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The Baum Supremacy

by Anthony Little |

Darren Baum is intense. His style of conversation is laborious, yet fervent. It retains the cadence of a firebrand preacher bridled by technical ingenuity, calculated passion dosed in a gruff, measured rhythm. It's a perfect match for the magnum opus he's foisted on the world of cycling, the eponymous Baum Cycles. His bikes are born of a youth spent competing, a racing career cut short after getting hit by a car in training, and what Darren refers to as his own selfish desire to solve his own biomechanical problems after the accident at age 17. The resulting sheer, unhinged concentration on performance and efficiency; along with a heavy bent toward the bespoke, individualized aspect of his team's creations is what makes them one-of-a-kind productions. Unique, yet standardized fabrication in an industry typically revolving around bikes with the exact same manufacturing specifications many thousands of units deep. In a phrase, Baum Cycles is the epitome of performance personalization in a mass-produced world. We firmly believe that they are the finest roading racing bicycles in the world. Period. It was that belief that led us to visit their factory and headquarters in the industrial Australian burg of Geelong to find out why, exactly, Baum's metallic progeny have left us smitten with every ride.

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Geelong is an unassuming place, in history and memory. Its economic story is one familiar to many denizens of America's Rust Belt - places like Cleveland, Ohio. Gary, Indiana. Detroit, Michigan. Scranton, Pennsylvania. There's an exception, however.  The timeline in the town on the shores of Port Phillip is more present, its own slow bleed of manufacturing, talent, and money occurring now instead of twenty years prior. Shuttered and slumping oil refineries, aluminum mills, auto manufacturers, and a vast textile industry dominate the northern skyline of the city of a quarter-million. It is a Southern Hemisphere anachronism. And, in a beautiful twist of fate, the most coveted bicycles in the world are built in the shadow of its hulking, derelict silos and smokestacks.

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Baum's titanium (and steel) frames are not only the most desired by the layperson and by the hobbyist, but they are the most coveted by the true pioneers of the limit of the sport - the professionals. These are the bikes most race teams wish they had. Bicycle racing, even at the highest levels, is a very different animal than it was twenty years ago. Now, mass-produced carbon is the norm, and far gone are the days of teams riding rebranded custom framesets built by legends like Dario Pegoretti, Ben Serrotta, and [infopopup tag=slawta].  Stock [infopopup tag=geometry]. Stock [infopopup tag=layup]. Branding is increasingly the only major difference from bike to bike, the pro peloton riding a homogenous glob of fiber, resin and monocoque. All in the name of marketing and advertising the most viable product our industry can produce, we've forsaken the very pinnacle of what a bicycle can - and should - be.

Carbon is a wonderful material to produce bikes en masse. It lends itself well to large-scale production, with thousands of bikes popped out of the same molds, laid up to the exact same specifications. With scale, it tends to be a more cost-effective solution to building performance bikes than its ferrous alternatives. Carbon bikes can also be engineered to extreme stiffness, aerodynamics,and weight. Many of its detractors make the same arguments - they prefer the springy ride of steel, the more muted feedback of titanium, the round-tubed aesthetic strikes a chord, they want to buy something assembled by an "artisan", or they're lusting after custom paint/geometry.

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Baum goes deeper than generic arguments, eschewing some rather basal standards established by the industry's giants whose business lies primarly in carbon, and the one-man-band framebuilders who so often are guided only by the principle of "so-and-so told me to do it this way". That depth lies in the material engineering Baum puts into every frame that leaves their factory in Geelong. Each and every tube in a Corretto titanium road frame is custom butted for the rider it's built for, instead of purchased as a stock tube from the tubing manufacturer. Butting is the bicycle manufacturing technique of removing material from a tube to both shave weight and tune the ride characteristics of the tube. Few, if any other custom builders go to this painstaking length in the name of performance. This gives Baum the ultimate control in creating a bike with ride characteristics centered around the individual rider instead of the average of the individual rider. The bike for the individual, for their riding style, locale, size, experience, and aspirations. If riders are Golidlocks and bicycles are porridge, the Baum Corretto is almost always "Just Right". This level of personalization gives the frame the adequate stiffness for the individual rider without sacrificing compliance and comfort, a feat unachievable by a production carbon frameset. From a weight perspective, a typical Corretto is quite competitive, a scant 1000-1250g (depending on size), with paint. For comparison's sake, a 54cm Dogma F8 frame tips the scales at around 1000g.

