Alchemy enters international enduro fray
DENVER (VN) — There’s no recipe for turning a boutique, hand-built bike company into a brand that carries global recognition. But Alchemy Bikes, a small brand from Denver, believes it has a few ingredients that will help. It starts with two world-class enduro mountain bike riders, a team manager and mechanic, a full Enduro World Series (EWS) race schedule, a lot of support from factory sponsors, and a few hundred thousand dollars.
“It’s just time for Alchemy to grow into a bike brand,” says Joe Stanish, Alchemy’s chief operating officer.
Alchemy, now a decade old, is mostly known for its handcrafted, aesthetic, and artsy bikes. In fact, in 2017, Alchemy took home an award at the North American Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS) for the best carbon fiber layup. Alchemy is one of the only companies that actually manufactures its carbon fiber bikes at its U.S. headquarters and not overseas.
Stanish, who moved from a position at carbon fiber wheel maker Enve to Alchemy in the summer of 2017, sat down with owner Ryan Cannizzaro and marketing manager Joel Smith to talk about the possibility of an EWS team, with the intention of launching it for the 2019 season.
The EWS began in 2013 with seven races, drawing competitors from UCI cross-country and downhill to prove who had the best overall skills on a mountain bike. Courses are laid out with un-timed ascents and timed descents. Events range from one to three days, with anywhere from three to five stages in a single day.
In 2018, with eight main races, a new Continental Enduro Series, and EWS qualifier events, the series will hold 74 events across 25 countries.
Unlike UCI World Cup events that are streamed live on Red Bull TV, the series isn’t broadcasted. Fans tune into the EWS channel on YouTube for post-race recaps, but that hasn’t discouraged interest and participation.
“This year has proved to be our biggest yet, in terms of numbers,” said Kate Ball, the EWS communications manager.
There are over 3,000 riders on a waiting list for the EWS season, but for safety, organizers must cap the number of racers. Adding the continental series provides relief and helps racers progress to the EWS.
The growth has been just as dramatic in the U.S. as well. Brandon Ontiveros, managing director of the Big Mountain Enduro, has seen participant registration grow by over 200 percent since the Rocky Mountain series started in 2012. Yearly, it partners with the EWS to host an event, which usually takes place in Colorado.
“The bike industry hasn’t seen a discipline grow to this magnitude, I don’t think, ever,” he said.
The EWS has driven bike technology, crowned world champions, and provided the opportunity for manufacturers to pit their bikes against other brands’ to see which can handle some of the roughest singletrack in the world. Stanish saw it as a chance to show what Alchemy, and its first full-suspension mountain bike the Arktos, are capable of.
“We have this great bike, but we don’t have a heightened level of awareness,” said Stanish. Racing the Arkos on the EWS circuit “helps us with the awareness of the brand,” he said.
The company knew that it wanted a male and female rider to make up its team. Stanish had an early idea of whom he wanted as Alchemy’s male rider, and a tip from CrankBrothers CEO Gaspare Licata led to a female rider.
Cody Kelley, from Ogden, Utah ended his commitment with Yeti Cycles and Anneke Beerten ended hers with GT, both at the end of 2017. Both signed with Alchemy in January.
Beerten has taken gold three times in the UCI 4X World Cup, raced UCI World Cup downhill, and has been racing the EWS since its beginning.
“She’s capable of winning EWS rounds, and she’s capable of being top-five overall,” said Stanish.
Kelley is known for his style on the bike and social media engagement. He’s progressed from local races to regional, to national, and will now be on his third year racing in the EWS.
“Joe Stanish is the primary reason for Cody,” said Joel Smith, Alchemy’s marketing manager, and now factory racing team manager. Before Kelley raced for Yeti, he raced on Marin with Enve as its wheel sponsor. Kelley and Stanish built a relationship working together in Ogden, Utah, Kelley and Enve’s home.
Smith will be traveling with the team, managing travel and logistics and Joe Binatena, a former mechanic for 4X world champion and mountain bike hall-of-famer, Brian Lopes will be wrenching on both bikes. Binatena will be responsible for traveling with the bikes and enough spare parts to cover a weekend of racing.
Alchemy is bearing most of the cost this season after getting a late start securing partnerships, which comes out to somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000. Maxxis, Enve, Shimano, and Fox will be its biggest sponsors. On a normal weekend of racing, they expect to burn through two to three sets of tires per rider, along with brake pads, chains, and other wear items.
The unpredictability of EWS courses and weather in different regions makes it tough to predict exactly what the riders will need. Courses are in new locations and new trails every year. Last year, it rained for most of the first half of the season, which made it tough especially on the mechanics and bikes.
“The EWS is a crapshoot. From what we’ve heard, [Colombia] could be phenomenal if it’s dry, or it could be ice if it’s wet. And if you look at the weather now, there’s like a 90 percent chance that it’s going to rain,” said Smith. The first race took place in Lo Barnechea, Chile on March 24-25, and the second will be in Manizales, Colombia, beginning Saturday.
The team’s season began with modest results. Beerten finished 11th, and Kelley was 41st in Chile.
“Overall, things went really well. Results weren’t exactly where we wanted them to be, but it gives us room for improvement this week. The main thing is to get a better handle on the logistics of the event,” said Smith.
The rest of the series will hold events in France, Austria, Slovenia, Canada, and the final round is in Finale Ligure, Italy, September 29-30.
Smith says that the travel and logistics have probably been the hardest part of putting the team together for the EWS season. Almost half of the budget was spent on travel, hotels, and other arrangements.
“It’s not like you’re flying into Vegas and there’s hotels all around,” says Smith. Some of the hotels that they’ve had to pick are over 20 minutes from the race venue.
Smith isn’t the only manager who’s felt the pressure of planning a race team around a hectic schedule. Andy Winohradsky, now owner and skills coach at Dirt Smart MTB, remembers this as one of his biggest obstacles when he was a team mechanic in 2010 for Yeti Cycles’s national racing team. For Winohdradsky, the role of team mechanic came easy; it was the additional roles that were tough.
He says it wasn’t uncommon to get into town and find out that the rental vehicles were not equipped for transporting bikes. It’s on the mechanics and managers to quickly come up with solutions.
“When everything goes smooth, it’s easy. The mechanic stuff on the bike — that’s really not that hard. You don’t do a lot of fixing stuff, you’re replacing stuff.”
The roles were fluid at times for Winohradsky. When he wasn’t swapping out broken parts, he might have been trying to get a rider’s head in the right place or helping out with team management duties.
“Part of your job is a psychologist. A lot of them, you’re telling them things they already know, they just need to be re-affirmed.”
Traveling to new destinations and planning accommodations added up just as quickly for the Yeti team when Winohradsky was aboard, and he was reminded of an old racing adage.
“How do you make sure you end up with a million bucks at the end of the race season? You start it with two million,” he said, jokingly.
Alchemy Bikes knows it is a risk to take on bigger brands with deeper racing histories and more resources. That won’t stop it from putting their bikes in the EWS start gate, though.
“It’s something that’s going to change people’s perspective of what Alchemy is as a brand and that’s the intent,” says Smith.