A 1975 Centurion Semi Pro

I’ve finished my re-interpretation of this 1975 Centurion Semi Pro, with today’s late fall Pacific Northwest sunshine providing warmth and dry roads for its first test ride.

1975 Centurion Semi Pro in original configuration

After purchasing the bike a few months ago, I disassembled it, assessed its frame and components, and then re-built it as a city commuter, to reflect the kind of riding I currently enjoy.  The frame was free of rust, and in unusually nice condition for its age.  This Centurion Semi Pro had been upgraded at original purchase to Shimano Dura Ace components and a 27″ tubular wheelset.

I kept as much as I could of the original Dura Ace components, but I knew that I would replace the wheelset, not wanting to ride on 27 inch 20mm tubulars through downtown Portland.  At first, I considered a 650b conversion as the best option for adapting this bike to my riding style.  But, the close clearances on this frame designed for 27″ wheels meant that I was looking at an 87mm brake reach to accomplish the conversion.  While possible, this amount of reach is not ideal.  There are brake calipers which have enough reach to accomplish the conversion, but they are not in my constellation of desirable components.  Instead, I converted it to 700c, using the existing anodized Dura Ace calipers, which had plenty of reach for a 700c wheelset.

Campagnolo Record quick release skewer, SunTour GS Chromed dropouts with adjuster screws and single eyelets.

Mavic Open Pro 700c rims

Campagnolo Record hubs

Pasela 700 c 35 mm tires

And that wheelset turned out to be one that I had built a while back and which I had used on my old Davidson:  Campagnolo Record 36 hole hubs built up on new Mavic Open Pro rims.  The blue rim logo picks up nicely on the Centurion’s sky blue frame paint. The tires are Panasonic Pasela 700 x 35. They have a tread pattern which is different from all other Pasela tires.  The big tires on 700c wheels make for a tall bike, which I noticed throwing a leg over and while riding in its new upright position. Being visible is a plus for cycling commuters.

Blackburn rack with single stay attachment to the brake bridge

For the modifications to convert this bike to city use, I selected some of my favorite components:  a Stronglight 99 crankset with 48/37 rings, a SunTour gold 14-32 freewheel, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters, Dia Comp brake levers, and french Sufficit grips glued to a steel Northroad bar.  Most useful was a NOS Jim Blackburn rear rack with its single stay attachment to the rear brake bridge – a great solution for bikes without rear rack mounts.

When I was selecting and testing components, the original Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur presented some problems:  the amount of tension needed to shift to larger rear cogs was significant.  And that tension helped to explain the scratch damage on the frame from the shifter clamp moving down the downtube.  I found that the original Shimano Crane GS rear derailleur was not performing as expected.  I disassembled the derailleur (thank you RJ the bikeguy) and found that the springs and pivot bolts were caked in grime and dirt.  However, after cleaning and lubrication, the Shimano Crane derailleur still requires a significant amount of cable tension to move the parallelogram.  Shifting the bike today on its test ride required overshifting on the up shifts, and a lot of adjustment on the downshifts.  I expect that I will probably replace the Shimano Crane with a SunTour derailleur to improve the rear shifting.

When I ventured out today, I planned on riding my usual route around my hilly neighborhood. I enjoyed getting out for a ride on this Centurion Semi Pro. There seemed to be almost no interference between my crank inputs and the bike’s outputs.  The ride was smooth and effortless.  The way back home to my house involves choosing among several different routes, varying in difficulty.  With this bike’s easy pedaling, I chose the most difficult route home, one that I have dubbed the “TDF” route, with its cobblestones and steep inclines.  That’s a route I only ride on my ALAN or Guerciotti – lightweight and high performance bikes.  So, even as converted to a city style bike, this Centurion Semi Pro has impressed me.

A Portland Sunday on a Bridgestone MB3

My winter/errand bike has been a well used 1987 Panasonic MC 7500. I bought that bike as a frame and fork many years ago, and then built it into a Portland workhorse. Rigid lugged steel vintage “mountain bikes” serve as excellent platforms for conversion to a sturdy errand/winter/commuter bike.

The Bridgestone MB3 frame sat in my shop for a few months, as I had purchased it only for its lavender Nitto stem to use on my newly built up Rivendell Appaloosa.  Well, sort of but not really.  The Bridgestone frame was in great shape, and it kept staring at me every time I loaded another bike into the work stand.  Finally, I gave in, transferring many of the Panasonic components, which I disassembled, over to the MB3.  The build was pretty straightforward, and would have been completed much sooner had I not decided to use Suntour cantilevers, whose set up required more time.  Finally, the bike was ready for a few assignments.

Denison Farms Organic Veggies at the Montavilla Farmers Market

A happy classical guitarist at the Montavilla Farmers Market

Veggies loaded into my Jandd grocery pannier.

