Remarkable: a First Ride

Remarkable: a First Ride

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.

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    1. Author

      Ooh. Great question. They are both a cut above. I’d shortlist both; Allied intrigues me in a way very few brands do. That said, there’s something to be said for what sort of pricing I encountered with my local dealer.

  1. Brian

    Allied’s website spells it “Alfa”
    I’m sure they’d appreciate it if you updated your review.
    Keep up the great work.

  2. Scott G.

    For those puzzled by the d/t “Made Here ..”, Here is a town in Arkansas, not Taiwan
    or a suburb of Portland. Nice to see bikes from the South, locally grown hand raised carbon etc.

    1. Author

      I wish I could have done the Gran Fondo Little Rock. Things just didn’t line up. And no, not going through Memphis. I’d love to, but I actually headed in nearly the opposite direction, to the Ozarks.

  3. Les.B.

    I’m sure Allied has disc brakes planned for future models. But this rim-brake model is testament that rim brakes are still a thing.

  4. Rod

    I have only been riding my F1 for two months now (dry weather has only just hit the UK) but it has really blown me away. It is so much better than any other bike I have ever ridden. If the Alfa is as good or better, then it is going to be an outstanding bike.

    I look forward to reading a more in-depth review.

  5. Jeff

    I didn’t talk in depth to them at NAHBS, but I think they were laying up forks on the floor. Do they make their own carbon fork? if so that is one thing that is seriously cool. No one else bothers. This should not be under looked.

    I just picked up a demo Alchemy Atlas, in part due to the RKP review. That is the closest thing I know to US production carbon frame. Both look very solid, but Allied offers more options on the stock frames, and a competitive entry into custom geometry.

    Nice to see more options in US carbon. Oh, also a calfee owner (tandem).

  6. Shaun

    Its been full month and 1000 miles later and the Alpha has been a phenomenal bike. The fit is perfect to the point I would say custom. The whole experience from start to end was perfect. I got the summer deal with ultegra mechanical as I’m still debating what todo with my R5/eTap. BTW that has been a horrible experience, make sure you check if your bike plays nice with eTap. Yeah I get everyone’s experice is different but mine particularly was just plain crap. Anyhow, this is bike is definitely on par with an R5 if not better. I can ride this for hours and not feel beat up and it’s the perfect amount of stiffness when you jump out the saddle and pound away. First thing I did was put ENVE top to bottom and put some solid custom DT Swiss 180/ Knight 35. That shed some noticeable weight and made it really look sharp and come alive. Heading into fall and winter months I kept the ultegra on. I live downtown Chicago so no sense changing it out till next season. I’m particularly impressed with the + which gives you a bit more rise (I’m 44 so I’m not slamming stems anymore). The finish reminds of old school Klein bikes, just magnificent. I got solid pearl white; they have very minimal logos so it looks fresh. Also a huge point is the bottom bracket, I don’t have to upgrade again to avoid BBRIGHT failures., its just solid!! I can’t say enough how much detail their sales people/ mechanics had. That made it very reassuring buying another bike without test ride.

  7. Mike McWhorter

    I have been riding my Alfa for about 1200 miles. I have ridden steel for 30 years and loved the ride. As I have gotten older (65) I felt I needed a little more stiffness and I thought carbon would be answer. Prior to the Alfa, I had ridden 3 different carbon frames. What I found was unlike my 4 classic steel bikes which essentially rode the same. All of the carbon bikes seemed to all ride differently. This is not scientific; but, after purchasing the Alfa, I have to get my second. These bikes are amazing and they definitely are easy on the eyes.

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