The Bond Between Bike and Rider

1976 Centurion Pro Tour

Being a pragmatic person at heart, I generally eschew mystical explanations of purely mechanical matters. However, there’s no doubt that a special relationship between bike and rider exists when the bike in question has carried the rider over many miles and through rough terrain, dangerous intersections, and bad weather.  Much like a shepherd and beloved dog will form a bond through shared hardship, a rider and bike seem to connect in an almost spiritual way.

I experienced this myself with my old 1976 Centurion Pro Tour that I rode for 20 years. The bike got me through some tough situations, and always carried me to my final destination. Even with flat tires, broken shifters, and a headset long overdue for a replacement, the bike soldiered on and I always arrived safely at my destination.

After I crashed my Pro Tour in 1999 I was at loose ends. I searched for a replacement and ended up buying a Cannondale T 2000. What a shocking disappointment that was.  The brifters broke when the bike took a spill while parked, the Avid Shorty brakes were frighteningly unreliable, and the stiff aluminum frame was punishing on long rides.   Not to mention its piggy 28 lb weight unequipped.  I no longer enjoyed exploring new dirt paths, back road short cuts, and long meandering rides.  I wanted to get off this bike as soon as possible.

The search for the ride quality that my old Centurion provided was a long one.  Meanwhile, I modified the Cannondale substantially, replacing the brifters with bar end shifters, upgrading the brakes to IRD cold forged cantilevers, installing an SR Randonneur bar, and adding a custom Burley rear rack originally designed for a recumbent.

2001 Cannodale T2000

After these modifications, I was able to ride the Cannondale in a little more comfort.  Replacing the harsh riding Continental touring tires with Panaracer Paselas helped.  I also tried out some Michelin cyclocross tires, which were also quite a bit more comfortable than the Continentals, and enabled me to ride with confidence on gravel shoulders and hard packed dirt and gravel.  Eventually, I ended up replacing every single original component on the bike except for the reliable Shimano 105 front derailleur.  After that, this bike became my trusted commuter, especially in the winter.

But, I wanted a bike that I could comfortably spend more hours on and was more responsive.  I missed my Centurion tremendously so when I found this Centurion Dave Scott Iron Man in my size, for a reasonable price, I purchased it without hesitation.

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This was a road bike, not a touring bike, at all.  Riding it was eye-opening.  I could ride for miles and miles, never tire out, and the responsive handling made it fun to experiment without fast descents, track stands, quick transitions, and spirited climbing. After a while, though, I realized that without clearance for fenders, rack mounts and a taller stem, I would not be able to take this bike out on the touring adventures that I love.  I realized that I needed the comfort and responsiveness of riding on steel framed bikes, and that I wanted to learn more about the physical and mechanical details of bicycles and their geometry.

That’s when I enrolled in my first bike mechanic class at the UBI facility in Ashland.  Even though I had always done my own bike maintenance, back then I had not really spent any time understanding much beyond annual maintenance needs, which included rebuilding hubs and bottom brackets,  truing wheels, and tuning shifters and derailleurs.

I had a great time in the class and met a lot of interesting people.  The class opened my eyes to the world of mechanical possibilities and experimentation – I highly recommend UBI for mechanic’s training.  Prior to attending the class I had already acquired a 1973 Jack Taylor touring bike and I brought it with me to work on while I was there.

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1973 Jack Taylor Touring – before restoration

While this bike is a wonderful example of the Taylor brother’s work, after riding it for a bit I came to realize that it wasn’t quite right for me.  I did not like the unstable feel of the single sloping downtube mixte frame – I could feel the front end flexing away from the back end of the bike while accelerating. I also did not like the ergonomics of the low head tube and short reach mustache bars.

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I have realized that ergonomics are as important as frame material and components.  And, I  know from personal experience that steel is flexible and responsive on climbs and does not punish your body on long rides, as does aluminum. This is especially important for smaller riders whose frames are much more stiff than those for taller riders, due to their geometry.

2014

It is clear that newer components are designed deliberately to last briefly and to be discarded when they no longer function.  This has led me to go back to cycling’s past to understand and rejuvenate the contribution made by earlier builders and artisans.

 

Resurrecting an Old Friend: a 1976 Centurion Pro Tour

1976 Centurion Pro Tour

I rode my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour for over 20 years before I crashed it back in 1999.  In fact, that crash and the resulting quest for a suitable replacement bike is what has led me here – to an appreciation of the rarity and quality of hand made vintage bicycles and to a side career as a bike mechanic, collector and restorer.

