Welcome Home, Centurion

Here is lovely 1975 Centurion Semi Pro.  It has been well preserved over the decades by its original owner, and I am now the proud steward of this extraordinary machine.

As readers of this blog already know, I have been on a decades long quest to replace my crashed 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, a bike which was my only bike for over 20 years, and upon which I logged over 40,000 miles including tours of the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands, and Canada, as well as serving as my daily commuter.  The Pro Tour was my original all-rounder.

So, when I saw this baby blue 1975 Centurion Semi Pro on eBay, I knew I would be honored to shepherd this bike into its next phase.

When the bike arrived, I unpacked it like a toddler with a new toy, and when I found these interesting frame transfers, they confirmed the information provided by the seller of the bike (who was not the original owner, but who sold it on their behalf).  The first human to ride this Centurion was a member of the US Cycling Federation (now known as USA Cycling), and had ordered the full Dura Ace upgrade for this bike, as well installing racing tubulars instead of the 27″ clincher rims offered as standard equipment.  The original owner was also a member of the League of American Wheelmen and had added these black and white racing flag transfers to the top tube.

While the bike clearly had a documented racing heritage, I was puzzled to find the Dura Ace crankset mounted with a chainguard.  And, you’ll note that the rings are not in racing configuration, but are a compact set-up with 52 teeth on the large ring and 39 on the small ring.  Both rings are Shimano Dura Ace.  Don’t forget to notice the lovely Dura Ace front derailleur.  The Dura Ace upgrade included:  the front derailleur, the anodized brake calipers, the drilled levers and the crankset:

These Dura Ace components are in amazing condition.  The drilled levers look new, but are given away by the gum hoods which have long ago lost their resilience.  The brake calipers are beautifully anodized.  The Dura Ace crankset with its 172.5 arms is in equally amazing condition, considering its 43 years in service.

I enjoyed seeing this unusual Huret wrap around chrome cable guide which provides shifter cable routing on both sides of the frame. This bike has zero braze-ons.  While it is built with Tange Prestige #1 tubing, during this era braze-ones were rare, and most needed accessories and cable guides were handled via clamps.

SunTour Mighty ratcheting downtube shifters

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Shimano Crane GS drilled long cage derailleur

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SunTour GS chromed dropouts with single eyelet and adjuster screws

The drivetrain consists of SunTour ratcheting Mighty shifters mated to the Dura Ace front derailleur and a Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur.  The Crane would be needed to handle the 52/39 rings up front.  The dropouts are by SunTour, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as lovely as these fully chromed SunTour GS dropouts.  Their unusual shape made me look up this component in the SunTour catalog.  You’ll note that the design pushes the dropouts inward toward the hub.  I wonder if this simplified mitering the rear stays.

The pedals also provided a surprise – they are very rare Barelli Supreme pedals, with the optional alloy cages.  According to the site Classic Lightweights, these pedals “were considered the Rolls Royce of pedals. The spindle was made from Nickel Chrome Steel and they were machined for accuracy at the bearing surfaces and they came with a life time guarantee”  That, and the other component upgrades help to explain why this bike weighs in at 22 lbs.

The upgraded wheelset consists of 27″ Super Champion Competition tubular rims laced to Sunshine Pro Am low flange hubs.  A new set of Pararacer 20mm tubulars were installed as part of the deal.  I’m not sure how well the new tubulars were glued, so I will probably install a clincher wheelset on hand for this bike’s first test ride.

The bars were upgraded to 3TTT, mated to a Cinelli stem.  The original SR seatpost looks beautiful with this Cinelli leather Unicantor saddle.  Unicantors were the first plastic base saddles of this era.  I haven’t ridden one before and look forward to trying it out.  You’ll also note the Centurion’s impressive, chrome wrap around seat stay.

This Semi Pro has the following SN:  M5J00027.  Consistent with all Centurion frames I have encountered, and as documented by others, the first letter indicates the frame builder, but no one knows who that is.  Since both my 1976 Pro Tour and this 1975 Semi Pro start with an “M” I will guess they were both built by the same manufacturer, probably Japanese.  The second numeral is a “5” and that indicates the year built – 1975 – which is consistent with the bike’s components.  Another way to date a bike without a reliable serial number is by the components.

Some readers might wonder about the photos in this post.  For the most part I used my Panasonic Lumix mirrorless camera, but I also brought out my Leica Digilux 2 for some of the photos seen here.

I look forward to venturing out on this extraordinary bike, and will keep you posted on our progress.

