Baum Kills Their Touring Bicycle Department Dec 22, 2014


It’s hard to not make a comment about Baum’s recent news of discontinuing their touring bike department, especially when they use this image as an example, which is a perfect segue into a dark place within the custom frame market…

Touring bikes are often, very strange birds. Some of which may suffer from the “Homer Simpson mobile” design precent. You know the episode right? Homer’s brother is a designer at Ford Motors and he gives Homer free reign over designing the ultimate car. A vehicle that performs all the tasks Homer wants it to and his eyes, is the most perfect car, but to the general public, it’s some abhorrent beast, deserving nothing more than the trash compactor.

Now, I’m not saying this bike in particular is an “abhorrent beast” or that it deserves the trash compactor, but let’s face it, it’s probably more attractive to the owner, than it is the general public and as a builder, I’m not sure Baum was too stoked on releasing the photos of it. Or maybe they were? Who knows. Not passing judgment here.

My thought is, when you’re spending the kind of premium coin that’s required for a Baum, you probably want a scalpel, not a swiss army knife. The phenotypes of touring bikes vary like the Galapagos finches. Some are beautiful and others are filled with so many ideas that they transcend beautiful objects and turn down the corridor of the “Homer complex”. Maybe Baum just wanted to stick to what they know best: custom performance road, track and mountain bikes.

ATMO, let the builder be the designer and if you’re trying to cram too many uses into a frame, re-think your priorities. Evolution happens at all levels, even the $12,000 custom bike market.

  • Jay

    How silly. If Baum wants design control over their output, stop taking custom orders. Make only “beautiful” frames to their own specifications and see who bites. They give zero concrete reasons for cancelling their “touring bike department,” which I’m sure is a department in name only, as they are made in the exact same manner as any other their custom road or mountain frames. When it becomes a beauty contest over giving the customer exactly what they want, no matter what the builder or others may think of its aesthetic, it’s regrettable.

    I read this blog because of all the mixed surface riding I see documented, as it is my own preference as well. To discount the Swiss Army Knife, considering the type of riding shown so often on these pages, presents as elitist. The final nail in the coffin for your argument: A standard set of drop bars on that bike and it would be yet another low effort post linking to the Baum flicker page with a sentence about how they “killed it” on this one. I’m sure the effort of designing around and installing those bars was just too much. Let’s angle the nose downward a tad and keep up the Cherry Canyon type posts.

    • John Watson

      Hey, I’m not being elitist here at all, so no need to take stabs at me. I tried to write an opinion piece about how Baum is a precision company, making road and MTB race machines, so maybe they were tired of making strange-looking touring bikes. I see a lot of interestingness going on with this bike, it just doesn’t speak a very clear message, to me, anyway.

      You’re right, there is no “department” per se, as much as a category for ordering.

      I personally think the “cross / commuter / gravel / trail / touring / road” bikes so many people want, don’t really perform all that well in any category.

      3mm of bottom bracket drop, half a º in an angle here, or there and you’ve got a specific bike that will work better at one or two of those things.

      My big commentary about cross bikes here on the site is that they’re great for racing and fun in the woods – i.e. Cherry Canyon, Verdugos, etc. Personally, I would never tour on one, because their geometry isn’t made for touring. Do people tour on them? Sure, but they often have misconceptions about things like front-loading because of that.

      I try to be positive and I am all the time, but when I write something like this, I’m doing so to encourage discourse, not ringing the dinner bell for everyone to call me a snob, get it?


      • Jay

        Is it really that tiring to put aerobars on an otherwise very normal bike? Why do they care if it is strange-looking? They don’t have to ride it. They are certainly welcome to build whatever bikes they see fit, and turn down whatever customers they see fit. I’ll just call it silly.

        I have the space and budget for one custom frame. I’ll take a bike that lacks surgical precision in any single category for one that allows me the most varied riding possible, within the limits of good judgement of course. But at the end of the day it is MY judgement, not my builder’s, that has the final word. And I fail to see why any builder wouldn’t be okay with that. I’ve thought about my priorities quite a bit, and they revolve around the versatility I can get out of a single frame.