When I hit a car that had suddenly stopped in front of me while going about 20 mph, my front wheel collided with the car’s back end and I went down hard on the trunk.  (Thank you, helmet.)

fork damage

The fork legs were pushed back and the steerer tube was bent right above the crown.

fork damage

You can see the tell-tale paint cracks which clearly indicate a sudden impact.  The fork was definitely toast.

frame damage annotatedframe damage annotated 2

The frame itself sustained some damage to the downtube (left photo) and top tube (right photo).  You can again see the tell-tale paint cracks right at the lug points, but the cracks are not very pronounced.  And, looking at the tubes and holding a straight edge up to them, I cannot see any significant bends or twists.

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The rest of the frame looks great, with plenty of “buesage” evident in the scratched paint and fading logos.  But, overall, this is one nice frame.  If I could bring this bike back to life with a new fork, and any needed repairs to the tubes, I would be overjoyed.  Interestingly, this frame is “too big” for me – at 54 cm, but I managed to ride all over the place in tremendous comfort.  I did install a stem with shorter reach, plus rando bars (which my Pro Tour did not have originally), and that gave me a comfortable position.  After all, with the really tall frame my stem didn’t need to be tall because it was already even with my saddle height.

Once I remove the paint (to reveal the fully chromed frame underneath!!!), I’ll know for sure the extent of the damage.  Since I am really fond of that baby blue color, I might still decide to paint it again after stripping it, but it will be sad to lose the Centurion logos.  An experienced painter may be able to recreate them.  If all goes well, I’ll be riding this amazing bike once again.

Touring in the San Juan Islands

Centurion Pro Tour – San Juan Islands – c. 1985

1978 Centurion Pro-Tour

1978 Centurion Pro Tour

Here is a stunning and near-perfect 1978 Centurion Pro-Tour.  This bike was a joy to work on – everything was in almost new condition, so the work went very quickly.

Although the Pro-Tour was a production touring bike, the build quality of this frame rivals that of any custom builder.  It’s the reason both Richard Ballantine and Sheldon Brown dubbed the Centurion Pro-Tour one of the finest production touring bikes ever made.  And, I should know because I rode a 1976 Pro-Tour for 20 years and put about 40,000 miles on the bike, before I crashed it irreparably.  There are very few touring bikes built today that equal the quality of the Pro-Tour, which went for about $500 back in 1976.

The frame was fully chromed, then painted with the seat lug, drop-outs and head lug masked, leaving them as chrome.  The rear drop-out is vertical, making flat repairs much easier, with double eyelets front and rear for fully loaded touring.  Drop-outs are by Suntour.

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The finish work on the seat lug is outstanding.  The frame features a brake bridge and brazed on centerpulls.

 035020027Centurion Pro Tour

All eight tubes are Tange Champion chrom-moly tubes.  The condition of the paint is amazing.  The components are all in as-new condition.  I love these Dia-Compe brazed on centerpulls.  They work well and never go out of adjustment.

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The wheelset needed some truing, but the cups and cones were in really nice shape.  The rims are double wall Araya laced to Sunshine Pro-Am hubs which feature bearing seals -shown above.

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The drive train is 100% Suntour, with Suntour ratcheting bar-end shifters, Suntour Cyclone front and rear derailleurs, and Suntour 5 speed 14/30 freewheel.  There’s nothing sweeter than the sound of a Suntour freewheel.  The SR Apex triple crankset is color matched with 52/42/30 chainrings.   After thoroughly cleaning the chain, I put it back on because I liked the bi-color look and because it was not stretched and showed no wear.

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The hoods on the drilled Dia-Compe levers are in excellent shape, with no cracking, and the levers feature a quick release mechanism.  SR Sakae stem and Randonneur bars – my favorite bar shape.  I kept the original color matched housing in both an effort to keep the bike original, and because with a little lubrication, they are working fine.  New cables, of course.

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Here are more details:

1978 Centurion Pro-Tour  53 cm ST, 54 cm TT.  Weight as pictured:  23.6 lbs.  Original MKS Unique Royal Touring Pedals,  Original Avocet Leather Touring saddle, new Panaracer Pasela 27″ x 1 tires, new tubes.

Alas, the bike is not my size and I will be putting it up for sale soon.  I hope someday I’ll find a Pro-Tour in my size that I’ll be able to keep and treasure.

UPDATE December 19, 2013:  SOLD!  Congratulations to Randy in Minnesota.