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Me and my bike: Baum Cycles

31 Jul 2019

While France and Italy will be forever locked in battle for the crown of cycling’s spiritual home (while Flanders looks in on mock amusement, no doubt), it should not be overlooked that in modern times cycling has enjoyed a worldwide renaissance courtesy of burgeoning cycling scenes around the globe, each with its own unique flavour.

Take the US: it has pushed the off-road envelope and in so doing sewn its laid-back gravel seeds across The Pond.

South East Asia has a near-insatiable appetite for classic steel racers and ‘looking pro’, right down to team kits being de rigeur.

And Australia? Well, Australia is possibly best summed up by Baum Cycles, which for nearly two decades has been pushing the custom-handmade model to its limits from its home in Geelong, on the outskirts of Melbourne.

It would seem Aussies like real, specialist stuff, so long as the bike has something to say for itself.

‘This might look like a relatively simple bike – the custom paint aside, of course – but it’s anything but,’ says Baum’s European importer, Martijn Knol of Bureau Fidder.

All about the ride

Knol represents a host of top-drawer brands, from Italian outfit Sarto to 3D-printed-ti-lugged-carbon-tube-maker Bastion. But it’s the Baum Orbis that draws Cyclist’s eye.

That name on the down tube comes from Baum’s founder, owner and master welder Darren Baum, who first picked up a brazing torch aged 16, having accepted that custom bikes were out of his price range but figuring he could just learn and do as good a job himself.

That was 1989, and that love of fabrication eventually took Baum into aircraft engineering, but bikes remained his passion, and by the early 2000s he was selling his titanium frames internationally, of which the Orbis bike now tops the tree.

‘The Orbis R is a road bike, but this is the gravel Orbis, which specifically means it has clearance for 34mm tyres,’ says Knol. ‘It’s fully custom, including the painting, which Baum also does.’

The tubes are chunky, like an aluminium bike’s. They blend smoothly into one another like carbon. The finish is glossy like painted steel, and yet the Orbis is none of these things.

It is made from titanium, but not just any titanium. 

‘All the tubes are custom-drawn by Baum,’ says Knol. ‘This is to suit the rider, to give the bike the specific level of stiffness and flex in the right areas.’

Stiffness is something Darren Baum is quite passionate about, explains Knol.

In broad strokes stiffness, thinks Baum, has been too highly prized for a number of years, with manufacturers putting it on a pedestal that is detrimental to other ride qualities such as handling and comfort.

Time was when framebuilders just had off-the-peg tubesets and a narrow band of tyre widths to play with when it came to ‘tuning’ the ride, but with the advent of more advanced manufacturing techniques and disc brakes, that has all opened up.

‘Now tyre choice is huge. We’re no longer stuck rolling on 23mm tyres because disc brakes mean frame space can be opened up to accommodate wider tyres with varying treads,’ says Knol.

‘By shaping things such as the chainstays, and reassessing geometry, there is a lot more for a builder like Baum to play around with.’

Nowhere else in the Orbis’s frame is that idea better encapsulated than in the chainstays.

At a glance they appear normal, but they are in fact quite heavily asymmetric and they run with girder-like girth from the T47 bottom bracket, starting oval then ending in a round-edged square profile at Baum’s own designed and made dropouts.

It’s a neat trick that’s far more than just aesthetic. First, a huge degree of a frame’s power transfer is derived from the chainstays, with wider usually meaning stiffer and more efficient.

Second, the square-end profiles maximise the surface area of the dropout welds and provide a neat mounting area for the flat-mount disc callipers.

Third, the asymmetry is due to the fact the driveside chainstay is lower than the non-driveside, which Baum says helps limit chain slap (important for an off-road machine), as there’s more space between the stay and the chain than on most other bikes.

It all helps give the Orbis a unique look and ‘exceptional cornering’, and the tube profile is rather endearingly called ‘squircle’.

Naturally, it’s all custom drawn and shaped in-house.

All about the details

Although the Orbis is a tough, gravel-ready bike, Knol is keen to stress it’s also highly adept on the road as well.

Full builds happily come in around 7.5kg and the frame is stiff, ‘but not too stiff’.

While geometry is, of course, custom, there are a few racing tweaks Baum has made based on what one might call a ‘fresher’ approach to framebuilding.

‘The bottom bracket is lower because pedals have changed, so it can be,’ says Knol, pointing to an idea some independent framebuilders have identified – but not necessarily as many mass manufacturers have adopted – that pedals are ever more compact in size, meaning pedal strike in cornering is less of an issue than it once was.

So the idea goes, a lower BB makes for a lower centre of gravity, and thus a racier, more planted bike.

Details like this might seem minor – millimetres in difference and imperceptible to the eye – but they are indicative of the holistic and forward-thinking approach that marks Baum out as a master builder.