Board, who was one of Paris’ original framebuilders. Since then, Condor Cycles have been building Paris frames as part of its effort to keep the tradition of British frame building and craftsmanship alive.
The Galibier suffered a bit of a hiatus due to the cost of production and a shortage of skilled framebuilders that could handle the intricate bi-laminations that provide ornate detail to the frameset. To the untrained eye, these creations look like conventional lugs, but they are actually fashioned from a flat sheet of metal that is wrapped around the head and seat tube junctions.
Needless to say, the process is very time consuming. The tubes must be hand-mitred to ensure an exact fit between the tube and the bi-lamination. Now the Galibier is handbuilt in Italy from modern materials, like heat-treated steel and triple-butted tubing custom made by Columbus and Dedacciai.
I didn’t hesitate to place an order once I heard about the “re-release” of the Galibier. I have bought a couple of bikes from Condor in recent years (Condor Super Accaio and Paris Path single-speed) and they had remembered my interest in the Galibier. That it was a modern remake really appealed to me, because it gave me the option to build it up with modern components, take it on bunch rides and really get the most out of it.
I placed my order early 2016 and I received it in August. Getting the parts together was a great part of the process and I involved some local mechanic friends to help me finish the bike off. The wheelset was built by Adrian at Melody Wheels, the bottom bracket was supplied by Captain Walker’s Bicycles, and the BikeDr handled the very unique cable routing. It was nice to get different bike mechanics involved in the process and see their faces when I turned up with the frame!
The wheels are a dream build: a pair of Royce hubs laced to Ambrosio Nemesis tubular rims. The hubs were chosen for their sheer beauty and craftsmanship. Anybody involved with custom or ‘dream’ bikes will be aware of Royce hubs and the levels they go to in both performance and aesthetic.
I chose Ambrosio’s Nemesis rims because of their history, pedigree, and iconic images from Paris-Roubaix. Seeing Ambrosio’s small gold label on the de-stickered rims at the race left a strong impression on me.
The 11-speed Record groupset is the 2014 version. Not only is it reliable, I find it is particularly beautiful compared to the more modern 2015 design. The saddle and bar tape had to be Brooks, in part to honour the English heritage of the frame, but also to have some components that I expect will last the life of the bike and become something of a time capsule for its history with me.
Frameset: Paris Galibier.
Handlebars: Cinelli Giro d’Italia.
Groupset: Campagnolo Record.
Rims: Ambrosio Nemesis.
Tyres: Vittoria Corsa.
Bar tape: Brooks.
The Galibier is a dream frame that I’ve been longing to own for a long time. Short of owning an original one, there is nothing I would change on this bike. My original plan was to build using modern old-style components such as those from Velo Orange but I’m glad I went with the modern Campy build as it makes the bike extremely user-friendly.
The bike has a remarkable smoothness to its ride quality. I have other steel frames and they are not as smooth as this one. It doesn’t feel flexy though, it just absorbs bumps nicely and creates a pleasant ride.
Cornering is beautifully stable. It’s certainly not as sharp as my modern carbon road bike but when it’s in a corner, I feel incredible planted and stable. It will never set records but on a sunny morning when the mood takes me, it’s a brilliant bike to just ride and enjoy. It just makes me smile every time I ride it and I have to chuckle whenever I pass someone and see not the double- but triple-take that the bike always gets.
I have ridden the original L’eroica and I plan at some point to go back and take the Galibier rebuilt with a Campy Record groupset from the ‘70s to see how it goes over 205km of gravel, hills and Tuscan sun. The frame was completed on the day my first son was born, which was a particularly nice coincidence, and maybe that means I should gift it to him on his 18th Birthday… no promises, though!