Second in the retrobike 20 questions series is a man who will need no introduction, Keith Bontrager. If you really need one check out his entry in the MTB Hall of Fame.
Keith building in the garage 1980
Retrobike: How’s life?
Keith Bontrager: Life is pretty good, though complicated sometimes. Nothing
surprising I guess.
RB: Keith, what is the mtb holy grail?
KB: This is one for Gary F. He’s best at that kind of question.
RB: And what is the mtb holy fail?
KB: Getting too carried away with the mtb holy grail.
RB: Desert Island Discs Scenario – one luxury. Bike or corkscrew? Or
KB: Bike, as long as there isn’t too much sand. I have lots of ways to
get a cork out of a bottle besides a corkscrew.
RB: Wine. Bike. Love. Pick two?
KB: Bike & love. You didn’t say anything about beer and tequila so
I’ll improvise accordingly.
RB: You’ve always been seen about over this side of the pond. What is it
about the UK that has had you racing up wet English mountains on a cx
bike or trudging the innevitable mudfest conveyor belt that is Mountain
Mayhem 24hr each year (but we love it), when you’ve got such a lovely
array of nature over there?
KB: I get bored laying around on the beach in the sun and I have all
these nice warm clothes I never get to wear when I am here. Plus, I
really like falling over in the mud.
RB: Keith, very important to know this about a chap, what’s your
favourite cake? The bike celebrity cakometer reckons you’re a Dundee
kind of a man….?
KB: I had to look up a recipe for the Dundee Cake.
Tipsy Apple Cake is currently my fave, made with Lairds Apple Jack, though I
am fickle so that could change anytime…
*(thumps Retrobike cake-o-meter as it clearly doesn’t work very well) – ed.
RB: Should anodised purple ever come back?
KB racing motocross on his CZ 1976
RB: Or are you unaware it ever went away?
KB: I don’t get out much.
RB: Progression is innevitable and usually nessessary, but they just
don’t make bikes as pretty as they did do they?
KB: To my eye the modern high performance racing bicycles are much
better looking machines now than they ever were before.
Having said that, the latest shapes owe much less to an individual’s
craft than they do to advanced computer modeling and high tech
materials; F1 vs Model T.
I enjoy handmade bikes when they are well executed, and I have very high
standards in that regard. But I like them in the way one enjoys nicely
made antiques, in the proper historic context.
None of that applies to what kind of bikes I think we should be riding
of course. These are machines, not art. If you are a pro, you ride the
fastest thing you can get. If you aren’t, then you can ride anything
that suits you.
RB: What are you most proud of having been involved with in the world of
KB: Sorting out myth.
RB: Do you have a favourite bike component, one that you have/ should
KB: Super X tires and some Chris King hubs that we used on the first Race
lite MTB wheels.
RB: Do you have a favourite bike? One you choose to ride over all the
KB: No, I don’t have any favourites. I am fond of my new Fuel though.
KB on Slickrock in Moab 1995
RB: It’s ‘not about the bike’. Or is it?
KB: It’s not, not for me anyway.
Bontrager custom road bike 1980s
RB: What’s your favourite thing about cycling?
KB: Simply transport. And watching kids ride. Oh yeah, and nailing a
complicated line in technical singletrack.
RB: Taking in to consideration all the memories and experiences we all
have of our own mountain biking timelines, do you have a fondest mtb/
cycling period? Has it even happpened yet?
KB: I don’t. There are some ride’s I’ve done that were very enjoyable.
But the mtb timeline thing had little to do with those. I even had a
good ride on a steel hardtail once…
RB: I won’t ask the usual question of where biking’s headed? But rather,
do you think like most stuff, things come full circle in the end and the
classic steel hardtail will make a return in more than a niche trend
kind of a way.
KB: No. A fashion cycle will not make it perform better or less likely
Steel is an inexpensive material that is simple to work with. Those
are it’s strong attributes and enough to justify making some types of
bikes from it.
RB: With all the hoo har about handmade bikes and the resurgence of
steel hardtails by small manufacturers being all the rage, are you
tempted to re-introduce the classic skinny tubed Race Lite, but to a new
I’d like to design some new steel city bikes and touring bikes, but not
re-introduce steel hardtails.
RB: Ok then, would you consider putting the Jones 700cx30/32mm cross
tyre back into production just for me? Oh go on…it’s the best cx tyre
KB: I would, but there are still plenty laying around on shelves in bike
shops, so I’d have to let those dry up first. On the other hand, maybe
the ones that are still laying around might be a sign? The tires were
too small and too smooth for most cross courses.
RB: Ok, Keith, what’s it all about?*
KB: I have no idea… I am an engineer. But I am having a decent time
realizing that I have no idea…
*(apart form being the eternal question, this relates to the fact that
every time I come out of the end of my favourite piece of singletrack
that I’ve been riding for 22 years, I say to myself…”That’s what it’s
all about Keith”. (In reference to a line in a great but not that well
known tv series called ‘Stella Street’ – check out the first series – it
was pure genius.
Bontrager composite road bike 1980s