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I raced a Schwinn Varsity Klunker in the very late 70's and early 80's in Northern California.
How cool is that? You must have some great memories from back then. I was cruising a home brew BMX bike back then. I'll be running TA cranks on my Klunker with a bottom bracket adapter. I'm not sure what size seat post I'll be needing but I'll keep my eyes open for a chrome moly version. Alan Bonds and Charlie Kelly and those guys used solid aluminum bar for the same reason. Thanks for the tips, I really appreciate it!
 

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You are right about the memories. Klunker racers usually had a vice grip attached onto the seat post clamp but it could be anywhere. They always carried quite a few tools to keep the beast operational during the race. Most of them wore work boots during the race. In those days there was a very "anti looking like a road racer" vibe. Having been a road racer I totally loved the Klunker scene since it was so opposite of the road bike scene. The first couple of years I raced there were a lot of klunkers. Then the wave of hand built then factory built early MTB's came and the klunkers disappeared. The klunker vibe was replaced by big corporations and MTB specific clothing lines. Folks that haven't raced offroad don't realize just how violent the forces are that pound the bike and rider. They are brutal. I used to worry about detached retina's and bloody pee from beating up your kidney's. I finally stopped racing because of bloody pee. The derailleurs of the era were almost unusable because you couldn't keep your chain on the sprockets due to the pounding. NORBA killed it for me. They were set up to sell derailleur bikes and ignore one speeds and Sturmey Archer 3 speeds that had been so successful. By the way I was most successful with running a coaster brake and front cantilever brake. You never feather a coaster brake. You use it to slid the rear tire only. This keeps the heat buildup under control. You might think this wouldn't work but it was an entirely successful strategy. On the unsprung bikes of the time a coaster brake allowed your legs to be your bodies suspension thus was a less brutal ride. You tried to use the front brake as little as possible. When you pulled on the front brake lever that forced your hands and arms to grip the handlebar which was just a runaway jack hammer, your vision would blur because of the vibration. Hard to pick a good line when everything is a blur. In fact you try to run as little brake as possible. When not braking I used to use my forefingers and thumbs to ring the hand grips thus not holding the bar as it pounded away and giving me good vision. It is a race afterall. I raced for 5 years. Good times and memories.
 
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Thank you for the first hand accout and insights @Tallbikeman ! This is great stuff! I really love learning about the early days of what became modern mountain bikes. The parts I really love is the grass roots nature of it and DIY necessity. It really made for some interesting machines back then. I grew up in the south Bay Area and the "klunkers" I saw running around in the '70s were usually 10 speeds, sometimes cruisers, with the drop bars flipped up to a more comfy riding position and a more comfy seat. Of course my buddies and I mostly had BMX at the time but all of those bikes went everywhere. Wheelie contests were big.

I'm really enjoying your perspective here with your love of the simple machinery, which definitely appeals and makes perfect sense considering your reasoning. I think some of the fastest times set on Repack were by Joe Breeze and Otiz Guy on their coaster braked bikes if I recall correctly? Also the extra weight and complexity of the 'hybrid' bikes would clearly have the disadvantages you describe. I really remember the hammering handlebars! Both from my BMX days and from my rigid MTB days. And I used to 'ring' the handlebars in the same way. Front suspension really makes a huge difference off road.

I'm really intrigued by your choice of the Varsity as a Klunker. Were you able to get fat tires on it? I'm thinking about building a Varsity klunker now too, I'll be keeping my eyes open for a good donor. Do you happen to have any pics of your old Varsity you'd be willing to share? Or pics of the races back then? Thanks again for all the great info!!
 

