By: Bruce Lin
Photos: The Pro’s Closet
Sprinter van backs into The Pro’s Closet’s shipping bay. Each day when it arrives, I can’t help but get that special Christmas morning-like rush of anticipation because the van is usually filled with the most joyous of cargos—dozens of fancy bikes. I stand by the bay doors, coffee in hand, and wait for the goodies to start rolling in.
Some bikes we get even seem to bring the whole building to a standstill. I remember when the ostentatious Colnago C35 Oro came in, it brought employees over in hordes, phones out for photos. For two days after that it felt like that bike dominated my Instagram and Snapchat feeds. That’s just how it goes when you’re in a place where everyone loves bikes so much.
TODAY, SOMETHING NEW
Although it’s often the old, classic bikes that mostly collect a crowd, that’s not always the case. On this particular day I was on extra alert and for good reason—I’d heard a special bike might be showing up. And soon enough, there it was—a bright red Alchemy Atlas, sleek and beautiful, built up with Ultegra Di2 and Enve 3.4 wheels
with a matching finishing kit.
I get that familiar feeling, the one that tugs at you from inside your chest and gut with a deep, machine lust.
I look at my reflection in the paint and listen to the soft ticking of the freehub as I roll the bike along. Within seconds I’m dreaming of riding this bike up one of Colorado’s numerous hors catégorie climbs, flicking effortlessly through the electronically controlled gears.
Over the last few years a lot has changed in my life. There was a time when I was a broke twenty-something and I couldn’t imagine riding, let alone owning a bike of the Alchemy’s caliber. My first real road bike was an old beat-up aluminum rig with Shimano 105 that I bought from The Pro’s Closet. With this bike I learned to clip in, wear bib shorts, and suffer and sweat as I logged thousands of miles along the way. Thanks to that bike I became a fanatic. Then I ended up working for the same company that helped start me down this path. Now I’m in a situation where, every day, a bike like the Atlas rolls past me, and the power of n+1 seriously threatens my financial well-being.
A little over 10 years ago company founder Nick Martin was a starving pro racer living out of a VW bus in the
desert and selling his homemade kombucha mothers on eBay. When I started at the company a few years back, we seemed willing to buy and sell any old heap that rolled in the front door. But fortunately, like fine wine, we’ve become more refined with age.
Since those early days we’ve forged relationships with bike shops and manufacturers across the country,
targeting pre-owned products. Our bicycle museum has grown, too, as we’ve uncovered more historically
significant bikes and begun curating for a growing list of collectors.
“Over the last year I’ve been writing about some of the special bikes that roll through our shop for resale. On a very personal level, the Alchemy Atlas is one of them.”
As cliché as it sounds, TPC has become my second home, as sometimes I spend more time riding with some of these guys than I do at home with my wife. My work with The Pro’s Closet museum has given me a new appreciation for the history of the sport. It’s deepened my understanding of the roots of my own passion. Best of all, it’s brought me to the pages of RBA where I can wax poetic about a bike most people have probably never heard of and hopefully learn to appreciate.
BUT ABOUT THE BIKE
Alchemy is a company that specializes in bespoke handmade frames, all designed and built in their own production studio located in Denver, Colorado. Before it ever came into my hands, the Atlas was a stack of unformed carbon sheets in their workshop.
Walk through the factory and you’ll meet a small but passionate group of craftsmen building some of the most beautiful bikes on the planet. They work with steel, titanium and carbon fiber, and they are one of the few builders who mold and lay up their own carbon frames right here in the U.S. Their paint is also done in-house by Ethic Paint Works, who are capable of producing whatever colorway or design you desire in rich detail.
After the Atlas was molded, finished, painted and built, it became part of their small demo fleet. It lived a mostly
pampered life until it came time for the next iteration. This is where The Pro’s Closet jumped in, as we purchased the bike, as well as a handful of Alchemy’s close-out bikes.
Over the last year I’ve been writing about some of the special bikes that roll through our shop for resale. On a very personal level, the Alchemy Atlas is one of them. However, for this chapter of “Inside the Pro’s Closet,” I thought that in addition to talking about the bike I would also walk you through our process and give you a peek behind the curtain.
