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Mon, Dec. 09

Whiskey Off-Road: For Back of the Pack Racing, 'Klunker Crit' was right up their alley

Photos by Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>Evelyn Dong of Salt Lake City speeds around a turn during the ladies’ Fat Tire Pro Criterium Friday afternoon in downtown Prescott as the 11th annual Whiskey Off-Road opened.

Photos by Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>Evelyn Dong of Salt Lake City speeds around a turn during the ladies’ Fat Tire Pro Criterium Friday afternoon in downtown Prescott as the 11th annual Whiskey Off-Road opened.

Friday's Pro Crit Men's results here

Friday's Pro Crit Women's results here

Friday's amateur results here

PRESCOTT - Like his brethren in Back of the Pack Racing, Ryan "Gnarly" Marley enjoys the simple, organic pleasures of mountain biking.

At the 11th annual Whiskey Off-Road's inaugural Klunker Crit in downtown Prescott late Friday afternoon, Marley and 20-plus other costumed "klunkerers" hit the streets for an entertaining, amusing and carefree take on the real thing.

About an hour before the men's and women's professional cyclists raced several laps in the Fat Tire Criterium on the same circular course, a group of mostly young men rode around it once -- for fun.Marley of Phoenix, who has some experience in this realm of the ridiculous, said he found out about the Klunker Crit by logging on to the Whiskey's official website operated by Tucson-based Epic Rides.

"We do our own kind of Klunker races," Marley added. "We have one in Flagstaff we do every year. It's just kind of bringing back the roots of mountain biking -- the original mountain bikes where you took old beach cruisers and you built them to hold up to mountains."

Marley finished fourth Friday on a course that features difficult climbs, curves and downhill portions. He said it was "brutal," referring in part to the steep jog up Union Street.

Marley estimated that it took him 3 to 4 minutes to complete his lap.He rode a 1961 Schwinn Tornado -- a kid's bike with faded "farmyard" red paint that he modified to his own specifications.

"I found it in a backyard in the weeds," Marley said. "It was just a frame and a fork and a fender, and I just kind of pieced it all together."

Rhino Neiffer of Phoenix, a 37-year-old Back of the Pack member who also rode Friday, said that two brothers from New Mexico established their group. Once Neiffer and his crew began racing those siblings, they decided to form their own Back of the Pack chapter in Arizona.

Neiffer added that the organization currently has chapters in Colorado, North Carolina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom, among other locales around the world.

Neiffer and his eight-member Arizona Back of the Pack crew race only rigid single-speed bikes -- nothing fancy or expensive like the pros do."No suspension, one gear," Neiffer, an engineer, said matter-of-factly.

Unlike Marley's bike, however, Neiffer's is brand-new. He had the frame manufactured for him, but he said it's flawed, and he doesn't ride that bike in a regular mountain bike race.

"It leant itself really well to the Klunker Crit," Neiffer said. "I put on a coaster brake and made some modifications, and just built it up with some spare parts."

For example, Neiffer visited a motorcycle junkyard where he found a handle bar and mounted it on his bike.

Neiffer's been riding bikes since childhood, at which time he was interested in BMX racing. He, like the other Back of the Pack guys, didn't get his start in serious mountain biking until recently, though.

"I ride a lot and do a lot of races," he said. "We ride really hard."

Back of the Pack rider Byron "Frog" McClurg, 38, of Phoenix said he likes the camaraderie of the contingent. He and Neiffer have beards, albeit well-trimmed, and wear their own black or tan uniform shirts with embroidered patches that are part cowboy, part military -- but in an artsy way.

Many of them have their own families, who've embraced their eccentricities.

Brandon "Professor" Bogardus of Scottsdale, a 38-year-old high school chemistry teacher who during the race donned nothing but a rainbow-colored Speedo, brought his wife and kids with him to the crit. He and a few of the others will ride in the Whiskey's big amateur race today.

"It's good stuff -- just for fun," Bogardus said. "I've been racing mountain bikes since I was 15. My résumé (to join Back of the Pack) was a ransom letter. I cut out all the letters and stuff, and the guys were like, 'He's in!' It's a really fun crew."

McClurg, a musician who's been riding single-speed bikes since the age of 5, said the Whiskey has a "great, fun" crit course. He's enamored with Back of the Pack, and he enjoys being in Prescott. For two years, McClurg said he made his living playing on Whiskey Row in a bluegrass/hip-hop group.

"It's kind of laid back," McClurg said. "It's kind of like a party with bikes involved. It's like a festival. We enjoy the same things. We love pedaling bikes with one gear. Less is more. Not much can go wrong. It's simple. It just works."

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