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The Clandestine Clunker Club Posts

The Hack Bike Derby

Over the last few months, even in my social-media antisocialality (minimal/non-existant/reclusive) I’ve been following the progress of a little event.

It started when Robin came into the workshop to rifle through our parts tubs. Looking for massive canti brake levers, stubby quill stems and all those archaic bike parts we still have leftover from the 80’s. He was building a bike. Others were building bikes too. Turns out a little group of UK frame builders were building themselves ‘clunkers’ for a weekend of old school mountain biking. No disks, no V’s, handbuilt frame and forks and a certain spirit of our history. Someone had been reading Charlie Kelly’s book. I was stoked. This would be ‘The Hack Bike Derby‘.

And the pictures have been awesome. There’s been nerding out on the builders’ designs, workshop smut (swarf, filet brazing, and workbenches…) and then finally massive mud bath riding pics in some woods somewhere. It’s been fun to follow along, at a social media stalking remove.

But you know, there’s something kind of insane about a clunker event open only to some frame builders who can custom build their own bikes. Seeing the ostentatious “hacking” highlighting nothing other than the total lack of hacking due to the excellent skills of everyone involved. It’s insane that there was a clunker even with a beer and coffee sponsor, that says everyone has to run this sponsor’s tyres and wear that sponsor’s helmet. Cynicism is tiring and sad, but there’s still aches here as we realise that even this, even CLUNKERS can be a promotional tool. We’re still being sold a certain lifestyle when your parts bin build has a Phil Wood BB and you’ve got a fucking Gränsfor Bruks axe on your seat stay. Of course we loved it: I’ve actually been checking Instagram just to see pictures of this event. But shit, it’s all still more marketing, just at a sideways angle. Maybe it’ll be like workwear turning into high fashion.

Let’s hang all that to one side though. Let’s shout and be happy because maybe this could start a little thing, a reaction away from ever more pricey bikes and ever more massive corporations. These were still bikes built in sheds, not in factories funded by venture capitalists.  It may have still been a sponsored jizz-fest, but it’s at a more human scale. The CCC is supportive of any and all anachronistic cycling activity. Stupid laughs in the mud. That’s it and that’s awesome.

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The Automobile

The automobile has changed men’s souls…

We all know that: pedalling through our cities, blackened with road soot and be-helled with speed and anger.

We’re here, in our stepped back civilisation, lauding now the electric motor, the lithium battery.

We’re here, cowering as we’re herded through pedestrian gating to cross the torrent.

We’re here, with our children fattening in their parent’s fear, and our thousands dead on the tarmac.

Back to the future now.

Fuck the automobile.

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Boneshaker Magazine

Language seems sometimes to ebb ever outwards to the corporate…

We have moved from subjects, to citizens, to consumers. Our discourses, despite the glories of a wild and somewhat egalitarian Web, are too often corralled and marshalled by large media organisations. These are easy observations to make, said many times before. But we gotta keep saying them! The need for independent, radical public discourse is as important as ever. There is something slightly insidious to so much of our online communication being hosted by massive, venture capital funded companies.

Within cycling, huge amounts of money swirl from bike company advertising budgets to magazines and websites from large publishers, churning press releases and gear-fetishism on web pages flickering with animated adverts or wafer thin articles between copious ad copy. And who didn’t read Naomi Klein’s No Logo years back and feel the requisite skin crawling?

Boneshaker stands to the side of all this, it’s back turned to the dirty brown sludge of the cycling media estuary.

Boneshaker is for us. Boneshaker offers us stories that click like a freewheel singing on a downhill, pawls springing over tales too random, too serendipitous, too wild, for any other forum. There are no adverts teasing at us: this is a safe space. Opening an issue of Boneshaker, printed in a Bristol press, is to join in in a howl of joy at the power of the bike. Most cycling magazines have so little ambition for the bicycle, unable to appreciate the expanse of human experience that our pedals offer us. Tied up with the minutiae of parts and pieces, performance and races, they barely hint at the real stuff.

