Engaging documentaries come about when a filmmaker is especially passionate and intensely curious and about just one thing. Director Billy Savage deeply loves the bicycle and generously spreads it around in “Klunkerz”, a small but important film that traces the history of modern day mountain biking.
What essentially began as an innocent form of youthful entertainment in the ‘70s, has become a global recreation phenomenon and an Olympic sport. Honestly, I had no idea that mountain biking came to the world compliments of our outdoorsy Marin neighbors. Color me impressed.
In the 1970s, some Marin hippie types began riding fat tire cruisers (circa 1940-50s) really, really fast down steep dirt fire roads in and around Mt. Tamalpais. They never went up, mind you, just down. They’d load the bikes into someone’s truck bed and head to the top. Because these bikes were the bare-bone basics – two fat tires, a seat, pedals and handlebars – they earned the affectionate nickname of “Klunkerz.” Beyond these basics, riders would commence in what Savage describes as “obsessive tinkering” which ultimately resulted in handy things like gears and, y’know, brakes. Crazy stuff like that.
Savage deftly illustrates his story with the joyful memories of those present at birth – Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher, Tom Richey and plenty of others. He even tracked down former members of the pioneering Larkspur Canyon Gang, who blew everyone’s mind and then disappeared for 20 years. What’s striking about these interviews is how young everyone still looks. There were some gray hairs here and there but the people who created and shaped this sport are clearly still doing it. Their presence alone is enough to highlight how relatively new mountain biking truly is.
Throughout the film, I was reminded of another wonderful documentary, “Riding Giants” Stacy Peralta’s history of big wave riding. “Klunkerz” has a similar feel – a sense of youthful ingenuity coupled with a daring ruggedness and, of course, zero regard for injury. It’s all about the rush, dude.
Savage’s story benefits from two on-site witnesses who had the presence of mind to photograph and film those early years. Wende Cragg, the only girl on the scene, took heaps of valuable photographs. Ray Flores, who had previously worked on “Dogtown” and “Z-Boys”, filmed several rolls of Super-8mm during one trip to Marin in 1976. Flores even caught the gang racing down the infamous ‘Repack’ race course with some wonderfully gritty results.
But Savage is the craftsman who weaves all this together with one part pride (he’s a Marin local, after all), two parts awe and three parts love. “Klunkerz” is a thrill ride and a throwback to a simpler time when bored youth went outside and invented fun. Still, one thing remains the same: a good day can still be measured by how much mud you have in your teeth.
© 2008 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 3/5/08
USA - 2008