Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
Some builds come together nearly instantly. Others, like this 1976 Centurion Semi Professional, take months to materialize. A combination of sourcing different, rare and specific parts plus a heavy course load at the University took its toll on this project. In fact, it almost took a year.
When this bicycle was acquired I knew it had serious potential. But it was going to take a little work. Keeping that in mind, I understood I would have to sacrifice a speedy restoration and be OK with settling in for the long haul. As expected, certain items took much longer than anticipated to sort out, such as attaining appropriate shift levers, drop bars, and properly polishing certain components. Tack these tasks on along with a full load of graduate level courses and this slowly slides into a 10-month project.
A major part of my delay for this build hinged from my desire to harmonize the components of the bike. Purchased from the previous owner with a set tried and true Suntour bar end shifters, I felt it necessary to bring her back to original, factory-equipped downtube shifting glory. The challenge became clear as although standard Suntour Power Shifters are not necessarily rare, the anodized black models were. Plus, anodized black groupsets of that vintage seemed to only be found on the Centurion Semi-Pro model. Luckily, a friend in Canada provided these to me off of his Centurion as he moved to bar end shifters (Go figure!). However, for his generosity, I am eternally grateful as the search had already spanned months and without him, likely would have continued.
The graceful and somewhat rare SR Royal seatpost and stem both came equipped with the bike. The smooth, brushed steel finish was soft and elegant but I wanted it to blend flawlessly with the aggressive, sharp angled chrome lug work. These items, along with the drop bars, were wet sanded and painstakingly hand polished to a mirror shine. I believe the hours put into these laborious task was worth the extra effort as it assists in giving the cockpit a finished and cohesive look.
What I am most surprised and impressed with, however, is the braking system. With nearly all of my builds, I tend to update the brakes in one form or another as I feel the difference between vintage and modern component technology can be a significant jump for both ease of adjustment and brake safety. However, to my appreciation, the Dia-Compe Gran Compe setup is a magnificent system. The levers are mated up perfectly with Velo Orange metallic braided cable. It looks fantastic and breaks up the “blackout” of the hoods, levers and bar tape. The housing also harmonizes with the rest of the metal bits and lugwork. I also found it to be some of the strongest pulling cable and slickest housing combos I have found. To finish off the brakes the Gran Compe calipers are outfitted with NOS Scott/Mathauser salmon pads that will nail the Semi-Pro to an instant dead stop, if I choose so.
What I love the most on this bicycle is the frame. It is clear to me that care, time and thought went into its creation. There is attention being paid in many areas, some so subtle that an owner may discover them weeks, months or even years later.
I also love how solid this bicycle is. It has a sturdy, well built intangible that just feels pronounced when you climb on. The last element I can’t not mention when speaking of the frame is the paint. Photographs do help convey but the creamy, pearlescent metallic baby blue paint is simply stunning. I really treasure the hue. I only wish I could see the other color that was offered during the same period (creamy, pearlescent orange!). Also, although hard to detect, the gold pin striping was also a factory addition. I felt it necessary to touch up the lugwork lines to get the pop I know the original creators were going for.
The Centurions of the late seventies may not have been as worshiped as their Italian counterparts, but what they lacked in following they made up for in artful, well built, cost-effective bicycles. That is why I will continue to tip my hat to the magnificent builds that were coming out of Japan during this legendary era.
Color: Pearlized Cobalt Blue with gold pinstripes
Frame Size: 54cm (C-T) seat post & 54cm (C-C) top tube
Frame/Drop-outs: Tange Champion Cro-moly double butted steel
Fork: Tange Champion Cro-moly double butted steel
Drop Bars: SR Sakae Custom Road Champion; Deda Nastro Per Manubrio bar wrap with black tape
Stem: SR Royal
Saddle: Avocet Touring I
Seat Post: SR Royal
Crankset: Sugino Mighty Competition; 52/42, 171mm
Front Derailleur: Suntour Cyclone (anodized black)
Rear Derailleur: Suntour Cyclone (anodized black)
Shifting Levers: Suntour Power Shifters (anodized black)
Brake Levers: Dia-Compe (anodized black) with Cane Creek hoods
Brake Calipers: Dia-Compe Gran Compe; Scott/Mathauser pads (black alloy casings); Velo Orange metallic braided cable & housing
Freewheel: 5-Speed Suntour Winner (13/15/18/21/24)
Chain: SRAM PC870
Hubs: Suntour Sprint Sealed Bearings
Wheels: Araya 27″ x 1″, 36h; Suntour skewers
Tires: Panaracer Pasela; 27″x1-1/8″
Pedals: MKS Unique Royal Road (anodized black)
Special Features: Chrome wrap-around seat stays; Exceptional chromed lug work; Fully chromed frame/fork under paint; Suntour GS dropouts; Single eyelets front/rear; Single bottle mount
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Gorgeous…..freaking gorgeous. Centurion is the most underrated bicycle brand of all time, in my opinion.
