Baron Whip

Geoff Casey is working as hard as he does in a race on bringing attention back to steel with Baron Bicycles. He’s convinced steel is still viable, never wasn’t, and laments the generic carbon flavor of the month frames.

Props due for entering the bike industry, that’s hard enough, and then to take a stand with steel. He’s either conscripted himself to long hours with squeezed margins, arguing with snobby roadies concerned with carbon layups, or onto something good. We here hope the latter and appreciate the work custom builders do.

Baron Whip Racer: Custom Steel

I never thought steel wasn’t real and my first fast racing bike was Tange Prestige, later a Colnago with Columbus and those bikes set the bar for all my future bike reviews. Also my insistence that all bikes perform well, including urban. To Geoff, the deal with steel is

The bicycle market is full of mass produced frames, and if you want a custom bike built just for you, there are some options out there. But what if what you want is somewhere in between those two extremes? What if you care about supporting local craftspeople but don’t want to spend the time or money on a custom frame?

and

There is a famous business strategy book about identifying hidden opportunities in what is considered to be a tapped market. Baron Bicycles is here to put that concept into practice in the bike industry.

Baron Whip Racer: Custom Steel

Geoff believes people still want steel and we have no argument with that. To prove the viability of the material, he’s out racing the whip

Baron Whip Racer: Geoff Casey racing

and just won our local Tuesday Night worlds. That’s him in the photo with the green arm warmers.

Pricing on the Barons depends on how you build it up, but expect under 2K for frame and fork. Barons are semi-custom bikes. That means stock geometry with a bespoke build.



15 Comments

Woohoo, Geoff!

I always find it amusing when I go out to some local meaningless crit and see all the Masters tooling around on bikes that are nicer than what many pros race on. Personally, I’ll never understand why someone would drop $3-4k for yet another “me too” frame when for the same money or less you can get a fully custom frame. It’s sort of like going to Nordstrom’s and dropping $2k for an off the rack suit when for the same money you could get Kuhlman to make you a made to measure suit.

Also I think the term “semi-custom” makes no sense. To me a custom bike means the geometry and tubing are selected to meet the needs of the customer. Simply taking a frame and putting the components of your choice on it is nothing special - you can do that with Specialized, Trek, etc. I’m not knocking Baron at all for their approach, offering fully custom frames is a HARD business. Even the best builders who have multi-year waiting lists like Richie Sachs barely make any money at it.

BTW I love that not only is he racing on a steel frame but he also appears to be using pretty conventional wheels. All he needs now is some clips and straps and downtube shifters!

I used semi custom because these are stock frames that you can fully customize based on his designs that are built for him. Sure you an get a Project One that was previously “extra for decals,” but now a wide variety of paint choices. You can also get a custom carbon frame that uses precut tubes and the builder assembles the right choice. For references, I’ve had several frames built for me including [the Modal](/tag/modal) and [Hotspur](/tag/hotspur).

I also used the word conscripted cause that’s one tough business and the takeway for me from the Handbuilt bike show we attended was “hobby business” (like a bead show) with lots of people not making a lot of money. That’s by choice and ok, but it answers why the Bridgestone catalog serves as the blueprint for many “custom builders,” including those South of us. I hope Geoff speaks for himself here, but his point about stock geometry customized is that he can deliver instead of a wait list. Taking it further, I don’t know of any frames that aren’t handbuilt except at the low end. Carbon bikes are all handbuilt by exceptionally skilled women some in Asia and others in the States.

You’re right on downtube shifters. Usually the only time you see steel at the races is when some former pro shows up with his bikes and proceeds to ride you off his wheel with his 7 speed drivetrain.

Nearly all the merits of various materials can be argued to death, but there’s no doubt that steel tubes make the most beautiful bikes. I’ll take one.

Agreed and noticed I didn’t go into the whole which material debate of old. The only material I think is not well suited to bikes is Aluminum and it was only mainstreamed because it was so cheap. Few things have done a greater disservice than flatbars and shit aluminum frames.

