Now THAT Was a Bike: Bontrager Race Lite

Feb 28, 2018
by Vernon Felton  
Bontrager Race lite
Race Lite, circa 1996. Bontrager's orginal version, the "OR" debuted in 1989, morphed slightly into the "Race" model and then was offered in this lighter "Race Lite" version. The core features, however, were constant.

Bontrager Race Lite - 1989-1998

It’s 1993 and I’m wrestling my busted Stumpjumper through the front door of The Spokesman in downtown Santa Cruz, California, when I see it—a battered looking hardtail leaning against the bike shop’s front window.

Can a bike have a “don’t give a f*ck attitude?” Is that even possible? This being a non-sentient mass of chromoly and all, the obvious answer is “Of course not, you git”.

But I tell you, squinting and looking back through the window of time, that bike—a Bontrager Race Lite—sure seemed to be raising a rusty finger at the rest of the world.

Let me be clear. It’s not like the Bontrager was striking a typical slacker, “I can’t be bothered” pose. Exactly the opposite. This was a bike with very strong opinions. The Race Lite didn’t give a rat’s ass about the status quo in the mountain bike world. It spat in the eye of convention...and that is what made Keith Bontrager's creation the groundbreaking classic that it was.

Let me give you some context. By the mid-90s full-suspension bikes were starting to shed their Amazing Lobster Girl circus freak status and were starting to emerge as viable challengers to what was then, the Next Big Thing—fat tubed hardtails.

Big, fat aluminum tubes were The New Sexy back then. Cannondale and Klein had imbued terms like “6061” and “7005-series alloy” with an almost mythical quality. Even the big brands that had made their bones with chromoly-steel frames were taking note and rolling out extra-fat framesets. “Metal matrix”, berrylium, magnesium—we were awash in a veritable marketing orgy of splatter-paint jobs and pseudo-scientific terms...and the fall-out was that steel frames suddenly seemed as chic and edgy as your Grandpa's bed pan.

Keith Bontrager’s Race Lite, however, wasn’t having any of that mess. It was skinny and proud, and it defiantly cut against the grain. At first glance, the Race Lite might not strike you as the most sophisticated mountain bike on earth, but for awhile it was just that. You had to look closely, however, to suss out the details. We’ll get to them in a second. First, a bit about the guy behind the bike.

Bontrager Race Lite
The professor is in...

THE PROFESSOR
Keith Bontrager was the kind of kid who tore apart perfectly good things in order to put them back together—better than before. Admittedly, his attempt to transform an old clothes dryer into a rocket ship was a bit ambitious, but by the time he hit 12, Bontrager had taken a lawnmower engine and used it to build a mini-bike from scratch. Adults started calling a teenage Bontrager "the Professor".

Bontrager built his first mountain bike frame in 1980. He quickly gained a reputation for quality, which was no small feat. That chunk of Northern California was lousy with good framebuilders: Albert Eisentraut, Joe Breeze, Tom Ritchey, Scot Nicol, Charlie Cunningham… I’m leaving out a whole lot of names, but you get the idea...it took a lot to stand out in this crowd. What’s more, the Bay Area was a vertibable breeding ground for fast, angry riders who could quickly put a serious beat down on a frame. To make your bones here, your bikes had to be both ultra-light and crazy strong.

Bontrager put it this way, when he spoke to a crowd at Mission Workshop a few years back. “During all the early years in Santa Cruz,” Bontrager said, “I was mainly making frames for people who broke frames. Most of what you see on my bikes, these industrial-looking touches, was a consequence of that…if I was going to have to stand behind my work, then I was going to have to find ways to make sure those frames didn’t break.”


METAL SHOP GONE MAD
So, let’s talk about those little “industrial-looking” touches. While a lot of framebuilders were alumni of the “I want to make pretty-looking things” school of thought, Keith Bontrager was a guy who'd both earned a degree in physics and worked in the pits as a professional motocross mechanic for Fox. He was a man obsessed with making shit strong and with questioning every possible engineering assumption. Early mountain bikes owed a lot of their technology to what came before them—road bikes. And that wasn’t cutting it.

“One big stack and you’d be buying a new downtube. One big jump and the fork and the downtube would bend,” explains Bontrager. “So there was a real need for an approach to building that would actually strengthen the frame. I tried to do that everywhere on the frame.”

First things first—Bontrager TIG-welded his frames. None of that classic brazing here. Ever the professor, Bontrager compared brazed joints and TIG-welded joints and learned about what happens in the thermal history of the process. He found that adding gussets to TIG-welded frames enabled him to redistribute loads and build a much stronger bike

Bontrager Race Lite
Which leads us to the subject of gussets: They were plastered all over the frame—what seemed, at the time, like huge slices of metal were welded to the toptube, downtube and chainstays. Gussets are de rigeur today but back then they looked positively garish. They also, however, were part of the reason the Race Lite weighed a scant (for the time) 3.9 pounds yet proved nigh bullet-proof.

