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Klunkerz - Where It All Began


Klunkerz Where it all began

Bike parks are here to stay, and there are many more opening up each year as resorts react to the huge demand for lift accessed bike trails. But where do the origins of this rapidly growing mountain bike culture lie? In fact where does mountain biking as a sport or activity come from?!

In the late 1960s and early 1970s San Francisco was the vortex of America’s counter culture movement. Just over the Golden Gate Bridge, in Marin County, another movement was under way. The kids here would shake up a 100 year old American industry, and within a decade, create a worldwide phenomenon.

Long before the mountain bike entered our global consciousness, the cycling enthusiasts of Marin rode modified pre-WWII bicycles down the slopes of Mount Tamalpais. They developed their bikes through rigorous field-testing, often risking life and limb to do so. Only the strongest, heaviest parts could withstand the abuse that Mount Tam dished out.

The pioneer’s bikes were scavenged from dumpsters and junkyards, sometimes adapting motorcycle parts to suit their needs. It was from these humble beginnings that a billion dollar industry, a new form of recreation for the masses, and an Olympic event, were born. These hefty steeds were affectionately known as Klunkerz.

Using archival footage, still photographs, and interviews, KLUNKERZ tells the story of the earliest days of the sport from those who were there. Some of the biggest names in the industry, as well as some more obscure characters, recount the people and events that gave birth to the modern mountain bike.  You can get the DVD at www.klunkerz.com and in the mean time here's just a taster... After all it's good to know where you came from...

Charlie Kelly, organizer and promoter of the Repack Downhill Series, sometime in 1977. He was probably the first rider down the course this day after synchronizing  the two digital stopwatches together at the top. He'd ride to the bottom with one of the timers in his pocket, pull out the timer, pen and paper, and get ready to mark times at the finish line (made by his boot heel).  The riders would come down the hill exactly two minutes apart and the times would then be calculated and a winner crowned. Repack was the worlds first downhill MTB race series, organized and promoted by Charlie Kelly that ran from 1976-1979...

Tech inspections at the start of the Repack races were rather informal. A pair of Vice-Grips affixed to the seatpost was the basic tool kit. Bob Burrowes is seen at the far left, holding the first "MARIN COUNTY KLUNKERS" t-shirt. On the far right, Wende Cragg is seen facing the camera. She was rarely in the photos, since she took most of them.

A grainy shot of a young Gary Fisher on the Repack course. He's on this first Klunker he built up with Union drum brakes and Suntour thumb shifters. Gary set the course record on this bike, 4 minutes and 21 seconds. This run cemented Gary Fisher's legend in 'Klunking'. Over the years many people, including some of the top downhill racers in the world,  have attempted to break this record on modern downhill machines but, due to conditions of the course, none have ever been able to match his time.

The Repack Race Series was largely a shuttle run, though some did ride up the course to check conditions. Here, Charlie Kelly (L) and Alan Bonds (R) unload the racing machines near the top of the course. Charlie was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame it's inaugural year, 1988. I had the pleasure of inducting Alan Bonds into the MTB HOF in 2010. Since the release of KLUNKERZ 17 cast members have been inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in the 'Pioneers' category.

Joe Breeze on 'Breezer #1', the world's first purpose-built mountain bike using all new parts. Joe built this bike in the Fall of 1977. He build 9 more the following year. Breezer #1 now resides at the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. A restored example of one the first ten bikes (#4, I believe) sold in May of 2012 for $25,000.00

Bob Burrowes holds on to the bitter end halfway down the course on his 1953 Schwinn Spitfire multi-speed Klunker build by Gary Fisher in 1977. Note Bob's safety equipment, consisting of denim jacket, hockey helmet, safety glasses and garden gloves. Bob was one of the first to actually wear some sort of helmet at these events.

USA TODAY “Savage’s funny and often poignant film looks at how a bunch of semi-stoned hippies in Northern California developed a unique style of off-road bike riding through collaboration and competition…KLUNKERZ is worth checking out, even if you’re not a bike nut.” 

BIKE MAGAZINE (Best of the Year) “KLUNKERZ is the most compelling bike film made in quite some time.” MOUNTAIN BIKE ACTION “Maybe the most remarkable thing about the film is you don’t have to be a mountain biker to be thoroughly entertained.”

DIRT MAGAZINE “Watch this film, then go out on your bike…you’ll feel differently about the way you ride, I’m sure of it.”

BIKE RADAR (UK) “The right people in the right time spawned the mountain bike, and KLUNKERZ does and excellent job of letting them tell their story. Two thumbs up and five stars.”

MOUNTAIN BIKING MAGAZINE “KLUNKERZ is a very special film…this is definitely one to have in your collection.”

Photos courtesy of Wende and Larry Cragg/Rolling Dinosaur Archives


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