@cyclocross- I’ve found that in my research and experience most people can fit just fine on a ‘stock’ rig.  Our business model is set up to hit short (4-6) week lead times and higher volume wholesale sales through shops.  One of the ways we can do this is having a stock size option which cuts a lot of time out of the process.  So that’s where semi custom comes in. You can say “I want a stock 58 as shown in the picture as I know those number worked for me on my previous bike” (if it aint broke don’t fix it) and boom, 4 weeks later you have a handbuilt bike.  It’s like burger king, you can walk in and order a Whopper and that whopper has a set price, or you can say I want extra bacon, double cheese, some more braze on’s etc.

Materials-I won’t even go there.  Our bikes are steel, ‘nuff said.

RE. traditional rims, My carbons got destroyed in a crash so I’m riding my cross b-wheels.  I’ll be on a set of Corsa Concepts soon

I’ve known a sprinter or two that preferred aluminum, but that may be speaking more to the cost of carbon if crashed or suitably stiffened to handle an explosive track sprint.

I’ll clarify that to mean low-to medium range Aluminum or Aluminum with carbon attached. That excludes the high-end stuff that Cipo rode et al. Of course, he retired those frames, at the end of the race. I mean dumping shit frames cause you can’t tell the difference with big tires.

@Byron

Are you sure you know what you are talking about?

Take a good hard look at raw material costs.  Garden variety structural aluminum is more pricey than garden variety steel.

Aluminum is more costly/difficult to weld, and unless it is 7000 series requires post weld heat treatment - so many bikes (regardless of cost) are 7000 series due to the added strength and not needing expensive post assembly metallurgical treatments.

Please do educate us on the metallurgical differences between low range and high range bikes - you’ll find the differences are actually in tube shaping and cross sectional geometries as well as overall bike design - hydroforming and tube butting brings some nice advantages to the table that the cheapest straight tubing can’t.

Basic structural steel is by far the cheapest and easiest material to work with though.

That being said, there never was anything wrong with steel - the vast majority of races are determined by rider proficiency, while bad equipment can take you out, unless your ride brings dramatic aerodynamic, weight (on climbs or races where fast acceleration is decisive) or biomechanical advantages there isn’t much to be gained.

It goes without saying any well designed bike is going to be pretty up there in terms of overall performance.

It all boils down to economics - if I can get a price competitive carbon ride that is well designed I’ll take it over a steel ride any day.  I love my steel bikes, but I’m not delusional which design gives me that itty bitty ounce of competitive edge (whether I can benefit from it or not).

These “super steels” are nice, but IMO production costs and difficulties associated with said high hardness, thin walled sections dramatically increase costs (on parity with composites) without bringing any decisive advantage over composites.

  If you love the looks and feel of riding/racing steel all power to you - it certainly makes for a beautiful and competitive ride.

These baron bikes are definitely good lookers too.

The post is about Baron and their use of steel, as I said above in my comment, and not the famous frame material debate that you’re bringing up. My choice of materials are titanium and carbon and you can find our extensive posting on bikes made with either here. As to my cred, well I do publish this blog and ride all kinds of bikes all over the place, including a season with a Redline Conquest which is as aluminum as it gets. What’s your cred? Are you from the aluminum manufacturing lobby?

For someone who claimed to want to avoid the material debate, you seemed to feel the need to make it clear that aluminum wasn’t a suitable frame material.

Your primary assertion that AL was used en- mass because it is cheapest is wrong (steel can always be obtained cheaper), your assertion that it makes an unsuitable material is further completely unsubstantiated by engineering literature.

As for my creds, I ride around a lot and I’m…da,da,da a mechanical engineer.

A shit bike is going to be a shit bike regardless of the frame material - which is all there really is to that debate.  Even with the “bestest”, hardest to work with steels, the strength to weight ratio comes out basically exactly on par with the best aluminums. Composites loose out when having to weave for complex forces - TANSTAAFL, you should know that.

This is a great blog btw, it just makes me want to pull my hair out when I hear completely wrong and unsubstantiated stuff - the cycling community is full of material and stiffness and aero and god knows what other mythology with little studied fact.