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My Varsity klunkers of the past used 26 x 1.75" tires. In those days I weighed 215 lbs and I ran the tires at 70psi so I wouldn't get rim strikes. The rear forks on a Varsity will not allow any bigger tire in the 26" wheel. I never felt at a disadvantage while racing using this size tire. I used to see a lot of folks running the 1.75" tires racing because they were faster than the bigger tires. As for why I chose 26" C to C seatpost Varsity frames I'm 6'5" tall and smaller frames were just too small in several ways for me. I built my first klunker because Araya had come out with a readily available aluminum 26" rim that became the MTB standard. It fit the same balloon tires that the steel rims did and was just better in many ways. I built my first Varsity klunker starting in 1978 and raced my first race in 1979. Both my early Varsity klunkers got stolen at work and I never took pictures of them. In fact I only had one picture of me racing at the Rockhopper race in Santa Rosa on one of my Varsity's. Can't lay my hands on that picture now. I used to be a non picture taking person. Smart phones changed all that. My latest Varsity klunker uses 700c x 35mm for the rear and 700c x 40mm on the front. Reference the picture. I highly recommend the Tekro 559 brakes for the 700C size wheel. Those brakes are excellent. My latest Varsity klunker uses BMX quill stem and S and M Bruzer handlebars, noseless saddle, a rear rack with bag for all the flat tire stuff and clothing, Profile crank and a Velo Orange 10 speed rear cassette hub. The gearing is 1x10 and works very well for the type of levee riding I mostly do. The reason for the rack is because I haul this bike a lot on a Hollywood bike rack that holds the bike by the top bar. Loved hearing that you used the same handlebar technique as I did. It was the only way to go really fast downhill on rock strewn trails like the Rockhopper course.
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My Varsity klunkers of the past used 26 x 1.75" tires. In those days I weighed 215 lbs and I ran the tires at 70psi so I wouldn't get rim strikes. The rear forks on a Varsity will not allow any bigger tire in the 26" wheel. I never felt at a disadvantage while racing using this size tire. I used to see a lot of folks running the 1.75" tires racing because they were faster than the bigger tires. As for why I chose 26" C to C seatpost Varsity frames I'm 6'5" tall and smaller frames were just too small in several ways for me. I built my first klunker because Araya had come out with a readily available aluminum 26" rim that became the MTB standard. It fit the same balloon tires that the steel rims did and was just better in many ways. I built my first Varsity klunker starting in 1978 and raced my first race in 1979. Both my early Varsity klunkers got stolen at work and I never took pictures of them. In fact I only had one picture of me racing at the Rockhopper race in Santa Rosa on one of my Varsity's. Can't lay my hands on that picture now. I used to be a non picture taking person. Smart phones changed all that. My latest Varsity klunker uses 700c x 35mm for the rear and 700c x 40mm on the front. Reference the picture. I highly recommend the Tekro 559 brakes for the 700C size wheel. Those brakes are excellent. My latest Varsity klunker uses BMX quill stem and S and M Bruzer handlebars, noseless saddle, a rear rack with bag for all the flat tire stuff and clothing, Profile crank and a Velo Orange 10 speed rear cassette hub. The gearing is 1x10 and works very well for the type of levee riding I mostly do. The reason for the rack is because I haul this bike a lot on a Hollywood bike rack that holds the bike by the top bar. Loved hearing that you used the same handlebar technique as I did. It was the only way to go really fast downhill on rock strewn trails like the Rockhopper course.View attachment 206618
That's a sharp Varsity! I love that it's a modern evolution of your original klunkers. Bike thiefs suck. They just do. Both my original Redline from high school and my first legit mountain bike were stolen. I'd love to have my Redline back but it's long gone. I'm building a tribute bike for that one.

I really like the Varsity Klunker concept. I'm going to keep my eyes open for a good project bike. I'm a foot shorter than you so I'll need a slightly smaller frame. 🤣 So I'm thinking probably 26" wheels. You can do a lot on 1.75" tires. All of my early mountain biking was on that size. I remember thinking a 1.9 was pretty big when I got one. Then I got a 2.1 and thought there was no way I'd ever need a 2.35. Ha! Times have changed. But I can definitely see how the ride would be punishing on a fast rocky trail with 70 psi in the tires and no suspension. Wow. Thanks for the tip on the Tekro 559 brakes, I'm sure I'll have opportunity to put a set of those on a project someday.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insights. It's really valuable to hear about people's different experiences. I really enjoy all that early stuff, especially the innovative DIY stuff. I dig the Crested Butte bikes from back then too. Pretty crude but cool nonetheless. I'm glad to see your still at it too. Hopefully the idiots will leave this klunker alone. 👍
 

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Thanks for the good comments and I lock up my bikes with good quality locks for short amounts of time and not on any schedule. Haven't lost one in decades. At home I am lucky enough to be able to store them in a backyard shop out of sight. I'm also sorry to hear about your stolen bikes. They are such a part of who we are and it hurts when you don't have them anymore. Good luck with your replacement Redline.
 
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It's good to have secure storage. I haven't had a bike stolen in decades either, I guess you live and learn. My old Timberline still looked pretty shiny when I went to college. Not wanting it to attract the wrong kind of attention I gave it a camo paint job. I guess it did the trick, it never got stolen. 🤣
 
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You may also want to try bmxmuseum classifieds and having eBay saved searches. Sometimes folks list stuff cheaply. Good luck on your parts quest and have fun!
 
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Thanks for the good comments and I lock up my bikes with good quality locks for short amounts of time and not on any schedule.
Key, pro thieves look for patterns.

Opportunistic thieves look for unlocked bikes and/or flimsy locks.
 

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