Days of Klunker

Urban Dictionary definition of Klunker: An automobile, or occasionally another object, that is in poor condition due to mechanical problems, age, damage or other issues.

Required watching:

Growing up in the UK is a sure way of harbouring envy for vintage American MTBs, examples of which are few and far between.

Just recently, an opportunity arose to take on the stewardship of a 1984 Specialized Stumpjumper Sport. The Stumpjumper, launched in 1981, was the very first mass produced mountain bike.

Today was its day of initiation at my hands: a stint on pavement, a climb up Forest Road 79, then a no-holds-barred plummet down loose and rubbly singletrack.  And, despite a broken chain and a loosening headset (all part of the Klunker Experience, so I’m told), I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Perhaps it was the sense of history imbued within the bike. Maybe it was the romanticised  imagery of jeans-clad mtb pioneers, hurtling recklessly down Mount Tam, California. (Foot down and plumes of dust in their wake.) Most likely, it’s because there’s good reason that this bike went on to inspire generations to get out and discover their local trails.

I’m looking forward to further dirt road adventures at its helm. More pseudo Klunker Days are planned too. If you’re in the area, get in touch!

Details on the build soon, as I try and unravel some of its past…

This particular specimen has a potted history; Araya wheels from an early Ritchey, a ‘new’ (post 1986) drivetrain and a lovely Ideale leather saddle.

Camera: Canon 5D Mk2 with 50mm f/1.8 lens.

28 thoughts on “Days of Klunker

  1. Blair

    That was my first MTB. Bought it at West Point Cycles in Vancouver BC for 800 bucks in the spring of 84. No one knew much about mountain bikes back then so I bought way to big of a frame size only had about 1 inch of stand over room from the top tube. 29 years later and lots of bikes, mountain biking is still a huge part of my life. If you look closely in the Klunkers film there is a shot of the Gang in front of West Point Cycles.

  2. Cass Post author

    That’s very cool. Seeing an MTB for the first time, and thinking – “imagine what I could do with that” – must have been a memorable moment.

    I’m slightly alarmed at the lack of standover clearance myself… That, coupled with the slack angles and short top tube, makes for a distinctly different ride to what I’m used to now. Not that it takes away from any of the fun…

    My first moutain bike was a Marin Bear Valley (1990), followed later by a Rockhopper Comp (with Ritchey dropouts no less). That bike went on to travel with me across Asia for two years. I still have it in England, resprayed and applied with original-like decals, transformed into an Xtracycle for its retirement.

    1. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

      I knew you’d be on to that one, Nicholas. I watched it again a couple of times a few nights ago. The film does a great job of conveying the feeling of people just out having fun on bikes. It embodies the more casual, less race oriented heart of mountain biking that has somehow faded over the years.

      Perhaps there will be an emergence of old timey mountain bike appreciators much like those who revived appreciation for the penny farthing a few decades ago.

  3. Cass Post author

    That’s a cool one indeed. Jeremy and I were talking just today about heading to the museum in Crested Butte later in the year and doing the ride.

    I do love the Ron Burgundy-like moustachio’d reporter at the Repack though.

  4. Sergej

    I remember when I first saw cantilever brakes on one old Bianchi model. I’ve said to myself – “Of course! How did they not invented this much earlier? It is so obvious solution from those side-pull calliper brakes that I find very hard to adjust”.
    And after that came the V -brakes, and I thought the same thing about the canti’s.
    I call it evolution.

    1. Cass Post author

      My local bike shop, Mellow Velo, has promised to share long forgotten secrets on getting the most out its canti brakes. The moto-like brake levers are just massive, and as yet, don’t seem to do a great deal (-;

  5. mike

    Klunker I have an old John Tomack bike that I have painted twice and rebuilt so many time , I have road the bike and enjoyed it so much , one inch stem and steel fork but love the ride and it so many memories.

    Stump Jumper is fun , old bikes have a fun feel when road.

    Its like ridding a time machine…. fun

    from Mike

  6. Jim Bangs

    I bought a Trek 830 in 1986 all fired up to get after the mountain bike riding. I could never get comfortable on that bike, it was too small for me. I rebuilt that bike three years ago and my son rides it everyday as his college commuter at CSU. Probably the best use for that.. I have not been on a MTB since but I am getting ready to plunk my dough down for an Ogre this spring to get myself out on the dirt road touring thing! Should be a different ride after all these years on my LHT or my old steel commuter 12 speed!

    1. Cass Post author

      As you may know, I’m a big Ogre fan. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the dirt road adventures you share with it.

      The saddle and bullhorn handlebar are integral to the bike! I’m so used to plastic saddles these days that I have to make sure I look after it, as Stumpy will be living outside most of the time.

      1. Jim Bangs

        I know, that’s what led me to your blog! Posts about Ogre. Gotta stash a few more c-notes into my bike fund and then get it ordered!

  7. Jim Bangs

    By the way, I really like the Ideale saddle and the look those handlebars give this bike! I hope you keep those going forward.