The biggest disservices to cycling aren’t shitty Al frames or flat bars (which I quite like for MTB btw), it’s cycling companies marketing technological lore - which more riders happily eat up.

I understand what you’re saying and don’t disagree and noted it above when I mentioned the bikes Cipo rode; if you’re into Aluminum, hard to argue with thin-walled OS tubing, shaped and butted and so on. The Scandium frame I rode from Redline was perfect for it’s intended use. I wouldn’t want to ride a century on it, but for Cross it was light, stiff and responsive. Aluminum is not a frame material I want to ride and I’ve stated in other posts why that is and I will maintain my argument it was mainstreamed because of how cheap it is and was at the low end.  We’ve had bikes come through here that cost less than the box they shipped in.

I also remember the days when Klein was the bike to have amongst us bigger guys.

Steel has always been cheaper than aluminum though (significantly so), both in terms of raw materials and assembly overhead.

The only time you can ever save money with Al over steel is if the reduced weight somehow drops your shipping cost by such a margin that if offsets the intrinsic higher cost of AL - it happens.

Alu was certainly accessible enough price wise to make mass produced bikes - but there is no way it was the primary driver given the absolute dirty cheap cost of steel that could be used to make crappy bikes.

I suspect the real reason was was low-mid end marketting gimmickry you see (and not all that different than the stuff used to sell highest end stuff) - ie geee wiz Alu is “lighter than steel” (and indeed it is comparing low end structural steel to cheaper 6000 series Alu).

Lets be realistic here though - tubing costs have little bearing on the price of bike frames.  Cycling specific extrusions and butting at the higher end (super steels and scandium alloyed AL excluded here - those pricey) of tubesets cost a few hundred bucks.  Cheaper tubing costs even less.  If you shop around for Ti tubing you can get it for less than 1/3 the cost of the cheapest Ti frames coming out of Asia.

Raw tubing is pretty damn cheap, you’re paying assembly, overhead and of course salaries.

Carbon isn’t truly pricey either on a large production scale either, IMO the OEM costs from the big composite produces are shockingly low.

My buddy raced an old klein for some years before getting a team sponsored frameset - it never held him back thats for sure and I think he picked it up from a garage sale of all things and put a proper gruppo and wheelset on it.  The paint scheme was smexy too.

@PJ88 - not sure about the Aluminum being more pricey than Steel in the bike world.  Perhaps it has to do with shipping like you mention, but a decent-quality tubeset for steel is roughly $200 from TruTemper (and like you say it goes up from there).  Aluminum tubesets are more in the $50-80 range.  I’m not sure about apples-apples for the quality of the tubesets, but everything I’ve seen for frame builder stock parts is that Aluminum is much cheaper a material.

(and I have a degree in Materials Engineering…but haven’t done anything with it in 12 years - sad.)

@Andrew

Tube-set pricing isn’t necessarily reflective of market stock pricing though.

Columbus Alu tubesets can easily fetch 200-300$ and beyond. I’ve yet to really price a Reynold’s X-100 set, but based on what I know of Al-Li alloy costs from other projects you can bet it costs a pretty penny.

Likewise you can easily find CrMo tubesets in that same $50-80 range.

It’s all about apples to apples (which is tough to determine without getting metallurgy and properties testing), and dealing with the fact that even tubeset companies are selling you their name at a premium - a materially equivalent, structurally equivalent unamed tube can invariably be found for less unless you are talking something exotic like Al-Mg-Li or Maraging steel (which is tougher to get period).

Take cycling out of the equation.  For boat building and cars, hull and chassis prices have been studied to be around twice the all up cost.  In raw materials (non cycling specific) I’ve never seen similar size extrusions or stocks being cheaper in AL.  Both the materials and the assembly are just more expensive - so at the bare bottom of mass produced products at low margins (ie cheap bikes from Asia) there is no way they’d choose Alu over steel to save money.

I’m not saying Alu is “expensive” - but by that token neither is Ti.  You can get a tubeset for 200-400 dollars - ie the same price as a brand name steel tubeset.

Regardless of the tube material - the materials cost is a fraction of the frame cost anyway unless you are paying for Asian labor.

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