Too many riders like to describe the ride qualities of different frame materials in grossly generic terms. Carbon fiber is light and stiff, but dead. Aluminum is harsh. Titanium is buttery smooth. Steeliness is next to godliness. But modern manufacturing methods have long ago cast those generalizations aside, and the Eros titanium road frameset from Alchemy Bicycle Company is a prime example of how real-life impressions on the road can differ from long-held beliefs. CyclingTips US technical editor James Huang spent most of 2017 testing a stock version from the esteemed Colorado builder, and found there’s still plenty of magic in that mysterious metal, but also a few details to be wary of on this particular example.
Turning steel and aluminum into carbon fiber and titanium
Alchemy Bicycle Company was founded in 2008 by Ryan Cannizzaro and James Flatman in Austin, Texas. At the time, the duo offered frames made of every common material: steel, aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber. It wasn’t until the company made a more concerted effort into carbon fiber in 2012, however, that Alchemy really started gaining prominence. Whereas many other custom carbon builders at the time were content to purchase off-the-shelf round tubing, Alchemy instead began molding its own tubing in sleek aero-minded shapes along with frame components such as dropouts. Each frame is even fully finished in-house through its Ethic Paint Works custom paint shop.
That investment in carbon fiber coincided with a move to Denver, Colorado in 2012, and with the sudden success of that side of its business, nearly everything was pushed aside.
Ten years later, that small two-man company bears little resemblance to what it once was. There are no more aluminum frames offered, and there’s only one steel bike in the mix, the fully custom stainless steel Skylla. What remains is prominently carbon fiber, with Alchemy reporting roughly 70% of its production dedicated to composite frames, and 30% crafted in titanium. Alchemy currently offers six composite frames in total: five drop-bar models and one full-suspension mountain bike.
Alchemy’s staff has also grown dramatically since it was founded, with nearly a dozen people on the current roster. Cannizzaro is still the company’s owner, but there’s lead engineer and VP of research and development Matt Maczuzak, chief operations officer Joe Stanish (who left Enve Composites to join Alchemy), and two people solely dedicated to the Ethic Paint Works paint shop, all occupying a 1,100sq m (12,000 sq ft) building along the popular Cherry Creek bike path network near downtown Denver. Flatman left the company in 2010.
Alchemy’s custom road and mountain bikes are now some of the most highly sought-after in the handmade world. Dealers for Alchemy frames are scattered across the globe, with networks in the UK, Switzerland, and Mexico in addition to the company’s US base. What started as a tiny two-man shop in Texas is tiny no longer.
Titanium was popular even in those early days of Alchemy, though, and it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that a titanium road bike was the first model the company developed. Today, the Eros is one of four models Alchemy offers in stock geometry and configurations, with the idea being that customers who don’t need a custom fit shouldn’t have to wait weeks (or months) for a frame of custom quality.
The current Eros looks quite different from what Cannizzaro and Flatman developed back in the day. It’s still TIG-welded from US-sourced 3/2.5 titanium, but the main tubes are now oversized, there’s an elegantly 1 1/8-to-1 1/4in tapered head tube up front, and down below is a PF86 press-fit bottom bracket shell, whose slightly oversized diameter relative to a conventional threaded shell was supposedly chosen so as to mate better with the similarly oversized main tubes. The dropouts are cut from thick titanium plate, and the modern profile sports a slight slope to the top tube.
Rim brakes and quick-release dropouts are standard, but Alchemy offers the Eros with disc brakes and thru-axles, too. And while the Eros is technically a stock frame, it can still be customized at will. In standard configuration, the bike will easily handle 28mm-wide tires.
Cable routing is fully external, which is unusual in the context of a mass-production carbon fiber frame, but still typical for a titanium bike from a smaller manufacturer — and arguably more desirable from a serviceability point of view. Internal routing for electronic drivetrains is optional.
I opted for a bone-stock, rim-brake Eros for the purpose of this review, which came equipped with a finished-to-match Enve carbon fork. Actual weight for the bare 52cm frame is 1,481g (including seatpost collar, barrel adjusters, and bottom bracket cable guide), with the fork adding another 371g with an uncut steerer.
Built up with a SRAM Red 22 groupset, HED Jet 4 Black clinchers (shod with 28c Specialized S-Works Turbo tubeless tires), Zipp aluminum cockpit components, and a Fizik Arione VS R1 saddle, the total weight comes out to a feathery 7.25kg (15.98lb, without pedals).
