I became familiar with Eric Baar through his Instagram account (where he highlights welds and brushwork each day) as well as through the high praise of other builders and members of the community. When I found myself buying tickets to Colorado Springs for a conference, Eric’s Ground Up Speed Shop was on the top of my places to visit after hours. I had no idea what to expect because, well, Eric does not make a habit of promoting himself. I strongly suspected that it would be really, really cool. His operation did not disappoint.
The Speed Shop sits on the back of the property just west of the Springs. Rather than a pump track, the shop overlooks The Dizzy Drome, a micro dirt velodome with rails constructed from old airplane wings. Central to the course is a light column for those midnight hour record attempts. Parked right on the edge is his Dwarf car, an outrageous toy with big, metal-flake numbers that he races during the summer- a habit he took up when he felt himself becoming disillusioned with bikes and bike community.
That easy shift in emphasis is central to Eric’s general program. He’s been building bicycles for over a decade and a half and wants to stay glittery and doe-eyed about the genre so he’s constantly being drawn to new mediums from which to approach or interpret his work. It is this enthusiasm that makes the bikes of his house brand, Ground Up, absolutely out-of-this-world in terms of construction, detailing, and concept. The welds are flawless. The raw titanium finishes are hand striped. The metal-flake paint jobs are brilliantly mixed and painstakingly sanded. And Eric uses his new found mastery as a pinstriper to hand letter or detail the final product (when the guy isn’t screwing around with gold leaf).
While this enthusiasm for everything cool and shiny makes for top notch bicycles, it also happens to make interviewing the guy impossible. There is nothing linear about Eric Baar’s train of thought. And that’s fine. Who wants to talk about old news when there is so much cool, shiny stuff everywhere to talk about…
BIKERUMOR: I’ve seen pump tracks at some shops. Why a Dizzy Drome?
ERIC: Well, I could have a pump track… I used to race track.
BIKERUMOR: Is there an hour record?
ERIC: We have an hour record.
BIKERUMOR: Ha, awesome.
ERIC: We had a guy roll into town from Alaska. He hopped in here on a fat bike on a whim and did 837 laps on a fat bike, going the wrong way. Whatever. Then my friends hopped in there and they were on mountain bikes, doing it kind of half assed, and they did 912 laps. We think we can get four digits. We do have a lap timer. My friend gave me a barrel racing- you know, for cowgirls?
BIKERUMOR: Do you have to wear chaps to operate it?
BIKERUMOR: Is that a Cadillac Engine in [the Dwarf car]?
ERIC: No… that’s a Suzuki GSXR1000 180 Horsepower… in a thousand pound car. Same weight to power ratio as a corvette. Last weekend was the last race of the season. It was so fun. We go so fast- 70 [miles per hour] on a quarter mile dirt track. Flying and crashing.
BIKERUMOR: That’s so rad! So, to bikes: how did you get into frame building?
ERIC: I grew up in Sioux Falls. You’re from Minneapolis? I grew up doing a lot of racing around there- mountain bikes. I was Junior State Champion there.
I always wanted to make bikes. I went to school for Machining in South Dakota and was a bike dork. The first thing I saw that made me want to be a frame builder as opposed to a component maker or anything like that… I saw this really sweet Tommasini video when I was 16 years old.
BIKERUMOR: That’ll end it.
ERIC: In that area, in Sioux Falls- there were a few dozen people that rode road bikes back in the mid-late nineties, and half of them were on Tommasinis. I didn’t really think anything about it… and the more I got into it… I was like “Camp-camp-campagnola?” I was learning how to say all those things.
BIKERUMOR: No one will ever admit to that phase where you’re trying to figure that stuff out. But we all did it.
ERIC: Yeah, you kind of stare at it until you get it. I like that it’s hard to read. Like a form of graffiti- but classy.
BIKERUMOR: When did you pick up a torch? What was that process?
