Eric Baar’s day job is laying perfect beads for daVinci tandems in Denver, Colorado. When he’s in his personal shop, the skunkworks at Ground Up Speed Shop in Colorado Springs, he’s there to have fun- which is what makes his bikes so exciting. Eric approaches his bikes the way he does his race car. They are flashy and exuberant expressions of the machine and the sport, as well as his level of mastery as a craftsman. This means exposed welds, metal flake and pinstriped finishes, and experimental interpretations of existing componentry.
For the Philly Bike Expo, Eric treated both himself and the public to his new personal bike, his new interpretation of a velodrome speed machine. With the exception of the saddle and the handlebars, every component on the build has been modified or built from scratch for his specific intents. The front aluminum triangle is the culmination of years of track frame innovation in aluminum. The rear triangle, in titanium, is heavily influenced by hot rods- to the point here the joints literally look hot. What’s most evident is that Eric built this bike so that he, as a craftsman and artist, could have a long and beautiful relationship with it. It will change and grow and become more pinstriped and outrageous over his time riding and playing with it. This bike is simultaneously a proving ground and a sketchbook for Eric.
Rather than try to speak for Eric, I interviewed him on the Philly Bike Expo show floor.
BIKERUMOR: First of all, why track?
ERIC: I wanted to make myself a new bike. I haven’t made myself a track bike since 2004? 2005? I wanted a new bike. I had a crazy idea. I wanted to make something for the new velodrome winter season that’s coming up in Colorado Springs.
BIKERUMOR: Did they put the dome on?
ERIC: The dome is going on very shortly if it isn’t up already. It’ll be up when I get home.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve got a steel fork, a Ti rear, and aluminum front triangle. Let’s talk about the fork.
ERIC: I made the fork in 2008 as a batch of some other track racing bikes I made. I’ve had the fork for a little while. It’s just been sitting there. Thought I’d build a bike around it. Same with some of the tubing that’s on the aluminum. I did a little welding here and there, started with that middle piece on the downtube, just wanted to do an extended weld on there, something to just kind of show off a little bit of welding. I started with that and let the bike organically build itself.
BIKERUMOR: The fork- what’s going on with these blades?
ERIC: The blades are steel cromoly. They came out of a batch I got from Mark Nobilette when he was building bikes for the Project ‘96, the Olympics. That was kind of a big super bike, it was a big inspiring thing for me when I wanted to become a bike builder. I thought that was a really cool project. It was also very inspirational for getting into track racing. I love fast bikes, sleek bikes.
BIKERUMOR: You don’t see a lot of track forks like that.
ERIC: Again, it shows a little bit of welding. It has a lot of fill, a lot of stainless. It has a really nice machined steerer tube on there, some Shimano dropouts that I kind of cleaned up and did some more BMX style welding on it.
BIKERUMOR: Custom stem as well.
ERIC: Yeah, it has a titanium stem as well. This bike is really all about welding, showcasing that.
BIKERUMOR: The front triangle- the top tube is bananas.
ERIC: That’s actually an Easton Ride tube that’s made for dirt jumping and that sort of thing. I like the shape. It has that real flowing look, almost like a header off of a race car. It tightens up the front end a little bit, cleans it up, gives me some more welding surface area. It also has big square areas so when the times comes, it’ll be surface for some really good pinstriping.
BIKERUMOR: Do you use that top tube on other track bikes?
ERIC: Yes. It really fills in a big gap in that middle space between the downtube and the middle of the headtube. It probably helps with some aero stuff, if it really matters.
BIKERUMOR: It fits that head tube real nice.
ERIC: It does, yeah. It’s a little bit taller. I guess that’s the only change I really made between the bike I’ve been riding for the past dozen years or so. I can’t bend down as much as I used to, so I need to be a little more upright. This bike does that for me.
BIKERUMOR: As we’ve seen on Love Potion, the aluminum polo bike- it has the same interesting seat tube configuration.
ERIC: Yes. It is, actually, Love Potion started out as a track bike. It turned out to be something different. It hung around as a front triangle for a long time. It just sort of happened to turn into a polo bike. I don’t know how or why, we’ll just say that things are always evolving and there are other projects in my shop right now that are mid process and hanging out. You’re like “What is that?!” I’m like: “I don’t know.”
BIKERUMOR: “I don’t know what it will be.”
ERIC: Exactly. Going back to the motivation factor- I didn’t want this to be a front triangle forever. I did want to change it into something I could ride. I really used this show to make that happen.
BIKERUMOR: Your rear end is very interesting- you’ve got bolted joints at the bottom bracket cluster, your seat cluster, and then you’ve got this bolt through the middle. Why?
ERIC: Why did I do it? I don’t know. It was kind of a vision thing, something I saw in my mind for awhile. I wanted to make something that bolted together. I had to machine all the parts on the machine from scratch.
BIKERUMOR: In Ti, which sucks.
ERIC: In Ti, which sucks. I went through three drill bits, one tap, three endmills- just exploded. But we made it through. It came out fine.
BIKERUMOR: You have a lot of holes in your Ti.
ERIC: It has some ventilation holes. The major challenge with Titanium is you have to back purge it, you have to get gas on the inside of the tubing. If you can’t go in with it, you have to go out with it. It can’t flow. You can’t blow into a bottle. You can’t mix air and argon together. It has to be pure Argon on the inside. You have to do a lot of guess work to make that happen, so there are some small holes that allow the Argon to escape. You do funny tricks when you fill, and then you cover it with tape and try not to get it too hot.
My style with Titanium is to finish the Titanium is to make it really bright and shiny and to put my stripes on there, which are inspired by my cat’s tail. I like to have a little bit of color showing just to make it look hot. To me, that’s looks really race car.