To the underside of the Race Lite’s driveside chainstay, Bontrager welded an anti-chainsuck plate. Did it look pretty? It did not. Did it keep your chain from gouging the hell out of your chainstay. It sure did. He used 4130 plate drop outs, which were homely, but, he argued, stronger than the softer, forged drop outs of the day. Wait—how many forged dropouts actually broke back then? Look, the Race Lite was an exercise in overkill—a meticulous, finely-crafted exercise in overkill, which was at least half its charm.

I could go on and on here, but here’s the point—a lot of the things that seem standard today were rare back in the `90s, yet absolutely part and parcel of every Bontrager Race Lite. The gussets, the sloping top tube, the top-tube cable routing…there were other small, innovative builders (including Richard Cunningham and Charlie Cunningham) and I’m not taking anything away from any of them, but Keith Bontrager and his Race Lite deserve a heartfelt nod for carrying the banner in a very big way during the mid nineties.

The Race Lite was, simply put, years ahead of its time. It also rode a treat. Many of those sexy, beer-can aluminum bikes would rattle the prostate right out of you if the descent was rocky enough. The Race Lite was, by comparison, smooth and surefooted. The rare featherweight heavyweight, if you will.

THE TRAGIC ENDING
So, why did the bike disappear if it really was so awesomely ahead of the curve? Lots of reasons, really. For starters, Trek Bicycles had gone on a shopping spree and picked up several hot, boutique brands, including Gary Fisher, Klein, Icon and, in 1995, Bontrager.

For many riders, much of the appeal of owning a Race Lite was that they were owning something handcrafted in ever-so-hip Santa Cruz. People wanted a bike built in Keith’s garage. They didn’t want bikes built in… Waterloo, Wisconsin.

It’s worth noting that Trek employed capable welders back in the day—they made some damn fine steel frames out there in Waterloo. Moreover, the Race Lite and the slightly heavier Race models were always made in Santa Cruz (only the Privateer models were made in Wisconsin). Perception, however, can be a real bitch and the public perception in the late `90s was that Bontrager Race Lites were no longer Bontrager Race Lites. Reality be damned.

The last Race Lite frames rolled out of Santa Cruz in 1998. It was the end of an era and, you might contend, entirely inevitable. The tide was simply shifting. Hardtails, even those of the fat-tubed variety, were losing ground to full-suspension bikes, which grew progressively less sucky with each passing model year. People wanted suspension. Or they wanted inexpensive-to-produce aluminum hardtails with oversized tubing and meticulously-engineered buzzwords. Simple as that. It’s hard to argue with history.

This much is indisputable—the Race Lite was years ahead of its time and truly deserving of its cult status. To this day, Race Lites command serious dollars on the resale market.

People collect and cherish Bontragers while the vast majority of the Race Lite’s flashier contemporaries are largely forgotten, consigned to the local landfill.

That says it all.
Bontrager Race Lite
The Race Lite inspired devotion.



