The Million-Dollar Gold Mountain Bike You Didn’t Know You Needed

Let’s start with the good part: Apparently “90 percent or more” of the proceeds of these million-dollar, gold-plated mountain bikes (of which there will be 13) will go to charity. Which, if they sell for that much will mean something like $10 million. That’s not bad. Of course, said charity is The Way to Happiness Foundation International, based on an L. Ron Hubbard book of the same name, so take that for what you will. Also, the release used the word EXTREME eight times in the first paragraph, which is kind of exciting.
As for the bike itself, it sure looks nice anyway. At the core is a Salsa Mukluk “fat bike” set up with a bunch of Salsa and Shimano parts. For comparison’s sake, a kitted-out titanium Mukluk—this one is aluminum—will set you back $4,399. What does the extra $995,601 get you? Bling, mostly. Everything except the tires and the saddle (which is covered in alligator skin) is 24-karat gold electroplated by The House of Solid Gold, and the headbadge features six carats of black diamonds and 4.5 carats of “golden sapphires.” (With 600 of the former and 500 of the latter, don’t expect any giant gemstones.)
If a million dollars seems a bit excessive for that—it is. Not to mention things like disc brakes and cassettes were never meant to be gold plated, at least not on a functional bike. But that’s not what this is supposed to be. And if the price isn’t a deterrent, a little matter of gold flaking off the rotors shouldn’t be either.
[via The House of Solid Gold]
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Bikers ride into spring during Fernie’s annual Bike Blitz

Dozens of mountain bikes and a wall length table of gear and bike parts were up for sale at the Fernie Mountain Bike Club’s Spring Bike Blits
— image credit: K. Dingman

Fernie’s mountain trails are host to professional Canadian mountain bikers and locals alike and last weekend the Fernie Mountain Bike Club (FMBC) held its annual Spring Bike Blitz to ensure those trails are groomed and maintained for another season of riding.
Mountain bikers were encouraged to bring any bike related parts to the Elks Hall where bikes, parts ranging from seats to helmets and FMBC t-shirts donated by Giv’r Shirtworks were sold.
A major portion of funds from Saturday’s sale will go to the Fernie Trails Alliance so that they can continue to work on building more trails, maintaining the existing trails and ensuring biker’s safety through proper signage, organizer and FMBC president Angela Etheridge said.
“All the good things to keep us riding on the trails,” she said.
Funds for the Fernie Trails Alliance are also raised through FMBC memberships. Etheridge said that the club typically has between 350 to 500 members each year and the Spring Bike Blitz is their main membership drive.
But not all the money raised during this annual event goes to the Trails Alliance. The FMBC hosts several events every year including the Wam Bam Dirt Jump Jam — an event that brings amateur and pro stunt riders to Fernie during the summer to perform gravity defying tricks and daring stunts.
The club has also added some new events to this year’s itinerary including kids races and group rides — Etheridge said she hopes to get new members involved in mountain biking.

Shimano XTR Di2 – Electronic shifting comes to mountain bikes

By Oli Woodman | Friday, May 30, 2014 2.45pm

Shimano today announced details of a new Di2 electronic version of its top-tier XTR mountain bike groupset.
Rumours, as well as leaked images of the group, have been floating around the net for some time, but now everything is official we can give you the full run-down.
XTR Di2 in a nutshell
XTR M9050 marks the first migration of electronic shifting technology into the world of mountain bikes. The system will use one battery and remain wired, using already proven parts from Shimano’s Ultegra and Dura-Ace road Di2 groups.
So what are the advantages? Shimano claims that XTR Di2 will offer faster and more accurate shifting. Also, with no cables to stretch, it’s said to offer shifting consistency that a mechanical transmission cannot match. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but one part of XTR Di2 that we really should be taking notice of is Syncro Shift – for those who are running double or triple set-ups it could be a game changer.
Syncro Shift allows the rider to control both front and rear derailleurs with one shifter. Simply shift up or down and the transmission will follow a pre-programmed (and customisable) shifting map, moving both derailleurs when necessary to find the next ratio while maintaining a good chain line. So, that’s less clutter at the bar and more time to worry about things other than gear selection.
XTR Di2 shares its crank, cassette and chain with Shimano’s recently announced mechanical XTR M9000 groupset, so that means Di2 options for single, double and triple transmissions.
Individual components
RD-M9050 rear derailleur

