Last night I watched Klunkerz, a 2007 documentary that traces the roots of mountain biking back to late-1960s Marin County, California. Mountain biking was spawned by a group of hippies and scofflaws (including current industry big-wigs Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher) who enjoyed getting high and bombing through the woods around Mount Tamalpais.
They rode modified, pre-WWII balloon-tire cruisers called klunkers. The fat tires provided some cushioning and the overbuilt frames could withstand the rigors of riding on rough trails. The bikes weighed a ton, however, so most of the early riding consisted of pushing the bikes up hill in order to fly down (with seriously inadequate coaster brakes to slow them).
Though the narration leaves a little to be desired and some of the hippies' burnt-out philosophical ramblings drag on too long (think Cheech and Chong + derailleurs + communing with nature), the super-8 footage of the earliest rides and races was a blast and watching the evolution from beater single-speed cruiser to the earliest purpose-built mountain bikes was a fascinating history lesson. By the time the movie was over I wanted to hop on a bike and go for a ride in the woods.
If the rain actually holds off long enough for the trails to stay dry this week, I'm going to ride out to St. Edwards and Big Finn Hill Parks in Kirkland and channel my inner-klunker with a little off-road ride.