Chris Davidson - cyclingnews.com
Hailing from Peabody, Massachusetts, this handbuilt carbon bike offers some fine craftsmanship and a unique ride quality, as Chris Davidson discovered.
Click here to open the actual review in a new window or tab.
Parlee is not the largest manufacturer of carbon bikes - its 2006 annual production is estimated to be 350-400 frames - but this small American builder prides itself on a process of truly hand building a carbon bike from the ground up. While factories on the other side of the planet produce thousands of carbon frames for various brands (see another manufacturer's comments on this topic), Bob Parlee builds a unique carbon structure. The entire process from start to finish is overseen by one individual and, even in the carbon frame world, Bob Parlee has some unique ideas about what is best way to do carbon.
Parlee's frames use round carbon main tubes exclusively, custom-made for Parlee in the US, along with wishbone stays that are molded in-house. Much in the way higher-quality lugged steel frames are constructed, the frame tubes are precision mitered for full tube-to-tube contact and joined with carbon fiber lugs which are also made by Parlee.
The components are assembled without glue and the joints are then wrapped with carbon cloth. The entire assembly is cured in Parlee's custom pressure jig which uses flexible inflation elements that not only minimize voids but also allow for custom geometry. Parlee takes pride in these unique construction techniques that are all developed to get around some of the common limitations of carbon frame construction.
Other elements of the frame include custom 6/4 titanium dropouts and BB shell made for Parlee by Paragon Machine Works in California. Smaller items like the carbon fiber and titanium cable stops and water bottle bosses are custom Parlee creations.
My large Z3c test bike came with slightly compact [7 degree sloping top tube] geometry, although the standard Z3 is also available with traditional geometry. Minimal red and white decals covered Parlee's now-signature clear woven carbon finish. Traditional paint is available as an option on any Parlee frame, but I was happy to see all the carbon work visible, and the round tubes were a refreshing contrast to the varying multi-shaped tube configurations seen on many current carbon frames.
Parlee is a framebuilder exclusively, leaving dealers and consumers to spec out the frames as they see fit. Our Z3c test frame retails for US$3900, and came with an impressive parts package from Shimano, Reynolds, f'izi:k, Chris King, and Maxxis. A Dura Ace groupo did the dirty work; the carbon bar, stem, carbon seatpost, carbon fork, and carbon clincher wheels were from Reynolds; Maxxis provided Columbiere 700x23c tires; and the entire package was finished off with a f'izi:k Arione saddle, Salsa skewers and King headset. While Parlee did not provide a total price for the package, a Z3c spec'ed like this one would be upwards of US$6,000. Full custom geometry is also available for an additional US$700. The complete package weighed in at 16 pounds dead even.
Usable rigidity (Stiffness when climbing, sprinting, powering the flats, etc.) The Parlee really delivered here. I was very impressed with the rigidity of the BB when standing on climbs and while sprinting out of the saddle. While some carbon manufacturers cite the multi-shaped tubes as a way to add stiffness, I would not want to add any more rigidity to the round-tubed Parlee. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very flexy and 10 being a track sprint bike, I would rate the Parlee a 7.5: very impressive for a road bike and not lacking in this area.
With stiffness sometimes comes a harshness that detracts from the bikes handling. With that in mind, the Parlee never felt harsh in its directness; rather there was a unique feel. I was very aware of the feedback from the road, yet did not suffer from it.
Responsiveness, handling, agility (Ability to chose a line, maintain it and do it effortlessly) The Parlee was very responsive, so much so that comparisons to a steel bike come to mind. Under braking, cornering and descending, the bike felt very dialed in to the road and my steering inputs. The Reynolds fork deserves mention here as well. It is solid and its properties seem well matched to the Parlee frame.
To date Parlee has equipped approximately 70% of the frames that they have sold with Reynolds forks, and the Ouzo Pro felt like it was constructed by the same hands as the frame. Together the frame and fork left me in no situation where I doubted the harmony of their responses to road conditions. To improve a little on the feel of a steel frame, the Parlee frame and Reynolds fork seemed to remove the resonance of a metallic frame without removing much of the valuable feedback (in other words, strong signal to noise ratio).
The combination of properties that this bike displayed in a variety of riding conditions made it stand out from all other carbon bikes that I have ridden.
Comfort (Ability to put in long miles without undue fatigue) Those elements of comfort from long miles in the saddle that are related to the frame and fork were excellent. Comfort is not solely a measure of the frame, however.
All the rider interface parts need mention as well; with this bike the components added a measure to the comfort rating. I really like to see f'izi:k's Arione on bikes I get to test. While I don't ride an Arione on my personal bikes, I never have any trouble warming up to one on a new bike. It has been my experience that very few others that try an Arione have negative reactions.
