Keith Bontrager is a busy man these days. His test monkey regimen has him spending more time in the saddle than ever before, and despite all the attention paid to the Bontrager bits adorning the road machines of the Discovery Channel team at the Tour de France the past several years, Bontrager is happiest on the trails and in the dirt. After all, Bontrager was a motocross racer, wrench and designer before he started tinkering with bikes, and his Santa Cruz, California stomping grounds are rich with some of the most furtile trails to inspire the mind and body.
Bontrager spent a few days in Sun Valley, enjoying the trails with key Trek dealers and media in late June. Bontrager product manager Bill Miller shed some light on some of the 2008 Bontrager products hitting store shelves this summer and fall.
Keith Bontrager and Gary Fisher share passion for the dirt, and their collaborations via Trek have been most fruitful. The northern California residents seem to be hitting their stride for 2008.
A few decades ago, Bontrager was dumpster diving for aluminum bicycle rims to feed his hunger for lighter and stronger mountain bike performance. These days, Bontrager focuses his attention on developing new platforms and staying ahead of the trends (or in this case, working in tandem with trend setters like Gary Fisher). The Bontrager Rhythm wheel series reflects this.
Lightweight cross country bits flooded the market in the early 1990s, while the new century ushered in the freerider's hunger for bigger drops and more extreme terrain. As the all-mountain category grows, a component hybrid of the two disciplines prompted Bontrager to develop its Rhythm wheelset series, based on a wider rim for large volume tires that also ackowledges the tubeless and 29er movements raging through the industry. According to Miller, the 28mm rim, with its wider hookbead dimension, allows the casing of the tire to "open" slightly, which gives the tire tread rubber better support from the structural tire casing.
As Miller also pointed out during our pre-ride technical discussion in Sun Valley, Bontrager's Rhythm Race X Lite 29 was the first tubeless 29er wheel system to market this past April. All Rhythm wheelsets will be available this fall, including the Rhythm Elite ($499US - 1,836g/pair) with Bontrager-designed, DT Onyx-based sealed bearing hubs; the Rhythm Elite 29 ($539US - 1,956g/pair); the Rhythm Comp ($349US - 1,856g/pair) and Rhythm Comp 29 ($349US - 1,976g/pair).
Stock wheelsets on most of the 2008 Trek and Fisher models tested in Sun Valley included the Bontrager Race X Lite Disc with Bontrager Jones XR tires (Trek Fuel EX 9.5, Trek 69er singlespeed, Fisher HiFi Carbon Pro, Fisher Superfly); Bontrager Race X Disc (Trek Fuel EX 9, Fisher HiFi Carbon); and Bontrager Race Disc (Trek 69er Top Fuel). The Fisher HiFi Pro 29 (my ride of choice on the last day of riding) comes stock with the Bontrager Rhythm Elite 29 wheelset. There are now four Bontrager Tubeless Ready tires: Jones XR, Jones ACX, Dry X and Mud X. For more, visit the website.
All the best research, 3-D imaging, instant messaging, and VOIP will never replace face and saddle time for developing mountain bikes and components. This brain trust includes (left to right) Jose Gonzalez, Trek's suspension manager; Gary Fisher; Michael Browne, Trek's MTB brand manager; Keith Bontrager; and Travis Brown, Trek's racer and test monkey.