        I hope you consider my posts as discourse. You can’t just put “Not passing judgement here,” and hope to take the generally judgmental tone of the article out of play for discussion. I certainly appreciate the response, and hope the next time you’re enjoying your cross bike in the woods, you realize it wasn’t built for recreational trail riding just as much as it wasn’t built for touring. But it is still fun as hell on two wheels, even on something that isn’t quite perfect for the task. Finding my personal sweet spot for capability across disciplines is why I’ve gone to a custom builder. I bet Mr. Wills is enjoying his new ride and wondering what all fuss is about.

        • John Watson

          If you look at the bike quickly, without noting other details, it may seem that’s all I’d require for a “low effort” post. ;-)

          My qualms, which I intentionally omitted, because I don’t really agree with nit-picking someone else’s custom bike, since, hey, it’s not mine! But anyway, here are my thoughts:

          – Flat bars, bar ends, aero bars speak the design language of a fast, long distance bike used in brevets, transcontinental, RAAM, tour divide.

          – Long wheelbase, low BB speak long-distance, slow speed riding not the same as the details above.

          – No fenders (again, totally ok. I don’t have fenders on my tourer).

          – Belt drive (again, speaks of low-maintenance, long distance riding, not for speed runs)

          -28mm tires with all that clearance.

          -Cross fork rake with a long chainstay.

          Again, the fact that I’m even listing this is against my belief of critiquing custom bikes. It’s not my job. What is my job is to try to understand what framebuilders are doing and why.

          Personally, I’d say a bike that’s good at one or two things is where most people come around to after their first “swiss army bike.” I know many people who order a bike like the one above, that turn around and sell it after a year to order something with a little more specificity.

          By contrast, I find this Firefly quite nice:

          It has a clear and concise use and I’m sure Jamie and Tyler are proud of it.

          I do consider your posts as discourse, but there were a few low-jabs mixed in with your points, intending to do harm, not bring about conversation. Here’s a list:

          “it would be yet another low effort post linking to the Baum flicker page with a sentence about how they “killed it” on this one.”

          “Let’s angle the nose downward”

          The rest of your comment was totally fine. I just don’t see the point of including those sentences at the end. As if to dissuade any intelligent reply on my end. ;-)

          • Poolboy 1.0

            I’ve often thought of becoming a golf club.

          • krashdavage

            Nice analysis John. I still say Darren wouldn’t have built it just because he was following his customer’s direction. Saying that, what does it say about Baum’s design skills? Hey, maybe they’re quitting touring because they can’t build them properly?

      • krashdavage

        I’ve seen aerobars used on AWOLS… but I agree the rear end of this bike looks like it’s on the wrong bike!

        • John Watson

          The AWOL Eric rode in the transcontinental was completely different from this bike.

    • Rodrigo Diaz

      It’s not silly. A manufacturer can decide to narrow the range of their offerings. For whatever reason, maybe their welder of skinny tubes is taking a sabbatical.

      You can ask Sachs to make you a carbon bike. Or you can ask Pegoretti to make you a mountain bike. Or you could be pining for a Chromag road or CX bike. Any of those are unlikely to happen. So maybe it just happens that Baum will make you a “custom road, CX, track-but-not-touring” bike? No big deal, lots of other good builders out there.

  • Buddy

    That goof nut machine is pissing me off. That thing is an obscene gesture from someone with too much money who turned a piece of art into a silly turd for funsies, or to troll us all. It’s insulting.

  • simonnix

    On the bike: there’s only so much you can say about a bicycle without also seeing the rider and the intended roads. Maybe it’s stupid, maybe it just looks that way. Who knows. The problem with the Homer Simpson car analogy is that that was one person’s taste applied to everyone, whereas with a custom bike one person’s taste is kinda the point.

    I think what Baum is actually doing is protecting their brand image. Baums are known for great lines, perfect component selection, and immaculate paint and colour schemes. It’s hard to accomplish all that the way Baum does it on a tourer/commuter/whatever. Other than the fact that the customer sometimes can’t make up their mind, the reason frame builders hate hearing tourer/commuter is because (contrary to the sales pitch of only wanting to get you on a bike that is right for you), they want to do that while making sure it conforms to their personal aesthetic. And if you consider frame building art, I guess that’s valid.

    • John Watson

      Yeah, you just did a much better job at commenting on this announcement than I did.

