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The Klunkus

A Show Beauty That Gets Ridden

Words by Morgan Taylor. Photos by Morgan Taylor.
February 26th, 2014

Bikes that are prepared for the North American Handmade Bike Show can be polarizing – especially to mountain bikers. The mountain bike category at NAHBS seems to be stuck in the last century, with long stems, swoopy frames, and nary a dropper post to be seen. A NAHBS bike has a particular aesthetic and not everyone gets down with it – but a bike with so many hand crafted and carefully curated details just begs to be pored over.

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The 2013 NAHBS mountain bike category winner, affectionately referred to as the Klunkus, was commissioned by Vancouver shop owner Darren McKay. The original 29+ bike, the Surly Krampus, had been out for a few months at the time and having sold a few, Darren decided he wanted to build his own custom around Surly’s 3″ tires and 50mm rims.

When I met Darren back in 2006, his love for bikes with superfluous top tubes was well established. I remember looking at his Kona A’ha with an unfounded disdain for the design; fast forward eight years and I’ve got a klunked out Humu hanging in my bike room that serves as my seawall cruiser. I’ll eat my words on that one. With the wheel size as a basis, the klunker aesthetic was to inform the frame decision.

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Klunker + Krampus = Klunkus.

Already the owner of a number of American hand-built beauties, Darren chose to work with Curtis Inglis of Retrotec for his 29+ build. With the distinctive Retrotec Triple as a foundation, they set out to create a show piece with careful curation to accompany the intricate frame details.

The result was the winning ribbon in the mountain bike category at the 2013 NAHBS – almost a year ago. In that year, the Klunkus has not sat idle. Darren built the bike to ride it – and while it does see more gravel path than wilderness, the Klunkus now proudly wears a few scratches.

When I proposed to do a photo set with this beautiful machine, Darren was adamant that I trail ride it. I was skeptical. First, it’s a show bike – a category winning bike even; and second, it’s got a rigid fork – surely not suitable for actual mountain biking… right?

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There’s a lot going on here. Good thing I have a big memory card.

The timing of this project was somewhat serendipitous. On a sunny Friday afternoon I randomly stopped by Dream Cycle to say hello, and came home with the Klunkus. Overnight it snowed – perfect. A hasty plan was hatched to get up to Squamish and sample their XC trails.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but good bike design is good bike design and the Klunkus handles great. Sure, it’s limited by a lack of damping, but the parts spec makes for a high quality riding experience that lets the hand crafted steel do its thing wonderfully. It’s certainly capable of riding rooty cross country, provided you’ve got a positive attitude, and the big tires make riding in snow just a bit easier.

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Going off-piste on a category winning show bike – check that one off the list.

When I took the bike out to shoot it the following day, the stars aligned and I just couldn’t stop pressing the button. This bike is absolutely beautiful from all angles and I had a lot of trouble cutting shots from this set. I’ve arranged the photos by the different component groups that add up to make one very interesting bike, even if it is outside our usual scope.

This bike does raise your curiosity and I can say after spending a weekend with it that I’m still very much intrigued by the Klunkus. Brew a coffee or grab a beer, click the photos to view them in high res, and enjoy the ride…

The Wheels

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Surly’s 50mm Rabbit Hole rims and 29×3″ Knard tires were the seed of the idea for this bike, and they are an important part of its aesthetic.

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The shallow rim depth and polished finish makes the wheels look like they came off a giant BMX.

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The Knard is, to my knowledge, the only 29×3″ tire out there. I found it runs decently at about 14 psi up front and 16 out back.

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People seem to want to touch the colour-matched rim strips to check that their eyes aren’t deceiving them.

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From a distance, the profile of the Klunkus is quite balanced.

XTR Where it Counts

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Shimano XTR was chosen for the drive and brakes.

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A classic made-in-Canada eNVy chainring and a Paul Components chain keeper hang out with the XTR crank.

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XTR trail brakes, always a good choice.

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Rear brake and QR skewer just like that.

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29″ wheels and 1×10. So 2013.

Gotta Have Thomson

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It wouldn’t be a NAHBS bike without some Thomson – how ’bout a ti flat bar and Elite X4 stem?

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The Thomson theme carries through to the seat clamp…

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…and the coveted and very smooth operating Thomson dropper post.

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The Thomson lever is subtle and requires very little pressure to actuate the post.

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She’s a thing of beauty.

King is King

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Next up on the component groups, and keeping with the made-in-North-America theme, Chris King.

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King press fit bottom bracket.

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And the standard NAHBS-issue King headset.

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It all comes together quite nicely.

Whistler Flavour from Chromag

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Back to BC flavour, Chromag gets the nod in the contact department. The Squarewave grip clamps match the XTR lever almost perfectly.

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Ridin’ dirty with no end caps in there.

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Again, it all just works really well.

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Trailmaster LTD in red leather.

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The Scarab pedal.

Paint and Scallops

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Now that we’ve been through component selection, let’s take a closer look at the frame details.

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The segmented fork’s legs are capped with scallops.

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Take it or leave it, you can’t say it doesn’t stand out.

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15mm through axle.

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A fork’s dimensions are a very important piece in how a bike rides and this one is spot on.

A Series of Tubes

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Details all over the place.

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Lots of tubes up in there.

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The seat stay bridge follows the contour of the tire perfectly.

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A very busy seat stay junction.

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Scallops at the top of the seat stays.

