As you probably know, Seattle likes it’s polo. We are home to the World Champions, as well as many other skilled players. Thursday nights you can play polo under I-5 at 65th and Ravenna. Last week I attended, and Andre brought together quite the event. There was pumpkin carving, pumpkin pie eating, a keg, and eventually, the destruction of the pumpkins carved earlier. Good fun all around, and we even got to see Freiburger play a couple games with a pumpkin on his head. Who needs a helmet?
After a wonderful summer, and lots of cameras rolling, it looks like people are finishing their editing, and we go into the movie screening part of the year. The Revival has some Seattle riders, and will likely be hosting a premiere in November as well, but if you want to be first to the punch, head north for the Vancouver World Premiere.
The other day I had the opportunity to meet with Geoff Casey. Geoff is the man behind Baron Cycles. We met up at his shop in SODO, an industrial neighborhood in Seattle. The warehouse is surrounded by pothole ridden streets, train tracks, and gravel roads. Large trucks and trains cross back and forth through the area. Baron oddly enough, seems quite at home here. They lay nestled in a large cubicle, in a giant warehouse shared with a decorative metal shop. It is here that Baron is making a name for itself with those that want a high performance bike, without the high cost that usually accompanies it.
Baron is probably best described as a brand of quality bicycles built for training or racing, depending on which model you find yourself straddling. Geoff, his wife Jen, and their pitbull Pony, are something like conductors in what could be called an orchestra. They bring together the many arts that transform a bicycle from a thought in the head, to a plan on paper, to a bike on the streets
Geoff went to school for Industrial Design, which incorporates manufacture, design, and how to solve problems as they come up. That background, in addition to a love for bicycles got him thinking “Why am I NOT doing this?” As he looked at what it would take for him to start Baron, he realized that he had what he needed to get a successful business off the ground. There were a couple options; He could either “save up some money, go to frame building school, build frames for the next five years, put some bikes together in my spare time, and maybe one day I’ll have a five year wait list like Vanilla”
“Take the same amount of money, build a brand, build a business, and skip that 5 year time period.”
He chose the latter. And here we have Baron Cycles, a year and a half later.
The shop is small, and somewhat barren (no pun intended), Baron is still growing into it’s larger space. They recently relocated from the Caseys’ basement, which, as Geoff puts it “is where any good small business starts.” There is a half built jig mounted to a heavy metal table that Geoff is fabricating. Posters new old and new from races around the world are on the wall. There are build kits for ordered bikes stacked on the table, and there is a bike on the stand getting tuned up. A bike equipped with the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Electronic drivetrain, Chris King Hubs- a thing of beauty. A Baron.
We sat back in the sound proof office, which is a blessing to have in a space surrounded by so many industrial tools: compressors, grinders, drills, hammers on metal, all the things that make a metal shop just so. It is a small office, scattered with photos of Baron bikes and their riders, T-shirts, computers, and drawings. Here we cracked a beer and sat back (me in a chair begging to be oiled) to discuss the past, present, and future of Baron Bicycles.
GO MEANS GO: How did Baron Cycles get it’s start?
GC: “Baron was a response to a hole we saw in the market. It was at first a disc brake, steel bike, with race geometry. The idea was to do a small batch of bikes, build them up for our friends, and guys that we race with, and if it went from there great, if not, then everyone had a rad bike.” “Another main point was my desire to do bikes all the time. Just having all of my off time related to bikes wasn’t enough; I wanted to have all my waking hours devoted to bicycles.
GMG: What’s your favorite ride in or around Seattle?
GC: “That’s a tough one… probably the Carnation loop – it’s one of the most uninterrupted, traffic free rides around, or Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls”
GMG: Do you race?
GC: “I’ve been racing for four years. I race Cat 2 Road and Cat 3 Cyclocross.”
GMG: How many people do you have building the bikes?
GC: “We started off with 2. We are now working with a frame shop, and there are 3 builders there… It’s one person beginning to end, and they’re made one at a time. We can do custom geometry, but we also have stock geometry.” “The value of the stock geometry, is they can just pull the plans out of the file, they’ve already made it once, they know what goes on it. Whether it’s a 58cm or a 56cm, it doesn’t really add much time. The custom side doesn’t generally add much time on the building side, it’s the details, the customer interaction, the redrawing of the frame, the making sure the specs are correct, all the braze-ons, making sure nothing is left off, going and double checking everything.”
GMG: Who rides a Baron, anybody racing on them?