BIKERUMOR: It literally looks hot. It looks like it would burn me- like it just came off a race course.
ERIC: That’s just it. There were some stitches on there that turned out way super shiny- and I was like, aw, I want that color. I just wanted to give it a little bit more. So I went over and gave it a second pass just to give it a little bit of color.
BIKERUMOR: Did you make these dropouts custom?
ERIC: I made them all from scratch. I just had some blocks of metal. I fought with them until they were done. The seat stay bridge is a big x, it’s actually made of saddle rails.
BIKERUMOR: A BMX crank?
ERIC: That’s something I had to do. It was a challenge, it was something that was on my track bike from a while back. It has a spline drive to take out the lag a little bit. I had to modify it considerably to get it to have the same dimensions and a very similar weight to make it about the same of any other standard track configuration.
BIKERUMOR: What did you do?
ERIC: They sit out a little bit wide. The Q-factor is actually quite wide. I had to narrow them out a little bit. When I got the crank arms, they were 180mm long, so I chopped them off at the pedal end and welded on some new tabs. They are now 169mm long.
BIKERUMOR: My question is, if you’re going to make these cranks, why didn’t you do the crankset left side drive?
ERIC: I suppose I could have done it. I could still do it, I suppose. You’d be relying pretty heavily on that lock ring. It wouldn’t work with these aero wheels… you’d be going backwards! Give me a real reason.
BIKERUMOR: It’s more aero- and because it’s hilarious. That’s how the Felt bikes on the US women’s pursuit team were configured in the Olympics.
ERIC: I got to help the mechanic at the OTC so he could work on those.
BIKERUMOR: What did you do?
ERIC: Well, they had those bikes made-
BIKERUMOR: The Felts with the HED wheels.
ERIC: They are fantastic bikes- but they have to be perfect or they lose it all.
BIKERUMOR: No pressure!
ERIC: Poor guy couldn’t fit them in his stand because everything was super narrow and whatever. So I got to help him with that, made some little parts so he could work on his bikes for the ladies. They had a fantastic Olympics. It came down to the wire. There were world records, more world records- they came up just a hair short. Silly fast. Those guys are my friends too.
BIKERUMOR: Yeah. Freaking Kelly Catlin, the Minneapolis Hometown Hero.
ERIC: Sarah Hammer!
BIKERUMOR: Beasts! So what are these trispokes?
ERIC: They are old Specialized rims, actually. Someone gave them to me. I kind of cleaned them up a little bit, polished them, made custom axles for them. You know, made them presentable. They are kind of blank right now, they need some pinstriping. All in time.
BIKERUMOR: I feel like there is a lot of surface area on this bike that is designed for pinstriping.
ERIC: Oh man, this thing is set up. I got this thing together, spent a lot of time in metal-working. I’m just happy to get it together into something I can ride right now. But yeah, this is by no means a finished project. I have to metal flake that thing.
BIKERUMOR: What are you going to metal flake?
ERIC: The front triangle, that aluminum needs to stick out.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve got a M10 x 1.0 bolts on the top and bottom?
ERIC: They are flat heads. This kind of works like a lug on your car. So they are sitting on angles. It’s really strong, really solid. I don’t have to worry about it.
BIKERUMOR: You can see the automotive influences all over.
ERIC: Yeah. (laughs) Yeah.
BIKERUMOR: I think that that’s what’s really fun about you is that you- you have these side interests from your work that you’re really passionate about. You’ve got bike polo, pinstriping, and race cars. And you see those things in everything you do.
ERIC: I like to bring that all together. The real challenge is trying to put everything, or a lot of things, into one project.
BIKERUMOR: Yeah, this rear is pure hot rod. The front is really muscular.
ERIC: Yeah, it just kind of goes with Speed Shop theme. I can make whatever I want. I don’t think that the Speed Shop theme involves racks and lugs and touring, and all that fun stuff.
BIKERUMOR: It’s welds and racing and fun. It’s fast even when it’s not moving.
ERIC: That’s the theme I’m going with.
BIKERUMOR: How much does it weigh?
ERIC: I don’t know. I never weigh ‘em. It’s a track. There’s no hills.
BIKERUMOR: So you’ve modified everything on this bike, except for the handlebars and the saddle.
ERIC: Pretty much. I’d like to make a set of bars, a nice set of track bars out of Ti or something like that, but we’ll see. I’d like to do it but to me, bars are almost a disposable item, and usually the first thing that goes when you hit the track. That and your knuckles.
BIKERUMOR: Anything else about this bike you want to talk about?
ERIC: I can’t wait to ride it. Go to the track in a snow storm, do a 100 laps. That’s my standard workout.
BIKERUMOR: At speed? Blue line?
ERIC: Blue line. Stay out of the way. Be super aware. Watch the whole track. It feels good.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your favorite thing about actually riding track? Because you don’t just race it, you ride it.
ERIC: The lines! There are so many lines! I’m not talking about the reds, blacks, blues- I see the racing lines, the ups, the downs, the hills. There are so many dimensions. I have a Dizzy Drome. Come on! I love the shape of the Velo! It’s so fun!
BIKERUMOR: It’s so romantic.
ERIC: Hey, it is! I can just stare at it and watch the races when there is nobody on the track. It’s pretty fun. I like that. Also, my favorite thing is flying 500’s. They hurt so good.
I ride like that on mountain bikes too. I stomp, can’t get that hill over with fast enough, then have some snacks. Then do it again. I can do that all day. That’s just how I ride. That’s my style. I like to dive up the track. I like to do the dive bombs. I like to go right to the rail, right to the apron. It’s like having rocket boosters.
BIKERUMOR: -pushing it to your human physical extent, then hot shutdown, then do it again.
ERIC: Yeah. There is no half-ass in track. You’re at your maximum. Either you’re on, or you’re not.