And, here are some related technical and historical documents:

1978 Centurion catalog (the 1975 catalog does not seem to exist online) – vintage centurion site – http://vintage-centurion.com/literature/centurion-catalogs.shtml

1975 Shimano Dura Ace – disraeligears site – http://www.disraeligears.co.uk/Site/A_Complete_Line_of_Shimano_1975.html

1976 SunTour catalog – Velobase site – http://www.velo-pages.com/main.php?g2_itemId=12472

Cleaning, Polishing and Restoring Vintage Aluminum Fenders

Having spent hours cleaning and polishing vintage aluminum bicycle fenders, I have wondered if there is a way to improve the efficiency of this process without harming a vintage fender’s finish?   Maybe not, but there are some products that work a bit better than others and are less likely to scratch or damage the fender’s finish.

Custom Meral steel fenders, with original wine cork spacer and attachment reinforcement

Aluminum fenders – hammered, patterned or smooth – are often found on vintage bicycles with 650b wheels.  Steel fenders, painted or chromed, were also used – although not as commonly as their aluminum counterparts. Lightweight chromed steel fenders can be found on some French, British, and Italian randonneuring bikes dating from the 1950’s on.  But, aluminum alloy fenders were generally the material of choice in those days.

Vintage 1950’s fenders with red highlights and a smooth surface

1950’s hammered fenders with dark brown paint highlights.

Vintage aluminum alloy fenders can have painted portions to add color highlights.  Cleaning and polishing these fenders involves a number of steps.  You don’t want to use any product that will dull the color highlights.  So, it’s best to focus on the unpainted portion of the fender for polishing.

As a first step, I remove the fender from the bicycle frame and remove all the mounting hardware.  Then I gently wash it with a mild surfactant, such as Finish Line’s pink bike wash. After that, I continue the cleaning process with a clean rag and some alcohol.

Because the fender is flexible and subject to damage  I place it over an inflated tire of similar width, mounted to a wheel and position this into my truing stand. I prevent the hub from turning by securing the spokes to the stand. This prevents the fender from getting twisted or misshaped while its being polished.

Once the fender is clean it is time to think about the best product to use for polishing.  For aluminum fenders, a wadding polish such as Nevr-Dull seems to work best.  I have tried many other polishes, but have found this product to work most efficiently and with the best results.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t need to reapply this product many times over a heavily tarnished fender.

I have also used MAAS metal polish with excellent results on any steel component.  So it is a good choice for chrome steel fenders (and any other steel component).

My 1973 Jack Taylor’s fenders were seriously tarnished and dull when I acquired the bike.  After polishing the fenders (over many hours), the luster of the metal was restored, as you can see from the photo above.  I used Nevr-Dull to polish the fenders.

The Lefol aluminum fender shown above is from an early 1950’s bicycle.  Cleaning and polishing this fender took some time (as in many hours), but the end result was well worth the effort.  Using a wadding polish for vintage aluminum fenders will yield the best results, as these products will not harm the underlying metal.

Library of Congress Historical Cycling Photos

Julia Obear, 1922 bicycle messenger

The U.S. Library of Congress is a treasure trove of historical data.  Much of the information stored there (which is technically part of the deep web) is copyrighted.  But, periodically the Library releases images and other information that is “Free to Use and Reuse”.  Recently the Library added a small batch of cycling images to this category.  Some of these free images pose questions.  In the above photo, Ms.Obear, a cycling messenger for the National Women’s Party, is astride a traditional diamond-framed bike, with wide drop bars, large wheels, and no apparent rim brakes.

In the above photo you can see that this cyclist is riding a fixed gear machine, sans any rim brakes on the front or the rear.  There is twine run between the two ends of the handlebar (why?) and this cyclist is wearing some stylish cycling couture, with comfortable low heeled shoes.  The large chainring and small cog at the rear wheel makes it seem that this bicycle was set up for training.  One must remember that in these early days of cycling, huge gears were more the norm, and cyclists would typically dismount to ascend steep hills.  Were these cyclists stronger than their modern day counterparts?

1942 Washington DC family out on a ride.

Another interesting photo in the Library of Congress’ free archive is this 1942 photo of a Washington D.C family out on a cycling adventure.  The child is astride a substantial looking kids’ trike, and her parents are riding American cruiser style bikes of this era.  I have to wonder where that little girl is today, and if she is still alive and still riding.

Fast forward to the 1970’s and we have Hertz getting into the biz of bicycle rentals.  A precursor to bike share?  The outermost bike at the lower left of the photo is a Gitane, equipped with centerpull brakes and downtube shifters.

1934 Argentinian tandem cyclists

The above photo depicts a pair of cyclists who started out in Buenos Aires in 1934 on a tandem machine, pictured above, who arrived in the U.S. two years later, alive and well.  The vintage tandem has rim brakes, front and rear, with the captain’s levers installed on the top of the upright bars.  It looks like there are two chain rings up front, but it’s hard to tell if there is a rear derailleur.  Either way, this journey is impressive.

Don’t try this at home!

If you are going to ride down a stairway, maybe first you should try to source a bike with a huge rear wheel.  That is probably what made the above feat possible. There are many other free to share images at the Library of Congress, and not just in the category of cycling.  I hope you have enjoyed these images, and for more, look here.