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Material aside, Mr. Baum's experience with physiology, fit, and bike design from an extremely early age has lent unique geometry to each of his bikes. Extensive collaboration with professionals like Cadel Evans, his severe crash in his youth, the resulting pursuit of perfection when it came to biomechanics, and over two decades of building frames has given him a deep understanding of what makes a racing bike drive well. Most production - and many custom - road bikes are designed around traditional criterium geometry, owing in large part to American brands arriving first in Asia for carbon frame production. The sea change in the industry is evident, resulting in bikes with high bottom brackets for pedaling clearance in corners, short chainstays for rapid acceleration, and geometry characteristics designed to make the bike hold speed in a straight line without deviation. For a crit racer, they're perfect. For the average cyclist, or even the racer who isn't into putting their hearts on the line at Wednesday Night Worlds, it results in a bike that's less than optimal for everyday riding, training, and even road racing. The majority of production road bikes, in comparison to a Baum, feel more on than in, oft-twitchy, sometimes unstable, and nervous at high speeds. Baum geometry, on the other hand, is always very distinctly Baum. Low bottom brackets, longer chainstays, and steering feel based on rider input all contributes to a frame that can be a complete revelation for riders used to twitchy, tall bikes built for sprinting. The comparison when riding those bikes back to back can be stark. A Baum can be built like a big, safe GT car, perhaps a Porsche Panamera, swooping through turns with luxurious ease, or it can be sharpened to a razor's edge, perhaps more the contemporary of a 911 Turbo from the early 80s, willing to bite with the slightest wrong nudge, but incredibly rewarding when ridden on the limit.

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Equally as contrasting to other manufacturers is Baum's paint and finish work. The attention to detail on every frame is exacting, a lesson in dotting every I and crossing every T, even in cases where the end user will never see the fruits of the labor. The interior of every tube, a place no typical cyclist will ever see, is spotless. There is nothing extra, no overspray, no globs of adhesive or flux, no evidence on or in the frame to display carelessness or laze. Welds are nothing short of perfect. The paint work is unmatched in the cycling world, the result of a collaboration with paint industry giant PPG in building the in-house Baum paint facility. Each frame receives approximately 20-30 hours of painstakingly detailed paint/masking work, and the effort speaks for itself with no decals on a Baum, only brilliant, lustrous paint . It is without peer on a bicycle, both from an aesthetic and durability perspective. Our house Ristretto (Baum's steel race bike) has endured five years of abuse. It's been ridden hard, put away wet, crashed at high speed, subjected to long days under a Californian sun, and the paint remains nearly as stunning as the day it walked off the plane from Down Under. A Baum truly is a bicycle made to last a lifetime, as well as transcend style for decades to come. Inspired by the great liveries of auto racing (see our Martini Corretto and John Player Special Corretto for quintessential examples), the overwhelmingly popular Baum GT paint schemes are known for their modern aesthetic and lasting presence. The schemes flow onto both the painted stem and seatpost, included with every Baum. While paint with Baum is not a full-custom process because of their production process and brand aesthetic guidelines, a great deal of personalization is involved to make the frame an individual expression for the rider it belongs to.

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Baum Cycles is crazy. Fanatical. Brilliant. Sometimes militant. But radicals push the limits of our mindset, of our standards. They move us forward, cause us to think beyond the boundaries we're spoon-fed. It's in these circumstances that the biggest rewards can come, especially when the radicalism is a result of decades of careful research, testing, and thinking insulated thousands of miles away in a country roughly the size of the continental United States, but with the population of Florida. We're beyond honored to offer Baum's world beating titanium and steel bicycles as their exclusive partner in the Western Hemisphere from the Above Category headquarters at the foot of the Golden Gate. Please, reach out if you have any questions about why we think Baum is the standard we measure all others to, or if you'd like to learn more.

Curious? Email us at sales@abovecategorycycling.com, or call at 415.339.9250. We're happy to share our knowledge and experience.

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