By Guy Andrews - RoadCyclingUK (click to open actual test in new window)
There are horses and there are courses. Before we go anywhere we have to say that any of these bikes would be a good buy. Carbon technology has improved massively over the past three years and the manufacturing processes are now reliable and suitably advanced. Quality materials allow builders plenty of scope for frame design. They are all expensive, sure, but that's what you'd expect for the level of carbon 'R&D' required to get to the required result.
As for a winner then that will depend on your riding aspirations - and we are all different.
For the racers out there on a £2k budget, they will have to look hard to beat the Specialized Tarmac and it's already selling well in the shops. I do think, however, that the design will date fairly quickly and the Roubaix is a better choice for those with all-round riding aspiration. We recommend it though, it's such a great value super-fast bike.
Then onto the Willier… this is certainly a great looking bike, one of the nicest we've seen roll into the RCUK office, but it's a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing, or should that be the other way round...? anyway what I mean is, it's even more racey and aggressive than the Tarmac, it does appeal - but perhaps just not to everyone. it will have exclusive appeal and racers who want a permanent crowd around their bike outside the changing rooms - so they'll probably have an eye on this for the season ahead too.
We have a soft spot for the Python, mainly because it costs a lot less than the other 3 bikes here. Having said that the frame was capable and the bike wasn't the heaviest either. But it shows it's budget credentials in othere areas, although we had no 'real' problems with the components, a careful tweak or two could make a race-ready bike with plenty of value. We also hear that they have a TT frame on the way and this could be an excellent application of their frame making ability.
So it's down to the Parlee Z3. For me it is the best bike here. Why? Well ride-wise they've built a wonderful handling, ride-it-all-day classic race frame with more 'aspirational options' than the other bikes on test - you could ride it in a local club 10 and take on the Etape, even batter yourself on the Tour of Flanders randonee, if that's what you have in store for 2006. It's the most complete solution, so it has value for money too. Best of all though it's seriously light and yet not flighty, which means a lot to man of my age.
OK, so £2+K for a frame may be a bit pie in the sky for most, but when the titanium dropouts cost $200 a set and the bike is completely hand assembled, you are getting a lot for your money. I was seriously impressed.
So what the consumer has here is a tricky decision - currently they are very few bad apples in the carbon barrel. These bikes were all envolving and fun to ride and they all got plenty of attention from riding buddies. And then there's all the other carbon bikes we've ridden (Colnago, Serotta, Planet-X, Bianchi, Spesh Roubaix, Trek Pilot, various OCLVs etc etc) to consider, all have a lot to offer - the attention to detail across the board is fantastic and so the choice isn't as straightforward as it once was - you're actually now spolit for choice. Carbon, it seems, has finally arrived. I now need a week off, might take a few Titanium bikes out for a spin...