ALCHEMY ARKTOS REVIEW: A MODULAR CARBON TRAIL MACHINE
Choose your own adventure
Scientifically, “alchemy” is the seemingly magical process that transforms something ordinary into something extraordinary. Alchemy Bikes started as a small custom builder on Colorado’s front range but quickly gained recognition as a boutique carbon brand. When it comes to building bikes, Alchemy’s process involves bringing the best raw carbon it can find to its workshop in Golden, Colorado, then fanatically designing and prototyping bikes with it. For the Arktos, much of that designing and testing happened on the ribbons of singletrack near the company’s headquarters.
All carbon frames from Alchemy are built from Alchemy’s Premium Carbon, so there is no lower-cost frame option. The frames are all still designed, developed and prototyped in Alchemy’s Colorado workshop, although not all production remains in-house. The Arktos is the flagship suspension bike from Alchemy, and it comes with a number of configurations to suit the needs of a wide range of riders. The Arktos frame utilizes full-carbon construction with oversized suspension pivots and Alchemy’s exclusive SINE dual-link suspension design.
The wheel size and travel of the Arktos can be configured to suit the needs of a huge swath of rider types—from XC to enduro. The frame also comes with modern amenities, such as sleeved internal routing and a geo flip chip in the rocker. As a true rarity these days, and a testament to Alchemy’s confidence in its product, the Arktos frame comes with a lifetime warranty. The Arktos is only available in medium to extra-large sizes, and the medium claims to have enough standover for riders down to 5-foot-5.
Any Arktos frame can be set with three different travel modes, and while our test bike came with 29er wheels front and rear, a mullet 27.5-inch rear is optional. The bike can be ordered with 120, 135 or 150mm of rear-wheel suspension, and Alchemy sells conversion kits that include a different fork, shock and mounting link. The frame utilizes the same front and rear triangle with different shock sizes, pivot locations and shock stroke settings to achieve the differences in travel. Our test bike came with the mid-travel, 135mm setup with a 150mm fork to match. Alchemy also sent us the kit to increase travel to a 150/170mm configuration.
As a relatively small manufacturer, Alchemy has some flexibility when it comes to build kits. Our Arktos came spec’d with Shimano’s XT drivetrain and brakes, which worked flawlessly. No surprises there; however, if you’d like your Alchemy built with SRAM parts, there are two other build kits, although the XT setup is the most affordable. The remainder of the components look like the smart spec of a savvy bike-shop employee trying to eke out every bit of performance and bling without breaking the bank. The CNC-machined Tag cockpit and Industry Nine wheels deliver lightweight, reliable performance and look more trick than house-branded components. The parts spec is top-notch for the price tag and even more impressive when you consider the parts are mounted to a boutique carbon frame.
The Arktos suspension was designed by David Earle, whose work has extracted the best performance traits from other designs, such as VPP and Yeti’s Switch. His new SINE platform is designed to counteract weight transfer no matter where you are in the shock stroke. To achieve this, the bike has mechanical anti-squat, which keeps the bike from bobbing under pedaling forces throughout the stroke. The pivots are then carefully positioned to give the travel a suppler feel at the top and a more bottomless feel at the bottom. The end result is a bike that should, in theory, handle everything from small bumps to big bomb holes smoothly, all while maintaining good mid-stroke support and pedaling efficiency throughout the stroke. When you draw this line as a graph of shock rate versus travel, the result looks like a SINE curve, hence the name.
The Arktos sports a very modern geometry with quite a steep seat angle, which puts the rider in a powerful position for climbing. The anti-squat keeps the suspension reasonably firm, and once the bike settles into its sag point, it keeps from bobbing as advertised. We still preferred to use the climbing switch on the shock for long climbs, no matter which suspension kit we used. With the switch activated, the bike sits higher in its travel and further improves pedaling efficiency. For technical and steep climbs, the suspension’s supple beginning stroke can improve grip over loose terrain yet still feels powerful thanks to the anti-squat feature.
