A Note from Fatty: Yesterday, I posted a review of Klunkerz: A Film About Mountain Bikes. Billy Savage, the director of the film, and Charlie Kelly, one of the subjects of the film, sent me responses (both in the comments section, which weirdly held them up for moderation). Their responses are meaningful enough that I want to show them as a post, not just comments.
Billy Savage, Director of Klunkerz, Responds
I’m sorry you feel slighted. Surely an interview with you would have heightened the film’s comedy quotient considerably, though CK and Russ Mahon do have a few good lines. I do thank you for taking the time to watch the film and comment on it, as I know you’d rather be out riding your bicycle or waxing poetic on the ‘noblest of inventions’.
Your comments about the lack of actual conflict and resolution are exactly the reasons why I couldn’t get the film funded and had to do so myself. Though I will never live to pay it off the production, I sincerely felt like there just might be a place in this world for one feel-good documentary in which the drama in the piece was derived from the participants accomplishments, and not their rivalries. If I wanted to build up the unpleasantness that may or may not have gone on, including the murder of one of the participants shortly after I interviewed him, I surely could have cashed in. Instead, I felt that I would spend four years of my life, and my children’s college funds, making a statement about friendships, good ol’ American Ingenuity, and an enterpenurial spirit that seems to have fled the country around the same time Nixon fled the White House.
“It feels, frankly, as if there was considerable negotiating about what would and would not be said in the film before the cameras rolled.”
I can assure you that none of this went on. I did six months of research and then I shot nearly 100 hours of these pioneers over an 18 month period. I do have every one of them saying things that could be taken out of context and used in an unflattering light to heighten conflict. With all the knowledge I had acquired and all the footage I had shot, I surely could have edited any one them to be the ‘black hat’. That wasn’t the spirit of the piece I set out to create, though it probably would have been much easier in the editing room.
The simple truth is that doing this research and asking these questions healed a great many old wounds for many of those involved. Maybe Gary and Charlie weren’t talking when I started shooting, but they were both with me in Fort William for the Scottish premiere, racing Penny Farthings for a bottle of Single Malt like the old friends they truly are. They were also with me in San Diego last weekend when I was awarded “2009 Cycling Film of the Year” at the 17th Annual Endurance Sports Awards at Sea World. They were both there, away from the spotlight, sitting in the crowd to support me. It was a very strange experience for me, and one that I will never forget.
Doing this film was nothing less than an honor and privilege. It was my first effort (and possibly my last) at producing and directing a film on my own. These folks trusted me and they gave me honest answers to some difficult questions, many of which are locked away in a film vault forever. Good or bad, I got to tell a story the way I wanted, with no interference from a corporate checkbook being held over my head. I think the most rewarding thing I’ll end up taking away from the experience is that I made some very good friends along the way.
Thanks again for giving ‘er a look. I really do appreciate your comments and insight. Maybe I’ll see you out on the trails someday. I need to get out there, as all this time on computers has added a few inches to the waistline.
Charlie Kelly, One of the Main Subjects of the Film Klunkerz, Responds
I’d like to correct a false impression. Gary did not “fire” me, since he didn’t have the authority to do so. We were losing tons of money and that has a way of creating tension. I was already publishing the first MTB magazine, and at the time it looked like there might be money in that.
Yeah, I move pianos for a living. I also roadied for a rock band. I’m that kind of guy. The most fun I ever had at MountainBikes was when just Gary and I built the bikes by ourselves, but when it changed to having other people do the assembly and I had to do the un-fun parts, it lost some of its luster.
Billy’s film has given me a chance to appreciate the adventure of a generation. Gary and I pulled off the biggest change in cycling of the 20th Century. It was accidental that it turned out to be so profound, but we knew what our dream was when we created it and the world responded. Without knowing it at the time, we shared something so overwhelming that all you can do thirty years later is look at each other in amazement.
It was the most amazing adventure ever, we were lucky to have it, and Gary was the guy I had it with because he was the only guy on the planet I COULD have had it with. I would be a complete jerk to think that the money was the important part or that our business was supposed to last forever in a volatile market.
I’m comfortable enough, but my life has been rich beyond measure, because money is not how I measure it.
Please have a look at my website.
A Few Final Thoughts from Fatty
- Klunkerz just won the Cycling Film of the Year award at the Competitor Magazine Endurance Sports Awards. Congrats to Billy for that.
- I really appreciate both Charlie and Billy taking the time to write thoughtful and interesting replies.
- I suspect that people are going to start thinking twice before sending me stuff in the mail.
It’s been noted before that I “[know] nothing about the history of cycling, how it evolved, the industry, [or] who were the actors.”
Luckily for me, Billy Savage — the guy behind Klunkerz: A Film About Mountain Bikes — recently offered to mail me a copy of his DVD. This was an excellent opportunity to “educate [myself] in the matter.”
