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How does an Ironman stack up?

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How does an Ironman stack up?

Old 07-31-18, 01:57 AM
  #1  
TXsailor
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How does an Ironman stack up?

The only c&v bikes I have ridden since I was a kid are a Kuwahara tandem a Centurion Lemans 12 and a 89 Ironman Expert. I was just wondering how those of you have got to ride lots of classic bikes think the Japanese bikes are against the high end bikes from Europe.
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Old 07-31-18, 03:07 AM
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A few years ago Grant Petersen ranked the Ironman as one of the best production bikes made. The quality control of Japanese production bikes, i.e. factory built , was probably beter than European production bikes. At least one European company, Koga in the Netherlands, had their bikes built by Miyata.
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Old 07-31-18, 05:08 AM
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Originally Posted by TXsailor View Post
The only c&v bikes I have ridden since I was a kid are a Kuwahara tandem a Centurion Lemans 12 and a 89 Ironman Expert. I was just wondering how those of you have got to ride lots of classic bikes think the Japanese bikes are against the high end bikes from Europe.
Calling @RobbieTunes ...

It's probably an over-generalization (Is that redundant?) to say better or worse, but during the 80's the Japanese bikes raised production quality to a very high standard while keeping prices down. Some very good bikes came out of Japan. But the larger European companies' production capacity had been pushed to limits by the 70's bike boom so one might conclude their quality was lower. Even so, some very good bikes came out of Europe too.

My Centurion Ironman (and yours too, most likely) carries a sticker saying something like designed in the US, built with quality in Japan. Not all Japanese bikes were high-end, just as not all European bikes were.
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Old 07-31-18, 06:48 AM
  #4  
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The Ironman was a mass produced, late 1980s, mid-range model. The Japanese were arguably the best value for that category and era. Their quality programs were far more sophisticated than the high end European manufacturers, which in some cases were close to non-existent. The Japanese produced an amazingly consistent product that was to high standards for the price range.

Comparing them to high end European models is unfair due to the difference in prices but the mid-range Japanese models still compered remarkably well, despite having to make some cost concessions to hit target prices. Without these constraints, the high end European manufacturers should have been able to put out a superior product but the return on investment was often small, except for the added bling. European frame quality of the era could be variable, particularly the finishes. One manufacturer is notorious for flaking decals. Others were so bad that the USA importer ordered unfinished frames and set up frame prep and painting operations. The Japanese had raised the bar in terms of the American public's expectations and some European companies were still having problems meeting them.

In terms of ride characteristics the Japanese tubing companies, bicycle designers and manufacturers had progressed to the point of near parity with the high end European manufacturers. The average rider couldn't tell the difference and even many experienced riders would be hard pressed to tell the difference in a double blind test.

Then there was difference in components. It was dark days for Campagnolo. Shimano was far superior technically. The advances they made in shifting and braking performance eclipsed what Campagnolo could offer at the time. Lower mid-range groups like New 105 easily out-performed Campagnolo's top C-Record group in the critical parameters of shifting and braking, at a fraction of the cost. Avid cyclists were shifting to Shimano and this is reflected by the high end European manufacturers and pro teams starting to equip bicycles with Shimano.

If you had the money, you could buy high end European and get the rich history, prestige and bling but the mid-range Japanese bicycle offered far better value. If they closed their eyes, the vast majority of riders were hard pressed to tell the difference.

Last edited by T-Mar; 07-31-18 at 06:54 AM.
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Old 07-31-18, 07:05 AM
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Agreed. Having owned, refurbished and sold a dozen or so Ironman bikes, I would say that they are the equal to pretty much any European product in terms of ride quality. Still have a slightly modified '86, which makes it into the regular rotation with Colnago, Merckx, Cannondale, Paramount, Prologue, Cinelli, etc.

Remember that different years had slightly different geometry and tire clearance. The 85-86 ones have room for 28's and slightly more relaxed geometry, while the later ones are just a smidge racier. But overall, they're products of Japan's then-superior mid-late 80's manufacturing and quality control.
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Old 07-31-18, 08:20 AM
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Aside from the facts that the high level of QC/QA, design, ride, handling, weight, component functionality and cheerful stylish/durable finish of the Centurion Ironman models made them, as @T-Mar notes, a superior performance/value proposition it was the emergence of the Tri-boom, Dave Scott as a personality and the Ironman customer that "saved" the high performance road bike from being a niche/footnote in the industry.

