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Alchemy Helios review

15 Jun 2017
Verdict:

A superb all-rounder that's well made and delivers on every level

Price: 
£4,400 frameset, approx £10,800 as tested

Helios is a grandiose name for a bike. Greek scholars will know that he was the Titan who would drive his sun chariot across the sky by day, returning under the ocean to the east by night.

You would expect any bike named after a sun god to be pretty flashy, but the Alchemy Helios is actually rather unassuming, and I was immediately taken by its modest charms. 

I find something captivating about a bike with simple, classic lines – no gimmicks or strange tube shapes – but that’s not to say the Helios is basic.

Its construction is a complex and intriguing process, and is the result of nine years of development at the company’s workshops in Denver, Colorado.

From the start

Alchemy, founded in 2008, forged its early reputation building custom steel and titanium bikes.

It was only in 2010, with new impetus brought to the company by composites expert Matt Maczuzak, that it began to venture into high-end carbon builds.

Now it prides itself on creating its carbon frames entirely in-house, not only crafting its own tubes but even CNC-machining its own moulds in which to fashion them. This enables total control over each and every part of the process. 

Alchemy uses tube-to-tube construction. Think of it like how bespoke metal frames are created, where each tube is made individually and placed on a jig to be mitred to butt up against adjoining tubes.

Alchemy claims the precision of its tube alignment practically eliminates the need for any joint filler, something it believes can deaden the feel of a frame.

Clearly carbon cannot be welded like metal, so instead the junction is made structurally sound by wrapping additional layers of carbon around the joint. 

For the consumer, what this intimate build process means is the ability to customise every aspect.

Tube lengths can be trimmed by a fraction of a millimetre and angles adjusted in similarly minute increments, but more than just a bespoke fit, it also allows the builder to dictate how a frame will ride by tweaking the layup and stiffness of the individual tubes. 

The final stage is the paint, and for that Alchemy’s own painters are on hand to add a touch of understated class, or indeed anything you can dream up.

For those who think it sacrilegious to cover up the intricacies of the frame construction, a simple coat of clear lacquer will let the beauty of the creation do the talking. 

Alchemy isn’t the only brand to offer this level of customisation, but it puts it in a very small and select group.

Should you not feel the need to go fully custom, Alchemy offers stock geometry and sizes, which is exactly what Cyclist was given for testing. 

Rare beast

Not long after heading out for my first ride I became aware that the Alchemy reminded me of an old friend.

Parlee’s Z5 (sadly now discontinued) still stands as one of my favourite road bikes of all time.

I’ve ridden and tested hundreds of bikes over the years, and only very occasionally does one come along that makes this kind of impression (if you find me in the pub one evening, I’ll happily run through my all-time top five over a beer).

There are similarities in the way both the Parlee and the Alchemy were created, which means it’s not entirely surprising to find this resemblance, but it’s certainly pleasant to get that feeling when I swing a leg over a bike. 

I immediately felt at home on the Helios. My hands, feet and backside weren’t constantly adjusting to try and settle in, and turning the cranks freely and smoothly felt almost effortless.

It’s a sensation of symbiosis with a bike that I rarely encounter, where I find I’m not really aware of any of my contact points at all, the bike becoming like an extension of my body.

That might all sound a bit whimsical, but it’s actually how I felt. 

One of the most satisfying elements of the Helios is that it achieves this high level of ride quality without any tricksy designs or additions of the kind that marketing executives love so much.

Take the comfort aspect – it manages to provide a smooth ride without wavy seatstays or rubber inserts or a super-skinny seatpost.

It actually has quite boxy seatstays, and they meld into a chunky wishbone that’s connected to a seat tube that houses a 31.6mm seatpost – fat by modern standards. 

For all that, however, it’s very adept at dealing with a shoddy surface. It’s a cliche, but Alchemy proves it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it.

The company doesn’t have access to some space-aged level of carbon that no other brand is privy to – it just goes the extra mile to ensure the carbon is delivering exactly the ride characteristics that Maczuzak’s designs and layups decree. 

By virtue of the same approach being applied in every aspect of the build, and bolstered by Enve’s superb 2.0 fork and a full contingent of Enve finishing kit and wheels, the handling is every bit as impressive.

When pushed hard, the Helios had the surefootedness through the turns of a bike twice its mass, allowing me – encouraging me, even – to confidently push the limits of the tyres’ grip.

When it came to the hills, the planted feel was replaced by the sprightliness of a spring lamb, and the Helios practically danced its way up the slopes, the top half feeling light and flighty in my hands, but the lower half feeling sturdy with no suggestion of any power delivery being squandered by flex. 

Alchemy founder Ryan Cannizzaro describes the Helios as the ‘rouleur of the collection’ because it’s so capable in many ways. I’d agree with him.

The Helios is a superb all-round package, and even though this is a stock configuration there is little I would wish to alter, even given the chance for full custom.

Verdict: In the Helios, Alchemy has created a superb all-rounder that's well made and delivers on every level.

Spec

Alchemy Helios
Frame Alchemy carbon, Enve fork
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 
Chainset Rotor 2INpower 
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 
Bars Enve Road
Stem Enve Road
Seatpost Enve Road
Wheels Enve 3.4 SES with Chris King R45 hubs
Saddle Astute Starlite VT
Weight 7.3kg (56cm)
Contact saddleback.co.uk

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