To many, the word, “Klunker” connotes a large, heavy, massive, and somewhat clumsy item. The “Klunker” was actually a bicycle model created by the Schwinn company in the late 1970’s to answer the desire for off-road biking or “Mountain Biking”.
Schwinn has a history of developing rugged, heavy, long-lived bicycles. The history of the Schwinn company dates back to just before the turn of the 20th century, in Chicago. The center of the bicycle universe was located there, and there were over 30 bicycle manufacturers making approximately one-million bikes a year from 1900 to 1905. Unfortunately for them, the automobile was becoming more popular as were motorcycles. There was a sharp decline in bicycle sales leading up to 1910.
Although many bicycle manufacturers went out of business, a few survived, including Schwinn. In the 1930’s, Schwinn designed a bike that purposely resembled the popular motorcycle. It had a steel frame, steel wheels, and huge, ballooned tires. It was rugged and built to last, and those characteristics were more important than being lightweight, at that time.
Schwinn continued to make steel bicycles, although Europe and Japan began to experiment with lightweight metals in their designs. In the 1970’s in California, boys began modifying the Schwinn Sting Ray bike and began holding off-road races. This style of off-road bicycling became known as “Mountain Biking” and the equipment used were called “Mountain Bikes”. Schwinn modified one of their Sting Ray bikes by adding a 5-speed shifter, and dubbed it, the “Klunker”. Because of its ballooned wheels and heavy steel frame, the Klunker became synonymous with heavy, clumsy objects.
European and Japanese bicycle manufacturers also modified their lightweight bikes to satisfy the new rage in off-road bicycling. Schwinn thought it was going to be a short-lived fad, and ignored the market, at first. When freestyle bike tricks, known as BMX became popular, Schwinn called it “unsafe” and “dangerous” behavior. Both mountain bikes and BMX were here to stay, and Schwinn began to adapt to late to catch most of the increase in bicycle sales throughout the 1970’s.
Today, the Schwinn bike is remembered for the Sting Ray, and the well-built, long-lasting bikes of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The younger generation has a different view of Schwinn, and hardly recognizes the name, at all. The “Klunker” is no long known as a word that is associated with the bicycle manufacturer. It is a term that the older generation can easily identify, and one that the younger generation has never used.
Schwinn declared bankruptcy in 2001, and their name and assets were bought by other bicycle manufacturers. Unfortunately, the quality and long-lasting attributes associated with that name no longer have any meaning in the bicycling world, today.