Best Klunker Bikes of 2023: Old-School Cool Revisited
The origin story of mountain biking and Klunker bikes begins around the ’60s and early ‘70s with some unrelated yet passionate bikers from California. In the ‘60s, one gang of Marin teenagers began by riding single-speed 1930-1940 vintage balloon-tire bikes along the trails of Mt. Tamalpais.
By the early ‘70s, these “ballooners” had become well known among the Marin road-bike racers from Velo Club Tamalpais.
Amongst the riders in this club were a few innovative individuals who began by taking old balloon-tire bikes made by Schwinn, Colson, Shelby, and other brands and making minor changes to optimize their old bikes for riding on the mountain, resulting in the first Klunkers.
At first, their modifications were to strip off unnecessary components but maintain the one-inch-pitch drivetrains and stylish original paint. Shortly after, they added drum brakes, thumb-shift operated derailleurs and hand-modified dropouts with wider clearance.
Notably, Gary Fischer was the first to fit gears on a vintage ’40s Schwinn in 1974.
By the mid to late ’70s, these bikes were being used in local competitions where the most innovative local mechanics showed off their handiwork. Gary Fischer, along with Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze, drove the early mountain bike innovations by modifying these single-speed “Klunkers”.
Although Mert Lawwill built the first mountain bike for commercial production, the “Pro Cruizer,” Schwinn used their brand recognition to popularize the Klunker.
A Klunker was, by that stage, a bike with specific geometry featuring an extra central tube between the top tube and downtube, BMX-style handlebars, a single-speed drivetrain, and balloon tires like Schwinn’s Excelsior. These bikes function well in various environments while maintaining the ability to go downhill in relative comfort compared to other bikes at the time.
What is a modern Klunker bike?
Today, a Klunker bike is a sub-trend of bikes with components borrowed from mountain, cruiser, and BMX-style bikes.
The handlebars come from the BMX design, and they have a mountain bike wheelset, a blend of cruiser and MTB geometry, and simple cruiser gearing. All these features make for a versatile and comfortable bike with respectable off-road ability.
Best Klunker Bikes
Reeb Cycles – Hooptie
- Chromoly steel frame
- Surly Krampus fork
- BB5 rear disc brake
- Saddle – Oddysey Aitken
- Wheelset – Rhyno Lite
- Tires – 29×2.25″
Reeb bikes’ Hooptie is a typical Klunker with very little difference from the original models.
This pioneering bicycle has a no-nonsense 4130 Chromoly steel frame which is built to last and absorb as much road and trail noise as possible. Reeb has fitted the Hooptie with smooth-rolling and grippy 29″ CST Rock Hawk tires, a rear disc brake, and modern geometry to ensure tight handling and control on or off-road.
This bike is also highly personalizable with the ability to run a tapered fork, threaded bottom braked, and Boost wheels. Unfortunately, this quality comes at a price well above competing Klunker models.
State Bicycle CO – Klunker
State Bicycle Co
- Durable steel frame & fork, 5-year warranty
- 27.5×2.3″ tires
- Coaster brake
- Flat pedals
- Fits riders 5’5″ to 6’3″
- 42t – 22t
State Bicycle Co’s 27.5″ Klunker is a durable and comfortable bike with all you need for a rip around the city or along your local trail.
It features standard Klunker bike handlebars copied from BMX bikes with comfortable extra-wide Vans grips. The frame is built using tough steel and has comfortable, upright geometry (this comes with a 5-year warranty).
This simple bike is completely stripped of wires and derailleurs with a single-speed drivetrain and a coaster brake to completely minimize maintenance needs. The wheelset features 2.3″ WTB knobby tires for comfort and traction whether on or off-road and has versatile flat MTB pedals.
Columbia Bicycles’ beach cruiser Klunker is a cheap and versatile bike with a couple of differences from the traditional design.
Starting with the gearing, this bike has a Shimano REVO 21-speed drivetrain which differs from the usual single-speed design on these bikes. This gives you more options for hill climbing.
The frame used is a high-strength steel build with standard upright geometry. This geometry, a comfortable embossed saddle, knobby balloon tires, and BMX handlebars ensure this bike rides smoothly. Finally, this bike has a front disc brake for better stopping power and a helpful kickstand.
Retrospec – Sully
- 18″ steel frame & fork
- 26×2.125 tires
- Recommended weight limit: 250lbs
- Recommended rider height 5′ – 6’4″
Retrospec’s Sully beach cruiser Klunker is another affordable bike with a simple design based on comfort and versatility.
The frame used is made with high-tensile steel which boosts comfort while being exceptionally durable. The handlebars used are wide and upright and finished with soft grips to complement the padded Retrospec saddle.
The wheelset used combines durable aluminum double-wall rims with multi-purpose small-block knobs 2.125″ tires for a long-lasting and smooth-rolling ride. Finally, this bike uses a side-pull rear caliper brake to provide further control to the grippy tires.
WeThePeople – Avenger
- 4130 steel frame & fork
- BL-MT200 hydro disc brakes
- 27.5 x 2.3″ tires
- Weight: 33lbs
The Avenger by WeThePeople is a 27.5″ traditional Klunker with modern technology and great components to match.
This sleek bike has the ability to perform on singletrack trails as much as it is ideal as a smooth-rolling comfort bike. High-level components from Shimano, WTB, and FSA ensure this bike has a premium ride feel.
The frame is a 4130 Chromoly steel which is a natural shock-absorber and is super durable. 27.5” wheels with 2.30” WTB “BREAKOUT” tires provide plenty of cushion and traction on rough trails. Additionally, the Avenger has Shimano hydraulic disc brakes to ensure excellent stopping power in all conditions.
Finally, this bike is further optimized for comfort with its BMX handlebars, a soft saddle, comfy grips, and upright geometry.