With each cheese and potato breakfast taco I thought more and more about getting a road bike. My hybrid bike with the platform pedals had served me well from the moment I first dipped my toes into cycling. It had taken me from those early heady days of 20 kilometer rides to keeping up with the Six Thirty group through 55 kilometers. My fellow riders were suggesting that I join them on organised rides of 80 kilometers and more. To do that would require a bike more suited to long road rides than my hybrid bike was. A road bike. But how to decide on exactly what to get?
I started paying more attention to what my Six Thirty friends were riding. I took a closer look at the Specialized, Moots, Ibis and Independent Fabrications frames on display at West End Bicycles. I browsed the Trek and Cannondale websites. I read online reviews. The choices boggled the mind. Carbon, steel, aluminum or titanium frame. Performance or comfort geometry. Campagnolo, Shimano or SRAM groupset. The decisions to be made didn’t stop there. The options for pedals, handle bars, stems, saddles, seat posts, headsets, wheels, tires and other bits and bobs can and do fill catalogs the size of telephone directories.
As I did my research one thought stayed in my mind. I had been sold a bike that was too small for me. Bicycle frames come in a range of sizes. Unfortunately manufacturers do not use a consistent method to measure the frames that they produce. So the right sized frame for an individual of a given height and reach is a combination of stand over height, top tube length, seat tube length, seat tube angle, bottom bracket height and some eye of newt. Throw in riding style and personal preference and the choice of an ‘off-the-rack’ frame often comes down to selecting from a range of two or three sizes. Which will it be? The larger frame or the smaller frame?
The more I thought about it the more attractive a custom built frame became. A made-to-measure frame would solve the fit problem. Being able to choose the paint design and other elements to make the bike uniquely mine added to the appeal. A few of the Six Thirty group rode hand-built frames. A chat with them convinced me. I would bypass retail and go straight to bespoke. It was time to go all in and find a frame builder in the area. The list of exhibitors at the recent 2nd Annual Texas Custom Bicycle Show was a good starting point. Some builders were immediately eliminated from consideration because they built only Dutch-style city bikes, or worked exclusively in carbon, or had a long waiting list, or were too far away from Houston. That narrowed the list down to two or three frame builders. I devoured everything on their websites. I drooled over their gallery photographs. And I made a telephone call to each of them.
The Alchemy Bicycle Company builder profile stood out on the Texas Custom Bicycle Show website. There was something about the tagline “The Passion to Transform” that I liked. James Flatman answered the telephone when I called Alchemy. We spoke for more than an hour about where we were from, when James started building frames, the relative merits of various frame-building materials, what I was looking for in a bicycle, what sort of riding I did, and what else I should think about if I wanted to continue down the path to a custom frame. I had a good feeling about James. I was impressed that he devoted ninety minutes to a telephone conversation with a speculative contact.
I took James up on his suggestion to visit the Alchemy shop in Austin. He asked that I bring my hybrid bike so he could see what I had been riding. ZAZ, my ‘biker chick,’ came with me. This bicycle was going to be my birthday and Christmas present from her for 2009. James and I talked bicycles while he took all sorts of measurements. He made suggestions about what material he would use to build a frame for me. I tried out groupsets from Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. We talked about components. We looked at colour combinations. After three hours in the shop ZAZ and I had made our choices. Two months later James delivered this.
He made me a steel frame with carbon seat stays and fork. He built it up with a SRAM Force groupset. The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed the Red crankset. There was a problem with the Force crankset and James swapped it out for the higher specification Red crankset at no charge. Easton EA90 SLX wheels, a Chris King headset and bottom bracket, a Ritchey seatpost and handlebars, and a Selle Italia saddle and Speedplay pedals completed the package. James and I agreed that a sterling silver head badge would look best. This cool-looking badge is a blend of the old alchemy symbols for silver and gold.
There is one custom touch that makes this bike unique to me. A Texas star on the seat tube.
I have pedaled almost 11,000 kilometers on this bike. I don’t think I have to say any more about what a pleasure this bike is to ride.
There have been some changes at Alchemy. James has left and Alchemy has just moved to Denver, CO. The company has continued to grow, adding the capability to build frames using proprietary carbon tubes. If you are in the market for a first-class hand-built bicycle give Alchemy Bicycle Company a call.