I’ve got two early 80’s Centurion Pro Tours in the works as well as a 1978 Super Elite. The finely shaped lugs, wrap around seat stays, fully chromed frames, and high quality Japanese components make these some of the nicest bikes you can find at a yard sale or on craigslist for less than a days wages.
You did an amazing job with this one, it was well worth the wait I’m sure.
I would agree with your assessment of Centurion being underrated. I also feel like a few others could certainly make that cut, such as Panasonic, Lotus, Univega and yes, even the late 80’s Schwinn’s (although they were made by Panasonic). The Circuit was a mix of Columbus SL & SP and most other models had higher quality tubing as well along with a blend of impressive components and very fine paint jobs.
However, I digress. We are talking Centurion and they also made a very, very fine bicycle. I hope to one day have a Semi-Professional that fits me and possibly even a Pro-Tour. Both legendary machines. You should be happy you have acquired one!
Also, thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it!
That cleaned up beautifully! I think Centurions are great bicycles and I once had the opportunity to get one like this on craigslist and passed it up because I waited too long. Great bike!
If I had a dollar for all the lookers I passed up and wished I hadn’t. Such is the game of purchasing used and/or vintage bicycles, I suppose! Keep looking, Johnny. Centurions, and others within that same category, are still out there for reasonable prices.
Well, you certainly got your money’s worth. It would be hard to tell who made the frame, and it doesn’t relaly matter. It appears to be a pretty standard TIG welded steel frame of good quality. The components are also good quality. The shifters, although they are friction, are Suntour power shifters, one of the best designs ever, I had a set on a bike I used for years for commuting with never a problem. Those older non suspension mountain bikes are very versatile. They make good commuters, and can even be converted for use as touring bikes. Very rugged and simple to repair. This will make a great winter bike
This bike was a nothing but a pleasure to work on for many of the reasons you mention, Maria. The components were all solidly built and needed nothing more than a good cleaning and maybe some touch ups.
Although, John, the new owner, didn’t sound like he would be making it much of a winter rider, but who knows? He chimes in comments often so perhaps he’ll give us an update on how much he stretched its legs these last few months.
Hi, Just saw this page and you did a great job on your Semi-Pro.
I bought a 1976 Centurion Pro from my brother in 1977. It’s all original except I had it powder coated lavender after I go tired of looking at the scratches I put on the original orange paint. Mine has pretty much the same components except mine are all silver/chrome and have cutouts and holes drilled in the chain rings to make it lighter back in the day.
I’m finding not many of the Pro’s and Semi Pro’s exist today. Mostly Pro Tour and down the line is what you see. By the way I did own a Pro Tour but sold it 20 years ago.
My Pro is shown on the Centurion thread at Bike Forums about a year ago.
Your Centurion sounds like one classy ride.
I would agree with you on the availability of Semi and Pro’s out there. They are becoming a bit elusive. I would also say the same for the Pro-Tour. They are also a becoming challenging to find, but then again, I’m not on the serious hunt for one. I’m simply observing the market.
Thanks for your comments and visiting the site!
Thanks, for the quick reply. I forgot that my bike originally came with tubulars and I put on Rigida clinchers on it the first year I had it.
Terry – which specific Centurion thread is that on? I too own a Centurion Pro, and would love to see pics of yours.
My Centurion Pro is shown on Bikeforums.net on the “Centurion serial number database”. It was pictured under my handle “feetdry” on 10/7/2012 . It is #1645 of that thread.