Retail price for an Eros frame with an Enve fork and Cane Creek headset is US$3,500 / £3,400 / €3,000. Alchemy also offers the Eros in complete builds, featuring Shimano Ultegra, Ultegra Disc, or Ultegra Disc Di2 groupsets. Australian distribution is currently being negotiated, so official pricing hasn’t yet been established.
Falling in love with the Eros
The idea of a TIG-welded titanium road bike with rim brakes is about as traditional as it gets, but the Eros’s ride quality couldn’t be more different than the titanium road bikes of yesteryear. If what you’re after is the silky-smooth ride you’d heard about in days gone by, you won’t find it here; move along.
Perhaps the most striking quality about the Eros is its superb frame stiffness. Between the oversized main tubes, non-tapered, 20mm-diameter (7/8in) chainstays, and the smaller triangles of the moderately compact frame layout, the Eros yields little when pedaling. It’s highly responsive under power, eager to accelerate, and more importantly, feels consistently rigid from end-to-end for predictable reactions to both pedaling and steering inputs.
Riders who want the rigidity of a carbon bike, but with the more robust durability of titanium, would definitely do well here.
The ride quality of the Eros is still refined, but it’s not something I would characterize as particularly buttery on rough surfaces. The larger diameters may increase the bending stiffness of each tube, but titanium’s inherent ability to damp vibration still carries through. The high-frequency road buzz that so often contributes to fatigue during long days in the saddle is pleasantly neutralized, but not at the expense of road feel. Even with those 28c tires inflated to a modest 65psi, you can still tell what’s going on at the tire contact patches.
There’s no getting around the fact that those bigger tubes don’t flex much on bigger impacts, though, and it’s here where a frame with smaller-diameter tubing would hold a clear advantage. That sort of construction is more apt to morph itself around harsher potholes and bumps; the Eros, on the other hand, doesn’t budge.
Whatever flex is present is still wonderfully lively and communicative in that telltale titanium way. Good bikes are often described as having “soul,” and while even the best frame engineers struggle to quantify what that actually means, it certainly feels like the Eros packs plenty of affable personality behind its drab, battleship-grey visage.
Nevertheless, Alchemy perhaps sells the Eros short in pigeonholing it as a bike for “paved flat/mountain roads,” as the tire clearance is generous for a rim-brake bike with such conventional geometry. When mounted to 20mm-wide HED rims, those 28c Specialized tubeless clinchers puff up to nearly 30mm, and still comfortably squeeze through both ends of the frame.
The Eros indeed excels on the paved surfaces for which it is primarily intended, but I found the ride quality to be sufficiently forgiving that smoother dirt and gravel roads were almost equally enjoyable to ride for hours on end. An industry friend of mine describes gravel as “where you ride, not what you ride,” and I thought of that often while careening across unpaved country roads on the Eros. Alchemy may not bill the Eros as a gravel setup, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to ride in that situation given decent road conditions and a modicum of skill.
As compared to most other modern, high-end road racing bikes, the geometry on the Eros comes across as a touch short in reach and a smidgeon tall in stack. I normally ride a 52cm Specialized Tarmac, for example, which sports a 380mm reach and 527mm stack. Alchemy’s standard 54cm Eros would have been the ideal match in terms of reach (at 382mm), but in order to get the bar height where I wanted, I decided to size down to a 52cm. To compensate for that size’s 13mm-shorter reach, I fitted a longer-than-usual 120mm stem, which I paired with Zipp’s classically shaped, deep-drop bar.
Having to make such an adjustment might be considered a downside by some, but regardless — and in fact, perhaps because of that change — the Eros’s handling is utterly sublime.
Having that much weight on the front end isn’t the norm these days, but that sort of fore-aft bias yields fantastic front-end traction as the rubber is effectively driven harder into the tarmac. The relatively short wheelbase and short 407mm chainstays also help make the Eros quick to change direction when appropriate. On the flip side, that longer cockpit helps with high-speed stability, requiring more upper body movement to initiate the same wheel movements as compared to using a shorter stem and compact-bend bar.
As a result, the Eros is a joy to pilot through tight and twisty sections of road, and bombing down descents in a full tuck at 80km/h could hardly be less dramatic.
And despite that press-fit bottom bracket, my time on the Eros stayed blissfully creak-free.
If I were to ever have another custom frame built for myself, I’d perhaps even consider mimicking the geometry of the Eros down to the millimeter. At least for me, it’s that good.
