PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling : Parlee’s Z1 SL: Custom Fit Full Carbon Test

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Parlee’s Z1 SL: Custom Fit Full Carbon Test
Pez has become a place known for “high end” reviews… A bit of arrogance allows me to feel that a high end rep isn’t totally out of line after knocking out (at considerable expense) reviews from several of the best in custom frame craft available.

In fact you might say that we are purveyors of bike p0rn…

With that in mind, what better place to take you than behind the green door…



Of course it’s always easy to make good p0rn if the models are sexy enough, which was absolutely the case for the review of Parlee Cycles Custom Z1 SL

[Note; I used a zero in the word p0rn so your office network filter wouldn't flag your PC... :)]


click the little thumbnail at the top of the story for a full view…



Let’s Do This…
This all started with a quick invitation (from Parlee Cycles Tom Rodi) to take a look at how they make bikes. From a company with Parlee’s top flight reputation, that’s a quick easy “yes” from me, even if it meant heading to the Northeast in the dead of winter (a year ago, when it was actually colder in Boston than here in Phoenix, that sucked…).

Parlee’s place is actually in Peabody MA in a nice, not so little building that sits next to a little stream…



Now Parlee are a fairly busy group, producing only a few hundred bikes a year from a small staff of just a couple of people, so it was expected that it might be a little while before we actually had a frame in hand… I originally thought spring-ish, then summer.

That’s about the time that having a “little” stream running along side your shop wound up going from “neat” to nasty, as the entire place wound up flooded because the drains in the shop decided to switch teams and started working to drain the stream into the shop rather than the other way round… But with a bit of time, (I also Fedex’d them a sponge, a set of little-fishy pool goggles and a note to “hurry the hell up!”) they were back to work building frames, or more importantly, my frame…


What Started It All?
Bob Parlee has always been a builder and designer. Unlike lots of the other guys in his field though, Bob’s is not a “bike shop gone wild” story. He started in the ski business with custom boot tuning and turned to boats in the eighties. He began with traditional wooden boats, then Olympic class sailboats, (power) catamarans, and windsurfers spending a lot of time focusing on rudders, skegs, and centerboards. [Tiny fact; Bob also started an oyster farm…]

He started working with composite materials as a boat builder and originally did some very sleek aero designs prior to the UCI changing the regulations in the 90’s. Once they did that he started working on a round tube design with most of the development going into finding the sweet spot amongst diameters, fiber composition and orientation.

While round tubes have really been Parlee’s sweet spot so far, I found this little darling lurking in the back…



They were a little hush at the time I took these pictures, as it was more than a year ago and these were the test moc’s of the TT bike that had folks buzzing at this year’s Interbike…



Bob obviously has a good bit of knowledge in this area, so we asked a bit more about the new TT rig. According to Tom, “most of Bob’s fluid dynamic knowledge comes from the work he did on boats creating low drag sections. Bob learned a long time ago, that a poorly done aero section could create more drag than a round section. Our feeling is that the science of low drag sections is pretty well established. NACA Airfoil sections have been around forever, we just don’t see anyone really doing them well in a bike application and that is what has caught most people’s attention with the TT design.”


The Bike For Pez?
I am lucky enough to be small and relatively light. That’s a couple plusses in our sport that let me be in the sweet spot of people that can actually fully appreciate and not overload a very light bike during the 99.9999999% of its life that it will not spend sitting on a scale. With that, it was the Z1SL that Parlee chose to roll out.

Parlee have 4 primary tube sets they use… “Tube Set” being head, down, seat tubes and chain and seat stays. While that may seem like “few”, a bike might feature a mix of tubes from each set depending on rider weight and required character of the frame.

I asked what some of the different tube sets were and according to Tom; “The Z1 UNI tube set is our standard tube set and is used on the majority of our bikes. All the tubes are made from roll wrapped unidirectional prepreg to our design by Edge Composites in Utah. The SL version of this tube set is simply a lighter version composed of lighter, more expensive fibers. A slightly smoother ride versus the Z1 tube set but still pretty darn efficient. The X tube set is very similar to the Z1 UNI tube set except the outer most layer of unidirectional carbon is replaced by a layer of woven 3K fiber. It has a very similar ride, perhaps a bit more muted, but not much, but it looks a lot different (i.e. the weave matches the weave of the outer layer of the lugs.) The last tube set is the XL. This is our super-stiff tube set. Mega-wattage or 100kg only need apply.”