121 Comments

  • 54 0
 I worked at a Bontrager dealer in the mid-90s, during the sale to Trek. Zero drop in quality for the Santa Cruz built frames, and the Waterloo built ones weren’t far behind.
One of my regrets is never getting one. I was a poverty-stricken mechanic with a better pro deal from ParkPre (pretty nice Tange Prestige frame!) and couldn’t justify the purchase.
Thanks for bringing back some great memories, and highlighting a man far ahead of his time!
  • 5 0
 I worked for a ParkPre dealer briefly. Pretty cool bikes and had that 'different that the others' appeal.
  • 5 0
 growing up mtn biking in the 80s and 90s the race lite was THE bike that all mtbers wanted, whether you were an xc racer or trail rider. one of my biggest regrets is never getting one of these as well. even after I had a Dean Ti hardtail for xc, the steel race lite was still more desirable.
  • 9 0
 Shoot, I built up a sweet Racelite a couple years ago: Sweet Wing cranks, Switchblade fork, titec stem, titec titanium bars, titec post, Flite ti saddle, racelite grips, Mavis SUP ceramic rims, Paul front hub, Paul stop light vbrakes, Rear Hope Big'un hub and hope hydraulic disk brake with full custom caliper mount. Then went to Keith's home, got a bunch of decals, odd and end components to finish the build, then had him sign the frame-- it was a beautiful vintage build, I was pretty proud of it. Then I sold it- lol. Man, as gorgeous as the bikes of 'ol are, they sure as heck don't ride like the bikes of today.
  • 3 0
 @diggerandrider: Sweet wings cranks ! talk about ahead of there time. i had those cranks on a Daggar hardtail bike that was stolen at a bike race in norcal. I was more upset about losing the crankset than the bike itself..
.I then had Daggar Dan bulid me an Easton elite frame to replace what had been stolen. I appreciate the component mix on your bike.. sweet indeed.
  • 3 0
 I lived in santa cruz in 89-91. I remember a few times I test rode the weirdly cool bontragers a few times. Top tube was too tall, reach was too short, and it was flexy. It looked the shit but wasn't a good bike for me. I had a used Klein which I loved. For a bit more than a bontrager I could have had a rock lobster - such great paint - I wish I'd had the money for one. Oh... and then there's the steve potts I got to race in japan. Such an incredible ride. Visiting pro was trying to sell it, I had the money... that's probably the sweetest bike I've ever ridden. Just magic feel at the pedals.
  • 1 0
 @cuban-b: I wanted a Salsa ala Carte--but with a Bontrager fork of course.
  • 27 0
 Cheers to you @vernonfelton - What a trip down memory lane! I recall my first job at Bontrager in '94 was stamping those Gussets. Smashed my finger a time or two. Was stoked to get promoted to bead blasting frames (did that for a month and started missing the Gussets!). Love the content sir, keep it coming!
  • 4 0
 @vernonfelton: Fantastic reading on one of the best looking bikes I've seen from that era. Thanks. Curious to know the geometry.
  • 8 0
 @vernonfelton: Congratulations on writing a whole article on Bontrager without uttering the words, "Strong. Light. Cheap., pick two"
  • 1 0
 @vernonfelton: Good stuff man. I love the 90's ;-)
  • 7 0
 @codypup: I was conscious of the trope and steered clear of it, though you have to admit: truer words have never been uttered.
  • 2 0
 @elpsstoffo: You can find a spec sheet for Race/Race Lite frames here: web.archive.org/web/20090105161255/www.ridesmarter.com/archives/frames/bci_info_source_010299/race_and_race_lite_specs.htm

Keep in mind - These were in the days of 125-150mm stems as a standard. I can't remember if the frames were sized to the equivalent of a 60mm or 80mm travel fork, but it was somewhere in that ballpark.
  • 3 0
 @elpsstoffo: Shorter, Higher and Steeper.
  • 2 0
 @codypup: The laterally stiff vertically compliant comment of its generation.
  • 19 0
 I still love the look of my first MTB, with skinny steel tubes and big fat wheels and tires. Something timeless about those ratios. To old people like me anyway.
  • 3 0
 Hey, I'm right there with you. I love the looks. I think I prefer the ride of my 29" 130mm FS bike - but it's not the same in the looks department.
  • 3 0
 You aren't alone. Skinny steel tubes all the way. I would love to see a modern version of this.
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: Surly still does it. Salsa did as well until they dropped the El Mariachi a couple of years back.
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: Also Vissago makes some pretty sweet modern 29'r steel.
  • 13 2
 Cool write up PB.
What about something on Charlie Cunningham / Jacquie Phelan?

Oversize alu tubing, 1x wide range drivetrain, "boost" hubs, sloping compact geometry, "components made to last 80 years" etc. etc. etc.
  • 8 0
 Long timer lurker, first time poster. Had to chime in here, as I've owned a suspension geometry Race Light since 1992. I was as shop mechanic back then and used an inheritance to swing the "bro-deal" $777 for frame and Mag 20 shock. I still ride it as my backup MTB and "fun townie" bike, currently setup with ridged triple clamp fork and single speed.

Over the last 26 years I have ridden this bike more miles than any bike in my fleet. I recall ditching my '90's "computer" (glorified odometer) from the bike after only the first two years and it had 6,000 miles on it... I commuted on it, did all the Oregon epics, raced it MTB and 'cross (profile pic is '93 Gorge Challenge), put a child's seat on it for the first baby, pulled a kids trailer for the second baby, pulled a kids tag-alone up on Surveyor's Ridge (yeah, tractor trailer on tight switchbacks), then as SS did short track. I cracked the seatpost relief slot early on and it came back from Santa Cruz with a new seat tube and another gusset in that spot.

So, here's my conclusion, pro's:
* The OP didn't include detail pictures, but there is so much going on all over the frame: gussets, slip fit dual diam. seat stays with monostay, no chainstay bridge for clearance, offset machined OD head tube, riveted aluminum top tube cable mounts, etc. etc.
* It's a great pedaling bike, still is. Consider those days MTB's biased to pedaling not jump lines.
* Supple frame = old school suspension. Consider all the big-*ss Alum. hardtails in fashion then. It was all day rough stuff capable. With Ti saddle rails I wouldn't be surprised if there was nearly an inch of travel seated.
* Handled great with the fork, even at a puny 48mm. One of the first frames to design in the HT angle and BB height for susp.
* Tiny semi-horizontal dropouts let me setup as single speed! This is an accident, nobody was planning on that in '92.
* Powder coated frame was a big deal then, no chipping/scratching. The OP is correct, industrial finish!

