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A Bike Junkie's Revelation: Chasing the Dragon

by Anthony Little |

My name is Nate, and I'm a bike junkie.

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I'm really just a junkie. Whenever I become passionate about something, I want to do it all, to try it all, and to sample the best, endlessly chasing the dragon of novel perfection. It's probably why I fit in at Above Category. It's why, whenever I get a bike, I'm always thinking "That's cool. What's next?"

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Spoiled? Admittedly. I've spent time racing professionally, as well as the better part of a decade working for some well-respected cycling industry entities, which has given me the opportunity to not only ride a lot of exquisite bikes, but ride a lot of bikes a lot (I'd argue more than some magazine test editors). And with reckless abandon. If you're reading between the lines, it means I'm kind of hard on stuff, partly because I ride a lot, partly because I'm a terrible bike mechanic, and mostly because I ride a lot relatively hard, not particularly slowly. It also means, that coupled with the above, I have a pretty good idea of what makes a good road bike. There's a LOT of good bikes. In fact, walk (or click) into any cycling retailer in the world, and there's a very, very good chance there's a good bike there. It's a lot like pizza. In food paradise (read: Northern California), where AC is lucky to be located, there's a lot of really good pizza. So much that I can throw a rock with my paltry cyclist arms from our front door in Marin County and hit one of three spots with excellent pizza. But, when it comes to mind-blowing, rock-my-world, tangibly superior, once-in-my-lifetime pizza, there's a special spot in San Francisco, a solid 30-minute drive from home. It's worth it, because it's the bar I'll forever hold pizza to. Pizza I'll remember as I take my last breath, as my life flashes before my eyes.

That's how my new Corretto is. Exactly. Except instead of being a half-hour drive away, it's in my garage. Every. Day. It's easily the best road bike I've ridden - or owned. A bold statement, especially from a blowhard like myself. It's the only bike I've had that I actively worry about. Ask anyone I'm close to - I rarely get attached to physical objects.

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Why? It's the most fun I've had on two wheels. The recipe is one - that with Baum's help - we didn't hold back on. I wanted the bike I didn't ever want to unload. We started with the frame. I've spent a lot of time on Chad's Baums, as well as our own eTap launch bike. It gave me a good baseline to reference for Baum to build a frame. I chatted with Ryan Moody, Baum's trained physiologist, fit/geometry guru about my riding style, and what I really love in a bike. What popped out, in the end, was a frame that drives exactly how I wanted. It oversteers like a Porsche 930. It's a bit manic in its steering speed. It puts a shit-eating grin on my face from the word go, a bike that makes me cackle with glee when the road points downhill with a hint of a curve. But, it's also stable, balanced, stiff, and climbs with an almost jumpy light carbon or steel-esque feel, a rare thing for a Ti bike. Baum's fully custom tube butting (for each rider) really shines here, where they can really tune how the bike responds to pedaling input. I mentioned that I thought my bike was a bit stiffer than the eTap launch steed, and Ryan informed me that it was because the seat and chainstays on my bike were butted with .1mm more material than it. Incredible that a seemingly minute, minor change made a tangible difference!

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Of course, what's a Baum without the trademark paint? Paint they put an incredibly painstaking amount of time and care into. Ryan told me that, in their experience, it's the hardest part of the decision-making process for most people when they decide on a Baum. It was no different for me. I vacillated between more than a few schemes in my head. I wanted something unique, something I hadn't seen on a Baum before. Something loud, but classy. Eventually, like so many bikes we've done before, an auto racing livery called to me. The Formula 1 Gold Leaf livery of the Lotus 49 from the late 60s-early 70s called my name. A deep crimson paired with Ferrari red, gold, white, and black. Perfection. Ironically, I didn't realize that my subconscious was hard at work, recalling my childhood love of Steve Young's San Francisco 49ers. And my youthful obsession with World War I aviation, and the blood-red Fokker Dr.I triplane of the infamous German ace, Manfred von Richtofen - better known by his nom de plume of the Red Baron. Like my Corretto, Richtofen's triplane was notorious for razor-sharp handling, a penchant for biting the inexperienced pilot, and crimson aesthetics. Polishing off the finish on the seattube is a beehive homage to the land of my upbringing - Utah.

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Originally, I'd planned on spec'ing the bike with Campagnolo EPS. I'm a malleable purist, and I'm an ex-racer. That means three things: One, I didn't care how serviceable something was by neutral support. Two, I'd never been given a Campagnolo group on a race bike - we always want what we can't have, right? And three, I wanted electronic for its worry-free maintenance. Unfortunately, I found myself having to reconcile being smitten by SRAM's wireless eTap group when we received a prototype group in December. After a few rides, it was confirmed - the aesthetics, functionality, ergonomics, and quality were all inline with my own tastes, and I spurned Vicenza for Chicago. But, it wasn't without our own spin on things. First, CeramicSpeed bearings throughout - from the derailleur pulleys to the bottom bracket and hubs.

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Next, an SRM SRAM powermeter at the crank for the gold standard in power measurement with a somewhat unconventional 53/38 chainring setup for a few more RPMs on our local hills, and the matching PC8 computer. eeCycleworks brakes round out the drivetrain bits - I'm a sucker for the hypermechanical Erector set-look of the stoppers, they weigh close to nothing, and I find the feel more agreeable than their SRAM counterparts. For wheels, we did a custom tubular (because Above Category) setup. Zipp 303 hoops, red nipples, Aerolite spokes, and DT's indestructible 240 hubset, debadged and stuffed with CeramicSpeed coated bearings for smooth rolling until the apocalypse rolls around. The last pair of Vittoria Corsa Pavé 25mm tires in the house are glued up, an ode to a simpler time when Vittoria had no less than five confusing varieties of race tire available. A Baum paint-matched ENVE cockpit rounded out the build, with the one-piece hyperlight fi'zi:k Arione 00 saddle slipping into the rails. My favorite finishing touch is Spurcycle's incomparable bell. It's loud enough to blast through the most stout of jogger-wearing noise-canceling headphones, and it's a necessary weapon for doing weekend battle on the bikepath in Marin.

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In the end, my expectations were more than met. I knew Baum would build a good bike, but ever the skeptic, I certainly wasn't prepared for it to be the finest bike I'd ever ridden.

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