This 10-speed’s just right for a Luddite
July 18, 2006
I’ve recently begun road cycling again, after a hiatus of a decade or so when all I wanted to do was mountain bike.Rather than spend a grand or two I didn’t have on a midrange road bike with 18 speeds and handlebar gear levers, however, I hauled out my vintage Centurion 10-speed.
That’s right, 10-speed.Now, I’m sure there are readers who have grown up in a world of nothing less than 12-speed road bikes, to whom talk of a 10-speed might be alarming. The difference in gear ratios is bigger, requiring more push after a gear change. But for my proud Luddite muscles and bones, it feels just right.I should explain that I got my bike through a strange fluke – I inherited it from a friend who died, a third-generation Irish American named Brady Shay.
Brady was my photographer when I was editor of The Rifle Telegram in Rifle, Colo., in 1980 and 1981. He was an avid cyclist and mountain climber who moved from the Pacific Northwest to take the job, and it was in summer 1980 that he and a partner died in an ice-climbing accident on Independence Pass. When Brady’s family came to collect his effects, the bike was left behind.So I found myself in possession of a nearly new 10-speed. Some Centurion bikes are said on Internet chat sites to have sold for perhaps $1,000 in the early ’80s.I haven’t ridden it much, for a variety of reasons, but I recently concluded that bike riding would be better for my knees than jogging. All those years in storage have left the bike in almost mint shape.
The Centurion’s geometry fits my body perfectly, the old Dia-Compe releasable brakes work just fine, and reaching to the down-tube to change gears is a refreshingly novel experience.The butted tubing hardly flexes at all, and the tall wheels and 28-inch frame (Brady was 6 foot 3 inches tall) make for a rolling gait that eats up the miles. The ancient SunTour Cyclone drive train still shifts smoothly, and the tabbed gearshifting levers hold their positions well.Made in Japan for an American company starting back in the late ’70s (the name later changed to Diamondback), the old Centurion is a marvel of simplicity and clean lines, with its black frame marked by chromed, butted tube-end brackets. The saddle (as low as it can go, again thanks to Brady’s height) also is black, as are the cable sheaths, and even the brake pads. If I were to wear a shiny, silver Lycra outfit with a cape, I might be mistaken for an early Marvel comic-book superhero easing loudly into middle age. (Thankfully I prefer duller colors and no Lycra.)If I were to buy another bike, then I might look for something a little lighter and more modern. But thanks to Brady I doubt I’ll ever have to.