Nestled quaintly in a mesa hillside on the West Side of Colorado Springs sits Ground Up Speed Shop. The owner, Eric Baar, is a gem in the local bike community and beyond. He’s known as a one-of-a-kind custom bike frame-builder. Whether they’re raced professionally or being used recreationally on local mountain biking trails, Baar’s frames take bicycle performance to a higher level of quality and versatility.
Originally from Dickinson, ND, Baar’s enthusiasm for bicycles developed as a young kid while he rode his favorite BMX bike around his neighborhood and local track. Making kites and model rockets fueled his creative thinking and interest in building. After seeing a video on Tommasini Bicycles, Baar felt inspired by the handcrafted Italian bikes.
“I really liked that, and they showed how they make the bikes, and I always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to do something like that,” Baar said. “I guess I found myself taking those steps in that era.”
After three and a half years in the Army National Guard, Baar attended school at Southeast Technical Institute in South Dakota, where he studied machinery and welding. Post-graduation, Baar longed to leave the Great Plains and re-establish himself in the Rocky Mountains. He was extremely pleased when he received a job offer in Colorado Springs as a machinist.
Baar’s welding shop used to sit in a small garage in the Old North End. In 2006, he re-established on the himself on the West Side, which seems to suit the needs of the shop better. The property not only provides him with the space he needs for his shop, but room for the Dizzy Drome – a concave, circular dirt track designed for getting really, really dizzy on bikes. Just watching him zoom around the Drome could make someone woozy.
“I have a lot of neighbors and friends that like the Dizzy Drome and like to come over and hang out,” Baar said. “I have a friend that likes to drive his RC car in there. I like to have a little place to have some friends come over.”
The custom bike frames coming out of Ground Up Speed Shop reflect the uniqueness of the shop and the maker. Vintage-style glitter paint and immaculate pinstriping detail adorn Baar’s sleek frame designs. Composed primarily of steel, titanium and aluminum, Baar says his frames are crafted with durability in mind.
“I have a tendency to make things a little stronger than they need to be, simply because I don’t want to have to see them again,” Baar laughed.
Using a variety of tools and machines, Baar relies predominantly on his 1987 welding machine, a small mill, an old lathe from the 1940’s, some homemade tools, basic measuring equipment, precision and most notably, his paint kit. Though he has been welding frames for years, graphic design and pinstriping is a recently learned skill to Baar and one of his biggest challenges.
“It’s the hardest thing,” he said. “It’s very similar to welding with the handwork and the motion. That’s the part I really enjoy, going into the zone.”
Using a brush made from Russian squirrel hair, he applies the paint with precise strokes, creating perfectly symmetric designs from the hand-dedicated lines.
“I’ve been kind of known as a fabricator welder, just making the bike itself and then sending it off for paint and graphics some place else,” Baar explained. “And now I’ve been making my own stuff and trying to come up with my own style, trying to develop something that when you see it, you just know its one of my bikes. That’s super important to me.”
Ground Up isn’t the only place where Baar’s creations are coming to life. Since 2007, Baar has been commuting to Denver two to three days a week to weld for da Vinci Designs, a shop that builds custom performance tandem bicycles. Da Vinci owner Todd Shusterman has only high regards of Baar.
“One of the great things about Eric is he’s always working at it, and a neat characteristic about him is he’ll walk in and say, ‘I’m excited to be practicing the art of welding today.’ He’s always working at being good and getting better,” Shusterman said.
Welding for da Vinci has been vital for Baar’s skill set.
“I go up there, and all I do is weld. I don’t have to answer phones or deal with anybody; I just focus on the work,” Baar said.
Ground Up and da Vinci may produce very different products, but both shops share the reliable foundation that drives the quality and success of their frames. Baar said most of his Ground Up clients have to be patient and willing to wait for their perfect bike.
“There’s a lot of other bikes out there that cost more than mine and you could be riding it that afternoon if you just go into a bike shop and buy it,” Baar said. “Mine are going to take a long time and you have to be very patient, and that’s a rare quality.”
Between welding for da Vinci and running his own business, Baar finds himself at an ideal place in his career. Producing approximately twelve bikes a year, Baar says that Ground Up is exactly where he wants it to be. Following the “Keep it small, you own it all” business model, Baar intends on refining his work to perfection and taking care of his customers.
“The last five years I haven’t really taken on anything new, I’m just learning how to do it better,” he said.
Through welding and owning his own small business, Baar has had an opportunity to learn though his mistakes. The most important learning experience he’s had is the same thing his customers must have – patience in the process.
“Learning to stop. When it’s not working, you have to stop. Back up, take a breath, look at it, and fix it. But you can’t just force it. You have to be in control 100% of the time of the craziness that’s happening right before your eyes.”
The life of a welder can be demanding at times, but Baar manages to keep a good balance for playtime too. Projects like the Dizzy Drome, and building and racing his dwarf car, provide an outlet for his creative welding skills and need for speed. It’s hard not to notice that Baar also has a furry sidekick roaming his shop: Theodore, his shoulder cat. The cat rides bikes on Baar’s shoulders, and Baar even can do a few laps on the Dizzy Drome with him.
Since it’s only a short ride to Red Rock Canyon from the Speed Shop, Baar finds himself escaping there for rides on his trail bike whenever he can. For Baar there’s a dynamic parallel between cycling and welding. From the consuming realm of the process, to seeing it as a functional unit fulfilling a cyclist’s needs.
“The thing I like the most is the hand work and getting in the zone, like riding a bike,” Baar said. “I like seeing this go from a pile of tubes, to a bike you can ride away. And then your fixture is still there and you can do it again, and again, and again. I like the creative aspect; I like making something that is my own. I like serving people. Certainly I like it when people show up and tell me about their awesome rides they’re having on my bikes.”
If bikes could measure a person’s happiness, Baar is clearly on top.
“You have to be in control 100% of the time of the craziness that’s happening right before your eyes.”
516 Manitou Blvd.
Colorado Springs, CO, 80904
Phone: (719) 213-9148