Road bikes are supposed to have skinny tires and rim brakes, right? Not so fast there, buddy. We recently commissioned a special project from the folks at Alchemy Bicycle Company but strayed a bit off the beaten path instead of putting together a run-of-the-mill build. After looking more closely at what we've done, ask yourself a question: why wouldn't someone want to ride this?
Alchemy's latest Helios carbon road frame is the first to be manufactured completely at its Denver, Colorado workshop with tubes molded in-house, hand-wrapped joints, and gleaming paint sprayed right in the company's own booth. Designed as sort of a bridge between its round-tube Xanthus and more radically shaped Arion, it's a contemporary take on a fully custom handbuilt frame but with a more modern look and feel.
To that end, we opted for a more progressive setup than what's typically done, aiming to build sort of a bicycle equivalent of a rally car. In our minds, this means the geometry, handling and speed of a race bike but with more capability on a wider range of road surfaces thanks to disc brakes, room for moderately fatter tires, and wide-profile, disc-specific carbon clincher rims that offer all of that concept's benefits with none of its drawbacks.
The build is unabashedly high-end, spearheaded by SRAM's latest Red 22 group with its hydraulic disc brakes and trick angle-adjusting Yaw front derailleur. Much of the finishing kit comes from Enve Composites, including a deep-drop carbon bar, a molded carbon fiber stem, and a tidy carbon seatpost.
Disc brakes were a requirement for this project from day one
Enve provides the wheelset, too, though we've reached outside of the company's typical road-specific stock. We've instead reached into Enve's mountain bike parts bin for a 29XC wheelset, complete with 18mm-wide (internal width) disc-specific tubeless clincher rims, DT Swiss Aerolite bladed stainless steel spokes, DT Swiss 240s six-bolt disc hubs and a sub-1,500g weight.
Though the rims are also tubeless-compatible, we've wrapped them for now with conventional Challenge Strada open tubulars, which are labeled 25mm but measure 27mm across thanks to their broader foundation. The matching Vittoria latex inner tubes may require more frequent inflation but the combination yields an otherworldly ride quality that rivals any tubular combined with incredibly low rolling resistance – even at just 70psi.
Wide-profile 29XC carbon clincher mountain bike rims from Enve Composites are wrapped with Challenge open tubulars, yielding an incredible ride quality
As pictured here, total weight is exactly 7.50kg (16.53lb) – pedals, bottle cages, computer mount and all. More importantly, our initial rides suggest that this bike is everything we've hoped it would be. Its stiff backbone, admirably light weight, and aggressive positioning make it an eager climber while its quick handling, predictable and powerful brakes, and incredible cornering traction make it outrageously fast on twisty downhills, too.
Could we gain a little extra speed with more aerodynamic wheels? Perhaps, but then again, we don't have to swap these out when the Colorado Front Range's often viscious crosswinds are swirling.
Those capabilities don't seem to diminish much on broken pavement or dirt roads, either, meaning this thing has so proven to be heaps of fun anywhere we've taken it.
Disc brakes have mostly been limited to more leisurely 'endurance' road bikes so far. Our Alchemy instead features a short head tube and aggressive angles more typical of a full-blown road racer
What we've built is by no means cheap with just the frameset alone commanding US$4,750, but this is certainly not the only method by which to build such a rig - and it's inevitable that similar bikes are coming from mainstream companies at much more economical prices.
So we'll ask again: why wouldn't you want to ride something like this?
Alchemy has graciously said that it won't send the repo man out to our offices until some time in November and until then, we plan on traversing as much paved and semi-paved earth as we can. Stay tuned for a more in-depth report shortly.