Words by Max Burgess.
It is not often I get to travel to the States, so when I found out an upcoming trip would take me only 800 miles from Denver, I couldn’t resist the chance to visit Alchemy.
Alchemy was started around seven years ago, but hasn’t always been located in Denver. Three years ago they took the bold decision to expand the company and move from Austin. In the process they relocated eight families including three former Serotta employees.
One of the biggest driving forces for the this move was not only to find a bigger space, but to bring as much of the bike building process in house as they could. This new location would enable them to welcome to their ranks talented painters, welders and other industry people that would be essential for Alchemy to grow.
But, the move would also allow them to accomplish something that sets Alchemy apart from 99% of the other custom bike manufacturers; they were able to start the production of their own carbon tubes.
Many custom carbon bike producers rely on ENVE for their carbon tubes, the same way a steel frame maker will take tubes from Columbus or Reynolds. In fact, Alchemy are still one of ENVE’s biggest clients from whom they source their round carbon tubes due to the cost of the machinery needed to produce these.
Alchemy now have a process where they use a CNC machine to cut solid blocks of aluminium which are then used to make bladder moulds in which the carbon fibre is formed and cured. They exclusively use unidirectional carbon fibre, which they have to keep in a freezer to prevent it curing, placed begrudgingly next to legendary metal man Murderwolf.
Murderwolf, aka Jeff Wager, is one of the aforementioned Serotta members. His part of the Alchemy workshop, known as the murder room, takes up considerable space and is appropriately marked out by the claret red plastic curtain that surround it and the Iron Maiden, Slayer and Metallica drapes hanging within. His welding mask is appropriately adorned and as Alchemy’s man of metal music and metal frames, he scowls every time someone heads towards the freezer to take out the carbon fibre chilling inside.
I don’t actually know the last fact is completely accurate, but I would like to believe so. I watch Murderwolf do his thing, before quietly retreating back to the carbon area where my host Cody shows me the process of forming a carbon tube.
Alchemy are able to tailor their carbon tubes according to the build of each rider by adding multiple layers built up in the bladder mould. This is essentially two pieces of aluminium with an inflatable rubber tube passing through the middle, which once inflated to high pressures pushes the carbon into the metal, thus forming it’s shape. These moulds are then placed into a heat press which speeds up the process of curing, enabling them to produce up to two carbon frames a day.
To produce an Alchemy carbon frame takes them around 40 hours. Around 40% of this time is taken up by the painting process, for which they are developing a reputation for delivering eye-catching custom schemes for clients. Their in house paint team is so good that they even get external clients utilising their services.
However, don’t be surprised to see naked carbon frames coming out of their workshop in Denver. They spend so many man-hours making sure the carbon joints are perfect that they don’t always want to cover them. When you take a close look at one of their naked frames, you see exactly why. (Keep an eye out on Podia for a gallery of Cody’s own Alchemy Helios and see for yourself!)
Normally, at this stage of a workshop visit I would start to think about finding my way home. But, on this occasion having come so far, my host Cody kindly proposed a ride around Denver on one of their Helios carbon bikes.
Cody, of TeamPartyBoys, also turns out to be quite a useful racer as well as a gracious guide as he shows me his envious commuter route with some added laps of the park. The Helios that I rode was as stiff and nimble as you would expect from a carbon bike, but also surprisingly smooth.
In a country where drinking a beer after a ride is not actually illegal, we did just that shortly before an angry storm took over the skies of Denver.