Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Old Bikes, Part Deux

I continue to think about what happened to the "road bike" between when I stopped paying attention in the mid 1970s and 2008 when I once again started looking at bikes. In this post I am going to look at a few bikes that happen to be sitting in my garage, pack-rat that I am, in that context.

SOME REFERENCE DATES: I attended High School from 1963 through 1967, and that was the time of my peak interest in road/racing bikes. From 1967 through 1971 I was an undergraduate, and maintained a fairly high interest in bicycles and cycling. In 1971 I started graduate school and found myself much busier, although I still managed to do some biking. In particular, I had a girlfriend (who is now my wife) with whom I liked to ride. In 1973 or so I helped her purchase a new road bike, so I had a brief immersion in what was going on at that point. In 1976 I finished grad school and began my entry into the work world with a postdoctoral fellowship and at that point my cycling essentially stopped for over 30 years. My two sons were born in 1981 and 1989, and as they grew up, I purchased bikes and went on the occasional ride with them, but didn't re-immerse sufficiently to get a clear an idea of what was going on. It was only in 2008 when I restarted cycling and started thinking about a new bike that I became aware of how much things had changed.

1973 Gitane: This is the Gitane we purchased for my wife:

The most striking thing about it is how similar it is to the bikes that were available when I was in High School - it is a classic cheap French 10-speed of the era. It has a lugged steel frame, but the tubing is heavy and uncomfortably stiff and the lugs are crude. The one thing that dates it as being Grad School rather than High School is not part of the original bike at all - it is the derailleur:

This bike originally came with a Simplex Prestige derailleur. However, we wanted to provide lower gears to help my wife climb the mountains of Vermont. To do that, we had to upgrade to something new: a Japanese derailleur - a SunTour GT. Not only could it handle lower gears than the Simplex, it was more rugged and shifted much better. This was my only hint of the coming domination of the bike market by the Japanese during the mid '70s to the mid 80s that I otherwise missed.

1993 Giant:

What a piece of trash! I described my wife's Gitane as a "cheap bike", but it is still giving us good service. (My younger son rides it when he visits.) This bike is useless. The only reason I keep it (besides being a pack-rat) is that if we need to patch up some other bike, we might be able to scavenge some parts. That said, 1) my older son loved this bike and rode it everywhere between 6th and 12th grade and 2) this bike was purchased at a Local Bike Shop, not a department store.

Technologically, this bike is still not all that different from what I rode in High School. The two features that show off its more recent vintage are that it has six gears in the back rather than five, and the cotterless/alloy cranks. These represent two different kinds of evolution. Six gears in the back simply didn't exist when I was in High School, so this is something new. Alloy cotterless cranks existed when I was in High School, but only on the highest quality bikes; the less expensive bikes had steel cranks that were held to the bike by cotter pins. Bicycle evolution (like the evolution of many consumer products) is characterized both by the introduction of new features as well as the migration of high end features to lower end products.

1979 Centurion:

I list this bike last rather than in the middle where it belongs by date of manufacture because it came to us last. My older son purchased it used for $75 in 2009 when he knew he would be visiting us frequently so he would have a bike to ride in Houston. What a gorgeous bicycle (and at what a price!) This bike was my first exposure to the Japanese bikes of the 1970s and 1980s. The overall quality in terms of look and feel of this bicycle is every bit as good as my Bianchi Specialissima, if not better, but there is not a European part on it. I have only two regrets about this bicycle: 1) it has had hard use which has caused some damage to the frame and 2) it is WAY too big for me. My son is 6 inches taller than I am, and it is on the large side for him.

I simply have to share a few of the gorgeous details of this bike. First, it has a similar derailleur as the one we put on the Gitane:

It is a different model, but very similar in appearance. Interestingly, I think this is the same derailleur I found on an old Bianchi Volpe I featured in an earlier post. The shifters that came with the SunTour derailleurs are some of the most attractive I have seen, bar none:

Next, there is the alloy cotterless crank. Although steel cottered cranks are a thing of the past and all road bikes now have alloy cotterless cranks, few of them are as beautiful as the Campagnolo crank on my Bianchi Specialissima. In my opinion, the Japanese ones on the Centurion are:

I am not a fan of the circular chain guards some bikes have, and if this were my bike, I would take this one off the Centurion. That said, it is the most attractive of these I have ever seen. (The pedals are not original. The bike came with some gorgeous pedals with toe clips, but I replaced them with these inexpensive clipless pedals because that is what my son uses.)

The brakes are of some interest for a couple of reasons:

Firstly Dia-Compe has now acquired some cache in the Retro-Grouch (1) corner of the cycling world. Second, they are side-pull brakes. This illustrates a third kind of bicycle evolution: fashion. When I was in High School, center pull brakes, like these on my wife's old Gitane:

...were considered superior to side pull brakes, just as large flange hubs were considered superior to small. As time passed, this reversed, and I am sure it will reverse again.

The final feature I would like to show off on this Centurion is the lovely workmanship around the rear wheel dropouts:

I found this model of Centurion, the Super Elite, in an old Centurion catalogue, confirming its manufacture in 1979. This was their second tier racing bike, below the Semi-Pro. This model of Centurion used the highly regarded Champion steel frame tubes, but on this model, only the three main tubes were double butted:

As I researched this bike, I noted that both Centurion and Diamond Back were made by the same manufacturer. Originally, the Centurion brand was used for their road bikes, and Diamond Back for their Mountain Bikes. Eventually, the Centurion brand was dropped and Diamond Back was used for all their bikes. Proof that I am a pack-rat is that among the bikes in my garage is a Diamond Back, purchased for our boys before they were old enough for a road bike:

While preparing this post, I did a lot of research on road bike history. Rather than delay this post (which is already two days late) or make it even longer than it is, I will save my "Integrated History of Road Bikes" for a later post.

MAF Test Results

This the latest update on my MAF tests, with four new data points:

I am getting worse at half the rate as last week, which I guess is good? Stay tuned.

By the way, for readers of my review of the Garmin 500, I had a second case of data loss on my Garmin unrelated to any of the previously suspected causes. I am also ready to confirm that the difficulty this model sometimes has locating its satellites, another common criticism of this model. My bottom line remains the same, this is far from a perfect product, but remains adequate for my needs.


(1) "Bike Snob Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling" by Bike Snob NYC, ISBN 978-0-8118-6998-0, page 76

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