Con's:
* Might as well say dated geom. But with a tall short stem, wide bars a bigger 2.5" front tire it OK now. Pedals great.
* Head tube is way too short on my XL, 105mm. I think this was weight savings mistake. I had to run unique jacked up stems forever (yeah 150mm too, ha ha)
* It's a noodle. This is the downside to comfort. That Superlight tubeset (stolen from a road bike kit) needed more beef in the Large and XL sizes. The worst high speed hard sharp changes in direction, there's a bit of "spring back". Also break chatter with the later addition rigid legs in the triple clamp crown.
* That tiny horizontal dropout is too hard in 4130 CrMo to hold the wheel in place under torque. Once the powder coat wore off the wheel slipped forward. I believe they switched to vertical dropout later. I fixed this with bolt on SS hubs.

Thanks for letting prattle on here about this fantastic bike!
  • 2 0
 @petterquid Thanks for telling the story--that's awesome. Stoked to hear that thing is still in service after years and years of miles. I've gotten a bunch of private emails from readers with similar stories. Warms the heart.
  • 7 0
 My best buddy had the orange frame (pictured above), when we were 17. It was 90% of my inspiration to get into the sport.

I was an out-of-shape, not-into-sports, teenager who never had a chance to experience the joys of mountain biking. I had signed up for the Jr. highschool mtb team, but didn't have any funds for a bike, so that never happened. My buddy went away to visit his dad for a week, and left his beautiful bike with me. Just cruising around my neighbourhood, on that thing... Amazing experience. A finely crafted and absolutely beautifully finished machine. It had a Manitou Mach 5 fork and magura hydro rim brakes. I was pulling wheelies and hopping on and off of curbs like crazy... Blown away by how fun and freeing the experience was.

20 years of mountain biking later, I still thank my buddy for lending me that bike for a week (and taking me riding for the first time, a year later, after we had graduated highschool). This bike is where it all began for me.
  • 3 0
 Forgot... Thanks for the write-up @vernonfelton ! This bike started my obsession (and window to happiness).
  • 7 0
 nicely penned Vernon. A true visionary of our sport. A nice walk down memory lane.
  • 4 0
 Another great read Vernon Felton.
One which inspires me to Never sell my
'94 Univega Alpina 5.9. (with its '99 63mm SID)
I see it hanging on the wall in my Bike Room in all its Reynolds 853 glory, and I'm tempted to see what it could fetch on the resale market. But it too was way ahead of its time with its Bi Axial Power Oval downtube and top routed cables. I beat this bike repeatedly for 6+ years before I opted for a new fangled FSR; at which point, it became my Hybrid.
I haven't ridden it since Fall of 2015 but I'm going to continue to admire it, up there on the wall just the way it is. Hell, maybe I'll even air up the tires and taker' for a rip bud!
  • 2 0
 Univega was always ahead of its time. Reynolds didn't introduce 853 until 1995. It should have a "Racelight 969" sticker on the seat-tube near the bottom-bracket.
  • 1 0
 @JVance:

Yup, you're correct, I apologize.
The sticker has been hidden behind an Anti Suck device since new.
Still a Great BombProof Compliant Frame
@ 25lbs complete
  • 7 0
 1 inch head tube, The last hold out.
  • 3 0
 And the value of 1998 1in SID's is still almost MSRP if you can find one...
  • 1 0
 And that is why they discontinued making them, as all the suspension fork manufacturers were eliminating 1 inch steerer options from their catalogs of top end forks. Not to mention they were expensive, the geometry was becoming dated, and they sold poorly.
  • 5 0
 @deeeight: Shhh, don’t polute the dream with facts.
  • 3 0
 @jestep: Zokes all the way. You can still find Atom Bombs, Atom 80s, etc. w/ 1" steerer tubes, or just buy the 1" crown assy and swap it onto Zokes legs from that era, as the crowns were bolt-on.

The SID was waaaay too flexy. Night and day with a Marzocchi when it came to steering precision, and the coil just feels so much better.
  • 1 0
 "1 inch head tube, The last hold out."

Sadly, yes. And a reminder why manufacturers now make sure to keep up with changing standards, even if they don't offer any huge advantage as regards their own frames/bikes.
  • 3 0
 I still have a Race Lite!!!! With a cutting-edge RockShox Judy baby. Totally awesome bike.