    • nspace

      I remember lusting after a Baum for years, before the era of the gaudy GTR paint schemes. Sometime after that I fell out of love. I totally understand and respect protecting their brand image and locking down their paint schemes, even trying to encourage a certain caliber of build. But when you get to the point where there is only a choice of 2 stems that they will agree to paint to be in line with their aesthetic…is that too far? Baum’s have gotten to the point where they aren’t that interesting anymore (at least to me). They all look the same, not because of locked down graphics and immaculate paint, but because every time I see one I feel like I’ve seen the exact same bike with the exact same build. I would assume that those willing to drop the coin on a Baum, are more than dentists with lots of money, and could interject some unique component pairings like so many of the builds that John features on here (why I love this site). I totally respect the workmanship and quality of what they do, its second to none, and closing the “touring division” doesn’t bug me all that much. Its hard to be everything to everyone, and there are lots of builders that focus on particular segments of the market.

  • krashdavage

    Baum wouldn’t post photos if they weren’t happy, period. Baum won’t build it or paint it the way the customer wants it doesn’t meet their aesthetic and lofty holier than thou ideals. Period. Fuck that. Fuck their decision too.

    • John Watson

      I’m not a builder, but as a small business owner, I know my time spent doing something is worth money. At Baum’s pricepoint, that’s a lot of coin. Before I chastise their decision, I’d ask if you would ever fork out the $8k for a Baum frame? I sure as hell don’t. Haha. So I can’t say their decision is wrong, because I’m not in that realm.

      • krashdavage

        Eh, I’m just throwin peanuts ;-). Wife just got me a Surly Troll for Xmas… that’s my realm!

  • Brian Sims

    I like that you’ve posted something that’s brought about the discourse. So here goes…

    My thoughts are more about statements made in the comments more than the post itself. Primarily the notion of a Swiss army knife not being a good thing. Until about a year ago I had a dedicated fast carbon bike, a dedicated full suspension bike, and a custom steel DeSalvo that was my light touring, century/double, all day bike. The DeSalvo was pretty damn versatile but overtime I fond it lacked the clearance I wanted for fenders and larger tires to ride it on dirt. My wants changed over the course of 5 years. I ended up with a Rawland Drakkar for added versatility with nearly the same geo. It was a bit more off-road than I wanted at first but this bike can do it all, and that’s made easier with two wheelsets with slicks and knobbys. A total Jack of all trades master of none. I personally love these qualities. Maybe that’s because I know I have more activity focused bikes there when I need a bike for fast road or technical singletrack. But if I were forced to choose one bike (first world problem I know) it would be the Rawland due to it’s versatility.

    Lastly, the notion that touring bikes are not aesthetically pleasing. (This may not have exactly been your point but I took it that way at first.) I think a lot of touring bikes are pretty. And not just the super pimp ones from Fire Fly or Map. I mean well done LHTs and other more ‘pedestrian’ tourers. There is a sort of beauty in the function over form. Kind of like a Unimog or Jeep.

  • Western Rapid

    I think there are a couple of points here:

    We tend to think of our creatives and designers as drawing from a rich, deep pool: in fact, design is often a very singular and iterative process. I always like to state the example of The Rolling Stones – they’ve effectively been re-iterating the same song, to great success, for the past 60 years. First, it was Not Fade Away, which was ‘re-written’ to become Satisfaction, then Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Start Me Up etc etc. Not much changed over the years.

    So nobody buys a Rolling Stones album expecting industrial grindcore – they’ve cornered the market in their own particular brand of blues-rock. Equally, I wouldn’t buy a TIG-welded porteur bike fromRichard Sachs, or a fillet-brazed time-trial bike from Mitch Pryor.

    I’m not critical of Darren’s decision – I doubt he simply ‘gave up’ on the genre, but, rather, realized that his areas of expertise, and his (small) company’s level of resource, lay elsewhere. And nobody would deny that Baum’s racing pedigree is pretty impeccable. Likewise, you buy a Speedvagen because you want a beautifully built handcrafted racer, nobody hates on Sacha for not offering Speedvagen utility bikes.

    That all said, one of the roles of the custom builder is to accommodate the more ‘out there’ requests. Somebody somewhere will want a lugged, stainless fatbike. With dropbars and a porteur rack. And somebody somewhere will be equipped to design and build it…

    My own custom bike has an element of adaptability built into it. The feeling that came from finally accepting that I could design on a clean-sheet was incredibly liberating – I was no longer straitjacketed by the limitations placed on me by the larger manufacturers. In some hands, that freedom could be – and is – dangerous; but used wisely, is a valuable tool. My bike can run wide tyres, and is fitted with Ben from Argonaut’s brilliant variable dropouts, so it can be run geared or single-speed. Given the cost and the investment involved in a custom build, I wanted something that would adapt and change with my riding over the years.