First, I headed over to the Montavilla Farmers Market.  This weekly Sunday event features an extravaganza of luscious fruits and veggies, homemade honey, jams and jellies, along with flower bouquets, wines, breads and baked goods, and some mellow classical guitar to accompany your shopping experience.

“Fancy Cycling”

Up and over Mt. Tabor

After dropping the veggies off at my house to stay cool on this hot day, I pedaled over Mt. Tabor and headed down to my local Powell’s bookstore on Hawthorne.  While there, I discovered this 2013 reprint of a 1901 cycling manual by Isabel Marks.  Major score!  The book contains instructions and photos on how to do some “fancy cycling” by performing tricks on your bike.  It looks like I have lots of work to do, as my track stands are not done while seated backwards in the saddle, one of the many tricks illustrated in the book, with period photos as illustrations of each maneuver (more on this book in a subsequent post).

The Bridgestone frame is a bit different from the Panasonic MC 7500 in a few ways:  the Bridgestone has slacker angles, shorter chainstays, a shorter wheelbase, and a longer top tube.  The Panasonic is a classic diamond frame, whereas the Bridgestone has a slightly sloping top tube.  While the Bridgestone is made from triple butted Ishiwata tubing, the Panasonic’s Tange Prestige double butted tubing feels a bit more lively.  Even so, both bikes are comparable and nice to ride, never feeling bogged down while climbing.  Below are photos of the components I selected:

Vintage Suntour bar mount ratcheting friction shifters

Suntour XC low profile cantilevers.

I re-used the original Shimano Deore derailleurs and the 12-28 Shimano 7 speed cassette.

I discarded the Biopace crankset, and replaced it with this modified Stronglight 99 with drilled rings. The crankset was originally a triple 52/42/32, but I removed the big ring and converted it to a double 42/32. I used the original Deore bottom bracket and front derailleur, and it somehow all worked out well.

Original Ritchey Vantage wheels on Shimano Deore hubs.  The wheels needed re-tensioning and truing, and the hubs were rebuilt and now spin smoothly.

Northroad bars with Suntour levers and shifters. The Suntour levers offer easily adjustable brake reach – a nice feature for riders with smaller hands.  A Cardiff leather saddle is shown in the background.

The 1989 Bridgestone MB3 as converted to a Portland commuter

While I’m not sure yet whether I will replace my Panasonic MC 7500 with this bike, I have enjoyed my experience so far.  The bike received some nice comments today from passersby.  It’s a good looking bike, and as configured performs just as I would expect from a quality steel frame and excellent vintage components.

Rivendell Appaloosa Build

I first became aware of Rivendell back in 1999.  At that time, I was looking to replace my crashed 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, a bike which was my only bike for 20 plus years, and upon which I had ridden over 40,000 miles. I didn’t know how difficult my quest would be, and maybe that’s a good thing.  That quest led me to question all that the cycling industry offered during those dark times: racing bikes marketed to everyday riders with no clearance for decent width tires and fenders, mass produced aluminum frames, carbon forks of questionable reliability, and throw away parts.  Then, along came Grant Peterson, guru of “normal cycling”.  Back then, there wasn’t a web to browse, so mail order catalogs were how you learned about the latest stuff.  I wish I had saved those old Rivendell Readers, but at the time, who knew?  I now only have one or two in my collection of print material.

I wasn’t sure whether I should spring for one of their bikes given their higher cost, and so chose a Cannondale T2000 instead.  That experience is actually what led me here, 19 years later.  The Cannondale forced me to consider why the Centurion Pro Tour was so good, whereas the Cannondale was so bad.  I had done lots of touring in those days, but getting on the T2000 for anything but a short jaunt would exhaust me.  I ended up replacing every single component on that bike, and then finally realized it was the stiff aluminum frame (made stiffer by its smaller size) that was the culprit.  Since then I have ridden and enjoyed many interesting bicycles from many different eras, and have returned, for the most part, to riding exclusively on lugged steel frames. (uh oh – have I buried the lead?)

While I have many great bikes that I enjoy riding, as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I prefer being in a more upright position.  Much of my cycling is commuting, and being more upright is not only safer, but a bit more comfortable.  While any bike can be converted to a more upright position, many Rivendell frames are dialed in that way.  The Appaloosa features a 112 cm wheelbase (exclamation point!), clearance for 55 mm tires (another exclamation point!), and is made with lugged, butted cro-mo steel.

The lugs, and almost every other feature of this frame, are well executed. I can’t think of any other non-custom frame that is as lovely.  It is almost too beautiful.