  8. Nico

    This post makes me happy. Having toured on an old steel framed 90s rockhopper, I have an enduring love for these bikes.

    Since returning I’ve bought another one, and also a Marin Bear Valley that I’m building into a tourer. Whenever I see them I just want to snap them up! Nearly bought an 86 rockhopper with the old style U brakes the other day but am running out of space.

    It’s nice to see a cyclist reporting on both the new trends and old classics.

    1. Cass Post author

      I have to admit I’m kind of sucked into the world of 29ers. But if I didn’t have another bike to hand, I’d happily load up the Stumpy and head off for the hills. I’ll definitely be doing some tours on it this spring. I like the idea of doing big rides on bikes that are affordable to almost anyone.

      When I was working at Mayapedal, I fell for an old Panasonic. It would have been perfect – fun to ride, low key and easily fixable anywhere in Central America. If anyone asked me how much my bike was worth, I could have said, with complete truth: a $100!

      It’s a slippery slope checking those second hand listings…

  9. Jim Bangs

    I just watched that video that Gypsy posted on the Crested Butte-Aspen tour in 1980.
    I love stuff like that. Those people are my peer age group! I wonder if they are still riding like I am. I am a bit nostalgic for those days when people rode bikes for fun and adventure….not riding so you can be seen riding the lightest bike or wearing the full “kit”. No kits on that ride, only regular clothes and regular shoes (saw a lot of “chuck taylors”). How about those kids on the pre-motocross banana seat sting-ray bikes. looked like many hike-a-bikers too.

  10. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

    Congrats on the Klunker! Somehow I missed this post this morning while looking at your Bunyon post. I recently picked up an ’84 Miyata Ridge Runner that is a lot like your Stumpy:

    Give it a little time, and you’ll get used to the higher top tube and slacker angles. For me, they somehow combine to make the riding posture a bit less aggressive and a lot more fun.

    If you do get together a plan to do Pearl Pass on old mountain bikes, let me know as I would be all in.

    1. Cass Post author

      That Ridge Runner is a beaut. So many lovely details. What a find.

      It brings back memories. I had the opportunity to enjoy a donated Panasonic for a couple of months, while working in Guatemala:

      I’m pretty sure I prefer a bike with more aggressive angles, but then again, that could be my muscle memory talking. Whatever, the Stumpy is fun and different, and fills a long dormant desire to own a vintage mtb.

      I also enjoy the idea of keeping a tradition going; riding a bike that might otherwise be easily neglected for all the new fangled gear on the market (which, I might add, I do like too…).

      1. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

        I lucked into the Ridge Runner after an arduous search of many years.

        I remember your ride on that Panasonic. Early Japanese mountain bikes, including that Panasonic, your Stumpjumper and my Miyata, were extremely well made and played a big role in diffusing mountain bikes to the masses. I’m sure custom bikes like Ritchey and Breezer were even nicer, but were as much out of my price range back then as they are now.

        I also have a Panasonic, an ’88 MC4500, currently on long-term loan to my brother in law:

        It’s also a fun bike, but the under-the-seatstay u-brake can be headache inducing to adjust and maintain.

  11. Cass Post author

    Ah yes! I remember your Panasonic now! I also remember the pictures of your daughter’s impressive riding.

    If, for some reason, the modern, fancy, Rohloffed-Thorn I was riding at the time had somehow disappeared, I can honestly say I would have been happy continuing on the Panasonic.

    The rims were prone to overheating and melting brake pads, but aside from that, I was smitten. I loved the fact that any hole-in-the-wall bike repairer could have fixed it. There was barely a hex bolt in sight!

    I almost paid $100 for it and had it sent home… But what good would it have been languishing in a garage? Now that someone took the trouble to send it there, better that it spends the rest of its days in the Guatemalan Highlands, I say…

    1. Andy D. (Big Dummy Daddy)

      Universal repairability and simplicity as touted features of modern touring bikes, such as Surly’s 26er LHT, are just as present in old mountain bikes at bargain prices. Nicholas and his High Sierra come to mind.

      Hot rims and burnt pads are sort of a thing of the past now. I remember smoking pads being not uncommon at the bottom of long descents, and although I never had one, the occasional blowout due to excessive heat.

      My daughter has since moved up to a geared mountain bike and continues to gain trail prowess. I’m a proud Dad.

  12. Pingback: Out the door: 1987 Raleigh Seneca Mountain Tour | gypsy by trade

  13. Billy Savage

    If you want to get fired-up on riding old-school, watch my movie, KLUNKERZ. You’ll want to junk your 80s bikes with bullmoose bars and build up an old 30s or 40s chassis from scratch. It can become quite an obsession, I promise you.
    Ride on,

  14. RobertL

    …my DB Ascent (Tange frame) bought new in 1986 is still going strong, on original mechs (Shimano Deore) and wheels (36 spoke Arayas)…having a Thorn RST Alfine delivered which hopefully can match the longevity of the DB


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