The Late, Great Bontrager Race Lite


Retro Guru
Well, here we go again taking on another project before making any headway on the others. This one is different though and, to me, more special and deserving of my current focus.

While consuming as much information as I could via this forum, mtb history sites and magazine/catalog scans it was clear that the Bontrager approach must have been refreshing if not odd at the time. Beyond being something pretty to look/marvel at, the philosophy of trying to make something someone buys once because it's engineered to outlast the physical abuse and also the fleeting whims of fashion appeals to me, especially as someone who works in an industry where design turnover is rampant for the sake of revenue. Pragmatism besting all else (though I am sure those who were there and ultimately got the short end of the Trek stick may have a less romantic point of view.)

So after reading all of the Bontrager catalogs I could find, gawking at the bikes here on rb and watching videos of him speak on youtube I decided I would be needing one. Though I like some of the two tone / multi colored Privateer color schemes I was set on a Santa Cruz built bike (rather than Wisconsin where Trek handled the production of the Privateers) and, given my size at ~135 lbs (62kg) I decided a Race Lite would be preferred. Later I would learn how Trek ended production in Santa Cruz only by telling all of the staff to go home for lunch and while they were out they changed all of the locks which has sense put me off from wanting or considering anything Trek has touched. Maybe I'm just sensitive and I'll probably get over it but I have a similar feeling about staying away from Gary Fisher's for the way he treated Ritchey.

I figured it would be hard to come up with one so I created my alerts and set about to craigslist, sifting all of the 30+ years of Bontrager parts listed doesn't make it easy. I do all of my "local" shopping in both Los Angeles where I live and San Francisco where I am often for work and sure enough a nearly perfect example was sitting right there, in SF, available immediately in what I figured would be the right size and priced very well. I chatted with the seller who bought the bike, built it up and rode it a couple of times before finding his preferred color. So, it got torn down and listed for sale. Turns out we're similarly built and he assured me, having owned and ridden both the size up and down, this would be perfect for me. We shook hands via text and he promised to hold it for me until I got to town in a few weeks.

It's a Race Lite alright. Easily identified by the milled headtube


Anti chain suck plate and pully in tact, sweet.


As I am sure most of you know that serial numbers mean nearly nothing for Bontragers as the dropouts were produced and stamped in bulk and thrown in a pile that was pulled from at random. They do nothing to help you date the bike.


There are however many other details that can get you pretty close to nailing down a production date. In the case of this frame, there are two tells that make it clear it's late. 0600 on the drive side drop out is apparently an indicator that it was one of the very last production series before Santa Cruz was shut down making it very probably a 1997 and would have been sold as a complete with an XT kit.


and the seat stays on the post Trek acquisition bikes are 1 piece rather than the earlier 2 piece. As I understand it, the reason for the change being that Keith basically couldn't meet the minimums required by True Temper for the 1 piece stays though within days of the news of Trek being in the picture TT reached out to KB and asked him how many he wanted. Some look down on the single piece stays and post Trek Santa Cruz built bikes but I don't. KB designed and specd the single piece stays but couldn't afford them so he made due with the (very cool, I agree) two piece but he was apparently very stoked to get the 1 piece.


The frame is extremely neat with the exception of some residue from the foam pipe insulation that it was wrapped in as the seller was prepping to list on ebay before I turned up. It's all easily enough rubbed off though without any sort of chemical.

Forgive me if I'm sounding like a broken record and this info has all long sense been known, but it's all new and fascinating to me.
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Also has the original collar with the cut tire tube protector


and some cool stickers




I forget what year the change was made but the tail of the earlier wishbones was open and not closed like this one is


You can see mine is missing the brake studs which is really the only bummer. They were made removeable to be easily replaceable should one get bent or damaged. I love this kind of thinking.

I don't think it was really ever ridden

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Nice frame, looking forward to seeing the build progress. Always good to see another Bonty. I really want a Race Lite to complete the set. One day!
Very nice frame, but especially like your enthusiasm. Following along where you´ll take this.
Thank you! It's not going to be anything ground breaking but hopefully just a nice, honest workhorse.
Those archaic dropouts and the monostay, I am interested to watch this build
I'm with you! Why would anyone do anything other than a monostay? The monostay is supposed to be stiffer, lighter, and makes for better tire clearance so, serious question, what are the drawbacks?

Nice frame, looking forward to seeing the build progress. Always good to see another Bonty. I really want a Race Lite to complete the set. One day!
Thank you! You take a medium as well right? I know of one if that day is today!

I like that I already know where this is going, but, also, not where it's going at all!

Ya I think I have a very solid idea where we're headed only because I've had a good amount of time to sleep on it and formulate a plan. Though I'm sure this following update would inspire little confidence to that point.

There were as I mentioned a few weeks between the handshake and me collecting the bike so I began hunting a fork in the meanwhile. The market for a bontrager fork is pretty thin and so they can often go for considerably more than a good clean frame, if you're lucky enough to find one. I again had some luck and I found one in SF a few days before I was planning to collect my green frame. It so happens that an entire bike was attached to it and for about the rate it would have cost me to buy and ship a fork at current market value. I registered interest with the seller and set a meet about an hour following the meet set for the green bike.

I've posted a different photo of this one over in the collective Bontrager thread but it should make a cameo appearance here too.


And so I ended up with 2 Bontragers in a single morning before I'd had breakfast.

The plan was to harvest the fork, junk the drivetrain and make a little bit of cash back on the Thompson stem / SimWorks bars / Brooks saddle and maybe find someone who might want the frame because it's a little large for me as my green being a medium, this one being what I thought was a large. Though the reach is a bit long for me I started riding around town on this one and really began to love it. @pw_pw_la was first to let me know that this one might be something special and confirmed it by the riveted & bonded top tube cable guides.


@slackboy let me know that this is the mark of an early OR (off road) which were before Race & Race Lite designations. Cool! Further down the rabbit hole I went. Welding/heat compromises tube strength so these guides were bonded and riveted instead. Another tiny detail that acts as evidence there is some maniac behind the moniker with a head full of ideas. Rad.

As I learned more about this frame I decided I'd have a really hard time letting it go. Reasons I'll share soon in a new thread as I have plans for it now.

So ends the involvement of this black early OR as it pertains to my probably '97 British Racing Green. Problem now is the green bike is forkless yet.
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Now that escalated quickly!

Excuse my lack of detailed Bontrager knowledge, but did Bontrager frames in 1997 not have suspension corrected geometry?
Bontrager frames in 1997 had suspension corrected geometry

Yes, they would. From about 95 onward I think. There was a period when frames were offered rigid and corrected but I'm not aware of any obvious was to identify them (apart from getting a protractor out)