The new M9050 rear derailleur does a great job of hiding away its motor, which is 50 percent more powerful than the one you’ll find in Shimano’s road Di2 derailleurs. That’s to combat the additional weight that muddy conditions can add to the components.
Just like its mechanical brother, the RD-M9050 has Shimano’s 

Shadow RD+
 clutch retention system. This means a rider can externally adjust the spring tension of the rear derailleur using an Allen key. The beauty of this is that with a motor controlling the shift, the tension at the clutch can be turned up to a level that would normally compromise shift performance for a mechanical derailleur.
The derailleur will be available in a short- and long-cage option, with the former weighing a claimed 289g.
FD-M9050 front derailleur

The XTR Di2 front derailleur is less subtle than its rear counterpart. It has a claimed weight of 115g and features the same auto trimming technology as the company’s Di2 road components.
SW-M9050 shifters

Thanks to Syncro Shift functionality, XTR Di2 can be set up to run with either one or two shifters at the handlebar, even with a triple crank. The shifter isn’t really a shifter, it’s simply a switch that’s been given a short yet positive throw to try to replicate the feel of a conventional unit. The claimed weight is 64g per unit.
SC-M9050 system display

The brain of this groupset is a small handlebar mounted LCD display. While riding, the display communicates essential information such as battery level, gear position and shift mode (whether or not Synchro Shift is activated). It’s integrated with Fox’s electric iCD suspension adjustment system – where the bottom right of the display includes an element which shows the suspension mode of a compatible fork and shock. It certainly leaves the door open for nerdy types and perhaps other manufacturers to exploit in the future.
The display also functions as a charging point for the system and a connection to Shimano’s E-tube software, where – just like in Shimano’s road applications – riders can customise a wide range of functions.
Battery and wiring

Bottle cage mount will not be the only option (L) – notice the wires emerging from the head tube (R)
The battery unit as well as the wiring for XTR Di2 are identical components to the ones used in Shimano’s electronic road groups. The battery can be mounted on a bottle cage, in a seat tube and can even be contained within the steerer unit of certain forks (although full details on this haven’t yet fully emerged). 

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Pricing
Di2 technology has, just like it did for the first generation in the world of road, debuted at the top-end of Shimano’s mountain biking range. The pricing alone is likely to keep these parts out of the hands of anyone other than Shimano-sponsored athletes and the very wealthy. 
Rear derailleur — £429.99 RDM9050GS (short cage) and RD9050SGS (long cage)
Front derailleur — £269.99 FDM9050
Right shifter —  £149.99 SWM9050R
Left shifter – £149.99 SWM9050L

Stay tuned to BikeRadar for our first ride impressions on XTR Di2 soon.

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Washington’s top 10 mountain-bike rides

Originally published May 28, 2014 at 5:36 PM | Page modified May 28, 2014 at 5:37 PM
When it comes to riding, Glenn Glover of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance declares often and with great certainty: Washington is the best place to be a mountain biker in the continental United States.
“There’s a lot of diversity — from riding on the edge of the blast zone in Mount St. Helens to the high subalpine Colville National Forest, to the rain forest of the Olympics,” Glover says.
An engineer by training, Glover came to this nonprofit as interim executive director, agreeing on a three-to-six-month stint “until a replacement could be found. That was about four and a half years ago,” and he’s still executive director, he said, laughing.
He and his staff maintain a database on the group’s website of more than 200 bike trails.
The irony of leading the state’s largest mountain-biking group is that Glover has less time to ride, what with all the trails to build and biking seminars to lead.
“I get to ride once or twice a week around the state,” he said. “I follow the season. As snow begins to melt, we head to Eastern Washington for the high mountain riding experience. (During the winter) we ride around Western Washington and enjoy the low-elevation trails.”
Here are Glover’s top 10 places to mountain-bike in Washington, listed in no particular order. Comments are his.
• Ape Canyon / Plains of Abraham, south side of Mount St. Helens. 22 miles round trip. Intermediate. 3,000-foot gain.
Why ride it? Scenic
It’s unlike any place in the country. Climb through old-growth forest to the starkly beautiful Plains of Abraham, which was devastated by the 1980 eruption. Cross the Plains, then ride all the way to Windy Ridge viewpoint. There are some stairs and a few miles of gravel road. Or turn around anytime and retrace your ride, ending in a fast and smooth descent.
• Highway 410 trails, outside town of Greenwater, Pierce County. Distance varies; trails can be ridden as a round trip or combined into loops. Intermediate to advanced. 700- to 2,800-foot gain.
Why ride it? Scenic and sometimes challenging backcountry riding
This area has something for all types and skill levels — rushing rivers, wildflowers, and views of Mount Rainier from the higher trails.
From the beginner-friendly — with a bit of walking for most riders — Skookum Flats, Noble Knob and White River trails, to the more technically challenging alpine trails of Palisades, Ranger Creek and Suntop, this area offers miles of stellar trails to explore.
• Cooney Lake/Angels Staircase/Horsehead Pass loop at north end of Lake Chelan (30 miles south of Winthrop). 25 miles. Advanced. 5,000-foot gain.
Why ride it? Alpine epic
This classic loop, packed with stunning scenery, takes you to the highest single-track trail open to bikes in Washington, at an elevation of about 8,100 feet. It’s a physically demanding ride with some technical challenges and “hike-a-bike” sections, but worth the effort for fit and experienced riders.
• East Tiger Mountain trails at Tiger Mountain State Forest. 12 miles of trail plus fire roads (seasonal). Intermediate to advanced. 1,900-foot gain. Trails are open to ride April 15 through Oct. 15, depending on condition.
Why ride it? Convenient to Seattle; quality forested trail network
The six multiuse trails (including three newly opened this spring) range from wide, with the occasional technical challenge, to root-filled with tight and technical descents. Ride the fire road 3.5 miles up to the summit then descend via single-track, or enjoy a loop on the lower mountain.
• Duthie Hill Park, Issaquah. 8 miles. Beginner to expert. 130-foot gain.
Why ride it? Designed specifically for mountain biking
The most-visited mountain-bike trail system in the state. Six miles of cross-country trails ranging from beginner to advanced. There are two miles of freeride and jump trails to keep expert riders happy and a large clearing with progression features and pump tracks that’s ideal for learning.
• Kettle Crest Trails, Colville National Forest, Eastern Washington. More than 70 miles. Intermediate to advanced. 3,000-5,000-foot gain.
Why ride it? Scenic subalpine forests and long ride
This is the state’s largest nonmotorized trail system for mountain biking. The Kettle Crest Trail alone stretches 40 miles. Most rides include parts of the Kettle Crest Trail, but at different segments, following routes such as the Jungle Hill Loop (Sherman Pass Tie to Kettle Crest North to Jungle Hill) and Sherman Peak Loop. This area is becoming a must-do destination.
• Galbraith Mountain trail network, Bellingham. More than 45 miles. Beginner to expert. 1,800-foot gain.
Why ride it? Wide variety of quality trails close to town
This privately owned forest is a gem, with a large network of well-built trails. It has a mix of cross-country, all-mountain and freeride-style trails.
• Sage Hills, Wenatchee. 12 miles. Beginner to intermediate. 1,000-foot gain.
Why ride it? Fun, wildflower-filled trails close to town
Sage Hills contains a network of nonmotorized trails that meanders over rolling hills on the edge of downtown Wenatchee. It’s a combination of views of the Wenatchee Valley and miles of yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, scarlet Indian paintbrush and purple lupine in spring and early summer. You can extend Sage Hills another 20 miles or so via a mix of double-track and single-track trail.
• Stafford Creek, at Cle Elum/North Teanaway Ridge. 12 miles round trip. Intermediate to advanced. 3,288-foot gain.
Why ride it? Scenic/alpine
This beautiful trail winds along Stafford Creek up to Navajo Pass with breathtaking views of the Stuart Range. Leave your bike at the pass and hike up the steep County Line Trail to Navajo Peak for a not-to-be-missed 360-degree view, including Mount Stuart. For an adventure — including significant “hike-a-bike” stretches and challenging route-finding and terrain — you can connect to other trails and drainages including Stand up, Bean, Beverly and Eldorado.
• Mount Constitution trails at Moran State Park, Orcas Island. 30 miles of trails (seasonal). The best trails are open to mountain bikes Sept. 15 through May 15, though some low-elevation trails stay open year-round. Beginner to intermediate. 2,400-foot gain.
Why ride it? Scenic winter riding
Moran State Park has some of the most spectacular mountain-biking trails in Western Washington, offering views from Puget Sound to Mount Baker, plus mossy forest and mountain lakes. Get your exercise with a ride up. Or skip the climbing and car-shuttle to the top for multiple laps on the various trails. A round trip on the wide, rolling Mountain Lake Trail is ideal for kids and beginners.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle

Trail Update: Mammoth Mountain Bike Park Set for Opener

There will be a fair amount of terrain open!10 trails: Uptown, Downtown, Timber Ridge, Lower Juniper, Shotgun, Big Ring, Lower Bullet, Lakes Trail and parts of Upper and Lower Paper Route will be primed, with uphill access via the shuttle from the Village.In the coming weeks additional terrain will open as conditions allow, so it won’t be long until we’re spinning off the top. Up to date trail information is always available on the Mammoth Mountain website.

Mammoth Deal: Ski, Bike, and Golf in One Day

A late spring tradition keeps sportsy sorts on their feet (and skis).

Mammoth Mountain
Do these three things in a day? It’s part of the Mammoth Mountain Memorial Weekend Ski, Bike, and Golf package.

ONE ACTIVE DAY: Triathlons famously have three parts, of course — hello, running, cycling, and swimming — but practically any three sports or healthy pursuits can be grouped together into one cardio-nice, recreation-fun trio. Rollerskating, ballet, baseball? Sure, you can tackle all three in a day. Badminton, gymnastics, curling? No problem there, either, if you’ve got an ice rink nearby. But what of skiing, biking, and golfing? At first glance this threesome looks a bit trickier to master over a single day. After all, if you’re in a place for skiing, how will you roll your cycle over all that snow? Or find your golf ball in a drift? Here’s the twist: Mammoth Mountain, right around Memorial Day, is the place to partake in all three activities, one after the other. The slopes are still open through the May holiday — some April snowshowers definitely helped that — but the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is just opening, too. And golf? That’s on. So call it a perfect slice of timing for those people who love all three sports and want to conquer each between the time the sun rises and sets.
THE UPSHOT: The Ski, Bike, and Golf at Mammoth deal is $99. That nabs you a one-day lift ticket, a one-day pass to Mammoth Mountain Bike Park, and “9 holes of twilight golf at the Sierra Star Golf Course.” Oh yeah, twilight golf sounds pretty dang nice after a day of some strenuous sweat-making. There’s also a slew of lodging discounts happening around the resort over the three-day weekend and other to-dos as well, if you’re looking to only ski or to only bike or just chillax and take in some mountain air before summer kicks in. (Chillaxing is always sweeter in mountain air, it seems like; thank the fir trees and soft sunlight.) For all the holiday deals and that three-in-one-day tri-ski-bike-golf package, schuss this way.

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Hiring picks up at local plants

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/BRYAN KELSEN A machinist at Kurt Manufacturing checks measurements on parts for mountain bike shocks in December. The company, adding a line of hose connectors and parts, is among a growing number of local manufacturers now hiring.
by dennis darrow the pueblo chieftain
Published: May 17, 2014; Last modified: May 17, 2014 04:00AM

With his plant ramping up a new product line, Kurt Manufacturing Operations Manager Jeff Ondraka brought his shopping list to the annual Technical Job Fair on Friday at Pueblo Community College.