What Klunkerz Is About
Klunkerz is a kindhearted documentary of the birth of the mountain bike. Consisting of interviews and old photos and movies of the guys even I know the names of (Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey) and some I don’t, it fondly recalls how a bunch of friends stumbled and innovated their way into the early stages of the sport of mountain biking.
Take note: I was not interviewed for this movie, and hence feel somewhat slighted, seeing as how I believe I can lay unchallenged claim to an important niche in this sport, being the undisputed inventor of the cycling / weight loss / comedy blog. Where would mountain biking be without me, is what I’d like to know.
But I am not bitter, and will not let my natural and proper resentment color my review, in spite of the gaping hole this documentary has, lacking my input.
What I Thought About Klunkerz
Watching Klunkerz, the impression that builds is one of niceness. All these guys have nothing but nice things to say about each other and the good times they had, and how smart they each were and how talented.
For example, I wrote the following in my notebook as I watched: “Joe Breeze seems like he would be the best uncle, ever.”
I also noted how Charlie Kelly — the original business partner with Gary Fisher — had nothing but nice things to say about Fisher. And Gary Fisher had nothing but nice things to say about Charlie Kelly. Except Fisher fired Kelly (Fisher describes the moment as “taking Charlie for a walk around the block”).
And now Gary Fisher is one of the best-recognized names in mountain biking, and Charlie Kelly moves pianos for a living.
But there’s no tension between them? No anger? Well, I suppose that’s possible, but if that’s really somehow the case, the documentary should have revealed how it’s possible that two good friends form a company, one of the friends fires the other and goes on to make it big, while the other…doesn’t, but there’s no animosity between them.
But Klunkerz doesn’t talk about the schisms that either did or did not form between Fisher and Breeze and Ritchey and others. And since it didn’t talk about how any schisms formed, it also couldn’t talk about how these schisms might have been bridged.
Without conflict, there can be no resolution. No triumph. Which means you have a film that feels more like a high school class reunion than an actual documentary.
It feels, frankly, as if there was considerable negotiating about what would and would not be said in the film before the cameras rolled.
Holy crap, this review’s getting a lot more serious than I intended.
Still Worth Watching
While the business end of this movie feels a little too careful, the more important part — the reminiscing — doesn’t feel forced at all. Both in the archive images (pics and what looks like Super 8) and the interviews, you get a sense of how much fun these guys were having as they rode and raced and built and crashed their bikes.
And that, as far as I’m concerned, is the real value of — and a sufficient reason to watch — Klunkerz: it shows how, right from the beginning, how much fun mountain biking is. And how, decades later, it still defines who these guys are.
It’s just too bad Savage overlooked the contribution of cycling comedy bloggers to the evolution of this sport, because then he might have had a really great documentary.
PS: You can learn more about Klunkerz at Klunkerz.com, and buy the DVD at Amazon.com.
Last year, I obsessively tracked Jill Homer’s ride / race in the Iditarod Trail Invitational (as well as navel-gazed about why I would never do it myself). And then, once she got back, I pretty much had her blog on 30-second refresh, waiting for each update as she told her story.
I couldn’t help myself. She had just done something I would love to do, if only I had the nerve. And if I liked being cold more. And if I didn’t get lost so easily. There are other reasons, but these are sufficient.
So, naturally, when Jill published Ghost Trails: Journeys through a lifetime , of course I ordered a copy. Here’s why:
- I love a well-told story of any sort.
- I love well-told stories about epic mountain bike rides even more.
- I love well-told stories about epic mountain bike stories by my friends most of all.
It’s that third point that makes Jill’s Iditarod story really worth reading, at least for me. See, even though I have never met Jill in person, she tells enough about herself in her blog that I feel like she’s a friend — and lots of other people are the same way.
So, provided you already “know” Jill from reading her stories and looking at her pictures — this book is pretty much review-proof. You’re going to like it, because you like Jill, and you like her stories about her adventures.
Still, I have a few observations after reading Jill’s book. Here they are:
When I bought Ghost Trails, what I wanted and assumed I was getting was a much longer, more detailed telling of Jill’s Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) race than what she tells in her blog. And — to a degree — you get that, although I felt like Jill told only incrementally more about her race.
Instead of lots and lots and lots more about her epic ride last year, Jill interstices chapters about sections of the race with chapters about going on a hike when she was a tweener, going on a hike when she was a teenager, meeting Geoff, hiking with Geoff, rafting with Geoff, biking with Geoff, camping with Geoff, and moving to Alaska with Geoff.
I’m pretty sure I get why she did this: by alternating chapters about her pre-race life with chapters about her race, we gain context about who Jill is and what might be going through her head as she rides.
And that’s fine. That’s an interesting strategy for telling a story.
