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Me and my bike: Allied Frameworks

James Spender
2 Feb 2018

Allied Cycleworks is producing small-batch carbon frames in the USA using some big-brand engineering

Part of what kicked everything off for Allied was buying Guru [a now defunct but once highly regarded Canadian bike brand],’ says Sam Pickman, director of product engineering at Allied Cycleworks.

‘Our MD, Tony Kirklins – who set up Orbea USA – went to Canada and won an auction for all of Guru’s assets.

‘We moved everything down to Arkansas – the heat presses, the ovens, CNC cutting machines – and started making bikes. I started designing this one as soon as I got there in April 2016.’

The bike in question is this, the Allied Alfa, a performance race bike that’s made entirely in the USA, not just as a point of pride, but as a point of engineering and fiscal judgement.

‘I was a research and development manager at Specialized for 11 years,’ adds Pickman, who works alongside another ex-Specialized employee, Chris Meertens, and ex-Guru engineer Olivier Lavigueur. 

‘I was responsible for the McLaren projects and worked on the latest Roubaix. Projects like that took two or three years, but at Allied the Alfa was in production in a matter of months.

‘You can only do that with a small team under one roof, otherwise there are just too many decision makers, and also the vendor to deal with.’

By ‘decision makers’, Pickman is alluding to life working in a team of 15 in a company that employs thousands, as opposed to his new life in a core team of just seven.

By ‘vendor’ he’s referring to the factories, typically in the Far East, that make frames for other brands.

Those factors mean that even simple revisions can take big brands months. ‘At Allied we can go to the lab with a frame, break it, analyse it, make a revision to the layup schedule in a matter of hours and have that revised frame finished in two to three days,’ Pickman says.

Different strokes

Building in carbon fibre is not unusual in the world of small-batch framebuilding, yet there’s something that marks Allied out.

Most small carbon builders work with the tube-to-tube construction method, where carbon tubes are mitred, glued and wrapped to form a frame.

But with the Alfa, Allied has created a monocoque frame akin to the big-brand, mass-manufactured bikes.

‘We have a tube-to-tube bike too, the Echo, which is the commercialised version of the Guru Photon,’ says Pickman.

‘The Alfa, though, is what we call triple monocoque, so the front triangle is moulded in one piece, the chainstays are one assembly and the seatstays are one assembly. Those pieces are then bonded together.’

Monocoque frames require a custom mould per bike, and moulds are expensive. Hence why smaller carbon builders tend to steer away from monocoque construction, particularly if they wish to offer custom frames.

‘There are exceptions here in the US. Argonaut and Alchemy do some monocoque construction, but it’s not common.

‘Part of the reason we can afford to do it is we’re not paying someone else’s mark-up. The price of this frameset is $2,700 [approx £2,100]. You’d be surprised how much paying someone else’s mark-up changes the price of a frame.

‘Prices in Asia are going up, and honestly the true cost of us making this frame in the US is probably within a hundred bucks of what it costs to make it in Asia.

‘With the Echo we can do that full custom, and even though the Alfa is stock it’s available in six sizes with two head tube heights in each.’

Masters and commanders

The Alfa bears a striking resemblance to Specialized Tarmacs of the past, but Pickman is unabashed by this. ‘I loved the Tarmac.

‘I thought it was better than anything else out there. Bikes like the Venge and Roubaix get a little bit much. Are they really adding anything to the rider experience?’

What he believes Allied has done with the Alfa is to create a bike with long, low, racy geometry that ticks all the performance boxes but that, crucially, isn’t ‘another $4,000 frameset’, yet is still made in the USA.

‘Doing it all ourselves has meant we’re not limited in the way working with a vendor can be limiting. We get to choose all our ply shapes, ply angles and materials, so for instance there’s no exotic high-modulus fibres here.

‘We don’t need them, but what we do have is a polypropylene skeleton in the top tube, fork crown and seatstays, a material that means the frame is less likely to crack in these vulnerable areas in an accident.

‘We make our own fork too, and since we have that knowhow all under one roof we also offer a full repair service for our frames, all done by the same people, using the same tools and materials that built your bike
in the first place.’

It’s this autonomy that is the ultimate driver behind the Allied brand, and it’s why the Alfa proudly displays the Allied mantra: ‘Made Here’.

‘I mean, how many brands can truly say that?’

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