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Tuesday
Feb212006

Carbon Bike Test - Parlee Z3

By Guy Andrews - RoadCyclingUK (click to open review in new window)
So what next in the Carbon Super-test? It's a completely hand built frame from part scientist, part artisan and part bike designer Bob Parlee. He is at the forefront of custom carbon frame design and has, in a pretty short time, established an impressive reputation in the USA. We had a Z3 and this is what we thought…

PARLEE Z3

Compared to the Python's monocoque construction Parlee adopt a completely different approach. They use a proprietary lug design that is exclusively theirs. The lugs are laid up by hand around mitred tubes, rather than being pre-formed. This means you get a direct carbon-to-carbon bond for stronger and lighter joints. The lugs are then cured with a combination of high pressure and temperature, virtually eliminating voids, delamination and resin pockets. This process means that Parlee's are very strong.

They have taken advantage of the directional strength of carbon fibre by changing the orientation of the fibres in the tube lay-up process, this produces tubes that resist twisting, yet still allow some flex. Thus keeping torsional strength (which is noticed when sprinting or climbing) and vertical compliance (when seated). This is almost like riding a suspension bike with lock-out, it means that the bike is completely different (and not what you are expecting) when riding out of the saddle.

The geometry of the medium size we tested went as follows:
Seat tube: 53cm
Top tube: 54.5cm
Head angle: 73.5°
Seat angle: 73.5°
Chainstay length: 41.0
Fork rake: 4.3
Wheelbase: 98.3
Head tube length: 12.2

It's a lovely looking frame and the finishing is superb. The construction is very labour intensive and means that custom building is a prerequisite to every frame. Order a Parlee and you can specify every tube and measurement and they'll build it just the way you want. Bob Parlee oversees the production of every one of his frames in person and the titanium hardware (the dropouts alone cost around $200 a pair to create) are expertly cut - they really have to be seen in the flesh to appreciate the attention to detail fully, wheels drop in and out like a knife through butter.

There are loads of fork options available, so we were very happy to see a reliable and familiar Chris King Aheadset installed onto a Reynolds Ouzo Peloton Lite fork. It's a perfect combination and won't let you down. The fork is unbelievably light but hasn't got that buzz and jitter that a few super light carbon forks seem to have - The Ouzo seems to like the 73.5° head angle too, as steering was almost telepathic.

Components

I have to say that my component choices would be slightly different, nothing wrong with the spec but there is a lot of money going into the carbon extras and I think a few better budget choices could be made, but I'm nit picking really, the Record all worked like clockwork, I just like my saddle and bars to be familiar. The Stronglight crank is amazing to look at, but I can't help thinking that the bike would be better with more subtle, classier choices (I know, what a snob…)

The Lightweight's however are a RCUK favourite and although riding them in the rain is a painful process (because you are thinking how much they cost) so we swapped them over for some more winter friendly training wheels.

WR composeti are an Italian firm who make light but strong carbon and aluminium parts, they are certainly well made and suit the red and white styling of this Z3 perfectly. I didn't like the “Anatomical” design bars much, but then again I never do.

The Ride

Being average build I found the 'stock' Z3 a perfect fit. The stem could have been a few millimetres higher but otherwise it was spot-on. There are other details you can specify, like lug shape and paint panels but all this can be catered for and, unlike most carbon frames, yours will be exclusive. Even to other Z3 owners. It's the TVR of the bike world (although I wouldn't know a TVR if it ran me over, I just know it's a fancy pants car and I heard that you can customise the spec).

This bike rails around corners like no other. Without wanting to go too overboard on the quality of the ride, it was sublime. The Z3 has shown me that carbon bikes can be comfortable and racey whilst being light but not flighty, it's one of those ride-all-day bikes that can actually nail a sprint without swaying around like a sheet in the wind.

One thing we did get wrong in the First Look was the price, there have been a few changes. A frame only now costs £2250. With this fork and a Chris King Aheadset you'll be looking at around £2600. There are also other fork options available. The standard frame comes with decals, this one is painted, which is a custom up-charge, as is custom geometry. The complete bike (medium) weighed in at a suitably feather-weight 16 1/4 lbs.

RCUK Verdict

Bikes come and go out of our office. They all have a favourite part or detail that sets them apart and gives them their personality - it could be a paintjob or a set of nice wheels, or that we just couldn't stop riding it…

As Bob Parlee says:
“Some say that it is impossible for a bike to be lightweight, responsive, stiff and comfortable at the same time.”

As for the Z3, well I did a whole weeks riding in two days on this bike, so they are wrong. If I could, I'd give it a 10+ and keep it myself. I want it back. Enough said.