Sunday, August 29, 2010

Strange discovery

This past week, I was in a small grocery store on the New Jersey shore, and discovered a product that I had assumed had long ago vanished from the market... CANDY CIGARETTES!

No, really... they still make them! The look just the same as they used to... long, thin white sticks of sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, tapioca, gelatin, and artificial flavors. And they taste... well, awful, honestly. One of those things that makes you wonder what you were thinking as a kid! The packaging is the same as I recall from childhood...with one exception: the word "cigarette" no longer appears anywhere on the package. Other than that, take a look, and you'll see they look just the same... names like "Lucky Lights" and "Kings", in boxes that look like cigarette boxes, complete with a fake tax stamp on the top.

Really strange... given current thinking about smoking, you'd never imagine someone would think these were a good idea still. Go figure.

Friday, August 13, 2010

One of my favorite bikes...

Hey Gang!

I haven't written much lately, but a recent "side discussion" with some members of the BOB (Bridgestone Owners Bunch) list has inspired me to write a bit about one of my many bikes. Oddly enough, it's not a Bridgestone, but if you look at the info on the BOB list you'll see it's not really just about Bridgestones.

Anyway, a member of that list (and coincidentally, a member of my Yahoo group, dedicated to older Miyata, Specialized, and similar touring bikes) started a conversation among several of us who have or have expressed interest in old Centurion road bikes. I'm fortunate to be the owner of a 1978 Centurion Professional, a bike that just isn't all that common... in fact, I've never seen another in person, and have only heard of a few other owners through the internet. Centurion was a brand created by Western States Importers, back in the late 60s/early 70s. They weren't truly a manufacturer... there was never a Centurion factory, as there was a Miyata, Bridgestone, or Fuji factory. Rather, the bikes were designed by WSI in the US, and the construction was contracted out with first Japanese and later Taiwanese factories. More detail on the company and bikes can be found at, an excellent article by Ashley Wright on the late Sheldon Brown's website.

My Centurion came to me through the Community Cycling Center, in Portland, Oregon, where I worked for about a year and a half. The shop took in donated bikes, and some of those bikes came to us through other shops in the city. One day the Bike Gallery truck pulled up, and as I was helping unload a pile of Huffys and Magnas (low end, discount store bikes), I noticed what looked like a nice, striking orange road bike all the way at the front of the truck. I said to the Bike Gallery guy "That orange bike looks kinda nice!" and he said "If it was my size, it never would have made it on the truck." To which I replied... "It looks like it might be my size!"

I pulled it off the truck and was immediately taken with it. I'd mostly seen low end Centurions at this point, and certainly never a high end one from this early in their production. It was clearly well made and really, really pretty. Among its features are a gorgeous pearlescent orange paint, applied over a fully chromed frame and fork, built with lugs and other fittings that look remarkably like a Cinelli (high end Italian road bike) of the era. It came to our shop in beautiful condition, and I was sorely tempted to negotiate with the shop to buy it. It didn't help that one of my co-workers kept walking by me saying "That orange bike sure looks nice.... and it's your size...."

By the end of my work day, I had to give it a try, so I pumped up the tires and took it for a quick spin around the block. I was hooked! Back to the shop for a little negotiation with the manager (it helped that I was assistant manager at the time), and the bike was mine for a more than reasonable price. A little work on a few things, and a set of pedals, and it was ready to ride. And what a ride! Fast and nimble, and just stiff enough to feel like you get good acceleration and power when sprinting or climbing. And did I mention pretty? Definitely one of the most visually striking of my many bikes.

For the bike geeks in the group, here are some specs...

The frame is built of Tange double butted Champion cro-moly tubing with "fastback" seatstays and fully sloping fork crown, along with long point lugs with round cutouts, very much like a Cinelli, as I said. The components are high end Japanese parts of the era, with bars and stem and seat post from the SR Royal series. The crankset is a Sugino Mighty Custom with drilled out chain rings and milled arms. Brakes are early DiaCompe GranCompes, and the derailleurs and shifters are the first version of the great SunTour Cyclone series. The hubs are Sansin Pro-Am model, which were laced to a set of Mavic Module E rims, one of the few parts that I'm sure were not original. According to catalog info provided by Ashley Wright, the bike originally came with Araya "tubular" rims, but those were obviously replaced by an earlier owner. Also missing from the original parts were the SunTour Winner freewheel and the pedals, which would have been MKS UR-K Customs. I've made reasonable substitutions along the way, but the bike isn't 100% original, and I'm okay with that.

I've tried to get a Centurion Yahoo group off the ground, but it's suffered from a remarkable lack of activity. If you're curious it can be found here: