It was the photograph that grabbed me. A young, bohemian Bontrager standing in front of an impossibly tiny garage overflowing with bikes, wheels and parts. Truly humble beginnings for the man whose parts grace some of the best bicycles in the world. The short video gave me a fascinating glimpse of the man, and his uncompromising engineering philosophy. I guess I liked him right away.
My shallow, admittedly euro-slanted attitude towards the brand was dramatically changed listening to him speak. I'm probably very late to the party on this one.
this story from my friend Brendan was better than the original post
I was a frequent spectator at the Friday Night Breaking Away track races at Hellyer Park in San Jose between 1983-1990. I was looking for a road bike in 1984 and at the time the usual store brands all had 80% of what I wanted and needed in a bike. I came so close to just settling on the closest fit.
During one of the Madison Races I noticed a rider on a Bontrager. In the brief 30 seconds while the rider (on a 63cm rasta painted trackie) was up on the fence he muttered something like..."Keith Bontrager, Santa Cruz, best bike ever" and then dropped back in.
I called Keith and we chatted about how tough it is to find a quality 63cm road bike in a shop and that he could certainly help me. I went to see him at his "factory" on Morrissey Blvd. one Saturday and I ordered a bike. I put ~30,000 miles on that bike over 15 years of USCF road races, centuries, solo 150 mile rides, etc. I broke a chain stay, it was painted white with black tiger stripes, the bike cost me $1800 in 1984 and I had a $200 car at the time. Each and every time that I met with Keith he patiently educated me about custom bikes, welding, painting, etc. He never rushed me...he let me pay as little as $50 a visit at my pace.
I set out to replace that bike in 2003 and I called Keith. He remembered me (is that a good thing? hmm) and said that he was no longer able to make and sell custom bikes but that he admired another builder. I contacted that builder http://www.soulcraftbikes.com/ and ordered another steel road bike with the original Bontrager fit details that I had kept on file for 19 yrs. After five years of tweaks and mods that Soulcraft also rides like a dream but certainly isn't ridden enough. I bring up the second bike builder because they accepted Keith's dimensions and design on the spot. The respect that they have for Keith was obvious to me. Imagine walking up to a painter and asking them to duplicate another artists work...your are my second choice...don't screw it up. The team at Soulcraft make great bikes but they never flinched when I asked them to make another Bontrager. That type of influence over a peer is rare.
Update: Bikeradar's Marcus Farley interviews Bontrager