Don’t be alarmed by the large, papier-mâché dog sitting against the wall in Tony Baumann's living room, even if it seems to be staring directly at you. "That's my Dino head," he says with a laugh. Dino, Baumann's 9-year-old Husky/Blue Heeler mix was the inspiration for the Halloween costume and unlikely trophy head adorning Baumann's living space. The Dino bust is one of many creative treasures stashed around Baumann's house, but the real booty is in his garage. As the saying goes, "This is where the magic happens." Armed with an airbrush and ventilation mask, Baumann's real craft is creating the perfect paint job-one pull of the trigger at a time.
Baumann is all about getting rad. He rips on a mountain bike on his local trails in Bellingham, Washington. If you see him, you'll undoubtedly notice the eclectic paint jobs on his frames. Baumann's craft is meticulously detailed airbrushing of bike frames, helmets and other items that people want customized.
His signature? "Made Rad by Tony."
For the past three years, Baumann has found his artistic niche in customizing frames and helmets for professional athletes, locals and friends. At several World Cups last season, pro downhiller Troy Brosnan raced his intergalactic-themed Specialized Demo that was Made Rad by Tony. "In my head I have this story of Troy winning on that bike and I become his lucky charm," Baumann says. "He only rides stuff that I paint." Brosnan didn't win those races, but in December he did win the Australian Open Downhill at Thredbo. And who knows, maybe 2017 will be the 'Year of Rad.'
Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Baumann was always into art, but he wasn't always into legal art. "I got into a bit of trouble in high school," he says. "I would show my parents my graffiti while out on drives." Baumann's dad was a painter too, and while he couldn't disguise his appreciation for his son's talent, Baumann's mom frowned upon the illegal activity and encouraged him to channel his talent with a rattle can into something that wasn't likely to get him arrested. She bought him his first airbrush 13 years ago. He started tinkering around with it and found something cathartic in the process.
Baumann was told that he'd never make money as a painter so he wrenched in bike shops while attending Western Carolina University, where he earned a degree in graphic design and entrepreneurship. Post-college hometown burnout had him craving a real winter in his childhood vacation spot of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. "The snow is deep and the town is awesome," he says. "I wanted to do the ski bum thing for a bit."
After a winter in the white room, Baumann returned to Asheville, North Carolina, to focus on his career. He worked odd jobs, including a stint as a used car salesman, and was miserable. Searching for something he could enjoy, he stumbled upon a posting from Specialized Bicycle Components for a dealer education position. Then 26, Baumann packed up his life and moved to Morgan Hill, California, to join the 'Big Red S.' Although he spent his days in the office, it was in the after-hours that he discovered his real potential for blending art and bikes.
With the candle burning brightly at both ends, Baumann was busy becoming a career man while still maintaining his drive to paint. He'd work a full day training retailers on the intricacies of Specialized products, then go home and paint for another four to six hours. Baumann's workhorse airbrush is the same brush his mom gave to him to help curb his affinity for graffiti. His makeshift studio consisted of Harbor Freight carport tents. "They would get pretty sketchy in the wind," he laughs. His work was starting to make waves locally and his extra-curricular hobby began earning him a solid reputation.
His first break came when Specialized athlete Brad Benedict saw Baumann's work and asked for two custom helmets. He gladly accepted the job. After it was complete, Baumann wanted to add a clearcoat for protection, but at the time he didn't have a suitable gun so he opted to use spray paint for the final touches. But the spray paint failed to blend well with the airbrushing and the helmets never got worn. Baumann was devastated. "Being self-taught is the biggest challenge," he says. "Sometimes I screw something up and I don't know how to fix it. Other times I do something amazing and can't figure out how to replicate it."
In spite of the helmet debacle, Baumann's side business continued to grow via word of mouth. He became one of the few people in the world certified to paint Specialized carbon helmets and frames without voiding the warranty. Specialized even offered the use of its paint booth for Baumann's personal projects after hours, but he turned it down since he wouldn't have been allowed to charge for his work and he wanted to paint on his own terms. "It might have been a good learning experience for me," he says, "but I enjoyed going home, eating some food, drinking a beer and heading out to the tent to chill."
Work at Specialized was going well, but he could see the lifespan of his role receding. He was offered a position in the graphics department, but was concerned that it wouldn't be creative enough. So after four years of a double life working for Specialized and moonlighting as an artist, Baumann decided to make the jump to full-time creator. "I didn't have kids. I wasn't married. That was the perfect time to make a change," he says. In October 2015, Baumann, his girlfriend Keely and their two dogs drove north to Bellingham to put down roots in the Pacific Northwest bike hub.
Describing Baumann's style is a bit of a conundrum. He draws inspiration from '70s-era choppers and hot rods, and it's clear he appreciates classic, clean lines. Take one look at his portfolio, though, and you'll see myriad designs: space scenes, forests and Sasquatch silhouettes, among other things. "Pin-striping? That's my style. Hawaiian print? Space? That's my style. I have no idea what my style is," he says with a smile. After perusing the frames in Baumann's garage, the phrase 'Master of All' seems to suit him well. And with new inspiration from local bike companies and riders, Baumann's business continues to pick up. "I love Bellingham. If I ever leave it will be against my will," he says definitively. Baumann's future has massive potential as his work begins to gain recognition outside of the bike industry. "Ideally, I'd like to branch out beyond bikes," he says. "If there was a way to paint custom jets, that would be awesome."
Take note, Air Force. Those F-16s would look pretty sweet with the Made Rad by Tony treatment.