MTB's, quite rightly, had made the Boom-era "lightweights" obsolete for the vast majority of the bike buying public, NORBA racing had siphoned off a great many of us roadie & 'cross racers tired of the stultified USCF endless diet of Crit races and UCI/Eurocentric bureaucracy while the BMX kids grew up to race MTB w/o a thought of road racing. Enter the well educated and affluent much maligned Yuppie-couple attracted to the new Triathlon sport sans the dreary baggage of the hidebound USCF and the obvious perils of MTB racing to participate in a varied, challenging and American flavored sport. The bike of choice for that leg of a Tri was a Dave Scott Irornman, or one of the clones quick to emerge. Easy to operate SIS de-mystified shifting, handling was lively and predictable, maintenance was low, everything just worked properly and a fast rider could go just as fast as anything else on offer for a reasonable $.

Helmet, Tr-wife beater, Tri-shorts, pump, flats kit, aero clipon bars, bike computer, Look pedals & shoes and: Good to Go. Lots of $ there for the industry and lots of fit, dedicated, happy and fast customers.
The Tri and the Ironman saved the high performance road bike from obscurity in the pre-Lance boom, thanks to both even if not fashionable to say today.

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Old 07-31-18, 08:56 AM
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In the 60's I rode big heavy Schwinns & Sears. In the 70's I rode nice light Peugeots & Bottecchias. In the 80's I discovered Japanese bikes. Had a 88 Shogun Samurai. Now in my 60's. Still riding late 1980's Japanese bikes. Have a bunch of them. Right now my favorite one is a 1987 Centurion Ironman Expert. I've also got a 82 Centurion Elite. An 88 Centurion LeMans. And, a red 1986 Fuji Club. Plus, several others. I'm amazed at how cheap & easy these old Japanese bikes are to collect. My Ironman has been updated with brifters & racing wheels. It weighs in at 21-1/2 lb. Rides like a dream.
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Old 07-31-18, 10:07 AM
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I've only test rode "high end" European bikes. So I have limited comparison experience. But the few I've ridden unless (crit style) would be difficult to tell the difference from each other and the Ironman if they were all painted flat black. Also the quality control the Japanese were famous for created a high level consistency in each year of the Ironmans production that is hard to beat.
BTW, FYI, there are subtle differences in the Masters and Experts frames.
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Old 07-31-18, 10:16 AM
  #9  
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I have some nice European bikes and a centurion prestige. The centurion doesn't have the wow, or the the front derailleur braze on, but in terms of ride its at least as good as my best.

In terms of recognizability, uhm, not a chance.
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Old 07-31-18, 11:04 AM
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I have both a 1988 Ironman Master and a 1980 Olmo. Not top of the line Italian but a really nice bike. I can tell you for sure the Ironman rides, shifts, brakes much better.
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Old 07-31-18, 12:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Bandera View Post
...The Tri and the Ironman saved the high performance road bike from obscurity in the pre-Lance boom, thanks to both even if not fashionable to say today.

While there is no denying that triathlons played a major role in the resurgence of road bicycle sales in the mid to late 1980s, there was another, equally important factor. Nationally televised cycling coverage in combination with international success by American road cyclists, made a resurgence inevitable. Prospective cyclists all over the USA were galvanized by Alexi Grewal winning the road race at the 1984 L.A. Olympics and Greg Lemond finishing 3rd overall at the 1984 Tour de France. Canada tagged along as Steve Bauer won silver at the 1984 Olympics then added a bronze medal at the 1984 World Championships. All this happened on national television before a Centurion Ironman even hit the streets.


Television coverage of road cycling expanded throughout the remainder of the 1980s with event like Paris-Roubaix, the Coors Classic, Tour de France and World Championships. American content increased with 7-Eleven contesting the Giro d'Italia in 1985 and the Tour de France in 1986. There was also big screen cycling content with the release of American Flyers in 1985. There were a lot of SBI Allez and Sirrus sold as a result of that film.