But that’s not the way I read the book.
After reading a couple of the chapters the way Jill ordered them, I told myself that what I really wanted right that moment was to get immersed in the ITI. I would come back later and read the other essays.
So I skipped every other chapter, at which point — oddly, I guess — the book hung together much better for me.
Jill and I Have Different Stuff Going On In Our Heads When We Ride
Before reading Ghost Trails, I had what I now realize is a completely stupid misconception in my head: that the way I feel and think when I’m on a long ride is pretty much the way other people feel and think when they’re on a ride.
But as I read Ghost Trails, I found myself again and again thinking, “Wow, what a foreign thought.”
For example, when I am completely cooked and realize I am way over my head, ridewise, I tend to start having an interior dialogue. It goes like this:
Me: “Hey, nice work. This was a very smart ride for you to go on. If you want to die.“
Me: “I know. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Me: “I know what you’re doing here. But I choose not to tell you.”
Me: “Hey, did you bring any extra packets of mayonnaise? I’m hungry”
Me: “Yes, but they’re mine. I’m not sharing.”
Seriously, I just get increasingly silly as time goes on.
In contrast, here’s something from Jill’s book, when she hits a wall on a cross-country bike ride:
“Geoff, who had put a large gap in front of me at that point, finally returned after I had been sitting in the dith, sobbing, for several minutes. “What’s wrong? What happened?” he asked breathlessly.
“I’m sorry,” I blubbered. “I’m not hurt. I tried to… but I just can’t… had to let it out. It’s too hard. It’s too far. It’s just too far.”
Jill describes episodes of misery like this several times in her book. As I read, I tried to picture her mindset — and I couldn’t.
This was actually my favorite part about Jill’s book: the fact that she’s willing to write with candor, and that this candor exposes a riding mindset that’s completely new to me.
My goofiness keeps me going. Jill’s essentially the opposite: her intensity (and often, let’s face it, despair) somehow keeps her motivated. Reading this book made me consider, for the first time, that there must in fact be an infinite number of personal reasons for staying on the bike when it would be easier to get off.
It was fun to get into a completely different kind of rider’s head.
I Miss the Pictures
My only disappointment Ghost Trails is that it has only a few photos. Jill’s a gifted photographer and has photos in pretty much every blog post she writes, so I expected good photography — even if black and white — to complement the stories. But photos come only at the beginnings of chapters in this book, and they’re generally pretty dark (not to mention greyscale). I’m guessing Jill saw how photos looked on this kind of paper and decided to go mostly with text, but it’s still something I miss.
Jill’s Book Makes Me Want to Never Ever Ever Do This Race
One effect of reading Ghost Trails was that I am now completely certain I don’t ever want to do that race. Because, if I recall Jill’s book properly, you only get to ride your bike about 3 miles. The other 347 you get to push it through waist-deep snow.
Except when you’re wading through a river or climbing an ice-cliff.
It just doesn’t sound like much fun. And to tell the truth, it doesn’t sound like a bike’s the right vehicle for the terrain.
So I’m glad Jill did it — and is doing it again this year — and is willing to tell the story, so I can experience it vicariously.
I’ve gotten a lot of stuff in the mail lately. Bike-related stuff. And since my bike-riding antics are currently limited to spinning on the rollers while I watch an episode of some show or another each morning at 5:00, this seems like a good time for me to talk about what’s shown up in the mailbox.
In the next few days, I will talk about the following things, each of which has arrived in the mail: a book by Jill Homer, a book about the history of competition bicycles, a backpack, a video about the birth of mountain biking, a new flavor and packaging treatment for Shot Bloks, and an exercise video.
But first, I’m going to talk about the postcard I got last Saturday.
Here it is:
This is the confirmation postcard I look forward to getting every year — the postcard that tells me that once again my registration for the Leadville Trail 100 has been accepted.
I’ve started — and completed — this race 12 times, in 12 years. This will be number 13.
This year, though, I wasn’t sure I should enter. I mean, I simply do not know how I could leave Susan for even a single night, much less the three nights this race requires. And I mean that in two ways: first, there are things I help Susan with that nobody else has helped her with before, and that list is getting longer, not shorter.
But, obviously, I’ve signed up. Because this is one tradition I have a really difficult time imagining skipping, even for one year. As I registered, I told myself that August is a long ways away and I have time to get others to learn to help Susan, letting me take a few days off to do something I really love.
And that’s where the second way I have a hard time imagining leaving for a few days: Even if I figure out the logistics for helping Susan out while I’m gone for four days and three nights, I honestly can’t see myself leaving her for that long. I’m looking for a different word than “betrayal” to describe how it would feel — that’s too dramatic of a word for this — but I can’t think of one.
Maybe “selfish” comes close.