Lovely bike! Those Semi Pros of that era are gorgeous. I have a ’77 or ’78 Professional that has a lot in common with it, but some differences as well. Also, just so you know, based on a spec sheet someone shared with me about the Pro and Semi Pro, it seems the Semi Pro came with EITHER the down tube Power Ratchet shifters you have on yours now OR the SunTour barons it had before, so there’s a good chance those were original.
Blog post about my Professional:
Photos of my Professional:
Thank you for the comments, Tim and after perusing images and the story of your Centurion Pro, I echo the same sentiments back to you! Your Pro is in absolutely sublime shape. Plus, I have a strong affinity for orange frames. What a gem! A Pro would be a dream to own. I hope to one day have the chance.
Your comments regarding the option to have bar end or downtube shifters is new to me, however, I could see that being the case. The shifters that came on the Semi-Pro were quite old so stating they were stock would make sense. However, I am pleased with my choice to move to downtube shifters as I feel like bar end shifting is more suitable for touring bicycles. That’s just my personal preference, however.
I do appreciate the bit of Pro/Semi-Pro trivia! If ever you find that spec sheet, please do pass it along. I would be interested in seeing that in print and possibly posting it to the build page above for posterity.
Thanks for the post!
I’m the original owner of a Centurion Semi-Pro. I bought my bike in 1976 for $525.00 Canadian. It was (is) a pearlized brilliant orange colour. It was a beautiful bike. I have ridden it for 36 years. I would put approximately 350 km on it every week. Every few years I would overhaul it and re-grease the wheel hubs and the crank-set. That would take some time, as I would have to be very careful not to loose the ball-bearings, and to repack them in the original order.
Unfortunately, last year the rear dropouts failed, (on the derailleur side) a small piece of the chrome dropout fractured, which means the rear wheel cannot be attached to the bike. I am hopeful that someone who is an expert welder or frame builder might be able to repair the (stress) fracture, but I am not sure if it can be repaired…
If you have ideas or suggestions regarding possible repairs, I am all ears.
What a treat to hear that you are the original owner of one of these fine machines. I applaud your consistent usage over the years and your careful upkeep. However, even the best frames, over decades of use, will loosen and/or break at certain points of structural deficiency. As sad as it is to see the damage, be pleased to know that you certainly got your money’s worth out of the frame!
As for repair, at this point, it would certainly be easy to part ways but again, bravo to you for continuing your relationship with your Semi-Pro. As you mentioned, a professional would need to take a close look at your frame. The first thing to start with is where you are located in Canada. Unfortunately, I am not well versed in local frame builders outside of Oregon but I am certain you can find a number of qualified professionals in your province. This type of question is best suited for the fine folks at the Classic and Vintage forum (http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vintage/). There are a number Canadian members so no matter where you are located, odds are there is another member that can give you a suggestion on a local frame builder.
On a side note, if you ever do feel the need to part ways with your old pal, please do let me know. The milky, pearlescent blue is gorgeous but I have a tremendous soft spot in my heart for orange bicycles.
Thanks for the post and I wish you luck on your hunt, Peter!
I just picked one of these up at a flea market for 115.00! Been researching all afternoon, so thanks for all the nice photos. Mine is mostly original sans brake levers and shifters. The fork is bent though so I’ll have to get a new one. Any thoughts? Also…what about decals? Thanks!
Wow, what a score! Nice job, Lawrence. The fork may also be a telling sign of more damage if there was a crash. If you have the ability, it may be worth taking it to a frame builder to give it a look over (usually free of charge). If you have no fame builders in your area, then inspect it carefully and look for anything unusual like rippling or splintering of paint.
If you need a new fork, you likely will need to be creative with your search and be open minded. Vintage Centurion forks don’t just pop up every day. You may want to check your local Co-op bicycle shop, try eBay and/or the Classic and Vintage forum marketplace (the link is under “Links” to the left). For decals, try velocals.com. There are other decal shops of higher quality but this one is fairly extensive with their production line.
Have fun with the build and please send pictures. I always enjoy seeing the original and the progress. Also, if you ever get to the point where you would rather have the cash than the frame, please do drop me a line.
