While all of Alchemy’s bicycles are full custom and handmade in Denver, CO, ours was not custom made for us. It’s one of their personal bikes and was built for crit racing. This description of the build came in an email stating that this bike has been ridden hard and put away dirty. Funny thing is, you can’t tell. The frame looks gorgeous, not a scratch on it. And it’s wicked fast…
The test bike came with its own wheels, but we swapped them for the ENVE Smart 6.7 clinchers we have in on review (laced to DT Swiss hubs with Panaracer Closer tires mounted). The complete bike without pedals came in at 16lb 5oz.
Put together in normal (for me) riding fashion with a seat bag, blinky light, Speedplay pedals and a bottle cage, weight was 18lb 1oz.
Alchemy’s Dave Ryther says it only has one bottle cage mount because it was built just for crit racing, you can get more if you were to order one of your very own.
What’s most striking about the Alchemy Arion, besides the stealth fighter looks, is the detailed aesthetics worked into the carbon layup. The logo is a perfect example: It’s strands are just aimed in an ever so slightly different direction than the tube it sits on, giving it a ghosted appearance. Other parts of the frame aren’t as subtle, and depending on how the sunlight’s hitting the frame, you’re in for a dark prismatic treat.
At every joint, the carbon wraps are cut, shaped and laid in tight, sharp geometric patterns that accentuate the fighter jet look. Seriously, pictures don’t do this justice. Even Sweetie did a double and triple take on this one. And she never does that for road bikes.
It’s not just good looks, though. The downtube, seat tube and post use NACA-inspired airfoil shapes, and the layup… well, the layup is whatever it needs to be to suit the customer. But this particular bike is proof that it can be as rock solid as you want and still look good.
The headtube stays lean for aerodynamics with a slight flare at the bottom to accommodate the 1-1/4″ lower diameter. It comes spec’d with an ENVE 2.0 fork.
They also use ENVE’s saddle rail clamp on their own seatpost, and our test bike came with matte black ENVE handlebar and stem, too. Honestly, I can’t imagine any other bar and stem on this bike, they just match up too perfectly.
Why the love affair with ENVE parts? Alchemy’s carbon tubes are made by ENVE, and this particular bike started life as a collaborative project between both companies.
The frame shape was designed by Matt Maczuzak, Alchemy’s R&D/Design manager and the person who started their carbon bike program. Before he came on board in 2010, they were building with only titanium and steel, and he was a design consultant for consumer electronics and medical devices.
The Arion’s design started with NACA air foil theory and was tweaked to be more aerodynamic where the tubes see the most wind frontage. Other parts were widened, like the bottom bracket, to provide the stiffness they wanted. It wasn’t designed in the wind tunnel, but Maczuzak says they’ve since put it in there and the results were quite pleasing.
Ride quality was an equal priority to aerodynamics. Ultimate stiffness wasn’t an overriding concern, and Maczuzak says because they’re built one or two bikes at a time, they can pay extra attention to the layup. Before that happens, though, the tubes have to be made, and that’s where ENVE comes in:
“We had been selling them round tubes for some of their other bikes, and they approached us with the concept for the Arion,” said Jason Schiers, ENVE’s founder. “We helped them develop the tooling, which is proprietary to us, and optimized the shapes to make them more ‘carbon friendly’ when it came time for production. From there, we would give them a few layups and resins, they’d build a couple bikes to test it and send us feedback. It was a very collaborative process. We have a lot of experience on how to get to the end result quickly, so we really helped them choose the right laminates, fiber orientation and wall thicknesses for the finished tubes. We provide all the raw tubes, then they do the assembly.”
Each base tube (top, head, down, seat and both sets of stays) are created in three standard layups with varying degrees of stiffness. Herein lies the big benefit of custom: Not only can the layup and geometry be tailored to your particular size and riding style, but the actual tubes themselves can be mixed and matched within the frame to give it the exact ride characteristic you want. The final touches, of course, come with the layup, and Alchemy’s award winning Arion has some of the best we’ve seen.
“Every piece of carbon on the frame is providing a service,” Maczuzak says. “Even on the top tube, those angular cuts of carbon are placed to provide a certain benefit, we just cut them to provide an aesthetically pleasing finish, too.”
On this particular bike, which is Maczuzak’s personal crit bike, he used standard tubes plus a few extra layers of overwrap to give it a ride feel somewhere between their standard and stiff tubesets.
My first two rides on this bike were with tired legs. Yet, as soon as I was warmed up, it just begged to go fast. So I did. And it was good.
The bike is incredibly stiff fore, aft and everywhere in between. The usual handlebar-shimmy-test yielded less headtube flex and shake than any other bike I’ve ridden. Hard pedaling, whether seated or standing, simply translated into forward motion. I get the sense that nothing’s wasted on this bike. Even with tired legs, I felt consistently faster and stronger on the flats and hills.
All that stiffness does come at a price, though. On anything less than smooth roads, you’ll feel it. Not so much in the hands, but in the arse. Some of that’s likely due to the deep aero wheels, but it is, after all, a bike built for crit racing. The nice thing about full custom is they can build it however you want it to ride.
My latest ride was a solo 79 mile trip home from Fuquay Varina, NC, to Greensboro, which faced plenty of headwinds and a gradual uphill route. The bike was great, making the constant onslaught of winds bearable and plowing along despite my increasingly slow tempo.
I’m looking forward to riding this thing quite a bit more to see if the good (fast!) vibes are just early infatuation or an honest benefit of the stiff, aerodynamic build.
Cost: $4,300 for frame, ENVE 2.0 tapered fork and Cane Creek 110 IS headset. Considering that includes full custom geometry and layup, that’s pretty fair. Lead time is about 6-8 weeks.