On this specific bike, the saddle augmented the long-term comfort. The carbon Reynolds handlebars had both a pleasing ergo bend to the bar and unique shape to the tops of the bar that added to the comfort. While many bar makers now have a bar with plenty of flat area on the tops, the Reynolds bar had a more triangular shape to the tops, feeling more like a traditional bar, but adding greater relief for the hands.
Another part of comfort is the ease and confidence in which the pedaling takes place. The Reynolds carbon clincher wheels/Maxxis tires made the bike feel fast in all conditions. Team Healthnet presented by Maxxis relies on the same combo for its 100+ wins a year, so this combination is proven fast repeatedly. It was refreshing to ride carbon race wheels, but still have the ability to stop and change a tube quickly when that inevitable flat tyre came. The two bolt carbon Reynolds seatpost and the four bolt aluminum stem proved easy to setup and held their adjustments with no hassle. Finally, Salsa skewers are always a pleasure to use, so I was happy to see them securing the wheels. The trustworthy nature of these parts was reassuring every time I rode.
To summarise, I never got off this bike thinking that fewer miles would have been better.
Riding bike is great fun, but someone has to work on them. I get to work on plenty of different bikes, so here is my take on what your mechanic might have to comment on given the Parlee.
Water bottle bosses - These are a Parlee custom creation and Bob Parlee prefers not to ever place a hole in a carbon tube if it is not necessary, so the bosses are threaded extensions that stick out from the tube. I see the point of preserving the frame tube, but I had trouble getting the nuts to stay tight on my cages. This problem is not unfixable, and Parlee is reported switching to stainless Nylock nuts for 2007, but I didn't happen to have a nut driver on one of the rides I was on, but in the group I was in we could come up with all the different size Allen keys from 2 to 6mm.
This choice makes the Parlee unique, and unique is not bad per se, but in some situations different leaves you stuck.
Chainstay bridge - This small carbon bridge between the chainstays left a perfect little shelf for road (and off-road) debris to built up. And it did the more I rode the bike. The front derailleur cable runs through this area, so in time this may prove to be problematic for the average rider. I felt like I always had to spend more time scrubbing this area to get it clean when washing to bike, so I felt like I always need to re-lube the front derailleur cable as it goes through the BB cable guide. This point proved to be worrisome if nothing else.
Non-replaceable dropout - Bob Parlee likes the strength of a solid 6/4Ti (titanium) dropout, citing better drivetrain performance. Point taken. I prefer a replaceable hanger such that a little 'get-off' does not necessitate a return trip for the frame to the builder. There are good arguments on both sides of this issue, but it is worth noting.
Press-in headset - I really like this option. Far too often today's frames come with a particular internal headset combination, I know that I have options with a press-in headset. I don't think that I will have to every deal with problems with the Chris King headset installed in this frame; they typically outlast everything on the bike. But I sleep better knowing that options exist.
Front derailleur clamp - This frame used a Shimano clamp with a braze-on front derailleur. This is the universal solution. It also lets you adjust for situations outside the normal (ie-compact crank, 56 tooth chainring, etc). Again, flexibility is a good thing.
Parlee takes a unique approach to constructing a carbon frame and this handmade process has some advantages and differences over other methods of carbon bike production. While you will not see Parlee supporting an entire ProTour team soon, his bikes have been ridden by the best riders in the world.
The Parlee I rode contained some really unique ride characteristics that can be appreciated by all who ride bikes. The Z3c was very connected to the road and provided all of the feedback from moving over asphalt at high speed, with a distinct feel of confidence and a lack of harshness. This combination of a stiff yet direct feel has escaped all the other carbon bikes I have ridden so far.
Parlee has really unique presence in the this respect, with a liveliness that mimics some of the best steel frames I've ridden. Perhaps it is the method of construction with the Parlee, where the carbon is continuous from the tubes to the lugs, which provides the added qualities. Maybe it is the added manual labor in all the hand done touches in the creation of the frames.
Whatever it is, it is worth investigating a Parlee. The weight and the stiffness are impressive, but the road feeling is difficult to describe. I have no reservations in giving this bike my highest recommendation as the ride of the Z3c was truly remarkable.
Every year Cycling Weekly (the U.K.'s best selling cycling magazine, http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/) pits the best of the best race bikes against each other in a week-long test (this year it was held in the Alps) to pick the single best race bike of the year. This year we are thrilled to announce that the magazine selected the Z3 as RACE BIKE of the YEAR!! Click here to open the article as a PDF in a new window.
"The end result is simply astounding. This is a superbly light frame with spectacular ride quality and electric acceleration. What sets this frame further apart from the competition is is the refinement over rough surfaces. Put plainly, the road feels smoother when riding the Parlee..."
Click here to read the complete review.
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...
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.