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Where the Klunkus was “dreamed” up.

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Anything I’ve missed?

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No mistaking where this one’s from.

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The Klunkus in its intended environment – being ridden and not being babied.

NAHBS 2014 is just a couple weeks away, promising a lot of beautiful bicycles, plenty of weird ideas, and all the beard stroking to go along with it. Let’s just hope this year’s crop of show bikes have as rich a future ahead of them as the Klunkus…


Is the Klunkus up your alley or can you just not get down with the hand built aesthetic?

  • slyfink

    for a bike that’s meant to be ridden, you didn’t tell us much about how it rides…

    • morgman

      My intent was to show off the beauty of the bike; getting to ride it was just a bonus. Are there any questions I can answer for you about this specific bike, or are you more interested in the 29+ thing in general?

      • Dan Clements

        Having been riding a Krampus for over a year now, last summer including the 12 Hours of Cumberland solo, the High Cascades 100 mile race and a couple epic days in the Chilcotins. I can say without a doubt the 29+ platform makes a stellar trail bike.
        the knard and Rabit Hole combo giving up huge traction in corners, climbing and on decents. At 180 lbs, I run about 9-10 psi on a tubeless setup. My bike is a fully ridgid singlespeed and simply the best all conditions trail bike I have ever had. I am quicker everywhere on my Krampus.

    • boomforeal

      meant to be ridden, heh

  • Paul Snyder

    I have an all original 1995 Humu (down to the tires) and if this rides anything like that…and it probably rides better…then it’s a barrel of laughs. Makes you really appreciate the modern-day fully, too.

    • morgman

      I bought my Humu from a friend on a whim – the investment was negligible and I just love the look. In no way does it displace an actual mountain bike, but as a seawall cruiser that can be smashed into the bush and skidded without consideration, it’s great!

  • GTDad

    I like it, reminds me of a vintage airplane

  • slyfink

    I’m really just curious how it rides. I can’t quite picture it. I know what a fat bike rides like (on snow), and I know how a 26″ hardtail rides. I’m curious to know how a 3.0″ 29r tire rides on squamish single track… Genuinely curious, not preparing for a flame fest. I guess I’m wondering what the point is… where it excels…

    • morgman

      The 29×3 platform attempts to strike a balance between the bouncy, low pressure 26″ fat bike and the 29er hardtail. You get more flotation out of the rims and tires which means you can run them at much lower pressure than a normal 2.3 but you avoid the bounce of a 3.8″+ fat tire. I settled on 14/16 and pedaled up Fromme no problem Monday in a fair bit of snow where there were some foot tracks – but even a 26″ fat bike doesn’t excel in heavy/deep snow.

      The bottom line, however, is that these bikes (and fat bikes) are still a bit gimmicky / narrow niche and don’t compete with modern mountain bikes for actual mountain biking. Tire availability is quite limited and rigid forks are decidedly not performance items in technical terrain. That’s why I wasn’t too worried about “reviewing” the platform. There’s not a lot to be said.

  • boomforeal

    gorgeous pictures morgan. or, gorgeous bike; couldn’t have hurt

  • hampstead_bandit

    lovely looking bike – reminds me of “Breezer” mountain bikes

    great article and nice detail pictures!

  • mtbdee

    For anyone wondering how the 29×3″ tires work in snow, all I can say is they actually work really well. I have a Krampus and have been riding it all winter here in southern New England. I wish I had the Klunkus as it is simply gorgeous! The Knard/Rabbit Hole combo works great in varying snow conditions (light and fluffy to hard and frozen) and, on fresh fluffy snow, up to ~ 5″. Just like a regular fat bike, it kinda sucks in fresh heavy wet snow that has yet to be packed down. The tire/rim combo also kicks ass on bumpy icy trail. The kind of small stuff with ice that would normally land you on your ass is really rideable.

    I don’t know what the author weighs but at 170lbs I usually run 9psi in the rear and 8 up front in the dry months, and today I was running about 4psi all around on frozen snow (both on packed trail and bushwacking through the woods). Too much pressure and the bike is a handful to say the least. Kinda like a bounce house, or if you ran way too much pressure in your suspension with your rebound dampening as low as possible. Filling rattling is an apt description.

  • groovy-tuesday

    Morgan, did you try lower pressures than the 14/16? Don’t the sidewalls get squirrely on these large diameter tires at such low pressures? Just curious and trying to understand this kind of bike and how it rides best. I have heard the single digit pressure mentioned often, but don’t have any experience myself (yet).

    • morgman

      I started higher and lowered until I felt the traction was adequate. As my time with the bike was limited, and I didn’t have a 29×3 tube on hand, it didn’t make sense to experiment with lower pressures once I was happy with traction.

      That squirrelly feeling you describe is certainly present on regular fat bikes, and I was able to get the Knards squirming/folding on grippy gold dirt – so at 14 up front I felt I was nearing the point where I wouldn’t want to run much less pressure on dry ground. For the record I weigh around 180.

      The folding bead Knard weighs 980 grams, which, for its volume, is actually quite light, but on the scale of 29er tires, is among the heaviest. This translates to a relatively thin sidewall that doesn’t give amazing support at low pressure. You’ve got to compromise in one direction or the other, and heavy tires feel dead on such big wheels.

  • cunningstunts

    utterly stunning. if i was rich, i would own this bike and ride it around for show. a work of art.