ERIC: Torch was a long time later. There was the Tommasini thing. Then I got into bikes. And road bikes. Then went to machining school for awhile. Then I decided to move to Colorado. I was working as a machinist in South Dakota and I sent a resume to a bunch of places on the front range in Colorado and Montana. The first place that hired me was in Colorado Springs at a machine shop.
BIKERUMOR: They really need machinists in this part of the world.
ERIC: It was really weird. They hire you for a job and then they fire you after the job was done. I didn’t know that after moving out here as a dumb kid.
BIKERUMOR: So you were screwing around here, being a machinist, getting screwed by local firms…
ERIC: Yeah, that was in my first two weeks here. Then I found myself working at the local frame shop- Tomac. Making downhill mountain bikes.
BIKERUMOR: Score. When was this?
BIKERUMOR: Oh wow. That’s a good time to be there.
ERIC: They were only there ‘til 2002. I worked there until then. Then they just sold out. That’s where I learned how to weld. You know?
BIKERUMOR: When do you switch from being a brazer to a welder?
ERIC: I made my last brazed frame in 2008- I want to say. Yeah, I made 40 [titanium] frames for Spot, then I felt proficient with the Ti. We’ve been doing a bunch of Ti tandems at work as well.
BIKERUMOR: What’s up with you and daVinci Tandems?
ERIC: I just go up there and weld. That’s it. That’s the secret of everything. That’s my part time job that pays full time hours. I go up there two to three days a week. We were in an old auto body shop so we had a full paint booth.
I really don’t make that many bikes- I only make like five bikes a year in here.
BIKERUMOR: Wow. Really?
ERIC: Yeah, maybe… maybe six. The rest are all up at daVinci. Last year I think I did 80 tandems. Most of my stitch of the days come out of there. Today’s was totally a tandem.
There’s just a good deal- there’s four of us total there. There’s Todd who is on the phone. He wears a headset nine hours a day. Brian the painter, owner, assembly. Then my other friend, Will, who is the machinist. He has all my tubes cut up for me. So there you go. All I have to do is run torch. We all just jump in and do our thing. We probably do 100 bikes a year.
BIKERUMOR: Who does [Ground Up’s] paint?
ERIC: I do. Just the metal flake. Otherwise, I hire out. I have a bunch of different people.
BIKERUMOR: When did you pick up brushwork?
ERIC: I picked that up about three years ago. I like my welding, you see my stitch of the day every day. I was like, I love the welding but I’m kind of bored with it. So I pick up the pinstriping brush and I was like THIS IS THE SAME THING! BUT THERE’S COLORS!
BIKERUMOR: AND IT’S ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE PAINT SO PEOPLE CAN SEE IT!
ERIC: AND I CAN DO IT IN FRONT OF PEOPLE AND NOT BLIND THEM! AND I CAN GO PLACES WITH IT! And it was a challenge and really tough. And I learned from some masters and stuff like that. I kind of topped out with welding. You can only run so good of a bead after a while. But with pinstriping… oh my god, you can do that the rest of your life. You turn 70 years old and still be doing crazier shit.
BIKERUMOR: Pinstripers are very interesting people.
ERIC: Yeah! I’m really liking that. It’s also more dangerous. The chemicals are brutal. That’s the one thing I don’t like about it. You can’t touch it- it goes right through your skin and tears up your guts. But you play with it and get smarter about it. I really enjoy the technical aspect of it. And there are colors too! I want all of the colors. I consider myself a beginner in that craft. I love putting it on Ti bikes. I really like the stripes on that. I like having raw welds there where they aren’t cleaned up or brushed… then pinstripe next to that.
BIKERUMOR: So everyone can see everything you do.
ERIC: I pinstripe the headtube and then I weld it. I love doing it backwards like that.
BIKERUMOR: That’s perfect.
ERIC: That’s my style. I don’t get to build very many of those… but when I do.
BIKERUMOR: You can enjoy yourself on all the levels.
BIKERUMOR: You build a lot of BMX bikes?
ERIC: Yeah, I’ve built a bunch of BMX bikes. They are kind of weird, though, because they are impossible to sell.