Hairs in the butter
As enjoyable as the Eros was to ride, the experience was unfortunately tainted by three quality control issues: two minor, one not so much.
The minor ones both relate to the water bottle mounts. I found them to be situated oddly high on my 52cm test frame, which made for an easy reach while in the saddle, but also a tight fit with larger bottles. It’s almost as if the hole locations were patterned from a larger frame with a bigger front triangle, and the jig wasn’t adjusted when this smaller 52cm size was drilled. I would have much preferred that the holes be placed in more conventional spots lower down on the tubes.
On a frame of this caliber, I also would have liked to see welded bottle bosses, which provide a stouter foundation and a more finished appearance. Granted, they’re not preferred when the tube walls are very thin, but the Eros uses straight-gauge tubing, so it shouldn’t be an issue. Rivnuts such as the ones used on the Eros usually work just fine, but one was already starting to loosen by the time I sent the sample back to Alchemy. Add in some sweat from years of riding and/or the corrosive atmosphere of a coastal environment, and you’ve got a decent recipe for a maintenance headache down the road.
The bigger concern was how the top of the seat tube was ovalized from heat distortion during welding. It wasn’t obvious with the seatpost collar in place, but upon closer inspection, it was anything but round, measuring 31.5mm along one axis and a full millimeter wider in the other direction. Witness marks inside the tube clearly indicated that the tube had been reamed post-welding, too, meaning that the sides of the tube also possibly ended up thinner than they should have been.
In the end, the frame held on to a 31.6mm-diameter aluminum seatpost just fine, but it wasn’t an even hold around the full circumference of the tube given the visible gaps at the front and back. I didn’t discover the defect until I was in deep the process of tearing down the bike for return shipment, so I didn’t have a chance to see what would have happened with a carbon post. That said, my suspicion is that it would have slipped over time, or worse, the uneven clamping could have damaged the post.
It’s not uncommon on titanium frames for builders to weld a separate sleeve into the top of the seat tube. This effectively allows for a thinner tube elsewhere, but more material to ream up top for a good fit around the seatpost. Normally, that weld is situated roughly along the centerline of the top tube at the seat cluster.
According to Cannizzaro, the company decided to move that weld higher, partially to remove the stresses that the seatstays and top tube would apply to the weld while the bike is being ridden, but also so as to hide the weld completely under the seatpost collar. Moving the weld resulted in some unforeseen tube distortion (even when using a heatsink during the welding process), and three frames in total were produced before someone noticed it. In addition to the one I tested, one was shipped to a distributor, and another was sent to a customer.
“We’d never seen that issue before, and we struggled with how to fix it,” said Cannizzaro. “We tried clamps, we tried everything else. We didn’t have an issue when we were welding lower because it wasn’t right up at the edge; you could just ream it by hand, and run the reamer right through it. But then we realized that by increasing the thickness of the sleeve, we were able to get rid of the warping around the edge.”
That thicker insert necessitated a new machine to ream the seat tube – hand-reaming was no longer possible – but Cannizzaro says it’s worth the extra hassle so as to get the desired final result. Alchemy could have just moved the weld further down on the seat tube as it was before, but going through these extra steps was the only way that the weld could be hidden beneath the collar and still produce a round opening.
Cannizzaro says that both of those other Eros frames have already been replaced, and the company’s quality control procedure has since been updated as well to ensure this problem doesn’t end up in a customer’s hands. Previously, seat tubes were deemed good to go if a seatpost could be inserted smoothly and clamped securely; now, the openings are physically measured with calipers (in several axes) to ensure they’re actually round.
Still, one might rightfully argue that none of those three frames should have made it out the door, and while it’s encouraging that the issue has been corrected, I nevertheless find it a touch unnerving that something so seemingly obvious was overlooked at all.
“[What you had was] not acceptable, and we know that,” Cannizzaro said. “It has been resolved, and we took care of it.”
I haven’t personally inspected any later Eros frames to verify Cannizzaro’s claims, so buyers will have to take it on faith that the problem has been solved as promised. Hopefully it has been — and the scoring below gives Alchemy the benefit of the doubt — because overall, the Eros is a fantastic ride.
- Excellent chassis stiffness
- Firm, but refined, ride quality
- Sublime handling
- Classic understated aesthetics
- Lots of custom options
- Very good tire clearance
- Potentially lingering quality control issues
- Press-fit bottom bracket shell