We’ve been aware of Alchemy bikes for a few years now. After all, it’s hard not to since they’re a two-time winner of the Best Carbon Bike award at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Although we’d been playing phone tag with them about getting a bike since last year’s NAHBS in North Carolina, it wasn’t until we saw a particular root- beer-brown gravel bike of theirs at Eurobike that we became downright insistent. Alchemy is a small frame shop based in Denver, Colorado, and they have made their name making custom frames. We don’t like custom frames, but we like Alchemy bikes. Huh?
Without a doubt, what Alchemy has going on in their 12-person frame shop is something close to magic. They don’t just buy their tubes from someone and glue them together. They actually make their own bladder- molded frame tubes in-house. That’s not only an impressive investment in time and money, it’s also an over-the- top statement of their carbon prowess and dedication to the material. Wait, besides carbon fiber, they also build their own titanium and stainless steel frames as well. In short, these guys are clearly dedicated to the cause of hand- built frames, and in this day and age of mass-produced everything, that’s a quality worth admiring. So how is it that we can harbor such admiration for them but be so dismissive of the very thing that brought them so much success?
In short, we have a policy of not testing custom-built bikes. Why? Because there’s virtually no consumer value that can come from ordering a bike built to our personal specs and then pretending to provide an objective evaluation of it. We’ll gladly leave that ruse to the journos who want to revel in their role as frame designers in want of a free bike. Luckily, we had two things going in our favor with the Alchemy we saw at Eurobike: 1) It represented their edition of stock “Baseline DNA” frames, and 2) it was a 56cm frame, which fit us perfectly. Given their extensive history as custom builders, even the Baseline bikes can be altered for an upcharge.
Just as we’ve seen with Sarto frames from Italy where everything is done in-house, the Aithon is also built using the old-school “tube-to-tube” process, whereby after each tube is made it gets mitered and then the joint is wrapped with carbon layers. There is no glue, putty or epoxy used to mate the tubes. Alchemy builds each bike for the intended use, and the Aithon’s tube shapes and lay-up schedule are designed to maximize compliance versus the stiffness found with their other frames. Without a doubt, it’s not just the tube shapes, but the shape they take up in space that we found so arresting. The bowed-out design of the rear triangle was downright seductive. The paint shop is also on the same premises.
Although Alchemy is happy to sell you a frame and send you on your way to build it as you please, they not only supply a varied menu of parts on their website, but they will also build the bike for you. Our test bike reflected a mix of offerings: a Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain combined with a carbon component kit from Enve. The frame is made to accommodate either mechanical cables or electric wires, and it is disc-specific. Fender mounts are another option.
The Enve hoops were wrapped with 35c Kenda Happy Medium tires that proved as friendly on the pavement as they did on dirt roads. We found the TRP Hy/Rd disc brakes worked demonstrably better on the Alchemy than they did on the last bike we rode with them, which we attributed solely to the Shimano polymer-coated brake cables. Yes, folks, cable housing can make all the difference. As our bike rolled with the high- end parts package (including the $200 upcharge for Alchemy to build it), the cost was $11,600. Choosing the least expensive build kit offered would still set you back $7950.
Like we said up top, every once in a while a bike comes along that is as noteworthy for its ride as it is for its appearance. This is one of them. From the translucent root-beer-brown clear coat that literally radiated in the sun and caught everyone’s eye who saw the bike to the handling and compliance both on and off the road, the Alchemy Aithon was a superb bike to ride. As one test rider said, “This bike practically compelled me to keep pedaling and ride for longer than I planned to!”
Despite our initial qualms of taking such a pretty bike off-road, we were assured that we could ride the bike with as much enthusiasm as we would a titanium bike. And so we did. If there was a downside to the Aithon not having a front thru-axle, it was never apparent, even on the bumpiest of fire roads. Simply put, the Aithon was as impressive to pedal on the local roads as it was the fire roads.
The more we thought about not just the ride quality but the build process that made it possible, the more we came to see the Alchemy as probably the closest thing anyone can get to an American version of a Colnago C60. Expertly handmade in a small factory, beautiful and expensive with an impeccable ride, the Aithon shares many of the same qualities that makes its Italian counterpart such a great bike (the only thing missing is having Mrs. Colnago in the upstairs kitchen making lunch!). Not only did the Aithon exude an impeccable level of craftsmanship, but just knowing the bike’s backstory has to leave any detail-oriented bike geek exulting in the glory that is an expertly fabricated, fabulously riding bicycle.
– What’s not to love?
– Two-wheeled sculpture
– If Ernesto Colnago was American
Price: $11,600, $5500 (frame)
Sizes: 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58cm
Weight: 18.2 pounds