I went to the Wayback Machine (web.archive.org) and restored the bikes portion of the old Bontrager web site, back when bontrager.com was selling bikes and bike frames, and not just parts.
Check it out here!
Back in 1997, I had a good job, a lust for bikes, and a strong relationship with a shop that sold Bontragers (Ted's Bicycles, 3016 N. Hancock Ave., Colorado Springs, CO). Now, I've had bike lust in years past, and I've had jobs, but in '97, for whatever reason, I had carte blanche to buy my dream bike. I was looking for something special to replace my aging '92 StumpJumper.
In the Spring of '97, the Trek-built Privateers had started hitting the streets. My shop had several. They also had plenty of experience with ordering and building Race and Race Lite bare frames, but none in stock. As they pointed out, the Privateers were exactly like the hand-built Race and Race Lite, except for the fact that they were built in a Trek factory. They let me take a Privateer Comp home overnight to see if it fit, and if I liked it.
I liked it.
About that time, the announcement was made that Bontrager would stop building production bikes in Santa Cruz. The last of the hand-made True Temper Chromoly Race, Race Lite, Road Lite, and CX (cyclocross) bikes were the ones in inventory. I ordered an orange one.
If you notice in the pictures on this page, there are no decals on my Race. The bike came, later than it was supposed to come, in a box all by itself. No decals. After it was built up, it looked pretty cool, I thought. The shop guys told me they'd ask Bontrager to send the decal set, but I told them not to bother. Now I wish I hadn't done that. Even if I hadn't put the decals on, it would be nice to have them. Oh well, 20/20 hindsight.
What is it about these bikes that's special? They are steel hardtails (though there was a Sandvik-built Ti version). True Temper 4130 tubing was used in all the steel ones, including the ones built in Wisconsin by Trek (the Privateer). They had very steep seat tubes, at 74 degrees. Most hardtail mountain bikes have 72-73 degree seat tubes. The headtube angle was 71 degrees, which is pretty much normal. Spec'd bikes came with forks that had a 1.25" rake, rather than the more standard 1.667" rake. All but the very last Privateers (manufactured in 1999) had 1" steerers.
They have very tastey singletrack handling, they're light and nimble, and yet not too terribly unstable through loose and uneven terrain even at speed. And even though they are light, their durability is legendary.
I captured and reproducted this page, which used to be on www.bontrager.com, back when they built and sold bikes, and not just wheels, handlebars, and various other parts.
There's quite a bit of controversy about what happened to cause the end of Bontrager building bikes by hand. I've captured a couple links to Google Groups, which show archived usenet discussions that were happening at the time. This thread has Keith contributing something to the story as he saw it. Here's one that was started by somebody who was trying to sell a Privateer, in which several contributers supply information about what the Privateer was, including Keith Bontrager.