While Clark-Kent's name might sound like it was lifted from the undercover superhero, it actually got its title when Pat Clark and Dean Kent, the two owners who founded the brand back in 1989, combined their surnames.
Steel was really real back then, not in just the hip 'I don't care' way that it is now, with Clark-Kent building most of their road and mountain frames out of steel tubing, as well as using titanium for their high-end models. All of these frames were put together by five welders when the Colorado-based company was in its prime, and those assembled by master welders Don Herr and Ivo Vinklarek are still sought out by collectors to this day. Olympic gold medalist Alexi Grewal was a top racer who was on one in the early 1990s, and Herr and Vinklarek even welded LeMond's early road and mountain frames before production was moved to Litespeed and then Trek.
Rumors point towards the deal to produce another brand's frames as one of the reasons for Clark-Kent's demise in the mid-1990s, along with outsourced manufacturing that was well below what the company was known for in their heyday. Before its death, however, Clark-Kent designed a suspension fork that was licensed to Scott (later named the Unishock), as well as an inverted suspension fork back in 1993 that sported wider than standard dropouts and disc brake tabs.
Before that, and many years prior to Clark-Kent closing their doors, top welder Don Herr created two wild looking fatbikes. The one you see here is from sometime before 1992 and is in The Pro's Closet's museum in Boulder, Colorado. It's also said to be the sole surviving example, making it an especially important piece of history. But while Clark-Kent's storied past and unfortunate demise are well documented, the tale of their wild fatbike is much harder to piece together.
Here's what little we do know about it.
Extreme conditions often beget extreme machines, and so it was when the Iditabike race, a 1,000-mile point-to-point event that saw riders cross snow-covered Alaskan tundra, had competitors looking for a better tool for the job than a normal mountain bike. Enter the first fat bikes.
True mega-wide fatbike rims were many years off, however, so small-time frame and component manufacturers improvised by pairing two, or even three, rims beside each other and mounted up multiple tires in order to create the wider footprint that would keep the bike and rider from knifing through soft snow and losing speed or control.
Clark-Kent's fatbike did exactly this, with two rims on each end of the bike that were welded together and then laced to a single hub by using an alternating pattern. Four Fisher FatTrax tires were put on the bike, two on the front and two on the back, in what must have been an interesting install, and each tire also had its own separate tube. One bike, four rims, four tires, and four tubes. And probably a lot of funny looks from other riders.
The frame and fork were welded by Don Herr, with widely spaced seat and chainstays made to clear what looks to be at least a four-inch-wide tire and rim combo, along with an elevated chainstay design. Chainline issues meant that a five-speed freewheel was used rather than a standard seven-speed Shimano XT cassette that would have been available at the time, but a wide-range triple-ring crankset, complete with a tiny small chainring, supplied the gearing range required to move what must have been at least a 50lb bike (when loaded up with supplies) through the snow. Sounds like a fun time, right?
It's been at least twenty-four years since Herr welded up the first Clark-Kent fatbike, and to say that things have moved on a bit would be a massive understatement. Now you can buy full-suspension fatbikes employing the latest technology, or even a carbon model, complete with matching carbon wheels, that weighs in around (or even under) the 20lb mark. But all that was kicked off by machines like Clark-Kent's fatbike, among others, that tested builders' ingenuity during a time when there were no off-the-shelf solutions.
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Special thanks to The Pro's Closet for once again allowing us access to their treasure trove of historic bikes. Photos courtesy of The Pro's Closet