By Vernon Felton
There was a time when I worshipped at the altar of simplicity. For years, I felt that there was no improving upon the logic of the double diamond frame. Triangles, I have been told by engineers smarter than myself, are the hardest shapes to deform. They are, in a word, stiff. Put two of those things together and you had the perfect frame. The Schwinn Varsity that I used to deliver newspapers was a double diamond. The 1970s Redline frame that I found abandoned atop a neighbor's Sunday trash (my greatest scavenging coup to date) was a double diamond. My first mountain bike, a 1988 Trek 850, was a double diamond.
Why move on to anything else when each of those bikes had served me so well?
The early full-suspension bikes only reinforced my prejudices: they sucked. Bobbing, flexing, creaking piles of shit that cost a mint. I looked at them with a sense of superiority: what kind of idiot would sink their hard earned cash into one of those things when there were so many great steel/ti/aluminum hardtails out there to be had?
Then I bought a Santa Cruz Heckler and even though the bike had one or two drawbacks, I was smitten by what seemed like an ungodly amount of rear suspension. Four inches of travel? Holy Crap! It was freeriding material—at least, back in 1997 it seemed that way.
Here's the thing, the Heckler was fun. Whereas my hardtails were simple and effective tools that transported me into to a higher ground, the Heckler was that higher ground all by itself. The hardtails seemed like going to church and feeling good about having kneeled in a pew for an hour. My first good full suspension bike felt like sex.
I stopped riding hardtails altogether.
It's been years since I've really spent much time aboard a bike sans rear shock. I might ride them for a month or two each season, but full-suspension bikes have a hold on me. Ditto for disc brakes, smart suspension designs, dropper posts and a bevy of other advancements that, when intelligently designed and employed, actually make the act of riding my bike that much more fun.
And then I started riding a Klunker, which at first glance, seemed the height of idiocy to me. Coaster brakes? No rear shock? No suspension fork? Wasn't this just a trip back to 1984? I already lived through 1984 and, let me tell you, that year (and the four that preceded it) sucked: the A-Team was the best thing on TV, the Clash had broken up. Shit was bleak.
I like squishy bikes that climb well, that make poor line choices through root sections feel like a cruise aboard a magic carpet. Shoot, I plain like my bike to stop when I tell it to.
The Klunker lacks these attributes. Still, I found myself loading one of the beefed up cruisers on a Sunday morning in the company of my neighbor, Tony, a guy who rides these slabs of chromoly damn near everywhere.
With the Klunker rocking 42×16 gearing, our climb that day consisted mainly of pushing. We startled a rabbit. We talked. We hauled the Klunkers up and over boulders, through the mud and across countless trees downed during the last good storm. We sweat a lot. We stopped at the top and drank beer—it seemed like exactly the right thing to do. Sort of like the exact opposite of glancing at my Garmin and checking my elevation, which is what I normally do before launching into a descent.
I won't tell you that my first few Klunking voyages were blissful affairs that had my swearing off technological innovation. A Klunker will never be my main ride. They are, however, a hell of a lot of fun to ride. Simple trails—trails that you'd take your mother-in-law on, are instantly transformed into white-knuckle affairs. Braking—that thing you effortless accomplish a single index finger becomes a precarious balance between just enough power and OhCrapOhCrapOhCrap skids that send you into the nearest pointy, immovable object.
I realize that none of this sounds like a resounding testimonial for Klunking, but there's a lot to be said for going back to basics every once in a while. Sometimes, you need to ditch technology, scare yourself and remind your inner geek that it's not the bike that's important, but the act of riding itself.