He wasn’t alone. More than a dozen local manufacturers ranging from EVRAZ to JM Eagle attended the job fair in search of workers, an indication the “now hiring” signs are starting to shine brighter at companies across the area.
Ondraka came to the fair a bit anxious.
In search of machinists and others to fill 10 immediate openings and up to 30 more in coming weeks, he worries “we’ve got a little gap going” in Pueblo where there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the available manufacturing jobs.
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Mountain bike trail set to be constructed in Owatonna park

OWATONNA — As soon as this weekend, a group of volunteers could be working on constructing the first portion of a single-track mountain bike trail in Kaplan’s Woods Park.
Last week, a trail consultant with TREK Bicycle Corporation came to Owatonna to plot a route through the park after meeting with representatives of the Owatonna Trails Association.
“We were able to get a trail designer for a week to plot out the corridors for a single-track trail in Kaplan’s Woods,” said Scott Duffus, president of the association. “The main process was that he spent a lot of time walking out in the woods and hanging flagging tape.”
TREK’s Dewayne Buratti was tasked with designing the route, which he believes will be a good fit for the park.
“I think it’s a fantastic piece of property. It’s got a great mix of hardwoods, nice understories and beautiful creek running through it. It’s at a good elevation for trail building,” Buratti said. “It’s got easy access off the highway. The city supports it. The bike shop supports it. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity.”
Buratti’s trip to Owatonna to design the trail is part of a pilot program at TREK as service to its vendors. Buratti said he got connected with the Trail Association through Ann Paulson, owner of Straight River Sports and Fitness.
Duffus said the total distance of the trail is about six miles, but the first phase of the project will be to construct a 1.1-mile loop to serve as a trial trail.
“At this point what we’re saying is, ‘We’ve got a route. We’ve got corridors,’” Duffus said. “The first mile-and-a-tenth of trail, our goal is to put that in place by hand and kind of see what that process looks like and see what issues are arising.”
The Trail Association received approval to construct the trail from the Owatonna City Council last August after first approaching the council with the idea about a year ago.
Paulson, who rides single-track trails herself, said she thinks the new single-track trail in Kaplan’s Woods will be a good thing for the Owatonna community.
“I think it’s a fantastic project. I do single-track riding, as does my husband. It is such a high-adrenaline sport that I think people are missing out if they don’t know what it’s all about,” Paulson said. “I think it will attract people, especially kids who don’t necessarily fit into the team aspect of high school sports and want to do something different, because it’s still that high-adrenaline need that so many kids need. Anything we can do to keep people active is a great thing.”
Duffus said the trail could serve as a draw for mountain bikers around southern Minnesota who don’t want to travel to the metro area to find a single-track course.
Preparing the trail for bikes will take a lot of volunteer work to help clear brush and other materials along the route.
“We are hoping to actually start that this weekend,” Duffus said, adding that the trail association will evaluate the trail and possibly start work on other parts of the route in the summer and fall.
Duffus said adding the mountain bike trail would allow Owatonna to be part of the fastest growing segment in biking. He noted that mountain biking isn’t just a sport for young people.
“I think sometimes people think mountain biking is for 22-year-old males. I’m 57, and if you go to places where people are mountain biking, there are plenty of people of all age groups,” Duffus said. “There are families out there. Little kids are doing it. In some ways, it is a safer introduction to bicycling in general because you don’t have cars to deal with.”

Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain

© 2014 Southernminn.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wolf Amongst The Sheep – Story About Your Neighbour’s $20000 Problem With Stolen Bikes

Some names have been changed to protect the innocent and unfortunately not-so-innocent.Last month local police executed a warrant for a home in a middle class neighborhood in Vancouver; they were searching for stolen bikes. The house belonged to a businessman, his wife and children – your average nuclear family. Nothing stood out about the property, a well kept house with a nice car parked in the driveway, that would alert you to any wrongdoing within. Next to his kids’ pedal bikes in the garage hung the owner’s mountain bike, next to that police found roughly $20,000 of suspected stolen bike parts.

  Items seized from the suspects garage while held in the police evidence locker.

