A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Bicycling takes many strange turns and twists through history. One of the more recent occurred in the mid-1970s during the Great Bike Boom. In Fairfax California, on a mountain road called "Repack" a new form of biking was devised. Click to enlargeOn Repack, not only did the cyclist have to endure a beating, but the bike did as well. The lightweight racing machines of the day were hardly up to the task. The new crop of extreme sportsmen relied on old 1950 cruiser bike frames, modifying them for the rough downhill race. With the addition of racing bike gearing, the ascent was possible as well, and mountain biking was born. The strange contraptions of old and new biking paraphernalia on two wheels were called Clunkers.

I grew up during that time, but we had few mountains in my neighborhood. We did have the luxury of steep drop-offs and stream beds. I could not afford a bike, so I built my own. That is the spirit that my own Clunker is built in. Some bikers would call my conglomeration of disparate parts a "Rat Bike." A Rat Bike, to me, is spawned from the Rat Rod segment of hot rodding. Rat Bikes are in general flat black, with some red mixed in, and are a bit for show in a punky anti-social sort of way. Lucky 13 is a Rat Bike. The Black Bike is a Rat Bike. Click to enlarge

Now that dedicated mountain bikes are readily available on the market, the term Clunker can be reassigned to bikes that are a simple and carefree assembly of old parts to get the rider down the road. Clunkers are liberating. A Clunker can have whimsical elements, but by and large, it is durable transportation that can take a beating, sit out in the rain, and give bike thieves the fear of tetanus. The JC Higgins Colorflow is a Clunker.

I thoroughly enjoy riding this bike. On top a galvanized pipe pedestal, it has a splayed out Brooks B72 seat, with an old oval reflector dangling underneath. I recently found an old chain guard, and it was great to just bolt it on without worrying about the paint. In fact, the paint on the Clunker is battered with rusty nicks. I'm not certain I'll keep the chain guard on the bike, but it's nice to try it out without fear of finish damage. The tires on the Higgins are mismatched, with a street whitewall on a rusty chrome rim out front, while a dirt tire on a white rim brings up the rear. A Winnipeg bicycle license is bolted to the rear axle.

Between the spokes up front is a Liberty Half Dollar concho on black leather.Click to enlarge Black dice cap off the Schrader valves on the rims. Black leather tassels dangle from the Dorcey metal flake grips. It's little details like this that make the bike. Click to enlargeA Monark springer fork absorbs the bumps and potholes efficiently, while the goose neck and handlebars from a kid's BMX bike with a bell provide direction.

All is not as it seems on the Clunker though. The bearings and chain are new. The bike is well maintained. It is a breeze to ride, with an upright posture. It is stable enough to ride with a dog, unlike twitchy mountain and road bikes.

Today, it seems bike companies are putting out "retro" products. Indeed, Electra tested the Clunker waters with their Deluxe Relic and it seems there is a ready market for nostalgia on wheels. It's not the same as building your own though. A Clunker does not come from the local bike store. A Clunker comes from the desire to ride.

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Blogger Daniel B. said...

Those bikes are cool! I like the double coil spring thingy... that's crazy, but kinda classic.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is one bad assed bike! Ditch the chain guard and make it real again!

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, sir.


1:51 AM  
Blogger klunkerbill said...

Have you checked out the movie KLUNKERZ yet? You just might DIG it!
Ride on

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cool screws!

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:10 PM  

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