The Arktos fits true to size, although our size-large test bike felt quite compact and more maneuverable in tight situations than similar bikes we’ve tested, especially in the shorter-travel mode. The impressive standover clearance and sharp handling made the bike handle tight switchbacks with such ease that we could have jumped up a size to improve stability with a longer reach. Right out of the gate, we noticed the incredibly stiff front triangle mated to oversized hardware and tight tolerances all over the place. The thing feels seriously stout and responsive to rider inputs.
The Arktos delivers bump-eating performance right on par with other trail bikes in this category. It makes use of every millimeter of travel and helped us conquer some sizable features, thanks to the confidence it inspired early in our testing. The 135mm setup handled all our gnarly test trails, including some jumps and drops that would be at home in a bike-park setting. In this mode, the bottom-out delivered on its promise of being “regressive” and not overly harsh; however, it was there often for this type of riding. With the larger fork and shock installed, bottom-out incidents were almost nonexistent on the same trail. Obviously, the setup could be tweaked in either mode to suit rider preference, but we felt the larger suspension setup had a noticeably more forgiving feel for big impacts in particular.
We swapped between shock and fork configurations several times during our test in order to get a feel for the two geometries back to back. While the differences on paper may look like millimeters that will be difficult to notice, we felt a difference right away. The ride is certainly more forgiving with more travel, but several of our test riders preferred the sharper handling manners of the short-travel mode, where rider weight felt lower on the bike and more balanced.
Despite being experienced mechanics, our ham-fisted tuners still managed to chip the paint on the shock mount in the process of swapping shocks during one of our conversion sessions. This truly is a less-than-30-minute job; however, it may be beyond the mechanical aptitude of many riders.
MULTIPLE SETUPS FOR LESS
Alchemy sells kits for the Arktos to set it to the different travel modes, meaning you can have two bikes for basically the cost of an extra fork, shock and link. The long-travel mode would certainly come in handy if you were planning a trip to a bike park, or trails that require a burlier setup. That said, the larger-caliber Kashima hardware didn’t exactly morph the Arktos into a gravity machine. While it certainly gave us more confidence with added travel and more aggressive handling, the bigger suspension bits suddenly being bolted on the rest of the bike took more than a parking-lot lap to get used to. We figured we could extract more real performance from this bike by dialing in the suspension setup and reaping the benefits of the geometry that way instead of spending time swapping the components back and forth to suit how rocky we thought the trail would be that day.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Alchemy’s Arktos is a boutique carbon bike with an impressive parts package. With both travel configurations bolted to it, this bike’s kinematics and geometry were well-executed and resulted in a confidence-inspiring bike in rough terrain that is supportive under pedaling and a great technical climber. The two travel configurations we tested certainly changed the profile and handling characteristics of the Arktos. While the longer-travel mode felt more forgiving, our test riders typically preferred the well-rounded nature of the short-travel mode. Swapping parts does give you the option of two bike setups for a fraction of the cost, although keeping the long-travel mode around only makes sense if you’ll use it, and the technical expertise required may be too much for some riders; however, the modular design means you’re not stuck with the same travel and geo if you want to try something different. Moreover, you will need to send your suspension fork and shock back to Fox for service after the first year or so, and this turnaround can take up to eight weeks. For many riders, this service window may provide the best opportunity to try a different travel kit.
The Arktos comes to the trail with frame design and craftsmanship that are top-notch and a parts package that looks like it was carefully selected by a knowledgeable bike shop mechanic trying to eke every last bit of bling out of his carefully budgeted build. It’s customizable to the nth degree; although, we’d be perfectly happy riding the 135mm/150mm every day until the suspension service window comes up and we are curious enough to try something bigger.
WHEEL SIZE: 29″
SUSPENSION SHORT TRAVEL: 150mm (front) 135mm (rear)
SUSPENSION LONG TRAVEL: 170mm (front) 150mm (rear)