The EvidenceIn the months previous to the bust, police had received two separate calls about stolen bikes. One came from the business, Endless Biking, where a smash and grab had left them without their cashbox, computer and one Rocky Mountain Element. The second call came from Tom whose mountain bike had also been stolen. Dedicated to finding his bike, Tom scoured the usual Internet hotspots for used bikes sales and found his components for sale under multiple accounts on Pinkbike.With collaboration between North Vancouver RCMP and Pinkbike, it was found that the multiple usernames, some listing international locations, all traced to one IP address and one location. Using this information police obtained a warrant to search the premises, expecting they would find Tom’s stolen bike parts.
Constable Dave Vunic describes what he saw upon entering the suspect’s garage, “there was a corner with ten or twelve suspension forks, a pile of twenty or more wheels – Chris King hubs, DT Swiss, you name it, it was there. There were Tupperware full of derailleurs and shifters, a closet full of bike frames – which I’m guessing had been stripped down and he hadn’t had a chance to dispose of yet. “But”, he adds, “The first thing that caught my eye was the Rocky Mountain that was taken from Endless Biking because I knew that bike and I knew that it had been stolen.”
The CrimeFrom the evidence collected the police surmised that the suspect was purchasing stolen bikes from petty thieves and drug users, stripping the valuable components from them and disposing of the frames, as they were the only traceable items. He would then organize the derailleurs, brakes, wheels, forks and the likes into labeled bins, piles and racks, before listing and selling the parts through multiple accounts on Pinkbike.com.
The suspect claimed, that not knowing it was stolen, he had purchased the Rocky Mountain Element for $1200 on Craigslist.com. Police have since arrested another man, who was already known to them, for the break-in at Endless Biking. They feel that it is more likely that this suspect paid roughly $300-$400 to the known criminal for it, expecting to make roughly an $1800 profit from the XTR components. This is just one example of what appears to have been a long running bike theft operation.

  The Rocky Mountain Element that was stolen from Endless Biking and found in the accused’s garage.

The Suspect“He looks like a regular guy or business man,” says Constable Vunic, “I would never think of him as a bike thief, I think of a bike thief as a street person who is going through alleys and looking for an opportunity to steal from someone.” The suspected criminal claimed that police had simply stumbled onto his hobby. His defence became that he was an avid biker and as a favourite pastime he purchased used bikes on Craigslist, stripped the valuable components from them and resold them for a profit on Pinkbike. “The accused knows his stuff, he knows all the parts, and he knows that value of an XTR derailleur or any other component. By looking at his collection, he’s probably been doing it for years.”A review of his ‘for sale’ posts on Pinkbike showed that he was careful to undercut similar items by a marginal amount, helping him to sell quickly but not raise suspicion. He never met the purchasers in person, even though they were often from the same city, he used a courier for deliveries.
Police admit that this suspect was not on their radar, however some of the people associated with the stolen goods in his possession are known bike thieves (police believe that based on the volume of high end parts in his possession he had multiple people working for him). The racket that he had going on was kept so low key that it is unlikely that anyone outside of his immediate family had any idea about it.
The OutcomeIs this man a criminal mastermind or a hapless bike enthusiast whose only mistake was maintaining multiple Pinkbike user accounts and disposing of bike frames? We may never know. “It can make sense, he says his hobby was to buy parts and sell them,” says Const. Vunic who is doubtful of suspect’s defence.
A conviction of possession of stolen property over $5000 carries jail time. Crown Counsel must be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to prove a crime and without traceable parts, unfortunately there is was not enough evidence to proceed. And so they chose not to lay charges against the accused. Worse yet, says Const. Vunic, “we had to return all the parts [except for the Rocky Mountain Element], which is horrible”. Unfortunately with thousands of dollars worth of untraceable product it is easy to claim innocence – and ignorance – in the eyes of the law. “He played stupid.”
At the end of the day, even if he is innocent and he is telling the truth, his actions are still keeping bike thieves in business. His only error was listing the parts from one bike at the same time through multiple Pinkbike accounts; even so had it not been for an overzealous bike owner, his operation might have gone unnoticed for many more years. Only mountain bikers buy mountain bike components and he is essentially laundering them so that we are unknowingly purchasing stolen parts. As a self-described mountain biker, he is among us and is one of us. “I have no doubt that when this is posted on Pinkbike he will see it.”