STEP 1: SULLY’S FIND
Enter Sean Sullivan, who is one of the fixtures of our buying team. It’s his job to go out and find all of the lovely bikes I like to drool over and make deals to acquire them. He’s a former pro racer who’s raced for teams such as De Nardi, Barloworld, Toyota-United and Fly V Australia.
Though he’s retired, I can tell you firsthand that kind of elite-level fitness never seems to leave. He barely trains and he still crushes me on climbs, on the track, on lunch rides and in my dreams. As an avid collector of vintage bikes, he has a perfectly period-correct bike from each of the last four decades.
When he loaded up the Sprinter at Alchemy, he put the Atlas nearest the back door of the van on purpose. He knows me too well and figured I’d zero in on it immediately. It’s my color, and I’m just a sucker for anything with electronic shifting and premium carbon wheels. When he handed it to me, he had that wry smile, like he knew he’d found me a winner.
STEP 2: CLEAN & PREP
Once I get my hands on a bike, I’ll roll it over to the mechanics. Their department is front and center in our building, so we can easily show them off in their natural habitat. Every mechanic’s bench has a high-end EVT stand and is stocked full of tools. One corner of the shop is specifically set up for washing bikes and parts. It’s here that Nasser Judeh takes the bike from me for washing.
I really appreciate the job Nas does. It’s not glamorous, but he does it with a smile. He’s not too different from me when I was younger, ready to do whatever it took to just keep riding and hang around bikes.
Nas uses a low-pressure hose with warm water, soft brushes and a gentle touch to get the Atlas looking as fresh as the day it was built. It wasn’t grimy or anything before, but after some final polishing with Pedro’s Bike Lust, the color looks more brilliant and the shine even more eye-catching.
STEP 3: INSPECT & SERVICE
When Nas is finished, he rolls the bike over to one of our full-time mechanics. The bike goes into an EVT stand, which, though heinously expensive, are easily the best stands in the business. They use a counterweight system that allows you to effortlessly position the bike any way you want, making every part of the bike easily accessible. If anything’s wrong with the bike, this is where it’ll get caught.
Our most famous mechanic is the one and only Alister Clarke. He came to the U.S. from Jamaica at 19 and has wrenched in bike shops for the last 20 years. He’s the type of guy whose presence you feel at the shop, always singing, dancing and giving everybody a good laugh.
Recently, Alister has been training to break the wheelie hour record, which currently stands at almost 17 miles. Alister’s one-hour PR right now is 14 miles, and he tells me that he feels like 17 miles is obtainable for him in a year with enough training. Recently, he’s just been riding everywhere with his front wheel removed, doing his
10-mile commute into work entirely on the back, dazzling commuters trapped in traffic as he passes.
Alister goes over the Alchemy bike with methodical precision, checking off boxes on the 56-point inspection checklist we use for our TPC Quality Assurance program. He makes sure the drivetrain is tuned and lubed, the brakes are working properly, all bolts are torqued to the correct spec, and that any heavily used wear parts like bar tape, drivetrain components or tires are replaced.
When he’s done, the bike has a clean bill of health and is ready to ride. Nothing more than a few normal scratches and marks. We could sell it right then if we wanted, but there’s still work to be done before it’s truly ready.
STEP 4: IN THE STUDIO
Photographs are the heart of selling pre-owned bikes, and the higher quality a photo is, the more representative it is of reality. After emerging from his VW bus to get his new business off the ground, Nick realized he needed someone with more of an artistic eye to up his photography game. That’s where Brittany Moore comes in. She knows more about lighting and color than I can understand or express here in writing.
Any time I need a good photo for anything, a profile picture, a bike check or even the company Christmas cards, she’s my go-to. She’s taken the camera and used our studios to produce photos that are of such high quality that we occasionally get calls from people who assume we’ve used stock photos and ask for the “real” photos.
Our largest studio (of three) has a motorized, rotating glass and steel table controlled by remote that lets Brittany place a bike on the table and with a press of a button. The table will rotate to preset positions so that she can get shots from different angles without moving. Brittany takes additional close-up shots and makes sure to shoot any wear or damage that Alister has noted during his inspection. She then does a quick edit on the photos, and they’re ready to be presented on our website.