I used to have a Serotta mountain bike, too. That thing was also dope as hell, with a downtube that looked like a baseball bat. I sold the Serotta when I bought the Race Lite, ended up keeping the Bontrager for ~20 years. Damn I'm old. My 10 year old is outgrowing his 24" bike, so I've been thinking about modifying my Race Lite to fit him. Not sure he'll get any standover, though.
  • 2 0
 Ha. I've still got my '92 Race Lite *and* a team edition '95 Serotta MTB! I think the term here is "bike hoarder". That Serotta was my team bike for those 3+ hour epic XC races we all did back then. Because the Bontrager went rigid, this became my epic bike until 2011 when I cracked the downtube on Porcupine Ridge (3' drop to flat, over and over). Lesson: don't follow all your bro's lines when they are all ripping on modern 140+ bikes. Not at Moab at least.
  • 1 0
 @petterquid: Nice! Is your Serotta Ti or steel? I had a steel frame. That thing was ahead of its time, too - stiff where it needed to be stiff, and a little bendy everywhere else. Yes, I raced pro/elite XC back in those days, where you basically had no technical obstacles on the course, and just rode as fast as possible for 2 hours on like fire roads and buff singletrack.
  • 3 0
 And I bought a specialized hard rock instead. Because I wanted that extra money for weed. FML Its like how I bought a Capra instead of an Uprising, because I need the extra money for weed. Somethings never change. One day we will read about that 26" Uprising. And I will make a similar comment on that too. How the wheels go round.....
  • 3 0
 A close friend owned an orange Race Lite back in the day. He sold it to another bud of ours who still has it. My friend has tried, unsuccessfully, to get it back for the last ten years. I think he already threw his wife and two kids into the pot, but the other guy won't budge. I don't blame him, even if my friend's wife is a fuking knockout!
  • 6 1
 KB, is still having a big impact on the sport through Trek and Bontrager, awesome to see this though. He is one of a kind.
  • 2 0
 Lusted for a Bontrager in the mid 90's, but my budget put me on a Marin Team, which broke a rear dropout after a few years. (Yes-forged as mentioned in the article). It was too late for a Bontrager by then, so I "settled" on a Dekerf, which I still own, and ride on a semi regular basis after numerous upgrades and a repainting by Chris. Now- there's another subject for "THAT was a bike".
  • 3 1
 All of the bontragers, Race, Race lite, Ti lite, and privateers are some of the best riding bikes ever made. The geometry was absolutely spot on. I lend mine out occasionally and watching the look on someone who's never ridden the compliant but snappy feel of one never gets old. Especially when you get a 1200g wheelset on one, people coming from only 29ers don't realize a bike could feel that way.
  • 2 0
 Trek sure benefited from the Bontrager Race Lite frames. My '99 Trek 6700 hardtail (Handmade in Waterloo) gets daily beaten on an icy, salty Canadian commute carrying a 30lb pannier. Zero cracks or issues! Despite the rim brakes, it feels solid on rowdy trails too!
  • 2 0
 I’ve always appreciated this type of thought process with bikes. Make them good, make them work, make aesthetics way down the list. Function equals beautiful. If the bike gets ridden as intended it well get beat up. Back when I was road riding a lot before mountain bikes some people went gaga over filigree and multi coloured paint jobs and they could ride hard lest they scratch their hunk of art. Not that I don’t appreciate the work that went into the fancy bikes. I just don’t see the point. I would never cover a frame in clear tape to protect ththe finish except where the protection adds to the longevity of the frame.
  • 2 0
 Beautiful bike. Yes, the acquisition by Trek did hurt the Bontrager mystique. Maybe it shouldn't have, but it did. Similarly Fat Chance somehow lost the lust factor just by partnering with Serotta, who also made killer bikes. Still, the Race Lite is one of the most desired 90s frames. I put it on the same pedestal as Dekerf, Fat Chance, and Spooky's Darkside. Gussets on 4130 were not new though...that had been happening for a long time, especially with BMX builders.
  • 2 0
 The gussets on early BMXs were more often than not poorly designed and resulted in stress risers rather than strengthening the Bikes. Look at BMXs now - they pretty much all use Bonty’s open ended gusset design that redistributes loads.

Also surprised that the article doesn’t mention the fact that Bonty was the first to mess with custom fork offsets.
  • 5 0
 @davechopoptions: Right you are about the custom fork offsets. There were a ton of interesting and unique paths that I didn't travel down--including Keith Bontrager's role in helping develop the first RockShox model (the RS1), but you know...I'm always thinking that my articles are already over-long, so I steered clear of some legitimately interesting points. But, yeah, custom fork offsets were a Bontrager thing, for sure.

