Alchemy Bikes Golden D.A.R.E. Experience: At The Finish – by Grannygear
Editor’s Note: Grannygear was provided with the D.A.R.E. experience, including trip fees, accommodations, and food by Alchemy Bikes. Alchemy Bikes then sent over the Ti Ronin at no charge for test and review. We were not paid, nor bribed for this post and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
It was December 2022 when we began this journey towards creating a custom Ti gravel bike frame, including all the components, by going through the Alchemy Custom D.A.R.E. program just the way a customer would.
So now we are wrapping up the Alchemy Ti Ronin project and commenting on a few areas that I was focusing on such as:
- 1X Mullet drivetrain
- SRAM AXS
- Will the Ti Ronin replace my Lynskey GR250 as my daily gravel driver?
- How was the Golden D.A.R.E. experience from Alchemy?
MULLET FOR ALL?
Let’s take it one at a time beginning with 1X Mullet. Now Mullet, that being an MTB cassette and rear derailleur matched to roadie-type drop bar levers, has been gaining a decent audience with riders that spend a good bit of time in difficult off-road conditions, and that makes sense, does it not? After all, this type of gearing (at least the Mullet parts) was designed for heavy off road use.
But I am surprised by how many folks riding gravel bikes find this a satisfying set-up for all-round cycling use on their gravel bikes, even for road, etc. Really? I was curious because I was skeptical about the larger gaps in gear changes on the 10-50T 12spd Eagle cassette. Also, the chainline with a 40T chainring is very acute, even when compared to a typical 30T MTB set-up. Is that OK to live with?
Now I need to call out that I ride a lot of road to get to gravel/dirt where I live. As well, I can do multi-hour climbs where the grade is 5-10%, so having a more granular cassette spacing is very nice. That said, this is what I found with Mullet over the rides I did.
- The gaps got me. Yeah, there were times I did not notice much and if I was in the middle of the cassette it was pretty OK, but at each end, it bugged me. For instance, the jump from a 10T cog to a 12T cog. That is huge. On an MTB the 10T is basically a gear to get you off the trail or back home while spinning a 30T chainring along. But on a gravel bike, pedaling speeds are higher so you will be in the bottom of the cassette a lot and that 10T gets used more often. You are counting on it. And the jump to the 12T, and the gaps in the top three cogs as well, was awkward.
- It feels crude compared to 2x. I am not sure why…maybe it’s the chainline or maybe the chain tension is very high…not sure. But it felt un-smooth to me. And I like smooth.
Now then, the range was pretty nice. A 40×10 is a big enough gear for me, only spinning out at around 35mph. The 40×50 is low enough for most anything other than bikepacking for me. So that is nice.
And I think the more time you spend on your gravel bike where it is very MTB-like? There a Mullet could be amazing. Or you simply do not care about cadence and gear gaps because you are not in a hurry and the change in pace is OK with you? Might be fine for you. Or…OR…you appreciate the simplicity of it because it is simple with just one chainring to manage…well, that is Mullet (and 1x) all over.
I could see me using this for a bikepacking setup with a 36×10-50T set-up though. That would be pretty good.
Now then, that conclusion of mine does not have to apply to all 1x set-ups. I think SRAM XPLR hits the sweet spot with that 10-44T cassette that reduces the gaps in the cassette quite a bit, but I have not ridden that. And while I think that GRX 1x is perfectly inadequate for where I ride and who I am (not tall enough gears OR low enough), many folks find GRX 1×11 to be all they need. I bet that feels smoother to ride overall as compared to the Mullet set-up but I could be wrong.
Seems like 2x is it for me for daily use.
AXS…WHERE DID THE WIRES GO?
Now, I have been a SRAM Doubletap fan for ages and I have and have had multiple bikes set up with it. Yes, front shifting is finicky, but I love that SRAM human-machine interface for changing gears as compared to Shimano.
And I really dislike the Shimano Di2 button-y switchy configuration as it is confusing and hard to feel with long fingered gloves, cold, numb, fingers, etc. Meh! I am sure I could get used to it, but why should I?
But AXS was a total win for me. I loved every part of it. It is so simple and intuitive to shift…push one lever and it goes up the cassette…push the other lever and it goes down the cassette.
The battery life is less than Di2 but then the ability to carry a small, spare battery is very cool. Battery life was very adequate and the AXS app is dead easy to use, so finding a dead battery on a ride is just you being silly.
One caveat is that I might take a mechanical setup into the great unknown just for the scenario that an electronic device can just fail and you can do nothing about that waaaaay out there but curse the darkness. But e-shifting is proving itself more and more as time goes by. And now we have the SRAM Transmission which is the next level and IS coming to gravel bikes…it is just a matter of time.
