Bontrager Race Lite

This is not a full review, but an homage to my third "real" mountain bike, the only one that has endured the test of time, now 19 years old (as of 2011). The Bontrager Race Lite was, and still is, the first bike I owned that was hand-built to order with the frame size, paint and decals of my choosing. I purchased it in 1992 as a frameset that included a Rock Shox Mag 21 with a custom crown, and built it myself, starting with parts pulled from my 80's Fuji Suncrest, upgrading piece-by-piece as I was able. This was to be the ultimate hard tail MTB...

The picture to the right was taken at Tamarancho circa 1996. At this time the bike had Phil Wood hubs laced to Mavic rims, and the original Mag 21 (rebuilt and painted black), attached via a purple anodized King Threadset. I had thumb shifters and the purple headset on the bike until late 2010 (headset bearings are still butter-smooth after lots of abuse and thousands of miles).

What's the verdict 19 years and many part swaps later? This hard tail still kicks some serious ass on the trails. Now running a 2.5" travel Marzocchi Bomber Z3 up front, it falls short in the suspension travel department by today's standards, but drop the seat and it can hang with the all mountain crowd on nearly anything I throw it at. The steel frame takes the edge off the bumps, yet the bike still goes like a bullet when you aim it and stomp on the pedals.

Sadly, the frame is designed for a 1" steerer tube, but I was recently able to swap out the threaded steerer tube for a threadless one, install a new 1" Chris King Aheadset and shim the steerer tube to allow me to use 1-1/8" stems and oversize bars [if anyone has discovered a way to adapt a modern 1-1/8" steerer fork to frame made for a 1" steerer tube, please let me know].

Keith Bontrager's Santa Cruz shop built this bike by hand, and it is still arguably one of the most advanced steel frames ever built. Sadly, Trek purchased Bontrager in the mid-90's and the Bontrager-label Trek frames looked similar but were mass-produced overseas, missing many of the finer touches. New school with XTR shiftersNow Bontrager is just a name brand used on a variety of aftermarket parts.

The good news is that this bike is steel, which means that it can be repaired if I ever bend or break a tube. I know this to be a fact because it is now sporting its third paint job after having been hit by a car (with me on it) and getting the rear triangle totalled, and later after a cheap seatpost bent inside the seat tube and cracked it below the seat clamp. It was repaired each time by the Santa Cruz factory. The second repair was free and they added an extra seat clamp gusset and changed the cable routing for the front derailer from bottom pull to top pull at my request. I stay away from cars and cheap seatposts now, so hopefully I won't need to repair the frame again, but it's nice to know that I can if I need to.

See the photo gallery for the current parts spec. I won't bore you with the details. There are some older photos of the frame details linked below.

Seat tube gusset, mono-stay42.96 KB
Head tube gussets, old CK headset45.82 KB
Bontrager old school (Suntour XC Pro 8-speed thumb shifters, narrow bars)109.63 KB
Bontrager new school (XTR trigger shifters, wide bars)83.19 KB