A2 Bikes Speed Phreak Extended Review
Love it or hate it, the landscape for bike sales is changing. Though our own audience survey found that nearly 50 percent of our readers still buy their bikes from a bike shop, it also found that a direct-to-consumer brand had the biggest change in “interest to buy” by a large margin over other traditional bike manufacturers. All of this means that more people are interested in buying bikes online without the help of a bike shop—either online or brick-and-mortar.
This was the logic that led A2 Bikes founder AJ Alley to first look into sourcing frames directly from Taiwan. While most bike brands are manufactured in China or Taiwan, very few customers are able to purchase those foreign-made setups without going through the bike manufacturer and shop. At each junction the price is marked up to account for the cost of shipping, keeping the lights on, paying employees, etc. Alley’s dream was to create and sell bikes that skipped most of those steps.
With the release of A2 Bikes’ Speed Phreak, Alley’s company sells a full carbon tri-specific bike directly to customers via its website. For less than $2,000 ($1,900 to be exact), purchasers can get a bike equipped with 105 front and rear derailleurs, Tektro rim brakes, FSA cranks and bottom bracket, Vision Trimax aluminum base and aerobars, and basic Alexrims training wheels (upgrades are also available). Bearing in mind that most carbon tri completes start well above $2,000, any small upgrades are a manageable expense if needed later down the line.
When it comes to the frame itself out on the road, expect a ride that falls right down the middle between rough and smooth, falling slightly on the smoother side for bigger vibrations —like bumps and ruts—and slightly on the rougher side for high-frequency road chatter.
More interestingly, the Speed Phreak does a fantastic job of comfortably holding a straight line—something that’s essential particularly for beginner to intermediate riders who might find this bike within their budget. Even down steep descents, the Speed Phreak makes easy work of holding its line and doesn’t require constant correction. Even more surprisingly—especially for a bike that’s so stable at speed—the Speed Phreak does an exceptional job of handling tight corners aggressively and predictably. The most likely reason here is the super low front end.
Per size, the Speed Phreak has one of the most aggressive front ends found on tri bikes from major manufacturers. With a tiny 90mm head tube on a 53cm top tube, this is a bike that is built with a very low basebar, right out of the box. While the aerobars themselves can be raised with a set of spacers, it’s important to note that, since this is a bike purchasers will be assembling and setting up themselves, a fit from a professional would go a long way. Think of the bike fitter fee as a worthwhile investment, given the money you’d save buying this bike direct.
In person, the Speed Phreak looks and feels like a hyper aggressive tri machine, with a straight-shooting top tube that runs horizontally from seat tube to head tube. Though certainly a fast-looking and eye-catching bike, the sharp lines and aggressive default position actually bely a more even-tempered ride experience than one would expect. With the help of an experienced fitter, this bike serves as a solid foundation for an athlete to build an any-distance, skies-the-limit superbike without breaking the bank.
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AJ Alley expected to be a “one and done” triathlete. For his first sprint triathlon, he borrowed some pieces of gear he needed, improvised others, and rode the same bike he used to commute to classes at Willamette University, where he was studying law.
“It was a way for me to take a break from studying and working, but still feel like I was being productive and not just sitting on the couch watching Netflix,” says Alley. “I’m a strong believer in physical activity alleviating mental strain, stress and tedium.”
But what started as a lark became a full-on obsession the minute he crossed the finish line. “I was completely hooked. I’ve always loved speed. In high school, I was a ski racer, and I still have that little speed demon in me. When I raced in my first tri, I got that feeling all over again.”
But there was one thing that quickly put the brakes on his racing ambitions: The price. When he sought out to upgrade his commuter bike for a more tri-friendly rig, he realized it just wouldn’t be possible on his law-student budget. “I couldn’t believe how expensive everything was,” says Alley. “I couldn’t understand why tri bikes needed to cost this much. I wanted to do something about it.”
First, Alley began cold-calling carbon fiber factories and component manufacturers. He soon discovered a wide discrepancy between the actual cost of a bike and the retail price. The more information he got, the more he realized a high-quality, fast, aero tri bike didn’t have to be an extravagance. In fact, it could be something the everyday athlete could afford.
This epiphany inspired Alley to launch A2 Bikes (pronounced “A-squared”). The flagship design of A2, the carbon-fiber Speed Phreak, retails from $1,599 for the frameset to $2,299 for a fully-loaded set with wheels. Even though the bike is priced lower than many carbon-fiber designs on the market, Alley knows that amount can still be a hindrance for many new triathletes. To keep sticker shock from dissuading new triathletes, Alley came up with the T3 program, which allows triathletes to make monthly payments (starting at $85 for a base-package Speed Phreak with Shimano 105 groupset) for a total of 18 months. “We strive to be affordable and allow access to triathletes that didn’t know they could afford a new tri bike.”
At the conclusion of the 18-month payment period, during which one can race and ride their A2 as much as they want, owners are given the option of trading in their A2 bike for a new, upgraded one. Alley compares this program, called T3, to the model utilized by many cell phone companies:
“How many times have you bought a new phone, only to have the company release a new version soon thereafter? It’s incredibly frustrating after you’ve saved up your hard-earned money to purchase your product, and it’s out of date before you’ve even really had a chance to use it! T3 was born out of that frustration.”
This gives A2 customers access to new developments in the frame, upgrades to the groupset by Shimano/SRAM, or new paint scheme without hassle of selling their previous bike.
“A lot of times, when we buy a new bike, we keep the old one for years and years, just letting it gather dust. The problem is people just don’t know where to take their bikes to re-sell them. With our T3 program, we take care of it.”
A2 partners with Red Truck to sell what they call “pre-loved” bikes for an even more affordable price point. This is something that once again feeds into Alley’s belief that triathlon gear should be accessible to everyone who wants to take on the sport:
“Every triathlete should be able to get a fast, and aesthetically pleasing bike for an affordable price.”