Way back in April (and several times thereafter) I hinted that I’d won a new bike. But then I never posted anything about it, mostly because it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually received said bike.
This isn’t a short story, but I want to record it all because it’s quite the journey. It’s a lot of nerdy bike things, but here we go anyway:
THE SET UP
At the end of 2019 I decided to sign up for Rebecca’s Private Idaho Queen Stage Race (see next post, TK). It’s a gravel race, which is all well and good, except I didn’t own a gravel bike. I owned a heavier, hardtail mountain bike and a road bike which can take 32mm slick tires. Could I have done the race with one of those bikes? Probably. But the mountain bike was heavier than I needed, and would be slower (and this was a race after all). And while I frequently take my road bike on dirt, day one of the race is on true mountain biking trails, and I’m just not that good of a rider (plus the risk of mechanicals would go WAY up).
No matter, I thought, I’ll buy a gravel bike. In for a penny with this biking stuff… 😅
However, that was much harder to do than it sounds. During the COVID era it appears that everyone decided to take up biking. That’s awesome, however its made finding bikes (and parts) a real challenge. That’s coupled with factory shut downs and global shortages of, well, just about everything.
Gravel bikes come in a lot of shapes and sizes. I knew I wanted something that could handle racing, but also not be so race focused that it couldn’t go on some hearty multi-day adventures. I wanted to test ride a few options, but options were in short supply. I finally settled on trying to get a Liv Devote, but I couldn’t find one in my size. Actually, I couldn’t much at all in my size given that I need a pretty small frame.
At the end of February Paul managed to find a shiny new Giant Revolt, and I was very jealous. A couple days later I was sitting at my desk when I saw I had a missed call. Checking my messages, I learned that the only Liv Devote in the style I wanted was on the east coast, and the store wasn’t willing to ship it. My local shop let me know it was unlikely I’d be able to get the bike at all this year.
Not 20minutes later my phone rang again. Hoping it might be the bike shop calling back with better news, I answered. Instead it was from Bicycle Colorado, a local nonprofit working to make Colorado a more bike friendly state. A few weeks earlier I’d entered a raffle they had held on a whim. They sold 300 tickets at $100 each, and I’d been wanting to support their work anyway. I won’t lie, the allure of possible winning a SUPER shiny new bike was definitely a motivator as well. Although I’d mostly forgotten that I’d entered, I also knew they hadn’t yet announced a winner.
Erica, the woman on the other end who I soon learned was the most patient person ever, didn’t waste any time. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it boiled down to “you won!”. At this point, the whole call is sort of blurry because I suddenly started alternating between ‘awkwardly speechless’ and ‘awkwardly word vomiting’. At the end, she promised to get me in touch with Bryce at Alchemy, a small Denver-based bike shop specializing in custom, handmade bikes of all types. From there, two VERY big things happened:
Custom frame: I let Bryce know that I typically ride a 48cm frame, which is smaller than their smallest standard frame (52cm). No problem, he said, we’ll just custom make a frame for you 🤯 🤯 🤯
Gravel build: Once I wrapped my head around that, I decided to make a very, VERY big ask. The bike I’d won was a road bike, but I’d just gotten myself a new road bike in 2019, and I loved it. And, of course, I was actively trying to buy a gravel bike. So I reached out and asked Bryce if, (since they were custom building the frame anyway), they could build it as a gravel bike in their Ronin style. Not only did he agree, but Erica from Bicycle Colorado (who was sourcing the rest of the parts like the cassette, saddle, shifters, etc) jumped in right away to let me know she’d try to get gravel specific parts instead (like a 1x cassette). I realized it was a massive ask given that I’d just WON the bike. But I was so incredibly grateful they agreed.
A few weeks later I was off to Alchemy’s shop and factory to get my measurements taken (and get a tour of the space!).
They set me up to do a Retul 3D fit, which involves hopping on a very sophisticated stationary bike with little electrodes attached to various parts of your body (knee, elbow, shoulder, ankle, etc). It was very fancy. Once they had all the data, I was done. As I was getting my stuff together, Bryce turned to me and said, “Since we’re custom building your frame, would you like to pick the colors?”. I nearly fell over. Would I ever?! He gave me a MASSIVE swatch book which immediately overwhelmed me. I sat in the corner for about ten minutes trying to figure out what I wanted, until he mercifully told me I could take a few days and email him my choices.
I’ll save you the many hours I spent looking at colors online. It sounds easy to pick bike colors until you start trying. The design would stay the same, so I could choose one primary base color, one accent color, and second mini accent color. I will say, the first round of colors I picked were based on some car paint colors I found. Bryce let me know he could do those, BUT they would be an extra $1K because of how fancy/shiny/glittery they were. So I dialed it back, ultimately asking for a popping pink base (F72893), a bright yellow accent (F8D525), and an orange sub accent (FE8008).
Erica had let me know that due to the bike part shortage, it could be several weeks or even months before I had the bike. No problem, I thought. Ned Gravel wasn’t until end of July, and RPI not until Labor Day weekend. Plenty of time.
