Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Re-visiting my Centurion Professional
One of My Favorite Bikes
Now, over the years I have tried to learn as much as I can about this bike, and the brand in general. There's not a huge amount of concrete information out there, sadly, but I have managed to piece together some things from various sources, notably a thread on Bike Forums:
Centurion Serial Number Database
Among the things I've learned...
Apparently, the Centurion brand started out as an early effort by Raleigh to have some of their lower end 10 speeds built in Japan, specifically the Grand Prix model.
Mitchell Weiner was a California bicycle sales agent. In 1969, he got involved in a project to help Raleigh Industries of America import a Japenese copy of the Raleigh Grand Prix. The corporate parent, TI-Raleigh, nixed the plan, and Weiner was stuck with 2,000 bicycles painted in Raleigh Grand Prix colors, including the pin stripes. So he stuck Centurion labels on the bicycles, and sold them at a profit. This lead to the formation of Western States Imports, which imported Japanese bicycles and sold them to dealers at lower wholesale prices than comparable Raleighs or Schwinns.
Berto, Frank (2012). The Dancing Chain, 4th ed., San Francisco: Cycle Publishing/Van der Plas Publications
I also learned that the first version of the Professional model was made by Acer Mex, better known for the Windsor brand in the US. In fact, the early Centurion Professionals were essentially Windsor Professionals with different decals. Like the Windsors, they were more or less a "knock off" of a Cinelli, complete with Columbus tubing and Campagnolo components, both from Italy. A nice example of that can be seen here:
Sometime around 1977, production of the Professional moved to Japan, and the bikes changed significantly. The frame tubing was now from Tange, and components were a mix of Sugino, SunTour, SR and DiaCompe. This is the version I own, and it's a beauty. Until recently though, the only information I had about the model was a pdf file from the author of the Centurion page on Sheldon Brown's site:
Then a few months ago, a fellow on the Classic Rendezvous list posted a for sale listing for an early Centurion brochure. After looking at a scan of a page or two, I knew that contrary to his thought that it was from 1975 or 76, it was most likely a 1977-78 brochure, as the photos and specifications were an exact match for mine! Needless to say, I bought it on the spot.
It's great to finally have some official company documentation on the bike, especially since such info seems to be pretty scarce for the brand. There are only a few catalog scans out there online, including this from 1979 on Velobase and this from 1984 on Sheldon Brown's site.
The picture at the top of this post is the 1977-78 cover, featuring "my" Professional. Below is the specification page. The remainder of the pages can be seen on my Flickr site:
Centurion Catalog 1977-78
And photos of my bike are here:
1978 Centurion Professional
If you have more to add to the Centurion story, please comment below. You could also join my Yahoo group dedicated to the brand: Centurion Bicycle Fans.