For the drive train, I wanted to use my favorite vintage Japanese component maker:  SunTour.  If you haven’t used their friction ratcheting bar end shifters, you are missing out.  For this build I chose a SunTour Superbe front derailleur, a SunTour Sprint cankset and bottom bracket, and a SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur.  You might wonder how these vintage components worked on this new frame.  Perfectly!  I was worried that the Cyclone wouldn’t be able to handle the 8 speed cassette, but with the adjuster screws dialed all the way out, it was able to swing across the full width of the cogs.  I’ve got an 11-30 cassette installed, but have ordered a NOS 12-32 which will be a better match for the 48/39 rings up front.

The SunTour Sprint crankset originally had a 40T small ring, but the frame clearance was questionable with the SunTour Sprint NOS BB I had installed.  So, I swapped in a Sugino 39T ring. You can see that the clearance on the small ring is tight, but acceptable.  The chainline is perfect, and shifting both front and rear is crisp and reliable.

The saddle and seatpost choices were more involved.  I knew I would want a no-set-back seat post, given the Appy’s long top tube.  So, I selected a Thomson, a brand which I had used before.  It’s very easy to micro-adjust the horizontal angle on these seatposts.  What’s a Rivendell without a Brooks leather saddle? But before I opted for a leather saddle,  I decided to try out the Brooks Cambium Saddle, a non-leather option whose color scheme looked perfect for this bike’s paint scheme.  Wow!  While it’s probably not right to use the words comfort and saddle in the same sentence, this Cambium C19 saddle was far more comfortable on its first ride than any other saddle I have tried.

For the braking system, I used SunTour’s XC Pro Cantilevers, with the “champagne” finish.  While the brakes look beautiful, I doubt I would choose them again.  Setting them up, with their internal springs, involves dialing in the spring tension on each brake arm using a 13 mm wrench.  SunTour supplies this tool, but its shape is not optimal for this process.  As a result, me and my 13 mm cone wrench have spent so much time together that I think we are in a relationship.  Sheldon Brown has some excellent advice regarding setting up this type of cantilever, but what I found is that fine tuning the spring tension requires a great deal of trial and error.  For the brake cables, I decided to try Jagwire’s compressionless brake housing (try not to panic!) in an Ice Grey color which integrated well with the color scheme for this bike. The rear hanger was a problem. No hangers were supplied with the frame, as it is assumed that the build will include V-brakes (gasp!).  I used a Surly hanger, but it doesn’t work well with the Rivendell’s seatpost bolt, so I hastily added a wine cork wedge to help align the rear cable. I also routed the front cables “french-style” over the top of the handlebars.  I like it.

The 650b wheelset consists of Velocity Atlas rims laced to Deore XT hubs. This is the wheelset recommended by Rivendell.  I wanted to use 38mm 650b tires in order to make this tall bike a little lower to the ground, and because I had some 48 mm hammered aluminum fenders which would work well with this application.  I hadn’t tried Pancenti’s Pari Moto tires before, so thought I would give them a shot for this build.  They are very light, but difficult to mount.  I haven’t ever had to use my truing stand to mount tires, but for the Pari-Motos this was necessary, as they would not seat evenly into my rims.  That process took hours.  But, out on the road, the tires provided a plush and comfortable ride.

Speaking of being out on the road, I took the bike out today for its maiden voyage.  I knew I would have some issues to deal with regarding the Suntour cantilevers, but I wanted to also make a list of other tweaks, plus get a feel for this unusual bike with its slack angles and long wheel base.  I did a short circuit from my home, which is in a hilly neighborhood.  On the way back, there’s the “easier hill” and then there’s the harder hill which I don’t normally choose unless I’m feeling really robust.  But today, on the Appaloosa, I returned home up the more difficult route.  Even without really low gears, the bike responded well to steep inclines.  Riding the bike felt like driving my Dad’s old Northstar Cadillac – truly a stylish land yacht, but comfortable and offering plenty of performance.

The V-O porteur bars offer several hand positions, which I took advantage of while climbing.

I also used V-O’s Grand Cru levers, which seemed to integrate well with this build.  The levers are really light weight, but do not have a return spring.  Nonetheless, they were easy to set up, and offer a good feel while riding.  I also tried out these inexpensive MKS commuter pedals, which I pumped today with my summer sandals.  They actually worked better than expected.  As with most MKS pedals, you will want to add grease and adjust the bearings.  In my experience, MKS pedals are shipped dry and adjusted too tight.

I was more cautious than usual about taking the bike out on its first test ride.  I think partly because of its lovely frame which seems too beautiful to ride, and partly because of anxiety regarding the SunTour cantilevers.  While the brakes are not in their ideal adjustment, they actually performed very well.  The ergonomics turned out to be almost perfect, with just a few minor tweaks needed. As I got used to this bike, I found its natural cadence.  Every bike has one. The Appaloosa’s is unhurried and strong.