Framebuilder Profile: James Flatman of Alchemy Bicycle Company
Posted Dec 18 2009 10:26am
Economic woes be damned, business is good at Alchemy Bicycle Company these days. Framebuilder James Flatman is weathering the storm fine with a traditional build-anything-you-want full custom approach that has yielded a surprisingly steady customer cue for one of Austin’s newest hand built bicycle companies. Still, Flatman is anything but new to the industry offering cyclists skills and a depth of knowledge equal to any other builder out there.
From Down Under to the USA
As with every builder I’ve met, the passion for frame building began with a passion for cycling from an early age. Flatman rode BMX while growing up in Australia and eventually went on to race mountain bike and down hill. He left the racing scene once the pressure of racing ceased being fun and got a degree as an outdoor education teacher. Still being drawn to cycling, Flatman started working at a local bike shop as a mechanic.
As with most life changes in early adulthood, Flatman’s move to the US involved a girl. He settled into Colorado with his girlfriend at the time and picked up work again as a bike mechanic. Though this is a foreign concept to Texas bike shops, most Colorado bike shops serve double duty as a ski and winter sport shop during the winter months. This meant some seriously reduced hours for Flatman, and he started looking for other work. When a mechanic job at Dean Titanium Bikes came up, he applied and got the job.
At this point, Flatman harbored a dream in the back of his mind to build frames himself one day. Under the guidance of frame builder Pete Smith whom Flatman calls “one of the best damn frame builders out there”, he learned building on the side. As opportunities opened up, he moved over into the building process doing joint tacking then full on welding.
The origins of Alchemy Bicycle Company
After four years at Dean, Flatman struck out on his own and moved to Texas. Rather than try to start a framebuilding business right away and due to some bike industry burn out, he took work as a contract welder for NASA and the US military. The work wasn’t exciting, but it did improve Flatman’s welding and fabrication skills and gave him the capital to start Alchemy. In late 2008, he left the contract work and launched Alchemy Bicycle Company in January of 2009. While Alchemy is new to the Austin cycling scene, it has come on strong with a presence at the Texas Custom Bicycle Shop, ubiquitous print ads, and a sponsorship of The Driveway Crits series for 2010. Flatman invested in a large workshop with a bike showroom near South Congress and Ben White, and Alchemy is also carried by local bike boutique, Pro Cycles, and KGS Bikes in San Antonio.
Any way you want it, that’s the way we’ll build it
James Flatman takes the traditional builder approach of fully custom to all rider types and styles. Unlike most builders, he does not specialize in a particular bike style such as road or 29er and more importantly he does not specialize in any one particular material. His approach is that the design and the materials should match the needs of the rider. This means steel, aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber are all on the table. And while he prefers titanium for its combination of light weight and durability, his goal in all his bikes is to build durability over obsession with the weight of the frame.
Equally if not more important to materials in bike construction is fit, and it is here where Flatman combines his years of experience with new hi-tech solutions to get a bike truly tailored to the rider. He does extensive interviews with clients, takes measurements, and watches them ride on a trainer. He has also begun using the ReTool Fitting System, a Wii-like system that records key points on the body while riding and then imports that data into a design program like BikeCAD.
The future of Alchemy
Flatman has brought in help to keep his build time to about 6 weeks, a relatively quick turn around for a custom builder. He currently offers steel and aluminum frames starting at $1600 and titanium at $2350. He estimates he’ll be building over 200 frames next year, and as his business and brand grows, there are plans to expand his manufacturing space and establish a dealer network. With some luck, Alchemy could be a national custom brand in a few years.
In the meantime, Flatman keeps producing well made, very nice looking bikes “transforming your dream bike into a reality.”