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The Cherry Creek Trail, one of Denver’s most beloved outdoor playgrounds, runs roughly 13 miles from the downtown REI to Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora. Each of the various sections has its own personality: At Confluence Park, kids splash in the South Platte; a few miles to the southeast, families ride leisurely to lunch in Cherry Creek North. Past the mall, the crowds give way to Lycra-clad roadies speeding to the reservoir. Before they get there, though, they must pass through what is arguably the ugliest part of the path—a dusty, barren stretch that runs through a nondescript warehouse district in southeast Denver. Yet here, in a slate gray building, you’ll find one of the leading custom bike makers in America: Alchemy
At just six years old, Alchemy is something of an anomaly in the corporatized world of high-end bikes. Whereas big-name bike producers churn out mass-produced frames (many of which are made in China), Alchemy does something very different in its 13,000-square-foot headquarters: It hand-builds carbon, titanium, and stainless steel frames. In addition to stock frames, Alchemy can tailor frames specifically for its customers. You want a very stiff, light, carbon racing frame? Alchemy can do that. You want a relaxed, pliant frame so you can comfortably ride centuries? Alchemy can do that. You want a showpiece titanium frame with a one-of-a-kind paint job? Alchemy can do that, too.
Alchemy used to do all this from Austin, home to America’s most infamous cyclist, Lance Armstrong. Ryan Cannizzaro launched the boutique bike biz in 2008 and made 35 frames that year, but word of his unique product spread quickly, and by 2012 the company had outgrown its 4,000-square-foot digs. Alchemy started investigating relocating to a different city; despite Austin’s bike friendliness and booming economy, attracting new employees to the Lone Star State could be a challenge. “The guys from New York and New England didn’t want to move to Texas because of the heat,” says Cannizzaro,
Alchemy’s CEO. So, eventually, the company’s leadership team turned its attention north.
In the Centennial State, the natural home for a cycling company was, of course, Boulder. The college town hosts the majority of the state’s large outdoor companies: Newton Running; La Sportiva and GoLite (outdoor equipment and clothing); SCARPA North America (mountaineering and ski boots); Sierra Designs (backpacking gear). Pearl Izumi (cycling, running, and triathlon gear) is in nearby Louisville. The Garmin-Sharp professional bike team calls the People’s Republic home, as do VeloNews, Backpacker, Ski Magazine, and Warren Miller Entertainment. The Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, has an office on the west side of town.
Cannizzaro and the rest of the Alchemy leaders toured warehouses in Boulder and found a lot to like: trails in the Flatirons, plentiful bike lanes, and the critical mass the outdoor industry had already achieved. But the Alchemy team also felt the pull of Denver. That warehouse space was cheaper was just one reason. Over the past few years, the Denver bike scene has become a national model, thanks in part to pro-biking mayors (Michael Hancock and before him, John Hickenlooper) and a forward-thinking, active population. In 2010, B-cycle became the first large-scale bike-sharing program in the United States and quickly spawned imitators; today, more than 30 cities across the nation boast similar programs. And the League of American Cyclists reported in 2012 that the Mile High City ranked sixth in the nation in bike commuters. “We knew the Denver cycling scene was big and didn’t get enough credit because of Boulder,” Cannizzaro says. “We started talking to [bicycling advocacy nonprofit] BikeDenver and thought, ‘We can make a difference locally without being just another sporting company in Boulder.’?”
In October 2012, Cannizzaro and his team moved into the Cherry Creek Trail–adjacent warehouse; over the past 21 months, the local biking scene combined with the ability to attract talent to Colorado has been a boon to Alchemy. Since its move, the company has recruited several new employees with decades of bike-building experience from storied cycling companies such as Serotta in New York, and the nine-person shop has increased production eight times over from its Austin days. That’s no small task when you consider what goes into each frame. It takes the team 35 hours to build one frame, and custom painting takes another two weeks—an immense amount of time that justifies prices that start at $3,750 and go up to more than $6,000. (That’s for the frame and fork only; wheels and components are extra.) That fanatical attention to craft has garnered Alchemy serious accolades, including winning the “best carbon frame” category at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in 2012 and “best carbon construction” in 2013. You’ll have to be patient if you want one, though: The wait list for a custom Alchemy frame is eight to 10 weeks.
In many ways, Alchemy’s growth and success have mirrored Denver’s rise as a cycling metropolis, though the city still has a way to go to catch perennial favorites Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis, and—yes—Boulder, which regularly nab the top three spots on Bicycling magazine’s bike-friendliest cities list. Last October, Tami Door, the president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, told the Denver Business Journal that while the city has one of the highest rates of millennial transplants, tech companies keep telling her that if they are going to relocate downtown, the “number one thing they want is bike lanes.”
Cannizzaro and Co. are already helping grow Denver’s cycling cachet in another way with the development of a “cycling hub” at their headquarters. Originally the brainchild of Dave Edwards, one of the founders of Denver-based bike apparel company Primal Wear (and the man who recruited Alchemy to Denver), the hub idea is a simple one: Build a community with like-minded companies, which will in turn attract more cycling businesses to the area. Landing Alchemy in 2012 was one of the first steps toward a fully realized hub; a year later, Alchemy subleased part of its space to the Pro’s Closet, a Boulder-based company that sells used high-end biking gear. This summer, Alchemy will open a bike-centric coffeeshop called Alchemy Bicycle Cafe, hoping to attract riders in search of a midride caffeine boost.
Today, Alchemy and Primal are actively seeking other cycling-related companies to relocate to their headquarters in an effort to build out the hub. “It’s good to be around individuals who have that common interest,” Edwards says. “We hope that ultimately we are able to have that building be all cycling, all the time.” If that happens, the Cherry Creek Trail’s most neglected swath may just become one of Denver’s top cycling destinations.