Keith had very specific ideas about how bikes should handle and that, in and of itself, set him and his company apart from so many other brands that were just willy-nilly slapping shit onto their neon-colored bikes and hoping it would sell.
  • 1 0
 @davechopoptions: You aren't wrong. Cheers.
  • 5 0
 @vernonfelton: I'd definitely read a Bontrager-Part2 story... Please, ramble on, I'm listening...
  • 2 0
 @vernonfelton: please keep these articles coming as I’m sure everyone loves reading these articles whether it be a trip down memory lane (my first MTB was a Trek 830 in 1996 which started my obsession) or just a history lesson for those that are a little younger. I am happy being a student at the Felton School of all things Bike. Thank you and keep up the great work. Ps.Bible of Bikes is not the same without you.
  • 2 0
 @vernonfelton: A follow up article would be great. Loved the fact that he actually thought about the product as a complete bike rather than a stand alone frame whereas many others thought only about what colour of paint they’d use on their cookie cutter stuff.
  • 2 0
 @Stumpy2: Thanks, man, I really appreciate that.
  • 2 0
 @vernonfelton Thank you, thank you for the incredible article! Excellent writing, and I'll echo the request for a "Bontrager Part Deux"

Bontragers are near and dear to my heart - I bought my Race Lite frame in 1998, and it sat on the futon in my college apartment for 9 months while I saved up enough scratch working at the bike shop to build it up proper.

First build was a SID, XTR shifters/levers and derailleurs, Syncros stem and Revolution cranks, Race Face 2x rings (46T and 36T) with an XT 11-30 8sp cassette, Chris King hubs laced to Sun Rhyno Lite rims with DT Revolution spokes, LP Composites Kevlar/carbon bar and seatpost, Avid Arch Supreme brakes and the Giro Fizik saddle with natural cowhide.

It was as trick as it could possibly be, and after hating the flexy SID I swapped on a Marzocchi Atom Bomb and never looked back.

To give you an idea of how bombproof these frames were - On the way to the West Virginia Fat Tire Fest one year, our second car ran into the back of my Jeep. All the bikes were fine, except my Bonty - It bent one of the Syncros cranks into the downtube and dented it. I rode it for another month before realizing the downtube was actually cracked.

I was heartbroken, thought it was a goner, but found a framebuilder in NC that would patch it. They welded a CroMo bandaid on it, and that bike was my main ride until late last year, with few changes except a swap to a Vicious Cycles rigid fork and Paul Moto Lite brakes.

Finally wanting disc brakes to avoid killing my old man self, I parted it out and now have an SB66 and a Chromag Stylus.

Still have the frame, though. It's one of the few objects/possessions that truly has meaning to me. And along the way I built up another Race Lite for my wife that's hanging out in the basement, waiting for our kids to grow a few inches taller...
  • 2 0
 @TyPierce, great story. Yeah, the SID was the hot shit back then, because it was blue and weighed about as much as a mouse fart, but the Marzocchi was soooo much better. I still have a Bomber Z2 Atom 80 in the garage that I am inordinately fond of. They were light years ahead of everybody else in terms of durability and flat out performance. You paid a weight penalty, but, damn, that era of Marzocchi was so good.

Avid Arch Supremes....now you're bringing me back. Yep, between those and the Syncros crankset, that bike was dressed to the nines. Stoked to hear that you managed to wring so much life out of it. It's crazy when you consider this was the ultralight frame with the machined headtube and all. Bontrager billed the Race as the truly indestructible version and the Race Lite as the flyweight racer, but the Race Lite was still remarkably bomber.