I understand that there was a huge influx of race entries for the Leadville 100 this year, partly due to the publicity that Lance Armstrong brings to it. I have no idea how many people didn’t get in, but I would guess the number goes into the hundreds, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes into the thousands.
Probably, at least a few of those people who didn’t get in will see this entry and pull out their hair, bothered by the unfairness of my new uncertainty about going to this race, when they would absolutely positively moved heaven and earth to do this race, had they only received a postcard like mine.
I would like to remind those people that my dilemma sucks much, much worse than theirs.
I suspect that I will, over the course of the next several months, piece together a way for me to go to this race, and do it in such a way that I can feel pretty comfortable in leaving Susan for a few days. Apart from being a hilarious and award-winning cycling comedian mastermind, my other real-life superpower is to figure out a way to make things possible.
Plus, I have a bunch of family members who know that this one race matters to me a lot, and they’ll pitch in. Especially now that they’ve seen me mope my way through this post.
However, I doubt that I will hang out in Leadville for quite so long before or after the race this year.
Back in August — almost half a year ago, now — I said that I had managed to get on the list for the not-for-retail-sale Gary Fisher Superfly Singlespeed (or, as I like to call it, The SingleFly).
Well, after the exquisite agony of this long wait — a wait for what I imagine as my ultimate dream bike — lookie what finally showed up at the shop last Friday afternoon.
And here’s a closeup of the dropouts:
And the fork — which I had expected to be white, like on the geared SuperFly, is instead black. Which is definitely a better match for the frame.
And the top tube.
Really, there’s just one problem with this frame:
It’s not mine.
Yeah, you read right.
Those pictures are all of Brent Hulme’s (owner / operator of SLC Bicycle Co.) Superfly SS. Including that one above of him gleefully licking it.
And it’s the wrong size, so I can’t steal it.
See, the frames are trickling in, little by little. And I don’t know if it’s a first-come-first-served order, or a size-based thing, or what, but my exquisite agony continues.
Here’s the thing, though. Having had this long to wait for the frame, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my build for this bike — and plenty of time to save up for some pretty nice parts.
Now, I should ‘fess up to something here. While I usually write at least somewhat for you, my audience, this whole post — and especially the rest of it — is pretty much for myself. Just me, drooling over all these presents I’ve given myself.
You’re still here? OK, but this isn’t going to be pretty.
Well, it’s pretty to me, but that’s not my point.
Here’s what my SuperFly SS build obsession looks like, as of this moment:
- Custom wheelset, built by Mike Curiak . Featuring pink Chris King hubs. It is my fervent hope that someday I will grow up to be Mike Curiak. If you read his blog, you will see why.
- On-One Carbon Fork . Yeah, I’ll also have a suspension fork, but I like riding my SS fully rigid, mostly.
- Truvativ Noir 1.1G Cranks . For no other reason than that they are beautiful.
- Avid Juicy Ultimate Brakes. I agonized over the brakes, and finally decided to go with the nicest ones I could find that still were likely to have parts available in most any bike shop.
- Time ATAC pedals. Just like on my other MTBs.
- Selle Italia SLR. Just like the saddle on all my other bikes — both mountain and road.
- Bontrager Big Sweep bar. I wonder if this mostly-flat, reasonably-light bar has enough sweep (12 degrees) that my right arm won’t go to sleep. That would be nice. (No link, because I can’t find it on the Bontrager site.)
- Titec J-Bar. I’m a big fan of Jeff Jones’ unusual designs, so I’m interested in trying this out — has the sweep I’m looking for, and the stubs up top might be nice for a change of hand position on long rides. (No link because Titec foolishly went with a Flash-based site, making links directly to a particular product impossible. Bad move, Titec!)
- An On-One Mary Bar. An earlier version of today’s post lamented that I couldn’t find my favorite bar of all time — the On-One Mary Bar — for sale in the U.S. In the comments section, Tinker (not Juarez, I assume) set me straight — U.S. customers can buy direct from the manufacturer, and the price, shipped from the UK, is totally fair. Also, Thom said he could hook me up with a Mary from his existing stock. Thanks for helping me out, guys!
- Arundel Dave-O bottle cages. Because they’re beautiful, and have the reputation of never ever ever ejecting bottles.
- Bontrager Race X Lite ACC . Carbon’s kinda a theme on this bike.
- Ergon GE1 grips . Thanks, Jeff!
- Bontrager XXX Lite grips . Thanks, Travis!
So now all I need to get is the frame.
Could Be Worse
Of course, waiting for a frame for this long is an excruciating lesson in delayed gratification. But I’m coping pretty well. After all, the weather’s not great for riding, yet. Having the bike built up and ready to go and then not being able to take it out and ride it might be even worse than not having the bike at all.
It’s hard to say.
Soon, though, Spring will be here. And so will my frame.
And then there will be rejoicing.
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