So AXS is my pick of the litter.
WHAT ABOUT THE BIKE ITSELF?
Now then…what about riding the bike itself? How was it? It’s a $9000.00 + bike after all. Will it replace my much beloved Lynskey GR250 which cost me about a third of that? Let’s find out.
The fit of the Ti Ronin came out fine on the second bike they delivered. Yes, I said second bike. More on that later. I rode it the way I ride all my gravel bikes and that is over a mix of good roads, bad roads, dirt roads that are nearly no-roads, and long climbs followed by fast descents.
- Very responsive bike, more so than any Ti bike I have been on. Closing gaps on the road, maintaining momentum over rises in the path, fast descents…all that was a hoot on this bike. It’s fast in this regard.
- However, the ride quality was very abrupt, almost harsh, but not quite that. Let’s say ‘firm’. I think it is coming from the bike as a whole, beginning from the tires/wheels and then all the way up the chain to me.
Now I did change two things soon into the testing. I swapped out the stock 31.6mm carbon, non-offset, seat post with a Ti 27.2mm post (using a shim) with off-set and a WTB Gravellier saddle. That way I gave my back some grace and used a saddle that I knew and liked. A bad saddle experience would color the review too much.
I also changed the stem to a Redshift Shockstop Pro stem as I use that on all my gravel bikes. To not use that would lead me to a prejudiced opinion of ride quality.
Now then, that helped, but it was still very firm and a lot of that speed I felt on smoother surfaces, dirt included, was reduced when it got rougher. I swapped the wheels and tires for one test ride just to see how much was coming from there and that helped quite a bit. I think the Schwalbe Overland 700×40 tires are tuned for durability over suppleness as they were slow-ish on the road, never really inspiring, and while traction was good off-road, the WTB Vulpine 40s I ran on the Hunt alloy wheels for that one ride were revelatory with very little reduction in overall responsiveness.
Also, it is not the first time I have found a carbon gravel wheel to steal some ride quality, but since I did not separate them from the Schwalbe tires, that remains a guess on my part.
So that leaves the chassis…the frame and fork. The tubing is something I did not discuss with Alchemy, so I assume this is the way they spec the bike…how they want it to perform…and, if so, that makes sense for a racing or high performance focused company.
So then, does that make the Ti Ronin a bad bike? No, not at all. It just makes it a bike better suited for a more powerful, more aggressive rider, maybe a heavier rider, who would feel that a more compliant Ti bike would be …boring, maybe? In some ways, this felt like a near-carbon response in a bike that, if it fell against a rock, would leave a mark on the rock.
Ti makes a lot of sense for heavy gravel use. Just look at all the riders at the 2023 Unbound who sanded their way right through their carbon frames in all the mud.
But that ride quality does make it a bike that is not for me. So the Lynskey remains. And getting back on it was like coming home again. I really like that bike, despite the drop in overall responsiveness as compared to the Ronin. But hey, unless you are being paid to win, then you ride what makes you smile. Right?
THE GOLDEN D.A.R.E. EXPERIENCE
This was quite the different result than I expected. Remember that the idea was for me to emulate the customer in all this, to see how it would be for you, dear reader, if you laid down the VISA card and bought in big for a bike like this. I was promised a lot and I expected a lot. I expected that I would get updated CAD drawings and Build Sheets to sign off on before the bike was built. Why? Because I was told that I would.
I expected a high level of communication between Alchemy and I. That was not the case. I had, nearly at every turn, to work through a third party marketing firm that represents Alchemy for any real details. Odd. No customer would do that, right? I expected they would be excited to see this project through; as excited as I was. That seemed to not be the case.
All along it felt like this was something that no-one wanted to do at Alchemy HQ. And I still am not sure why. Maybe I caught them at a bad time in the company for staffing, or work load? That can happen to the best of them. Times in the bike industry are challenging right now. Maybe I was just not a priority? Dunno. After all, I am a debit to the bottom line, not a credit.
The first bike was built wrong (dimensions) and had to go back and be re-done. Of course, they owned up to the error and took care of it, but that seems a bit strange for a company with this reputation and price tag. And honestly, that part, the wrong build, is more understandable than the emails that were not always answered and the general malaise that I felt through it all. A single mistake I can understand. But the rest? Hard to figure out.
Now I do not expect this to be the typical customer experience and I hope it is not. And I hate to have to write this, but I also cannot let it pass unmentioned either.
It may not be your experience. But it was mine. And I will leave it at that.
Link to YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/j0Ik-TpCKkY