I'm trying to divest myself of a lot of the bikes and parts I've accumulated over the years. I'm like a crazy cat lady/bike hoarder. I'm getting better about parting with stuff...it's all just material objects and I can't take it with me and so forth...but if I had a Race Lite, I'd never let it go. Glad that you still have yours. Every rider I know who sold their Bontrager now regrets it. Ride on.
  • 2 0
 If you are into vintage MTB: Keyesville Classic March 9/10/11 Lake Isabella Ca. Annual gathering of vintage MTB geeks. Opportunity to show off your latest restoration, ride, race, and just hang out and talk about way back when. We race the same course as the modern bikes. DH, short track, and XC. Worth the time, and there will probably be an old Bonty or two there along with a lot of other cool old frames.
  • 5 0
 keith, such a legend and nice person
  • 5 0
 I would dig deep in my pockets for a modern Bontrager steel hardtail.
  • 2 0
 I had a '96 (I think) race lite, powder coated black with pace forks and XT groupset.
Some tosser nicked it along with my DH bike, van and most of my biking kit while out in France on a road trip.
  • 1 0
 Leave it to the French...
  • 2 0
 @VwHarman: I didn't say it was stolen by the French
  • 2 0
 This is RAD! Now how about a write up on race mechanics of the Golden age of MTB? Starting with Steve "Gravy" Gravinities. Race tech for the infamous Missy "the missile" Gove.
  • 1 1
 *Giove
  • 5 0
 reminds of the Bridgestone MB series from the eighties...
  • 2 0
 Pineapple Bob!
  • 2 0
 Those are fantastic bikes.
  • 2 0
 I've still got two 1993 MB-1's. Love 'em. There was a unique design ethic there as well, but Grant Petersen is no Keth Bontrager.
  • 1 0
 @cdussault: After Bridgestone, I believe Grant went on to form Rivendell (sp) cycles.
  • 2 1
 @oneplanka: Yup. Grant started Rivendell and is still doing very cool things out of Walnut Creek, California. The MB1s and MB Zips were also much lusted after, though I still think the RB-1 and X0-1 models were the crowning achievements from Bridgestone. Like Keith, Grant was a big proponent of straight talk, common sense and questioning the status quo. Interestingly, that chunk of NorCal seemed to crank out a lot of that breed: Jobst Brandt, Keith Bontrager, Grant Petersen, Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze, Charlie Cunningham, Steve Potts, Mark Slate...lot of legitimately brilliant riders/builders came out of that scene. It was a great place to grow up in at a very cool time.
  • 1 0
 @vernonfelton: Nice Vernon. Thanks a ton for fleshing that out. I agree about the norcal breed.
  • 3 0
 When I started riding, all the cool guys had MB-1s. I was not one of them.
  • 1 0
 I was in Crested Butte '97 and I broke the break away derailleur bolt on my Schwinn Homegrown Factory. The local bike shop didn't have one so they let me borrow a Race Lite for my ride the next day. I remember how the bike felt so familiar to me and how it rode so much better than my Schwinn and even my '89 Yeti FRO.
  • 1 0
 I came so close to buying one with my summer job money in 1996. I absolutely love them, but the 1" steerer was the issue. I already had some tatty 1 1/8" Judy's by that point. I got a Greg Fuquay instead. Another beautiful steel frame, but the handling was weird!
  • 5 0
 That frame weighs a pound less than my modern $1000 853 steel frame.
  • 2 0
 Well, I think a Race Lite frame back in the day was pretty close to $1k. And, it was designed with like a 120mm stem and 26" wheels, without disc brakes. So if you start adding long reach, big wheels, disc mounts and reinforcement, I think you'd end up closing the 1lbs gap a bit. But I still own a Race Lite, and it *is* a sweet bike.
  • 1 0
 Last time I stopped into The Spokesman in SC, they still had a few time capsule Bontrager bikes up on the platforms near the ceiling. I always end up staring at them for several minutes and not even giving the modern bikes on the sales floor a look. I imagine they've been in the store for their entire +/- 25 year existence.
  • 4 0
 @edlew me too, man. They had an orange Race Lite hanging up the last time I was in there and I stared at it like a fool stares at a solar eclipse...just transfixed for probably 10 minutes.
  • 1 0
 I worked for this guy in 99 who was a real bell end but he had a black one. I never wanted it but it looked real nice. Flyte saddle etc. I think it had a Paul rear mech. I was too busy lusting over my slack head angled, 1x, alu framed, z1 bomber equiped sled of destruction.
  • 2 0
 My late ‘80s Off Road Toad, one of the first three built, came equipped with a killer Bontrager fork (think Tange Switchblade but with hand-curved blades). Another bike far ahead if its time.
  • 1 0
 In the mid-90s I was a junior mechanic at Mountain and Beach in Vancouver (originator of Off-road Toad), and assembled many Bontrager frames. I too thought they were way cooler than the Canonndales and Specializeds that we also sold. I was also fond of their single crown rigid forks which were already old school at that point.
  • 4 0
 My Race Lite is still rolling as a townie. Paul brakes and levers, Gripshift, Ringle and Syncros parts......
  • 1 0
 ´92 Race Lite, Chris King headset, Syncros Ti BB, Ringlé Moby Post and bottle cages, Bontrager Selle San Marco Ti, Bontrager fork and stem bar combo and grips, NukeProof hubset on Mavic Ceramic, Shimano XT group on Grafton cranks and pedals and Salsa Mangos de Amor bar ends, Ti hardware all over including retrofitted Ritchey Logic brake handles and Dia Compe 987 brakes..., 27 years now, still ridden, now by my 16 year old daughter as a cruiser !!!, one of my two garage queens (the other is a Merlin), God save the steel bike.
  • 1 0
 I remember those days all to well canti brakes you spent more time adjusting them and the straddle cables than riding, I still have a 1993-94? lime green Norco Team 853 Reynolds curved seat stays and all, I braised on a disc brake mount and set it up as a snow bike swapped out the regular studs for car studs, Ice is my friend.
Good old bikes just live forever.
  • 1 0
 nice to see older bikes but a lot of bikes had similar a similar shape.....kona for one had some decent steel bikes with similar profiles and very sloping top tubes or at least my 1994 kona fire mountain did....The fat tube alu bikes were I thought mostly the cheaper ones on offer. Sure alu frames have bigger tubes but if your on about the mid nineties super huge tubed alloy bikes they were often the chaep rubbish ones with a laughably thin rigid fork that looked like it was taken from an old steel bike. Sure I like Bontrager bikes back then but I didn't think they did much that was shall we say innovative. Props for the chainsuk plate though but you could readily buy these aftermarket back then along with dcd's and crud claws etc etc. Still it is and was a nice looking bike and wouldn't have said no to one if it was offered.
  • 1 0
 Great article. My 95/96 Bonty Race is the only bike that has stayed with me through the years and is still ridden to this day. I have a 2017 Trek fuel ex plus which I love but the Bonty still gobbles up singletrack equally as well even as a rigid. (It doesn't gobble up rocks the same though.!. .)

