First Look: Alchemy Arktos
This hand-built carbon trail ripper offers the refinement of a custom mountain machine for (nearly) the same price as a stock bike
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It might seem strange for a company that’s known for crafting handmade, high-end road bikes to enter the full-suspension mountain game with a six-inch, enduro-oriented trail bike—an XC machine would have been more in line with their market. But then there’s nothing typical about Denver-based Alchemy brand, nor its beautifully refined new Arktos.
Started in Austin eight years ago and subsequently moved to Colorado for its bike culture, Alchemy has carved out its market share by doing what few companies are willing to do: handcraft all carbon bicycles in the U.S. Their small facility in central Denver is a spotless marvel, where it’s possible to watch a bike be created ground up, from paper patterns to rolls of carbon fiber to painted, finished product. The precision has won the company a string of awards at the North American Handmade Bike Show over the years, including Best Carbon Construction more than once, and their Helios was a tester favorite in our 2015 bike test.
As should be expected from such a fastidious company, the Arktos is an incredibly refined machine. Rather than rely on an off-the-shelf design, Alchemy turned to one of the most respected engineers in the industry, David Earle of the Sotto Group—he pioneered VPP for Santa Cruz and created the Switch pivot for Yeti—to create a brand new, proprietary suspension design for them. The Sine suspension is said to bear some resemblance to the Switch, which was outstanding, with a soft feel at the top of the stroke for small-bump compliance, a rising rate in the middle, and a soft end of the stroke to counteract the progressiveness of the air shock. Instead of an eccentric pivot, however, Sine uses a very short lower link for stiffness and weight reduction.
The result is a bike that can hold its own against some of the best comparable models on the market, including the Santa Cruz Bronson and the Yeti SB6c, which is no small feat for a newcomer. The Arktos has the added benefit of a (mostly) Made in America pedigree: the front triangle is built in Denver, though Alchemy outsourced the rear triangle to Asia (the first time they’ve ever gone offshore) because the complexity of the design made it impossible for them to build enough of the parts to support the bike’s production.
By the numbers, the Arktos fits neatly into the aggressive trail bike category, with a slacked-out, 66-degree head angle, fairly short chain stays (438mm), and reasonably low bottom bracket for stability. As is increasingly common these days, the frame is not compatible with a front derailleur, and ours came hung with a Shimano XT 1×11 setup, including a 30-tooth chain ring and 11-42 cassette. Stock build is with Enve bars and stem, which makes sense given that company’s shared affinity for domestic-made, high-quality carbon fiber, though the M60 Forty wheels (you can also choose M70 Thirties) are a $1,900 upgrade. If there’s one immediate drawback of the design it’s the lack of water-bottle mounts within the frame, though Alchemy says the production models will have one on the underside of the down tube.
The initial and overriding sensation aboard the Arktos is one of sturdy quietness, impressive for a bike with internal cable routings. It’s reminiscent of the company’s road bikes I’ve tried, so I assume that comes down to the careful carbon layup (as well as the robust Enve wheels). Stack height is high and reach short, compounded by a stubby 40mm stem, all of which yields an upright riding position. That geometry combined with the slack head angle give the 150mm Fox 36 fork an extremely raked forward feeling, so the Arktos feels a bit gawky on XC trails. The Sine suspension works as billed, though, making for much more efficient pedaling than expected from a 150mm-travel bike. The suspension is so good, in fact, that it climbs at its best with the Fox Float X shock wide open, a boon since you never really need to toggle positions. And what feels slightly ungainly in flat terrain turns immediately confident and locked-in when the trails get steep. This bike is made to carve up steep, tight, chunky, brutal terrain, and so far it’s diced through everything I’ve put it on with the ease of a well-honed sushi knife.
No doubt many will grouse about the Arktos’ high cost, and $8,900, the price of our tester as built, is indeed hefty. However, given its hand-built, small-batch, made in the USA pedigree, the bike is surprisingly competitive on price. A frame-only option will set you back $3,800, compared to $3,000 for a Santa Cruz Bronson and $3,500 for a Yeti SB6c or Specialized S-Works Enduro 650b, and Alchemy offers fit and paint customization (including two colors from a palette of 15) for that cost. The cheapest complete build is definitely costly: $7,000 for an XT bike with Praxis AL24 wheels. So you’re still paying a premium, but the Arktos is as close to a bespoke mountain bike as you can get without actually going that route. For anyone after an aggressive trail bike that’s admirably capable and different from anything else you’ll see on the trails, the Alchemy is definitely worth a look.