Keith Bontrager: Frame builder, mountain bike pioneer & component designer

Frame builder, mountain bike pioneer, component, wheel and tyre designer, consultant with Trek Bicycle and a hell of a cook, Keith Bontrager has been at the pointy end of the bike industry for over 30 years.
A former motocross racer who also tuned engines, Bontrager started building road frames in the late 1970s. He then made some of the earliest mountain bike frames before he sold his company to Trek in 1995, who also hired him as a parts designer and consultant.
But Bontrager, now an absurdly youthful looking 59-year-old with a range of experience that is unique in the bike industry, actually started out as a physicist, gaining a degree in the subject from the University of Santa Cruz.
“Physics gives you a framework to understand things in more or less fundamental ways, and compared to the sort of b******t explanations that are available to explain why things happen the way they do on a bicycle,” says Bontrager, who has toiled at the interface between theory, practice, engineering, mass production and marketing for almost all of his working life.
“You can look at things, at explanations and say, ‘No, that’s not right.’ You can’t always explain precisely what’s happening but it gives you a solid start point and you can refine it from there. Physics gives you the understanding that enables you to throw out a lot of the lore that has built up around bicycles,” Bontrager added.
“If you have done your homework right, you really do understand, at a reasonable level, what’s happening and why, to a bike or wheel or whatever. Funnily enough, very early on I used to work for Geoff Fox [of Fox shocks] and he had a PhD in theoretical physics and he demonstrated that to me over and over again.”
Breaking conventionBontrager’s background and approach wasn’t always a comfortable fit in the hide-bound bike industry of the early 1980s.
“Back then, if you TIG-welded a road frame people thought you were from the moon and it took the arrival of mountain bikes before you were allowed to do anything different — that’s when the orthodoxies of the day started to crumble,” Bontrager observed.
“I think a lot of theory around road bikes was starting to quiver around that time, but when mountain bike ideas and technology started to be applied, the industry changed and it was like, ‘OK, the old rules are done’. I’d say from that point, road bikes went from making incrementally small changes to far more radical approaches, almost like a do-what-you-want ethos. Mountain bikes injected a big dose of innovation into road bikes.”
There may have been misfires (Beryllium and metal matrix composites) and some developments were based more on fashion than function. But the use of materials like highly manipulated aluminium, and design that originated in mountain biking, fed back into a moribund road bike industry.
“Once it was demonstrated that aluminium and carbon worked in mountain bikes, it just turned into the wild, wild west — which was mostly a good thing,” Bontrager laughed. For a man who made his name initially, by making bombproof, gusseted steel mountain bike frames, Bontrager is remarkably sanguine about the ‘steel is real’ lobby. “For the most part, I’m not that emotional about bicycles and I’m not moved in that way about bikes,” he said.
“I like well-done, crafty old bikes, but I’m not sure I would use the same adjectives about them, in the end I just like seeing nicely-done, well made, handmade things — it can be a table, it can be a bike, whatever. But I also like riding the latest carbon fibre bikes — from a sheer, sensational point of view riding these bikes is unlike anything I’ve ridden in the past, and it’s awesome. “Riding a stiff, 15-pound good handling bike is a really, really beautiful thing, it’s such a joy. If I could have made that out of steel, then I would have, in a second, but I couldn’t, it’s not possible, it’s never going to happen because of the limits of the materials.
Time to refine“Interestingly, we’ve come so far in the space race now with high-end road bikes, there’s such a clear delineation between those bikes and the hand-built steel bikes, that it opens up possibilities for steel bikes that are beautiful in their own way.”
However, is there a sense that the explosion of creativity that was ushered in by the mountain bike revolution is now slowing?
“Oh, the bike industry reached a plateau in terms of major improvements possibly ten years ago,” Bontrager stated. “I think what we are doing now is making small refinements to the ideas we had 10 or 15 years ago and as you refine those, the bikes get better.
“But if you looked at the ‘big picture’ performance of a bike that will be made next year compared to one made five years ago, if you could somehow find a way to measure performance, I think you’d find they were pretty similar.
“It’s inevitable that in the world we live in, with the commercial constraints and realties, that after a steep improvement curve that things will flatten out because of the nature of the materials and technologies. For example, we could maybe lighten a wheelset a little, but it has to be able to cope with different levels of abuse by riders of different weights. We don’t know the weight of the rider who is going to use our wheels, so we have to pull back a bit and be cautious.”

Keith Bontrager racing the three peaks

So what about the future? Could it be cyclo-cross bikes? Yes, according to Bontrager, it could. “OK, we’re not really Belgian enough,” he said, “but if I only had to keep one bike, it would probably be my cyclo-cross bike.
“You can do everything on one — ride off-road trails, tour and, if you put in some road wheels, it rolls just about as fast — though the roadies will never agree!”