The most precious bikes in Karl Kimbel’s collection are not for sale.
“There’s a few that I’ll probably die with,” Kimbel said. “I can’t sell them. Someone else will have to sell them.”
Kimbel is an avid antique bike collector and the man behind Columbia’s Klunk Bicycles & Repair. Bikes cover nearly every inch of floor in his modest shop. They even hang on the walls. A narrow path leads to the counter, cluttered but organized with a register, businesss cards, pamphlets and bike parts.
On any given day, Kimbel is most likely behind that counter. Located on Broadway, just west of downtown, Kimbel’s shop is as convenient as it is unique.
Born and raised in Columbia, Kimbel moved back to town after several years of working for the U.S. Forest Service in northern California. Unsure what to do next, he found odd jobs to make money.
“(I) freaked out and didn’t know what I was going to do, so I opened a bike shop,” he said.
Kimbel’s business idea was simple. To feed his habit of collecting and restoring old bicycles, he needed more resources. Opening a store was the solution. Klunk was born in August 2005.
Now, in addition to selling new bikes, Kimbel restores used bikes for families, students, competitive cyclists and commuters alike.
“So much stuff gets thrown out or sent to the landfill,” he said. “We can save some of the bikes that might get put there and bring them back to life.”
Kimbel’s business is never going to make him a millionaire, but he doesn’t seem to care. He said he does what he does because he loves it.
“I’m not a business guy. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just kind of winging it,” he said.
But the store’s success proves otherwise.
“I thought it would be a quiet little shop, and it’s gone the total opposite direction of that,” he said while repairing the brakes on a bright yellow mountain bike.
Yet Klunk has remained a small, manageable operation. There is just one employee, Keven Bricknell, and Kimbel prefers word of mouth to traditional advertising.
Kimbel’s collection started slow, with a 1960s Columbia bicycle from a garage sale and a few Schwinn Stingrays. His oldest bike, complete with the large front wheel typical of historic bicycles, is a New Rapid Highwheeler from the 1870s. Now, the collection has grown to more than 100 bikes. It’s a self-professed addiction that Kimbel said he has no intention of quitting.
Even during his first years of collecting, Kimbel said, “I was making $50 a week and spending it all on old bikes.”
Some of the old bikes are on display in the store but most are stored in various places around town and hidden from view.
“I would like for (my collection) to be on display so the public could see it,” he said. “If I ever got a bigger shop, it would be great to have a so-called museum. ... If someone were to give me space, I’d take it.”