GC: “James from uBRDO (Cat 3) is riding a Baron and is currently 5th in the MFG Cross Series. Almost the whole Cat 1, & 2 of Wines of Washington/bikesale.com trains on Baron’s in the winter, which Baron sponsors. (This year the team will just be Bikesale.com.) We are also an equipment sponsor for the Gin Optics team, though this year they will have a different title sponsor” “The biggest demand is the disc brake road bike, a lot of guys train on them. A lot of them train with a Powertap, so we did a 135mm spacing in the rear, so that you can run a wider variety of hubs. If you ride in the winter, you realize quickly how much longer your wheels will last with disc brakes. The rims just get wiped down. No more slurry of brake dust and road grime.”
GMG: When looking at one, what sets a Baron apart from other bikes on the market?
GC: “It will be our headtube badge, when that gets finished. But you know, in some ways, it’s what doesn’t set it apart, that sets it apart, it’s kind of a vague answer…. In someways, simplicity is what makes them stand out.” “I’ve always been kind of the Henry Ford kind of guy, black with a red logo, or black with a white logo on it.” “Part of the appeal to a Baron Cycle, is the parts that go onto the bike, and the attention that is paid to the build.”
GMG: I know it’s a tough question, but you’ve got three bikes in the Baron line, which is your favorite?
GC: “I really like the looks of the cross bike right now, we used a bent chainstay and it’s got nice dropouts. There’s something about the S-bend chainstays… there’s something really elegant about that. Even so far that I’d like to do that on all the bikes. That said, every time I get on the Outsider, I say “Oh yeah, this is the shit” this is why disc brakes are awesome.”
GMG: What sort of price range does Baron Fall into?
GC: “I think we are at the low tier of the custom prices, and the high tier of the stock. It puts us right in the middle, and means we are in a little bit of a limbo, but I think as we start to build the brand, it won’t be as much of an open door.” “Rather than looking at the price as an upcharge for custom, it’s better said that it’s a discount for stock. They are custom bikes in that they’re made to order, it’s just that there is a convenience charge if we don’t have to go through all the geometry”
GMG: What are plans for Baron in the next, say, 5 years
GC: “Bring all of our production in house. I figure that when we get to a certain volume it will make sense to make the financial investment to bring people in… And then also dropping the stock option, they’ll all be custom, and the “stock” sizes will just be a reference point.” “Also within the next 5 years the goal is to grow down the West Coast and throughout the country, and that’s really the biggest challenge. That’s probably as much of a capital investment as anything.”
GMG: What’s your thoughts on Seattle, and Northwest Bike Culture, when it comes to infrastructure, racing, etc?
GC: “I spend a lot of time in Portland, because I have a lot of friends there, it’s so funny to compare and contrast the two; you think of Seattle as such a bike friendly city, then you go down to Portland…. It’s like if you took Capital Hill, and stretched it out into a major metropolitan area, that’s what Portland feels like. Everyone’s on bikes, and it feels like everyone is under 40. Everyone is just cruisin’ around on some beater bike, that’s how you get around.
Seattle, do to it’s size, and hills, and things like that, you see less people that just hop on their bike in a skirt to get from the bar to their house or from their house to work. But what you do see is the serious commuter that rides 20 miles to work each day, all year long, and/or they race, and train five days a week, and race on the weekends. You see a lot more of that in Seattle. That’s great for me, because I like to train and race. I like to do my work and then go out and kill myself on the bike in the evening. And I think that the culture around the racing and advocacy aspects of it, like randoneuring and touring and big rides, it’s really strong in Seattle. Especially compared to other cities. But I think in general, with the geographic makeup of the city, it’s a less bike friendly city. There is no amount of bike lanes that will make a trip from Queen Anne to Capital Hill an easy task.”
Drew and Natalie always keep it to 11 in their daily comics. I’ve posted others from Married To The Sea, but this one… this one has to be my favorite to date. Ah Portland, we love you, but your reputation precedes you.
This looks like it was a lot of fun. Congrats to Rapha Continental Rider and builder, Tony Pereira, for winning the Oregon Manifest Design Challenge. Thirty two of the top handmade bicycle builders in the US were there to show that their bike was the best of the best. Seattle’s own Taylor Sizemore had a bike in the show as well, being ridden by Tyler Johnson.
The last few years seem to have brought a breath of fresh air when it comes to bicycle design in the US. Bikes built for practical, every day riding are gaining popularity with builders large and small, mass produced and hand made. Let us hope that this trend continues, and we see bicycles become more of a viable form of transportation for a broader audience.