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The Effortless Zenith of Custom Bicycles: The Above Category x Baum Cycles Process

by Anthony Little |

This is the second in a two-part series on Above Category's unique relationship with Australia's Baum Cycles. Find out why we believe that Baum builds the best performance bicycles in the world here.

The quest for perfection is unrelenting. For those in the know, it's equal parts pleasure and pain. It's why we seek out the best, and it's the closest to what we found in Baum Cycles in Geelong, Australia, manufacturers of the finest performance bicycles in the world. Next to our passion for the best is sharing the best, but when the quest for perfection narrows, aspects of the top of the sport become intimidating for even the seasoned professional. Enter Above Category, working in tandem with Baum, two obsessive entities digging deep to bring the absolute best to discerning cyclists from around the word. Not only bringing it, but bringing it in an approachable, accessible, and attainable manner. Custom bicycles are oft-lusted after, rarely indulged in. I fondly remember the frigid January Utah day when my first bike as a professional cyclist arrived - a Pinarello Dogma 2. A great bike, no question, but even as a sponsored racer, I still couldn't fathom acquiring one as my only bike over a custom work of art. It's only now, five years later, that I realize the barrier to custom is not necessarily financial. It can be expertise - or a lack thereof, and the accompanying tinges of reproach, that is the real obstacle.

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Baum Cycles if oft-regarded as the world's premier custom builder, but the truth of the matter is that their works are the true technical pinnacle for an individual bicycle frame. Beyond the obvious hyperbole and warm-fuzzy platitudes surrounding "handbuilt" frames originating in places that are rapidly bereft of industrial power, Baum Cycles produces bikes that of their very being and of their methodology are objects of envy not only for consumers and professionals, but of other manufacturers. Their process is one a model that many look to - even those outside of the bicycle industry.  It is one that enamors captains of industry large and small, one evoking envy in even the biggest of manufacturing floor managers.

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The intrinsic partnership between Above Category and Baum Cycles allows for leveraging that precision, that industrial prowess, to produce the most individualized superbikes - from a performance perspective - for every single rider that builds one through us. Few other technical pursuits allow such a degree of personalization with such a low barrier of entry - try swinging something of this level with Maranello via the local Ferrari dealer. And the beauty of the process is that one doesn't need to be a materials engineer, former professional cyclist, physiologist, or obsessive enthusiast to attain one. In fact, the process is such that even the most novice - but passionate - rider can attain one.

How does it work? Simply. You won't even know you're being interviewed about your "forever" bike. We talk with you about...you. Why you ride. Where you ride. Where you've ridden, where you want to ride. Your riding style - do you mash like Big Mig, dance on the pedals like Il Pirata, or spin up hills like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? What was your favorite bike, and why? Least? Past cycling-related injuries? Dream travel destination? Favorite color? Favorite car? We want to get to know you, which in turn empowers us to build the best bike for you, long before we attack things like fit and finish. Next, if you're visiting us in person, we'll engage in a fairly brief fit session in the studio (and possibly try to cajole you out for a ride on our spectacular local roads), or if not, refer you to a fitter convenient to you to ensure your position.  Yes, when you order a Baum through AC, a gamut is run, because at the end of the day, we aren't going to bother you with details like head tube lengths, seat tube angles, and tube butting profiles. We leave that to the engineers in Australia, who take your data, your input, and create a vision of the finest racing bicycle possible for you (even replicating your position on their own fitbike several thousand miles away). One that will be designed to enhance all of the positive aspects of your riding style, while compensating for those that aren't.