    So, accept this as part of the process. After all, as the saying goes, an expert is somebody who knows more about less. That’s just what’s happening here, I reckon….

    • Jay

      But it is my understanding Speedvagen is the “stock” side of Vanilla, and they happen to focus on cyclocross race bikes (mainly because Sacha needed to outfit his race team). Custom is under the Vanilla umbrella. If your brand makes stock bikes, sure, make what you think will sell the best.

      • Western Rapid

        But that’s kinda my point: a custom builder is also a “stock” builder, in a certain sense. It’s how you couch the terms: if Baum are restrictive about what sort of stem or paintjob you can have, then they are just applying a more up-front limitation or sorts to their custom process.

        • Jay

          Sure, but there is a clear distinction. Baum isn’t saying, “We are only going to build bikes we like and see if we can find a buyer.” They are saying, “Even though we have a buyer handing us money, we aren’t going to do it because he is asking us to install aerobars.” There is risk in the former, and none in the latter. I think that may be part of the reason the market accepts Speedvagen, yet this seems capricious.

          • Western Rapid

            I just checked Baum’s blog. They are saying this:

            “Unfortunately, we only get to make a few touring bikes each year. The low volume and the diversity in styles, parts and taste makes it really difficult to give the same kind of detail-obsessed service we demand of ourselves. So with some sadness we’ve decided to bring our touring bike lines to an end.”

            And they themselves used the shot John posted above as an example of a touring bike ‘beauty’.

            So I think people are being a bit harsh by saying it was a stylistic decision as opposed to a pragmatic one…

          • Jay

            I read that as well. What does it really mean? Are they saying the belt drive and aerobars were too hard to source? What actual problems do a “diversity in styles” create? A touring bike has no real firm definition. As they admit they will still build rack equipped roadies, and I assume they would slacken the HTA for a client. So I guess people are (rightly or wrongly) taking it to the “We won’t build ugly bikes,” conclusion.

  • Dan

    Firstly I think the photo is a piss-take.
    Secondly I would love to have a small business that’s doing well enough that I could cull all the customers I didn’t want and just focus on doing the exact things I wanted.
    Good on them.

  • professorvelo

    mmm… okay. I think what is making this a difficult issue – more the commentary than Baum, the bike, or their decision – is that what is being evaluated is unclear. Normally, these posts are of a bike and its appearance/specs. What follows then is a discussion of how nicely it is put together… its appreciable style and its adherence to what is a normative taste level for this blog’s demographic. Because this is not the case there is not a clear critical path… no obvious ways to offer opinions. I suppose that there are two issues that stand out immediately: the autonomy of the builder/business and the autonomy of the buyer. I think we have to assume the relative sanctity of those two. Would we do the same? Probably not. Should that buyer have chosen a more appropriate builder? Perhaps. Is the bike functional for its intended purpose? Quite probably (one also has to assume some amount of dialogue between builder and buyer. As a creative myself, end products are something of a collaboration. Sometimes the client is demanding and sometimes totally cool with what you develop without much input at all). ultimately, what we end up defining is not the right or wrong of thing itself, but the right or wrong of our attitudes about the thing.

  • Ben Hoffman

    y’all are saying this bike is ugly, and although it certainly doesn’t look as good as some of the Ti MTB’s Baum puts out, it certainly doesn’t look bad. This bike has clean lines, a great finish, the rack melds with the bike cleanly, and the only truly ugly part about it is the aero bars, which will be ugly no matter what bike you put them on. Were I a custom builder I would have no problem displaying this on my website, nor would I shut down my touring department because of bikes like this. Touring is the most utilitarian branch of cycling, and there is intrinsic beauty in that. Form follows function and what not…

  • Bicycle Touring Pro

    Yeah, it is a bit sad that they are killing off the touring bike department – especially when bicycle touring is becoming so popular right now.

    But I also understand that this has to do with money. You can only afford to make bikes that sell. And if one of your bikes isn’t selling, you focus on the bikes that are selling. It’s just smart business!