I read a quote (damned if I can find it in the internet morass now…) that said that skiing wasn’t really about sliding along on two planks. That actually, skiing was just an excuse. A reason to be in the mountains, to be out. That’s how I feel about cycling. And that’s the truth that Boneshaker captures. That’s a fucking radical vision in our media, simple as it sounds. We have control of how we talk about what we do.

Cycling is ours. We can tell our own stories of what it means for us.

boneshakermag.com

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Bespoked

I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

William Morris, 1877

Since the industrial revolution, Western societies have been savouring the joys of mass production. Luxuries, heretofore unaffordable, could be stamped out en masse, lines of workers assembling parts into wholes in monotonous, endless creation. The shear efficiency of the assembly line, of vast mechanisation, of corporate global outsourcing, has meant that a lot of us have been able to afford an entire world of goods. Bicycles are very much part of this system. Global metal extraction, extrusion, construction: twenty five quid handlebars and frames for a couple of hundred.

Bespoked, the UK handmade bike show, is something a little different. The custom frame building world is some way from an egalitarian show of “goods for all”. No, this is exotica, priced at the far end of the social spectrum, a show to give the plebs a chance to ogle at the wonders that their betters are able to produce. There’s a whiff of the Victorian Grand Exhibition: “Here, marvel at our creations!” housed in a grand Kingdom Brunel building. But I know some of the builders. I know that this kind of snobbery isn’t intended, least of all savoured. But the sad truth of our economic reality is that this is a show for the rich.

William Morris is perhaps the best known of the artists and makers who belonged to the Arts and Crafts movement. Concerned with the way industrialism was tearing apart traditional crafts, skills and work, the movement advocated craftsmanship, social equality and dignity. By the end of his life, Morris was nothing less than a revolutionary Socialist, agitating and printing works to incite the working classes. The Arts and Crafts Movement was a counterpoint to an industrial capitalist system that could provide neither dignity nor beautiful things for working people.

Like any self respecting bike geek, I loved wondering around, giggling at the wild paint jobs and admiring the subtle, elegant details. Every now and then you would come across a bike that had been ridden, with some scratches and dirt, and those tell tale signs of life that hint at a rejection of the bicycle-as-art elitism. I met up with great friends from around the country and sensed again the sprawling cycling community of friendly, open riders.

Bespoked

Folk all around the world are crying out for a different model of society that is simpler, gentler, more local. We know, deep down or raging at the surface, that buying another piece of mass-produced tat is doing neither us nor the industrial wench who built it much good. But ultimately, Bespoked, like the Arts and Crafts Movement, does not really offer us an alternative, not yet. As there were only a few who could afford a dining room’s worth of Morris’ hand printed wallpaper, so only a select portion of us can afford some bespoke steel craftsmanship from a worthy, local, empowered frame builder.

There are glimmers of other options. The Bicycle Academy of course hints at a world where we can all learn to build our own bikes, wresting production from corporate colossi. My friend Ryan dreams of a framebuiding hack space, flux and welding rods for all. But we’re not there yet.

Still all that glimmers needs gold. And lots of it.

 

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We are the Clandestine Clunker Club

Mountain biking, the bastard renegade of the cycling world, has a problem.

This thing we all do: rolling in woodlands and scrabbling up mountain sides to careen back down them, slipping round skinny hand cut corners in forests or hacking along trail centre gnar, is about far more than most mountain bike culture speaks of.

Mountain biking ain’t about head angles and gear ratios, it’s not about enduro pyjamas and carbon fibre. It’s not about laterally stiff, vertically compliant training sessions for the next race. Some folk like that stuff. Some folk like some of that stuff now and again. But this is about way more than that.

Mountain biking is scurrying for freedom into the wilds, it’s an escape attempt into the nothingness OUT THERE. It’s fucking wild howling spinning in circles and primitivist urges in the back country… It’s that primal shriek as you slide just fucking so around that corner, mud in your eyes and slashes on your arms from the brambles, gashes in your shins and snot slathering your face like the animal you are.

We are the Clandestine Clunker Club.

We are abandoning our gear, at least some of the time.  We’re hacking back into the wilds, as raw as we can, chests splayed out by stupidly wide bars and fear distorting our faces as we skid like idiots on fire roads. We are pretending to be Alan Bonds, Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze. We’re making escape attempts.

Let’s go!

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