Since the announcement of the launch of Allied Cycle Works I’ve been wondering the same thing everyone else has. Just how good are the bikes? Based on the information I had, knowing the parties involved and their talents, I was hopeful the bikes would be great. And why not? I love the bike industry and there’s something pretty screwy with a member of the endemic media who wishes for anyone’s failure. All successes for the bike industry are worthy of celebration in my book.
So I’m in Little Rock and I spent the day yesterday touring their facility just outside downtown. It’s a modest place and I’ll get into what I saw in a coming post. What I want to cover here is my first ride on the Alfa, which I took after closing time. One of CEO Tony Karklins’ employees, Jorge Engroba, took me out on a tour of a network of bike paths through parkland in Little Rock.
I rode Karklins’ personal bike, which is a 54cm frame—just a tad small for me, reach-wise. Of course, with the saddle that far above the bar, the big challenge for me was the drop to the bar, not the short reach.
There’s a network of parkland that straddles the Arkansas River with a couple of pedestrian/cyclist-only bridges for people to be able to cross the river without dealing with traffic on a narrow-ish bridge. The bike paths not only wind through the nearby parks—making post-work recreation easy and peaceful. It was a perfect late-spring evening without the heat and pollen that can make the South a place of misery; a light breeze blew off the river and filtered through the trees. We headed to a section of the park where there’s a Tuesday night training race series, where I can report even the C race looked quick and competent.
Each size of the Alfa comes in two different head tube lengths. This features the longer head tube.
The ride, I think it’s fair to say was in some ways less about the bike than showing me just how charming and livable Little Rock is. And I deserved the re-introduction; the last time I visited Little Rock I was in undergraduate school, hair was big and jackets had shoulder pads in them. It’s fair to say that Little Rock has changed as much as fashion has since then.
But that bike. Damn. That bike. I really didn’t need to ride as far as I did to determine whether the Alfa is the real deal or just more smoke and mirrors. The Alfa is proof of something I’ve written previously, that if a manufacturer can manage to eliminate enough material to drop a frame’s weight into the sub-850 gram range, without sacrificing strength, which is a big if, the resulting bike will have a pretty terrific ride. The questions at that point are how it handles and whether or not the sizing run is intelligent enough to allow most people to find a size that fits them.
The Alfa features the largest possible bottom bracket without sacrificing the serviceability of a threaded BB.
The Alfa is proof that removing material improves ride quality and make the bike feel more lively. I’m told a 56cm frame weighs about 820g. The Alfa is also a clear demonstration that Sam Pickman, who heads up engineering for Allied (and is a Specialized alum) knows how to design a bike. From tube shapes to geometry, the Alfa is a pure road bike with the precise yet calm handling. The Alfa has a character that is hard to achieve; there may not be any bad road bikes on the market, but there aren’t many that handle with such aplomb.
What made the ride of the Alfa particularly intriguing was the presence of the Inegra material. Inegra is added to the frame in a couple of high stress areas to add strength and reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic failure in the event of a crash or other accident. Allied’s vendor for the material warned them not to use too much, that it would make the ride quality of the bike rather strange; I’m told they heeded that call.
To secure the seatpost, the Alfa uses an easily accessible wedge bolt.
With 90 psi in the 23mm clinchers, my sense was that the Inegra had reduced the amount of super-high-frequency vibration traveling through the frame. I was told at PressCamp that damping vibration would be one of the effects of Inegra. I often compare the ride quality of a light carbon fiber frame to a high-quality sound system where the high-end definition is crisp and clear. What Inegra does is roll off a bit of those very highest frequencies, the ones that can be particularly piercing if you turn the volume up. The clarity and definition remain, but loud doesn’t seem painful.
Late in our ride, after we’d met up with Gilbert Alaquninez, the executive chef for the Clinton Foundation and a terrific guy who absolutely delights in talking food, I put my hands in the drops and stood up. To this point in the ride we’d been in our big rings and rolling at a good tempo, but no one was suffering. I launched from the group, shifted, accelerated, shifted again (sheesh, the new Dura-Ace Di2 is better than the previous stuff) and accelerated to the point where if I accelerated any further I was going to be in for a big scoop of pain, at which point I sat down and coasted. The bike had performed flawlessly. I’d put it against a Cervelo R5, a Felt F1, a Scott Addict, the S-Works Tarmac. The only difference between the Alfa and those bikes is they’ve had a chance to earn their reputation.