Test Lab, Road Test of the Baum Cortado
“No matter how beautiful a bike is, it is incomplete until it is ridden. The bike is nothing without a rider.” This line from the Baum website gives you an insight to the mindset present at Baum. That line could have been the product of an advertising company or a clever marketing gimmick, until you speak to Darren Baum and realise just how passionate he is about the humble bicycle. He strikes me as being a man of few words, until bicycles are the topic of conversation, at which point he is the type of guy I would love to share a long afternoon and a few beers with, while absorbing his knowledge, enthusiasm and attention to every last detail. He is fluently conversant in the history of bikes and their materials. He knows when and why geometry in bikes has changed over the years, which changes need to be retained and which can be disposed of due to modern materials and manufacturing techniques.
When the Baum Cortado on test arrived at my place, the rains tumbled down and I was left to simply admire it for a few days. This is not entirely an unpleasant experience as there is a lot to admire about this bike. However when I explained this scenario to Darren he was true to his motto. He told me “It’s a bike, it’s meant to be ridden. Get out there. Get it wet, get it dirty, don’t worry about crashing it”. As nice as his bikes are and as close as they may be to ‘art’, he doesn’t want them treated like precious artefacts.
When talking to Darren, you need to remind yourself that he is the guy who will actually build your bike. He is one of a very few bike builders still left in Australia. When I started cycling it was easy and common to head into a local shop and talk to the frame builder about a custom bike. We didn’t even realise what we were doing at that time was special. We ended up with bikes in which we had been involved in the design process and they bore the name of the guy who built them. We left the shop with ‘our’ bike, not just another bike.
It is worth noting that this bike test is a little different to our usual bike tests. While I can wax lyrical about the ride, fit and finish, list the parts and quote weights, if you buy a Baum, your Cortado would be designed, fitted and finished to suit you. Your Cortado would be similar to the one I’m riding, but built for you, so your experience would be slightly different to mine.
So with Darren’s stern advice to go out and ride still ringing in my ears I headed out the door on a beautiful winter’s morning. I had slept in and missed my usual bunch but it meant it was warm enough to dress in my summer kit. With clear blue skies, a light breeze and courtesy of a poster advertising the reformation of a favourite band of mine from years gone by, I had a favourite old song in my head. It became one of those days where it is impossible to wipe the smile from your face.
Changing road surfaces bring the attributes of the steel frame to the fore. Sharp jolts are dampened and road buzz is almost non-existent, attributes that too often are compromised on some overly stiff carbon frames. In high speed sweeping corners, where rear wheels can get jittery if the balance of stiffness and compliance isn’t spot on, the Baum stayed solidly in contact with the tarmac whether in or out of the saddle. The degree of comfort offered by the Cortado simply cannot be underestimated, and I can only assume it is one part materials and one part expertise. I can only imagine how nice it could have been if it had have been tailor made for me. Heading uphills showed that the front end of the Cortado was the equal of its mass produced counterparts, combined with its light weight and the slight energy return that steel frames give made climbing almost pleasurable, even for someone as hill averse as me.