The History of Centurion Bikes

View on road through cyclists hands, sunrise

Centurion was a brand of Japanese-manufactured bicycles that were imported and sold in the United States by Western States Imports Company. During the latter half of the 20th century, Centurion-branded bikes competed in the U.S. market against domestic and European bicycle brands such as Raleigh, Schwinn, Gitane and Motobecane. By 1999 there were no remaining U.S. bicycle manufacturers in operation; Centurion ceased manufacture in the year 2000.


The Centurion bicycle brand was formed as a result of the competition between Asian-manufactured bicycles in the domestic U.S. market during the mid-to-late 20th century. In his 2009 book "The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle," Frank Berto indicates that 2,000 Japanese bicycles had been ordered by the U.S. Raleigh bike company in 1969, but this order was later canceled -- Raleigh's British parent company felt that their own bikes could not compete in the U.S. market with these high-quality Japanese bicycles. Mitchell Weiner, a Raleigh sales agent, took delivery of the 2,000 Japanese bikes and sold them under the new brand Centurion. Weiner then formed the company Western States Imports to sell Centurion bikes in the United States.


Writing for the Sheldon Brown website, Ashley Wright indicates that most of the early-1970s Centurion bikes had a single-color frame, typically featuring a 1020 high-tensile steel frame and a five-speed freewheel. Late-1970s models featured two colors on the bicycle frame, with the head tube a contrasting color to the rest of the bike. The components added to the Centurion frames at this time -- gear shifters, for example -- were a mix of SunTour, Sugino and other brands.


In the 1980s, Centurion began to use chrome-moly tubing to replace the high-tensile steel tubing previously used in the bicycle frames. This change was made to the models in the middle of Centurion's price range, including the LeMans Mixte, LeMans RS and Super LeMans bikes. Cheaper models used a mixture of chrome-moly and high-tensile steel throughout the frame. By the late 1980s, Centurion had totally phased out the use of high-tensile steel frames. During the 1980s, vibrant color combinations such as pink and yellow were common on Centurion frames. By 1988, "fade" colors had been introduced, with a two-tone color design that faded between the colors on different parts of the bike.


In the late 1980s, currency fluctuations between the yen and the U.S. dollar made Japanese-manufactured bicycles less competitive in the U.S. market than they had been previously. Like many other U.S. bicycle companies at the time, Centurion moved production to Taiwan. In 1990, the Centurion brand became a part of the Western States Imports "Diamond Back" brand of mountain bikes. Diamond Back was later sold to Raleigh, and WSI itself closed down in 2000.