However, in mid-April she emailed me to share that SRAM (who was supplying many of the components) had written her with an update on when the parts would arrive. I scanned the list to see several were already in, many were scheduled for May, and a couple weren’t coming until late June. Fine fine. But, wait! At the bottom I saw two parts, my left and right shifters, with arrival dates of 10/4. Wait. October? OCTOBER?! Oh NO! 🤦♀️
Now, to be clear, this is 100% not Erica or Bicycle Colorado’s fault. Nor is it even SRAM’s fault. Bike parts are just really hard to get. I had been warned. But I’d gone ahead and signed up for four, yes four, gravel races. All with no gravel bike 😬
I wrote to Erica and Bryce and explained my situation. I asked them if I could source the parts myself, since I was in a rush to get them. “Totally fine” they let me know. They’d be happy to get the bike built earlier if I could find the parts.
Both Paul and I proceeded to spent three months desperately trying to find shifters. The shifters I was suppose to get were eTap Force AXS – snazzy electronic shifters. The eTap AXS line also has an even more high end version called eTap RED. And, in May, they released a slightly lower end (read, slightly heavier) version called eTap Rival. Any of these three types of shifters would ultimately work with my bike. The Rivals were the cheapest at $400/set, followed by Force at $625, and finally RED at about $900/set.
The problem was, I couldn’t find any of them. Early on Paul spotted a couple sets on eBay, but we watched in horror as the used shifters sold for more than DOUBLE the price you’d pay for them new. Back in May I was not ready to pay that kind of money. I was certain we’d find something.
I spent an (embarrassing) number of hours Googling shifters and looking at website after website (sold out, sold out, sold out). I added my name to waiting lists on every website I could find. Bike shops told me they were occasionally getting in shifters, trickling in one or two at a time. So ultimately I pre-ordered a total of 4 different shifters so I’d be the first in line to get them.
Weeks ticked by. We rolled through May, June, and into the beginning of July. I nearly found a set on CraigsList, but in the middle of negotiating a pickup time, the seller shared that someone had offered him $150 bucks more for the set. I was out of luck.
But then, finally, we got a tip that worked out! Eric, a friend from our local bike shop, let me know that he saw that a local store had one of the shifters in stock. A Rival. Paul and I biked over and bought it immediately. One down, one to go!!
Still, it was looking more and more likely that I’d have to rent a bike for RPI, and that wasn’t ideal for multiple days of racing OR for my wallet.
One afternoon I happened to be standing in line to pick up our CSA and looking at my email. There, from one of the sites I’d put my name on a waiting list, I had an email. Rival shifters IN STOCK! I frantically texted Paul: “IS THIS IT?” From his computer he was able to confirm it was the right part, and he ordered it for me. ELATION!
Shortly thereafter I got a confirmation email, and the next day a tracking number. My shifter was on it’s way! But then, two days later, let down. An email letting us know they had oversold 😩 We agreed to let them keep the payment (this was now the 6th shifter I’d paid for, but still with only 1 in hand), and they would mail us the next one they got. “It could be a few weeks…”
But amazingly, at the beginning of August a shifter came into stock and arrived on my doorstep. On August 6th I got them both over to Erica, and crossed my fingers that by August 31st I’d have a fully functional bike to race in Idaho.
On August 20th I got to drive back out to Alchemy to pick up the bike. They set it up on display so I could see it when I walked in. I was, again, pretty speechless. They had gone above and beyond. Erica had managed to source even nicer wheels than originally planned, and found gravel tires too.
Bryce had added some sparkle into the bike base color, and the cassette was RAINBOW colored with a gold chain. The 1x set up was PERFECT – a mountain bike set up with a massive big ring in the back. Ideally for big climbs on steep dirt roads 😍 We actually did a little photo shoot with the bike, which Alchemy posted on their Instagram later that week.
It was pretty much beyond my wildest dreams of what a perfect bike could be. There were not enough ways for me to thank Erica, Bryce, Alchemy, and Bicycle Colorado. They went WAY above and beyond for this random woman who paid $100 for a raffle ticket and got a bike worth some 80x that amount. They didn’t need to. I’m so grateful.
Needless to say I ended up bringing it in for a bike fit over with Ryan at Full Cycle the next day. The handlebars and stem were not custom designed, and so we switched out the stem to something a little shorter for a slightly better fit. Otherwise, everything was ready to cruise. And eleven days before stage 1 of RPI the bike got its first test ride.
Paul and I went for a spin up into the hills, hitting Switzerland Trial, Four Mile, and Gold Run Road for a variety of gravel conditions. It was a dream to ride, and I share more about that ride on Instagram here.
I consider myself incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have this bike. It’s amazing. I don’t really have any more words to say about it here, but I’ll share how it did in Idaho in the next post (spoiler: it was an absolute CHAMP of a bike).
Oh, and to everyone who says they never win things, I’ll just remind you that you can’t win if you don’t enter 😉 but also, it’s always good to support your local non-profits if and when you can (even if you never win). They are doing good work for never enough pay. Help ’em out. 💕