The chainsuck plate was stamped out of stainless steel and was bolted on to the frames (on mine anyway).

My build isn't retro ( I run a Thompson seat post and 90mm stem with 720mm bars) but the bike is ridden a lot and for riding on my home trails (woodland singletrack) , it's my first choice .

As far as I'm aware the Race Lite was the main inspiration behind Cy Turners COTIC soul ..a modern day Bontrager, complete with gussets!
  • 4 0
 This is the best series of articles on PB. Thank you
  • 4 1
 I’m a huge fan of Yetis, but the idea of tattooing their logo on he inside of my lip never crossed my mind.
  • 1 0
 I'd hit that! Still a sweet ride 20 years on. I'm telling ya, there's just something about a well built steel HT Smile

Against the grain; One of my fave albums! Tuna m.youtube.com/watch?v=W1IiPkQa2iY
  • 2 0
 Makes me want to clean my 1993 marin team issue with tange ultimate tubing and deore xt for a spin. Incredible how wide that chain is. Cheers vernon!!
  • 4 0
 But does it have a Panracer Smoke/Dart tire combo on it?
  • 1 0
 @codypup: True to the original build would be Marin Rockstar 2.1 tires.
  • 1 0
 @codypup: sure! But dart is newer than that bike. I'll go with white onza porcupine
  • 2 0
 My first real bike was a 1997 Bontrager Privateer Comp, and luckily, I still have it. It did come with a "Made in Taiwan" sticker on it though.
  • 2 0
 I look at my 95 race lite everyday as it is now hanging in my living room, amazing bike to ride and still bring it out to the trails every once and awhile.
  • 4 0
 AWESOME!
  • 3 0
 I'm just here to echo this sentiment.
  • 3 0
 I have a mint 21" Race waiting to be restored to its former glory.
  • 1 0
 Great read! Makes me think about the 14 yo me rocking around on cheepo Peugeot 24 speed, completely oblivious to how good bikes like this existed.
  • 1 0
 Great article, I bought a Bontrager OR frame in 1994 and rode the hell out of it until about 2001. Wonderful trip down memory lane.
  • 3 1
 Hey, Fat Chance has made a comeback, why not Bontrager?
  • 2 0
 Love these stories. Interesting and well-written.
  • 2 0
 What is Mr. Bontrager up to these days?
  • 3 0
 I think he still designs a lot of Trek parts. I have mutual friends with him on Facebook, so I e-stalked him. Seems like a majorly cool guy, but I never met him.
  • 14 0
 @JAGI410, Keith Bontrager is still actively designing and giving input on a wide range of products, produced by Trek, that bear his name. He still lives in Santa Cruz, still rides a ton and is still a legend.
  • 5 0
 @vernonfelton: interview him please
  • 2 0
 I'm strong, I'm light... and I'm pretty cheap.
  • 2 0
 Cool bike, cool story, wish there were more detailed pics
  • 1 0
 @gtill9000 Me too. We struggled to get some good high-res images of Race Lites. Even Trek is lacking that kind of imagery at this point.
  • 2 0
 Loved my 1994 race frame!
  • 1 0
 I definitely wouldn’t let my daughter date a guy that rode a bike that, you know he would be a deviantWink
  • 1 0
 That last picture sure gave me a jump scare!
  • 1 0
 Could you guys do an article about Trimble, Kestrels or early Pace bikes?
  • 1 0
 accutrax all the thingz!!
  • 1 0
 These are my favorite kinds of stories. Thanks for keeping them coming!
  • 2 0
 GG Allin was a biker!!
  • 1 0
 that bike seem's legit even today!
  • 1 0
 I miss top-of-the-top-tube cable routing...
  • 1 0
 Great piece, thanks for writing it.
  • 1 0
 Another great article by Vernon. So easy to read. Thanks.
  • 1 0
 Didn’t these bikes resist the new “standard” of 1-1/8” headsets?

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