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"But the paint!" Yes, the paint. Baum's process is painstaking - some frames take 30 hours to properly mask and finish in their world-class paintbooth (collaboratively built with PPG), with each graphic and detail painted on. There are no decals here. We exclusively use Baum's GT-style racing homage schemes, timeless templates that harken back to the days of Group B Rally, Senna's domination of Formula One, and beyond. Our own extensive collection of Baum works and their staggering Flickr page provide a good starting-off point for inspiration. Don't have a specific vision? Not an issue. We're happy to tap into your personal aesthetic with our interview process, producing a number of mock-ups until we settle on one that works for you - and frankly, for us. No, paint with a Baum is not a free-for-all, but rather a guided journey where creative freedom is tempered by aesthetic limitations. Some color combinations - from a purely technical perspective - do not live up to the high paint quality standards Baum holds. Others seem fantastical in the mind, but in the flesh are absolute disasters. Would Gieves & Hawkes let a burgundy and fuchsia three-piece suit walk out the door? Unlikely. In much the same vein, our bicycles are the same.

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There's no denying that frame design and finish are critical, but there's another aspect nearly as crucial. Not only does this factor into the final production (drilling for wired systems, adding cable stops, or removing them altogether for wireless), it also affects the finished product designed for the individual client. Are you willing to take the bike in for service often? Are you nostalgic about storied legends of the sport? Do you prefer a modern feel, or something a bit more classic, like flappy-paddles versus a gated shifter? Do you enjoy the satisfying "CLUNK!" of a dialed mechanical system, or the silent precision of electronic? Beyond just paint, the component spec is another point of pride for us. It's why we're committed to building only complete bikes with Baum - we only outfit bikes with what we'd ride ourselves, and every bike that leaves our doors is a reflection on ourselves. We go to the ends of the Earth to ensure that your build works for you, so you don't have to spend hours sorting wheat from the chaff in the mountains of internet fluff and magazine drivel.

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With position, geometry, and finish settled - what next? At Above Category, we insert you into our production queue. Keep in mind, Baum is a factory. And, like a factory, they run on a tight timeline, one that is a bit different from other custom builders. Instead of telling the client "Your bike should arrive in X weeks, or X months", we speak in terms of production weeks. "Your production slot is week X". What does that mean? It means that Baum runs on a weekly schedule. As one of two Baum outlets worldwide, we buy weeks of production in (currently) six-week increments. So, for instance, if you're slotted into Week 21, your bike (in 2016), would begin production on May 2, with delivery slated approximately four weeks afterwards. As of this writing, our next production slot is in Week 33 (August 8th), a wait of about 16 weeks until delivery. We "lock-in" our production (confirm paint/geometry) schedule two weeks in advance of production to allow Baum to have time to source the necessary raw materials, from stems to dropouts. The process seems rigid - and it is - but it allows Baum (and us) to be held accountable for the expectations we communicate. That said, the most beautiful aspect of Baum's production queue is to see it in the flesh - literally. It is a wall of wooden boxes on two shelves, each one on rollers, measuring approximately four feet by two. Inside each box is a production week, including the parts necessary for every bike. On the front is all documentation - client name, fit specifications, paint, part spec, and confirmation status. It may seem antiquated in the age of automation, but in order to do anything to the production queue, a mini-forklift is required to make changes. It's a reflection of the rigidity and ensuing efficiency of the process, allowing Baum the elbow room to devote the time required to the best road bikes in the world.

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Finally, the finished product. We pore over the frame, ensuring every aspect is perfect, and carefully assemble it in our Marin County skunkworks piece by piece. Studio photographs are mandatory, and display in the showroom until shipping or pickup follows. We're happy to offer concierge service for your pick-up experience if arriving from out of the area, with select local hoteliers and restauranteurs proffering the best southern Marin has to offer, and guided rides from Above Category in Sausalito also available. Located in what we'd consider road cycling paradise, we're happy to give you the local's experience, pairing one of the best bikes in the world with some of the continent's finest riding. The process is truly a uniquely stunning one, both from an accessibility and performance standpoint. There are few other markets where one can achieve Formula One performance without sacrificing a large percentage of a small country's GDP, especially in as easy a manner as this.

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Thank you for following along. Questions? Comments? Email us: sales@abovecategorycycling.com.

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