ERIC: Yeah, right? Two different worlds. I have this guy who really loves me. He’s fantastic. I’m like, I’ll meet you halfway… which is half price, but double what he’s used to paying. I explain it- if I’m not careful, I’m out of rent for the month. He’s like, I don’t understand why they are so expensive. I’m like, I don’t understand why they are so cheap. But I’m doing it because I want to, because it’s a gift. Because I love BMX.
BIKERUMOR: Racing? Participating or spectating?
ERIC: Oh, you know, I can’t really do it anymore because I’m a little too fragile in my old age now. From bike polo. And also, it’s not the same sport. Have you seen it lately? OH MY GOD. Yeah. It’s gnarly. It’s not BMX, it’s something else. What is this? It’s not just going around, playing in the dirt. This is fast! It’s in the air!
BIKERUMOR: It’s not in a horse barn in the middle of nowhere.
ERIC: Yeah. I like that. On a Friday night when the track is fresh and slow. It’s not like that anymore. I can build a couple bikes for people who do it and watch them go fast on TV and that’s kind of cool.
Yeah, they finally make belts the right size for BMX bikes. After Philly, I have to make two belt drive BMX bikes.
Here is my first polo bike. It has the built in bottle opener. This is Love Potion.
BIKERUMOR: With the aero seatpost! That’s amazing.
ERIC: It was a prototype to my current track racing bike. This was, like, I went to my first top fueled drag race. And I was like, I want to make a bike look like a dragster.
BIKERUMOR: You know you’ve done something awesome when all you can do is giggle at it.
The extra tube welded to the chainstay in the upper right image has been added for the purpose of launching bottle rockets.
ERIC: 2008 National Champion. That was on THAT bike. Not this one.
Eric Baar’s 2008 National Champion track frame, on the wall and in action.
BIKERUMOR: [Love Potion] is not a light bike.
ERIC: Oh no… it’s been crashed a million times. That was the predecessor to my current crop of track racing bikes, which I’m very proud of. This is where we’re at now. Yeah, this is the development from this bike.
BIKERUMOR: How heavy is it?
ERIC: It’s a “sprint” frame, for sure.
BIKERUMOR: Let’s talk about this stitch. This is a freaking stitch here. What is the story?
ERIC: It started out the right triangle was a prototype. It was heavy. The downtube on that is ultralight… like ultralight aircraft, not ultralight bicycles. Way thick. That’s why it doesn’t look like it’s been crashed 800 times.
BIKERUMOR: You have it drilled for cable guides.
ERIC: I was going to weld some on guides… and then I was like, POLO! And just started drilling holes. The front triangle was sitting around for a year and a half, and then some girl got me into polo.
BIKERUMOR: You do five bike frames a year, in here.
ERIC: Maybe a few more. A little of this or that. There is no pressure to. If I didn’t work at daVinci, stuff would be a lot different. Honestly? I get my bike building fix there. I love it. My favorite part is the hand motions, the welding. Everything else is kind of work. Then painting, pinstriping, whatever, and working on the race car- that take up a lot of time this summer, honestly. I sold another road bike, I took a down payment on one today. So after that one is made, I’ll have enough for a car. My transmission just blew up on my sweet van.
BIKERUMOR: So why did you build a flamethrower bike for NAHBS a few years ago?
ERIC: Do you really need to ask?
BIKERUMOR: I’m asking for the people at home.
ERIC: I needed a show bike that had a lot of show into it. For NAHBS 2010. Took that, a track racing bike, and the Ti BMX when it was a frame. The attention was kind of nice, mostly from the fire marshall… dumb kids shouldn’t put their mouth on gas.
BIKERUMOR: Did that happen?
ERIC: Yeah! It shoots a 15 foot fireball… right about at kid height. My analogy was that you know how there are a million ways to make a bicycle? There are a million ways to make a flamethrower.
Look for an upcoming post on Eric’s current ride, “Love Potion #2.”