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Did You Know?

Only 11 percent of Chicagoland residents ride transit to work.

Klunkerz: Leaders of the Repack

In the late 1960s and early 70s, groups of hippies, bike racers, and dropouts reinvented the wheel.

They started with beaters, ballooners, klunkerz—old bikes typically rescued from dumpsters, junkyards and flea markets—strengthening the frames and testing their limits. Mostly friends, these reckless tinkerers freely shared their innovations as they added gears and brakes, shock absorbers and motor cycle parts. Ultimately, they switched to purpose-built frames and commercialized their inventions. In the process, mountain biking spread from the American West and became a multi-billion dollar industry, as well as an Olympic sport.

Klunkerz, an engaging documentary, tells this story, recounting the origins of the world’s most important new bicycle—and bicycle movement—in more than a century.

Even if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike, you should see this film. It tells the definitive version of this story by rounding up what I like to call “leaders of the Repack.” (Repack was a used to describe early mountain bike races because the demands on the bike were so great that the riders had to repack the grease in their rear hub afterward.) In addition, Klunkerz expertly recreates the laid-back spirit—so full of fun and innocence, experimentation and invention—through archival photographs and video footage.

Although the founders engaged in friendly completion in their workshops and on their bikes, they shared an unflinching love of bicycling and the freedom it affords. They were not eager entrepreneurs, clever marketers, or geek engineers but rather a bunch of guys (and one girl) who were thrilled with and hooked on bicycling. The film ends with some poignant statements from three pioneers whose names are almost synonymous with mountain biking:

  • “I’m an evangelist for cycling. I just want to tell people about it,” said Tom Ritchey, a leading frame designer and builder.
  • “The bicycle is the easiest way to carve out a space of our own in a very fast-paced world,” said Gary Fisher, considered by some to be one of the inventors of mountain biking.
  • “Bikes are a great way to empower ourselves, to be green,” said Charlie Cunningham, an early innovator.