Last weekend, the UK’s premier frame building school, The Bicycle Academy, organised an event in Somerset that brought together some of their alumni and other frame builders. Titled the ‘Hack Bike Derby’, it wasn’t a concourse of their finest work, but what could quite possibly be their funnest work.
The rules were simple, but strict: Build a klunker-inspired ‘mountain bike’. No discs or v-brakes. The only tyres to be used were Bontrager 2.3″s. No professional paint jobs. Tom Donhou usually turns out bikes of exceptional refinement but that quality was left at the workshop door — the Donhou Bicycles Klunker is very much a diamond in the rough.
That’s not to say it’s clunky. Even with the short time he had, Tom engineered a leading link suspension fork and, from a perspective of geometry, cobbled together a bike that actually looks like it would ride very well. Tom is well versed in off-road riding, having raced back in the day, and won the first national downhill event he entered.
With interest piqued, I asked Tom some questions about the build process:
What was the inspiration for the Donhou Bicycles Klunker?
So I’d been dreaming of this twin shock klunker type thing for a while. When I got into racing DH when I was younger, it was the early days, there were quite a few home brew bikes at races and I always think; man, it would have been so cool to have been building frames back then, you know — at the experimental time of DH and full suspension. Now the big companies have so many years of R&D, you can’t really compete on a home brew… those golden days of the underdog have passed! So yeah, as soon as the Hack Bike Derby was mentioned to me, I knew then, this was the only time I’d ever really need to build this bike.
Time restraints with running the business meant I had to wind it in a little, so it went hard tail rather the full sus, but still kept that 60s twin shock vibe and the MX seat. I guess I just had images in my head of Californian kids, dead sailoring old Stingrays at a dusty fly-out somewhere and that was what stuck.
How did you design the fork?
Just a lot of napkin sketching and working it out as I went along, using what I had to hand in the workshop… in the spirit of the hack bike!
Is the shock from one of your old bikes?
No, the shock was a cheap eBay buy, as all the shocks I had were too long. The shock in the picture is a 450lb and was all I could find in the last couple days of rushing around before the event. It’s actually far too hard and the fork will only really react to bigger hits. The only other spring I had was the spring out of my crown race reamer, which was a lot softer. For cruising around on it’s actually pretty good for a soft and springy ride! For racing on however it was too soft, just kept top and bottoming it out. It did prove that the fork actually worked great, with maybe 1.5-2″ of travel, with the soft spring it smoothed out roots and lumps really well. Until you use the front brake of course, then it just locks out!
The geometry actually looks quite ridable…
The geometry is really ridable. I built this bike with the view in mind that it will be one of my usable bikes after the event and the geo is based around a 4x set up. Despite how it looks (and the weight of the front end!) it’s a really enjoyable bike to ride, can let it all hang out, only thing I’d change is the damn coaster brake!
How did it go?
The event was amazing. We set up camp in a great little clearing in the woods where the duel course ran through and as soon as we’d finished saying our hellos and the fire was raging, we got busy building the courses. There was a duel, a DH and a mass start ‘kamikaze’ style race. As we started building the duel course a 100 year storm rolled in and as the berms we’d just built filled with water, the call was made to just race where we’re at. Wind howling and rain pouring, everyone jumped on the bikes, many for the first time and everyone had a blast, slip sliding through smoke and fairy lights, in what was now Glasto’ style mud. Nothing was going to dampen anyones spirits…
The next day in the DH the sun was shining on us, a few of us spent the morning carrying out the final prep to the DH course and we were off. Unfortunately for myself, I was on a hot one, when dropping into a berm I accidently stood on the coaster brake, losing control and colliding with a tree. The coaster brake is the one thing I’ll change on the bike going forward, fun for mucking around on a fire road maybe, but it’s super sketchy when you’re on the ragged edge in technical sections! Not realising I had sustained a dislocated thumb, I jumped back on my bike only to crash again, discovering I couldn’t actually hold onto my handlebars while trying to lift the front end up over a stream crossing.
Thats racing though and what a weekend it was, I’m just hoping this turns into a series so I can tune the bike a little and get back out there!
A big shout out to Andrew at The Bicycle Academy for organising and to all the builders and helpers that made it happen. Everyone, bruised, battered and covered in mud, the camaraderie was unassailable.
After a wild weekend of mud, metal and mayhem, Tom will now get back to building exceptional custom bikes. For more images of the bikes and party, check out the #hackbikederby tag on Instagram. Here’s hoping it turns into an annual event — it might restore that glorious spirit of garage-built English innovation.