The Arktos is a carbon fiber trail bike from Alchemy, a small Denver company that’s dedicated to hand-building bikes in the USA. Yep, that’s right: the Arktos is a handmade carbon fiber mountain bike, and they have the 2016 North American Handmade Bicycle Show best MTB and people’s choice awards to prove it. There’s certainly been a lot of buzz around Alchemy and the Arktos, so when I got the chance to ride one at Sea Otter, I jumped at the opportunity!
There seems to be a lot of mystery around the process of building carbon fiber mountain bike frames, perhaps because these days, carbon bike manufacturing takes place almost entirely overseas. But this is the age of YouTube and Instructables.com, where you can find a tutorial for building your own carbon fiber mountain bike at home. So why can’t a high-quality, carbon fiber mountain bike be hand built right here in the USA?
The Alchemy Arktos is a
160mm 6-inch trail bike with a unique suspension system called Sine Suspension, licensed from none other than MTB suspension savant David Earle. Here’s how Alchemy describes Sine Suspension:
The name Sine derives from the way the shock rate, when graphed, resembles a sine wave: It’s regressive through the first part of the travel to absorb small bumps and provide climbing traction; progressive in the middle of the stroke to avoid wallowing on big hits or in hard, fast corners; then slightly regressive again in the last 15 percent of the stroke to enable the bike to use all 6 inches of its rear-wheel travel. Sine is also designed to minimize chainstay growth when the bike is moving, which is intended to help with pedaling efficiency and keep the suspension active under braking.
As far as I can tell, Alchemy is the first to utilize the Sine design and based on my short test ride, I can say it really offers a unique ride feel. My bike was set up with more sag than I’m used to seeing, so I imagined I would blow throw the travel quickly and that I’d find the pedaling too “squishy.” However, that wasn’t the case at all–but more on that later.
Since this is a handmade bike, I really have to talk about how gorgeous the frame looks in person. Internal cable routing gives the bike a sleek, plastic look from afar and once you move in closer, you realize just how smooth and clean the lines really are. The video below shows the attention to detail that goes into building up an Alchemy frame, and the end result really is exquisite.
Customers choose two colors for their Arktos frame and based on my calculations, there are
200+ 196 possible combinations, meaning the chances of choosing a unique combo are pretty good. The bike I tested pairs yellow and green for a really eye-popping color scheme. In fact, I lost track of the number of compliments I got on the bike during my short test ride. One woman even yelled out, “NAHBS winner, right?” as I motored by. People know this bike, and those who don’t love how it looks.
Alchemy offers a few different builds for the Arktos (you can also get just the frame) and my test rig was set up with a 1×11 XT drivetrain, Praxis Works Grinder crankset, Enve wheels, stem, and bars, and a RockShox Reverb dropper post. Up front Alchemy spec’d a Fox 36 fork, with a Fox Float X shock in the rear. The saddle in the photos is an Astute Mud Line, which replaces the usual WTB Silverado Pro that Alchemy officially specs.
Now, for my Sea Otter bike test disclaimer: The trails at Fort Ord are not technical. People can and do routinely ride these trails on cyclocross bikes with no problem. An aggressive trail bike like the Arktos is overkill.
With that being said, I’ll talk about how the Arktos climbs, since the trails I rode were decently steep and representative of typical usage. As I mentioned earlier, I was worried my suspension had been set up too squishy and that I’d bob through the climbs… but that didn’t happen at all. In fact, the Arktos seemed to climb as well or better than any of the full suspension bikes I tested all week. The platform was super stiff and efficient while keeping the wheels in contact with the ground for excellent traction.
Now, about the descents… I did my best to pick the roughest lines and made a conscious effort to lay off the brakes whenever possible. The result: a super grounded, solid ride feel, even through washboard sections and over awkward, eroded lines cutting across the trail. But clearly the Arktos had much more to give, and wasn’t even breaking a sweat.
Cody Baker, Alchemy’s Sales and Marketing lead, told me he recently took the Arktos (the very same rig I rode, in fact) to Buffalo Creek in Colorado to really push the bike and see what it could do. More and more, I’m realizing how much the “local trails” influence bike designs, and using Buff Creek, one of my favorite rides in Colorado, as a test track gives the Arktos a very solid pedigree IMO.
The Alchemy Arktos is an excellent trail bike that does what it’s supposed to do: it rails at high speed yet it doesn’t work against the rider on the climbs. The attention to detail on the frame is remarkable, making it hard to to believe the bike is handmade in Denver. The Arktos frame with shock is available to order online for $3,799 and XT builds start at $6,999. As tested, this build, with Enve wheels and components, sells for between $9,000 and $10,000.
Updated 4/20/16 @ 2:40pm EDT: Corrected suspension stats and the number of possible color combos. Also it should be noted the rear triangle on the Arktos is produced in Asia, not in Denver like the rest of the frame.