STEP 5: THE ONLINE PUSH
This is when the Atlas comes back to me to create a listing that will appear on our website. As a bike nerd, this listing reflects everything that I, as a prospective buyer, would ever want to know about the bike. I create a full component and spec list, and measure the frame and list the geometry. In my opinion, one of the best features of our website is the depth of information we can provide.
It can be hard, especially when dealing with used bikes, to find things like complete specs and geometry. I research and examine each bike that passes my desk, consolidate information, and strive to provide the most complete and accurate picture I can, usually above and beyond original manufacturer specifications.
I check what Alister has noted and what Brittany has photographed and go over the entire bike again with a flashlight and my fingertips. I try to find every blemish. Any cosmetic flaw, like the scratches on the tip of the crankarm and a few light nicks on the chainstays, gets entered into the listing.
When I’m satisfied that I’ve described the bike as completely as I can, I add the photos Brittany has taken and send the listing live to our website. Now it’s decision time. Do I buy or not? The price, of course, is on the high end. If I wait, it may be snatched up by some aggressive buyer. Slowly, the lust of my initial encounter with the bike dulls slightly in the face of fiscal responsibility. Ah, the fine balancing act of bike ownership.
STEP 6: WAIT TO SELL
Sully walks up to my desk, smiling, and asks, “You gonna do it?” Buy the bike he means. It’s something that gets asked constantly around here. People love to egg on their friends so they can vicariously experience that new bike-day feeling through them. It’s a fair question, as our company’s business model is to purchase pre-owned inventory, so I can certainly sell it back and continue the cycle. Ultimately, my credit card balance is enough to hold me back, and I make the rational and responsible choice—for now.
Still, the red paint calls to me, and the lure of Di2 and Enve is hard to resist. There’s no guarantee I won’t change my mind tomorrow. But now that the Atlas is listed on our website, it must be preemptively packed up. Pre-packing ensures that when orders are placed, bikes can leave the shop promptly, especially when we’re shipping out hundreds of orders a day.
“People love to egg on their friends so they can vicariously experience that new-bike-day feeling through them.”
This task falls to Steve Gardner and the shipping team. He’s a lumberjack-looking guy from Alaska and the one who wins every beard-growing contest in the shop. Remember how I said I spend more time riding than I do with my wife? Well, he’s the homewrecker. We’ve been on countless adventures together, and I’ve come to trust him more than my GPS when we’re deep in the Colorado backcountry hunting singletrack trails.
I watch him wrap the frame in protective foam, still teetering on the fence about taking it for myself. He sees me and knows exactly what I’m thinking. Like a good work spouse, he’s also the only person in the shop who advises me to exercise restraint.
Begrudgingly, I agree, and leave him to do his job. Steve is meticulous. For him, having bikes arrive to the customer in the same condition as they leave the building is of paramount importance. Every part of the bike that might touch something else—the box, another component, whatever—gets wrapped and protected.
Finally, the Atlas gets put up into our warehouse ready to depart as soon as someone more prepared than me makes the call. And just like that, the brief romance is over and I’m back to work dusting museum bikes. I wish the Atlas well and hope it finds a loving home with someone like me. They can experience all the anticipation, joy and daydreams I had when I first saw the bike. They can ride it like I imagined I would. Then, all is forgotten
when I hear the shipping bay doors open again. Sully’s back with another van full of bikes. I run over, full
2016 ALCHEMY ATLAS
- Estimated value: $7000 (original MSRP)
- Size: 56cm
- Fork: Enve Road
- Headset: Cane Creek 40
- Stem: Enve Road
- Handlebars: Enve Road
- Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 6800
- Front derailleur: Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870
- Rear derailleur: Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870
- Shift levers: Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870
- Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6800
- Chain: Shimano Ultegra 6800
- Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000
- Bottom bracket: Shimano
- Wheels: Enve SES 3.4
- Tires: Continental GP4000s II
- Saddle: PRO Stealth
- Seatpost: Enve Road
- Weight: 15.5 pounds