10 February 2013

Bontrager Race Lite: Reminiscing About Heidi After A Blizzard

Well, the blizzard wasn't quite as bad here as it was on Long Island, or in Connecticut or Massachusetts.  Still, we had around 10 inches (25 cm) of snow in my neighborhood.

The ephemerally alabaster landscape surrounding me got me to thinking about Heidi.

I'm not referring to  Johanna Spyri's novel or the movies made from it.  I'm also not reminiscing about an Alpine romance from my youth.

Rather, I am going to talk about this Heidi:

That is what I named her.  She was one of the first of my bikes I named.  And, being a true mountain bike, the name fit her.

She was built around a Bontrager Race Lite frame. Before Trek bought him out, Keith Bontrager was building Race Lites in California from a combination of butted chrome-moly tubings.

The way he built those frames was all but unique: Instead of brazing frame tubes into lugs or fillets, he TIG-welded them with gussets.  While not as elegant as lugged or fillet-brazed frames, they were about as strong as any joints could be with thin chrome-moly steel tubing.  

That construction, and the frame's geometry, made for what might have been the sweetest ride anyone ever achieved on a hardtail steel mountain bike.  I never knew that a mountain bike could be so responsive until I mounted the Race Lite.  It had that resilient, even smooth, ride associated with some of the best steel road frames.

Keith Bontrager was a Physics major in college, and he said he never took aesthetics into consideration when designing or building his bikes or components.  Still, I always felt that Heidi was attractive, in a very rugged sort of way.  As much as I love purple and green, I liked her look even better after this makeover:

When I changed the fork, I changed the decals (Bontrager made replacements readily available) as well as some of the accessories.  The bike's original build, which you see in the first photo, consisted of parts that came off Heidi's predecessor:  a Jamis Dakota I upgraded as I wore out the original parts.

Mind you, I liked the Dakota and rode the heck out of it.  I might not have bought another mountain bike had I not gotten such a good deal on the Race Lite frame.  I gave the Dakota frame to someone who, I think, sold it for a "fix".

Anyway, I rode Heidi for five years.  Then, I drifted away from off-road riding and (reluctantly) sold her to someone out west who promised to ride her in the hills, where she belonged.  I simply could not bear the thought of turning her into a "beater" or utility bike.