Santa Cruz, California, resident Keith Bontrager is a former motorcycle racer who’s never given up on his quest to experience the next great bicycle ride, be it on the dirt or on the pavement, something he splits evenly in his adopted town on the Pacific Ocean.
A tinkerer from birth, Bontrager doesn’t always follow the rules, but millions of cyclists have benefited from his obstinacy. As the 58-year-old puts it, “Optimism and engineering are a really bad combination.”
1. Too practical and handy to shell out hundreds of dollars for a store-bought road racing frameset in the late 1970s, Bontrager builds his own in his garage, launching a business. He had already built a lawnmower-powered mini-bike from scratch—when he was 12.
2. With a strong aversion for waste and an insatiable hunger to improve mountain-bike rims, Bontrager dumpster dives at Specialized in the early 1980s to create the first lightweight aluminum rims, setting a precedent for less rotating-weight years ahead of the big corporations.
3. Possessing an analytical mind with a penchant for engineering—but not possessing a physics degree—Bontrager brings his Wright Brothers-esque product-development approach to assist Paul Turner create the RockShox suspension fork in the late 1980s. He did the same with Kestrel, designing their first full-suspension carbon mountain bike in 1988.
4. In 1995, with a cult following for its strong and lightweight product mix, Bontrager escapes the strain of financial upstream-swimming and is purchased by behemoth Trek Bicycle Corp., a conservative Midwest company seeking California cool to complement its recent acquisition of the King of Cool himself, Gary Fisher. It would prove to be a match made in heaven.
5. A Day in the Life: “Wake up, yell at the cats, drink very strong coffee, feed the livestock, water the garden, eat something, do email, fiddle with bikes, go for a ride or run in the hills, check email, harvest, cook and eat dinner (with a beer), yell at the cats, go to bed. It’s a pretty basic life.” Yeah, and all the while, 1.5 million Trek bikes are sold annually, shod with Bontrager components stem to stern.