With this kind of media coverage and American success, a lot of novices were inspired to try competitive road cycling. They needed a competitive bicycle but one that didn't break the bank. The Japanese manufactured mid-range models fit the bill perfectly. Concurrent media coverage of both road cycling and triathlons, in conjunction with America success in these events, provided a one-two punch that simulated mid 1980s, mid-range, road bicycle sales.
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Old 07-31-18, 02:37 PM
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not to mention the fun miami vice paint jobs.......a friend bought an ironman both for it's value and for the cool paint job over other optiosn
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Old 07-31-18, 04:08 PM
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T-Mar, and of course many others, thank you so much for the super-informative information and insight. Like the Donzi forum I used to hang out in, the amount of knowledge present always amazes me.
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Old 07-31-18, 04:25 PM
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I've ridden several classic bikes and fondled many more. I got my '89 Centurion Ironman Expert last summer and have been so impressed I've stopped even looking at craigslist for other steel frame road bikes that are in my budget. I just don't see a better value from any other maker.

Heck, I'm trying to resist buying another Ironman. But it would be handy to have one dedicated to the indoor trainer. I hesitated on one identical to mine for only $140 recently and missed out.

There are some much more expensive classics I'd consider if I had the budget. But, nope.

Not to say I wouldn't mind a Specialized Tarmac or a similar plastic featherweight bike to improve my times on some local climbs. But my main problem with improving my Strava time is engine trouble.
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Old 08-01-18, 01:49 AM
  #15  
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Wow thanks for all the informative replies! My Ironman is really nice and I don't plan to update it so now I am starting to dream of another frame to put a modern group set on to possibly replace my current carbon road bike or at least go along with it for longer hilly rides. I'm not man enough to climb some of the hills around here with that 42/24.
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Old 08-01-18, 04:20 AM
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If you're gonna get another Ironman frame to upgrade then I would suggest getting a Master.
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Old 08-01-18, 08:52 AM
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Is this the place for someone to describe the actual differences between the framesets of a Master and an Expert? Must helpful would be comparing the two models for a given year. (Centurion did change their geometries from year to year.) Did they use more masterful craftsmen for the Master?
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Old 08-01-18, 09:39 AM
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As others have correctly pointed out - The Ironman's popularity came about from an astute blend of marketing magic, fun colors, growing interest in triathlons, and a fair price for a good bike . - The bikes were aggressive for their time and the geometry specs hold up even today ---- but to hit their price point, they specc'ed components that pushed the weight a little bit (but weight was competitive with anything in their price range back them im sure) - but once rolling, if you could adjust to the longer position, the aero benefit of being a little more stretched out likely negated a pound or 2 of weight

MAster and Expert frames -- one is Tange 1 and the other is Tange 2 -- that's all I know - they feel the same to me and I have had examples of both
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Old 08-01-18, 10:18 AM
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My Centurion Ironman Expert has a Tange 1 sticker on it. With lightweight Vuelta XRP wheels, lightweight tubes & Michelin tires, Microshift 7 speed brifters, & Shimano 105 bits it has a dry weight of 21.5 lbs. I put 175mm crank arms on it. The geometry is so tight I swear my heel almost touches the rear wheel axle. (Ramzilla is 6-1", 210lbs.) My Centurion Elite has a Champion Tange 2 sticker. With Shimano 600 bits it weighs in about 23.5 lbs.
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Old 08-01-18, 11:44 AM
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Not sure any place is the right place to geek out?
Both Ironman Masters and Experts used Tange 1 tubes.
But there are still subtle differences.
As rccardr has noted '85 had the slackest frame geometry then progressively tighter ending in '89.
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Old 08-01-18, 12:01 PM
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What are these subtle differences between Master and Expert from the same year? I recall reading somewhere a difference in seat stay caps but is there anything more significant?
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Old 08-01-18, 12:17 PM
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Itís not just the Ironman thatís a great Japanese bike. Check out a Schwinn PDG
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Old 08-01-18, 12:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
Itís not just the Ironman thatís a great Japanese bike. Check out a Schwinn PDG
I'll second that and I have both bikes.

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Old 08-01-18, 12:44 PM
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Originally Posted by DMC707 View Post
MAster and Expert frames -- one is Tange 1 and the other is Tange 2 -- that's all I know - they feel the same to me and I have had examples of both
Actually, both Masters and Experts are Tange 1. There are some subtle frame design differences that don't amount to anything. The main difference between the two is that the Master came with Shimano Ultegra 600 (tric-color) components and the Expert came with Shimano 105.
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Old 08-01-18, 01:25 PM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by Classtime View Post
Is this the place for someone to describe the actual differences between the framesets of a Master and an Expert? Must helpful would be comparing the two models for a given year. (Centurion did change their geometries from year to year.) Did they use more masterful craftsmen for the Master?
Zero frame difference. Same mojo. Master has more aphrodisiac powers.

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