By Bill Plock
With stock bikes from popular manufacturers harder to find than ever, this might be the time to consider a custom bike made right here in Colorado.
There are about 15 manufacturers of bikes in Colorado (list and links belows), not just brands, but facilities that make the frame, many customizable and most made from titanium, aluminum or steel. But one company, Alchemy makes a carbon frame for road and gravel bikes. Guerrilla Gravity also makes a carbon frame locally, but they only offer mountain bikes.
Most will offer you a frame, often with a customized paint job and let you choose components to end up with a finished bike ready to roll exactly how you want it. Beware, components these days are a bit scarce and can delay delivery. Lead times after visiting different websites vary greatly from a few weeks to a few months.
But here in Denver, Alchemy offers something unique with their road and gravel bikes. With Alchemy you can choose a carbon or titanium frame both made under the same roof. That is very rare to have that choice from the same company in the same place—and the only one in Colorado.
Both materials offer unique comfort and performance. Alchemy prices the frames equally so it really comes down to personal preference. They can guide you through the benefits of each and in normal years they would have a fleet of demo’s to try, but with components so challenging they finish customers bikes before building demos.
Alchemy’s state of the art manufacturing facility is located off the Cherry Creek Trail southeast of Denver. They have been building custom bikes since 2008. “What I love about Alchemy,” says marketing manager, Bryce Wood, “I think it has been very rewarding to have team members that are so invested in the company and want to stay a part of our family for so long. Watching them grow and seeing them progress has been fantastic.”
They can fit you if you don’t know your ideal dimensions and because they offer both materials, they can help you decide which is best for you. They will even take you on a detailed factory tour and show you how both types of frames are made and why one may suit you better than the other.
In general, bikes over two thousand dollars are by far made most often with carbon and made overseas in factories where they can be mass produced less expensively. Like most things you get what you pay for. Less expensive frames are generally heavier and not engineered as well to accommodate rider comfort and handling. They are all safe, but less expensive frames are typically made from one mold resulting in a stiffer, more vibrating, less responsive ride. Conversely, the best frames offer the smoothest, most responsive rides and are often more aesthetically pleasing with finer finishes. In general carbon frames offer the best cost to strength to weight to performance ratio.
Titanium on other hand is a very lightweight, strong, non-corrosive material that offers a very smooth ride and a classy, sleek look. Titanium frames are more expensive to produce than most carbon frames and there is great deal of skill needed to properly weld titanium and machining requires some expensive tooling because of the hardness of the material. There are definitely “fans” of titanium and they are very popular as touring/bikepacking bikes eating up road and trail vibration while being light and able to carry extra gear with attachments to the frame.
Carbon bikes can vary greatly in quality and price. Alchemy’s Bryce Wood explained some of the factors that effect pricing. First off, the carbon fiber material can vary quite a bit in quality based on its pureness and fiber construct. As mentioned, less expensive frames are often made using one mold for the entire frame. That results in a heavier frame because of the uniform thickness, so it’s plenty strong, but there is also a lot of extra material in non critical areas. By making the frame in pieces (fork, seat stays, top tube, down tube, chain stays, head tube) each piece can be crafted for ultimate strength and weight but designed to offer more flex here and there for comfort and handling. But this requires a lot more handling and craftsmanship. At Alchemy they weave carbon strands in just “the right way” (think taping an ankle) to connect the various parts. This is all heat treated and pressed and what makes the carbon bond and harden to be so strong. Those pieces can also be “glued” to form a joint, which is much less expensive but again adds weight and is not as clean of a look.
Carbon frame manufacturing is particularly interesting to witness. Born from a paper thin roll of high quality carbon composite, sheets are laid out on a gigantic, on what almost looks like a fabric cutter. The pieces are laid in multiple directions using a proprietary “weave” that eventually is cut, molded, heated and assembled. As a kid I would take fruit rollups and make a concoction of shapes and flavors—it sorta reminded me of that in a fun way!
The thickness of a carbon frame will vary based on the delicate balance of needed strength, compliance and desired lightness in weight. It’s a complicated and intense process that requires a great deal of precision and close attention to detail with precise temperatures and pressure.
No matter the material, a custom bike will probably enhance your performance because its made for YOU and your comfort will be second to none. But maybe more so, the pride you might feel in knowing who built it, where it was built and that you are supporting the local community might outweigh everything. Oh and you can have it painted to fit your style! Have some fun with it!
Alchemy is building a new facility in Golden scheduled to open later this fall.
Other bike makers in Colorado:
Bingham Built (Steamboat Springs)
Eriksen (Steamboat Springs)
Moots (Steamboat Springs)
Oddity (Ft. Collins)