- What: Carbon, titanium and steel frames
- Where: Denver, Colorado
- How: Handbuilt in house, starting with sheets of unidirectional carbon (and butted tubes)
- Why: Precise control of every step of construction and thus ride quality
Dozens of American brands sell carbon frames, but only a handful make their own in the US. And the number of American brands building stock carbon frames in Colorado? Just one: Alchemy. Here’s why.
The call of the Rockies
The Colorado Rockies are many things to many people. For Alchemy, they are a recruitment tool.
“When we are looking to make a hire, usually we fly someone out on a Thursday, meet with them on a Friday, and set them up with a bike to ride in the mountains over the weekend,” said Alchemy founder Ryan Cannizzaro. “Usually by Monday they are ready to move here.”
The swansong of the Rockies lured Cannizzaro and his partner Matt MacZuzak to Colorado in 2011 from Texas. Cycling and skiing were personal draws, but so was the ability to bring in welders, painters, machinists and others to build Alchemy.
The pair found a home in a warehouse owned by Primal Wear, which sits smack on the jam-packed Cherry Creek bike path that runs north-south through the heart of Denver. For years, Alchemy ran a coffee shop in the front of the building, catering almost exclusively to cyclists who would pop in off the path.
So, sure, it’s not hard to see why a cycling brand would want to set up shop in Denver. But swimming upstream and building carbon frames in house? That’s another story.
Building carbon vs buying from Asia
Cannizzaro began Alchemy in Austin, welding titanium and steel frames. He connected with MacZuzak, who was laying up carbon frames, mostly for friends. For both, building frames was a matter of passion.
But passion only takes one so far.
Making carbon frames stateside — and assembling them into complete bikes — costs more than doing it in Taiwan. Which is why hardly anyone does it, at least without some customization to differentiate the product.
For Alchemy, Cannizzaro and MacZuzak argue that ride quality, not just the ‘made in Colorado’ tag, is what continues to drive their business.
“A lot of Asian-made bikes, they are made in sections and put together with lugs and epoxy,” Cannizzaro said, pointing to how Alchemy uses tube-to-tube construction, mitering each tube to precisely nestle up against the other tube, and then overwrap the junctions with more carbon.
“Made in the USA counts for some riders. And made in Colorado counts,” Cannizzaro said. “But the bigger picture is that, for road and gravel riders, you are sitting in one or two relatively fixed positions for hours, and the difference in how one bike feels over another makes a big difference.
Story continues below gallery. Click on any image for full-size version, and to toggle through the gallery.
This doesn’t look like a bicycle… but it is where a bicycle begins. A CNC machine cuts out unidirectional fiber into dozens of pieces
Alchemy uses unidirectional fiber. Ride characteristics are created by the layup schedule, which defines which sizes pieces go where, and in what orientation
A tube junction before overwraps are applied. Here the tubes are temporarily held together with epoxy that has been sanded down
Hand sanding is a multi-step process, done both after frame construction and after a clear coat is applied
‘Welcome to Colorful Colorado’ read our state signs at our borders. And you’ll find that to be true, wherever you ride
This isn’t an Alchemy frame, but an Asian-made competitor that uses lugs and a healthy amount of epoxy to join the tubes
Awards, and American firsts
Over the years, Alchemy had notched up a number of accolades, including awards for Best Carbon Bicycle and Best Carbon Layup at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
Alchemy also lays claims to the first American-made carbon full-suspension mountain bike, with its Arktos. Notably, the Arktos is the one model Alchemy now makes Denver and also buys from an Asian factory, where it can deliver the bike for about $800 less. Cannizzaro said that, for full-suspension mountain bikes, often riders are most focused on the suspension and the linkage configuration, and much less on the frame itself. “As long as the frame is light and stiff, riders are feeling the finer points of the shock and the linkage design,” Cannizzaro said. “And while riders here might appreciate the made-in-Colorado thing, there is also some price sensitivity, which is understandable.”
For an inside look at Alchemy, check out the gallery below, and visit Alchemy online or, better yet, in person at their shop.
Roll Massif editor
Ben has been riding bikes and slinging stories since he was a paperboy. Professionally, he’s been a cycling journalist since 1999, when racing bikes and studying journalism at the University of New Mexico led to pulls at VeloNews, BikeRadar, Cyclingnews and elsewhere. After traveling the world to report on pro cycling in Europe and manufacturing in Asia, Ben is happy to be at home in Colorado, writing about the incomparable riding and the creative people who drive the cycling culture.