Frame looks good. No other signs of damage. First thing I looked at when I saw it (out in the rain at a flea market..) was the underside of the lugs on the head tube to see about rust / frame damage, and did not notice the forks. Blades are perfectly straight..must’ve been a perfect collision! When tearing it down and cleaning, etc..I pulled the fork out and just barely noticed the bend in the steerer tube. So slight and perfectly centered L to R I thought maybe it was intentional! I have seen strange things before on unfamiliar bikes..
The paint has been removed, so it’s all chrome (sweeeet). My size, too! 61cm..
I was surprised to see Gran-Compe brakes and the black chainrings. I like ’em! Glad to see they made the trip through time unscathed. The rest of the anodized components are OK after cleaning. A little oxidation on the chrome down by the bottom bracket cluster and seatstay cluster. Should clean up. I found some paint under the front derailleur, and said Hmmm.. Now I know its normal. If I had a fund set up for this project I’d paint it, but I like the chrome!
The fork in your photos sure looks like mine. I did find one on eBay last night that sure looks like it, too. Aftermarket of course, but very close. Under 60.00, so, SOLD.
Wheels look good and true. Weinmann 27 X 1 with good new tires. High flange hubs, too!
Came with Shimano Bar-Cons. Never cared for those, so I’ll keep an eye out for the ones you show. Mean-time..I’ll throw on some from my pile.
Those little cable holders on the top tube are cool! Never had a bike with them. No bottle bosses? Hmm.. I expected to see them, but no bosses. Normal?
Thanks for the recommendation for decal suppliers. Would clear coating a cleaned and polished chrome frame be the way to go..? My engineering gut says yes on that.
I’ll get some photos up soon.
Oh..one more thing:
The Crank / bottom bracket bolts. Looks like a 15mm but the head is so large in Ø I can’t get a socket in there. I never have needed a peanut butter tool before. Did you have this issue?
Your restored bike looks beautiful! Just as I remember. It brought back fond memories. I purchased a 1976 Semi-Pro new in ’76 and it was what I considered my first really good bike (that I could afford). I think I paid $284. I used it until ’93. It eventually became my commuter and I was hit by a car for the third time, which bent the rear triangle. At that point I thought it could be jinxed so I let it go, Mine came with bar end shifters. Thank you for taking me back in time!
Wow, $284 brand spankin’ new?! I would gladly pay that today. Heck, I’d pay triple that today!
Although the story is a bit disheartening, seeing as how it left your hand under assumption of it being cursed, it is impressive to hear that your Semi-Pro survived a total of three crashes. If the next owner got the rear triangle straight, it may still be rolling around on the blacktop today, full of more bad juju than a witch doctor.
Thanks for stopping by and the comments, Steve!
That is a gorgeous build! those lugs are stunning- great work on the resto. I had the pleasure of working on a 1978ish Schwinn Le Tour III ladies 10 speed and the attention to detail on both the “Schwinn approved” frame and components was really amazing.
Thank you for the kind words, Ryan.
I do wish this bicycle would have fit me but, alas, it just wasn’t big enough.
I’m not certain I will ever forget the incredible beauty of that milky blue paint. It was unlike anything I’ve seen to date!
I didn’t know steel could be made that shiny with hand polishing! It looks like chrome! Are there any tips about how to do that? I am a luthier, so I’m used to hand-rubbed finishes on wood. I guess the first ingredient is lots of elbow grease, which I already have.
Thanks for the comments, Alexander.
It really is amazing the incredible results that can be achieved by different metal polishes, polishing techniques along with a big scoop of time and patience. My procedures continue to shift in how I approach different metals and what kind of finish I want to achieve but if you are looking for a strong “101” on metal polishing, the best resource I could imagine is this post made on the Classic and Vintage forum: Khatfull’s Aluminum Polishing Thread.
With over 100 comments on this thread, plus updates, I would feel confident starting you off here. If you master these techniques, you will easily have the ability to emulate any of my techniques.
As I’ve developed my procedures, the concepts are roughly the same but I’ve found ways to cut time and efforts down to achieve roughly the same results. I believe the age old saying of, “a minute to learn and a lifetime to master” may apply in this case!