An Afternoon in Santa Cruz with Keith Bontrager

Last summer, after Keith Bontrager spoke at Mission Workshop, I got to spend a few hours with him back in his home town of Santa Cruz, California. The intention was pretty simple, gather some ‘lifestyle’ photos for Trek and Bontrager to use in ads, magazines and their photo annual book.

Getting an opportunity to take part in a photoshoot like this was as intimidating as it was exhilarating. When I was really into mountain biking in college, I used to covet the hell out of a Bontrager frame. I think we all did at some point. So seeing Keith’s house, his work shed and his favorite sunset bike ride, was something special for me. Ok, I was geeking the fuck out!

Entering the ‘man shed’ of Keith had my eyes scanning the surfaces, looking for clues and signs of the many years he’s spent developing products for Bontrager. In a corner, the first machine he used to roll rims on, on the ceiling, hung a few early prototypes.

Everywhere you looked, there were fragments of road and MTB history. Keith gave me a quick tour, before heading out the door to catch the sunset at Wilder Ranch, one of his favorite dusk trail spots.

These photos are out-takes and doubles of what appeared in various publications last year, so enjoy. Also, there will be more to come…

Tools of the trade:
Mamiya 7ii / 80mm / Porta 400
Leica M7 / 28mm / Neopan 400

  • Tom

    Love the photo with the Bontrager hard tail with the wishbone seat stays. Those looked like great bikes. Is Keith still building frames for himself ?

    • John Watson

      Not right now, he spends his free time making beer, drinking wine, gardening and tinkering with new wheel design.

      • Chris Valente

        Now that sounds like the life. Well deserved after all these years. Beautiful photos man…

  • Nicholas Schaub

    Wilder ranch? That coastal trail is mind blowing around sunset

    • John Watson


  • Namkrad

    Wow, nice pics! I´ve got myself a rasta Privateer Comp and a red Race Lite.
    Never got myself a Road Lite so I´ll have to get a Mr Pink next year.
    The frames ride great after all these years and I really adore Keith´s work. Torture mill style ;)
    I´m looking forward to more pics of this genius!

  • boomforeal

    does that road bike have the rear brake mounted (shudder) under the chainstays?

    • John Watson

      A lot of modern “aero” road bikes do that.

  • Ethan

    Love the story and the pics. Youre website has inspired me to build some old bikes and buy a dslr. Love your work John.

  • Ulrich Crandall

    Hey John.
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos (as always). Really great to see one of the real REAL guys! One of the guys that most younger cyclists have no clue even exists, but who truly made a huge difference to the products and sport (and still does). I too adored the bikes back in the nineties, but they were quite rare in Denmark. Also lovely shots from Wilder Ranch. I’ve actually had the pleasure of riding there a couple of times.
    Keep up the good work on your blog!
    Ulrich Crandall

  • Peter Hanchak

    That garden spider!!! ☺ ✌ ✩