Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thanks, but no thanks.

In an earlier post I wrote about the 'Nontragers' I built after getting the dregs of the Bontrager shop after Trek shut down the Santa Cruz operation. This story is not over and I, for one have been ready for it to be over . This post will hopefully drive a stake through the rotting corpse of an era of my life. For those of you waiting for a real rant, here it comes-'be careful what you wish for ' was never more true than now.

When I was building frames out of Bontrager leftovers it was mainly to use stuff that would have been destined for the scrap heap and also provide some industry folks with really cheap handbuilt steel frames. The word go out and all sorts of requests came in , all the while I'm supposedly building Rock Lobsters at twice the price.It was an odd  time- filling orders for both frames and for awhile thinking that it was a pretty good thing....that was until I started getting low on the easy to work with materials in the Bontrager heap and had to dig through the boxes to find the tubes that weren't too bent, rusted , had holes drilled off center or cut too short. At this point I felt that the time I was spending looking through this pile of old , rusty metal was a total time toilet-especially in view of how little I was charging for these 'Nontrager' frames.

I started getting odd requests: " Hey, could you make a Nontrager disc-brake MTB for a 120 mm shock with Breezer dropouts?" -Of course not....Bontragers came with proprietary dropouts and never were made for 120 mm shocks or disc brakes. I got request for all sorts of Bastard-trager monstrosities , none of which I agreed to build. Funny though- none of the folks wanting these oddball frames were asking me to build a Rock Lobster, the bike that I normally build and could have easily made to their specifications.

After building over 100 of the Nontrager frames I got the idea that a lot of the folks buying them were not willing to pay for what I normally built. Naturally, I started to get a bit tired fulfilling these Bontrager devotees wishes and decided to make a clean break from the rusty scrap heap and get back to what I really had been devoted to all bikes.I gave away the remaining tubes to another builder , keeping only a small stash for myself.

Fast forward to this week: I got a request to repair a Bontrager CX  frame with a cracked chainstay. I agreed to fix it and started to look through my last remaining few tubes from the original stash. What I found was a small pile of totally rusty garbage, not suited for building or repairing anything. I luckily had a chanstay from the stash in another tube shelf in my shop that was exactly what I needed and fixed the frame. The customer was really happy and seemed to be a super good guy. Even though I had done a decent job, saved the frame and made somebody happy, I still felt a bit worn down....then it came-an email with a similar request about a Bontrager frame with a cracked stay. I emailed the person back and said I would look though my tubing to see if I had the tube to complete the repair. I got an email reply asking if I had enough tubes to make a complete frame......not one of mine but another Bontrager. I said no and  wrote sarcastically that I had been known to build frames under another brand name-Rock Lobster.

This gets to my point. I am really tired of people asking me to build Bontragers, Nontragers.....any tragers. I'll admit-Keith is definitely a legend in the bike world and for better or worse, I am not. What I am is someone who has devoted a really big part of my life trying to constantly improve my bikes....Rock Lobsters-have you heard of them ? Yes......I'm pissed, and why shouldn't I be ? Imagine people emailing Keith Bontrager asking him to build Rock Lobsters ? Or calling up Bruce Gordon and asking him to build a Vanilla ? Or emailing Colnago asking them to make a frigging Bob Jackson ? I know that the requests I got for Nontragers have come from good meaning folks for the most part.....real fans of bikes they can no longer get from the original source. It's the reason wax museums exist-also why some people insist that Jim Morrison is still alive and that Elvis is hiding somewhere drinking a milkshake , alive and well.

My advice to well meaning folks looking for their Bontrager fix : Craigslist......ebay......yard sales....flea markets.......just not me !  Want a Rock Lobster ? -I can help you there, just as I have been doing since 1978.


  1. Put that whole pile of rustcicles for sale on fleabay and see what it's worth - maybe it's time for a new builder to take that torch, or maybe it would all build a swell grape arbor!
    - Garro.

  2. I know (sort of) how you feel. I get plenty of requests to basically build copies of other people's bikes. Mostly Speedvagens, but occasionally stuff like Wolfhounds, Retrotecs and even a Coconino or Vulture. Probably because I'm a new builder and since I don't have a name yet they figure they can get it cheaper and sooner than the real thing. Piss on 'em! Rock Lobsters are cool as hell, and that's what you build.

  3. Paul,

    You've made the right decision. But that picture makes me feel strange... lot's of memories rusting away right there.

  4. Word on the street is that Tommy Clark still has a huge pile of non-rusting stuff from the old factory....I have not seen it with my own eyes, though.....

  5. Huh, maybe I'll have to give Tommy a call. I spoke with him a few years ago, but never thought to ask about old Bontrager memorabilia. Do you have any contact info for him?

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