I also asked what would have changed if I weighed another 30 lbs but still asked for an “SL” version and the frame would have changed the Z1 (non SL) chain stays as well as maybe a bit stiffer down tube. But what would have changed the most is the area where more of Parlee’s true “custom” work comes in…

They would have changed the BB and head tube lug lay-up / size

Going on step further, the build process is also where a lot of performance tuning comes in to play…

I have heard some general (and generally wrong) assumptions about how Parlee build a bike. What tends to get passed over or mistaken in the joint / lug process is part of what make Parlee special.

The difficulty for some folks (even some respected bike testers / journo’s) is sometimes a simple lack of perspective and other times just a lack of practical knowledge. In fairness, Parlee bikes don’t grow on trees, which make some of the obvious things less obvious as you don’t see many side by side…

Take a seat/ top/ stay joint for instance…

Looking at something built with minimal wrap like this…



you’ll note a bit of difference between the picture above and with this joint…



What is obvious is that one is a unidirectional carbon while the other is a weave. What is not so obvious is that there is a difference in the thickness of the material applied over the tubes as well as the how far the material extends down the tubes.

The same can be seen to a lesser extend in the bottom brackets here…



And here…



In the top shot, the easiest thing to see is the carbon wrap layer extending further up the seat tube than in the other photo…

When you see a few together you understand that there’s quite a bit of range in how the frames can look and a huge spread of ride-quality tuning available when you custom wrap different joints over several different tube combinations in a slew of geometry options to dial in the ride…




It’s not rocket science, but after reading another test of this bike that blew off this work almost as needless detail(and ignoring the fact that hand wrapping then curing joints to proper standards is functional as well as visual. I thought that someone should take the time to point out what might have been missed…

Maybe this is a good place to also say that thinking that having the word “monocoque” in a bike’s description or that a “one piece” carbon bike instantly means a bike is better than a tube set bike is pretty, well, wrong. Especially when some of the monocoques are not really one piece bikes…

It’s a more silly statement when you might consider that bikes like the Cervelo R3, Scott CR1, Colnago C and extreme bikes, Times V series, Look’s 585 AND 595, Parlee, Crumpton ETC are widely thought of as the pinnacle of Carbon Bicycles and none are monocoque…

Don’t get me wrong… There are GREAT monocoques available (and the process can yield spectacular results when folks like Trek and a few others toss big R&D at it and do the process right) but arguably 6 of the 10 best Carbon frames in the world right now are tube set bikes. In fairness maybe the process can yield better results on paper, but until the process yields consistently better results on the road, it’s best to keep things in broader mind…

But I digress…

a lot…

So Anyway
The tube set choice for me was fairly simple in that it was the SL set from head to toe. The joints were done in a fashion that would be appropriate for my weight and ride character desired. There is also some “interior work” on an SL tube joint that adds work time (and money…).

For Parlee the process for the SL is fairly similar process to the other bikes in the line. In fact, ordering a stock size is a great deal if the fit is good for you, as stockers come through the process with the same care and craftsmanship as their custom brothers…



The build process is pretty interesting to see, so we thought we would go ahead and show Bob handling the main tube joining process that requires pretty tight control of the layers and direction of the materials that will join the tubes (these are not glued then wrapped tubes) and then the correct application of pressure, heat and time…



Once the frame comes out of the, eh, “maker thingy”… The finish process starts with a bit of unwrapping of the blue stuff…



But you don’t just remove the wrap on a joint and have it look like this…


Note: The drops are 6-4 Ti…

Each frame is carefully inspected from head to toe after it comes out of the tube joining process.

It’s at this point that I walked past one of the most interesting and telling things in the entire shop. The trash bin…

I want this to get proper attention here, so

Look at it for a second



I am telling you right now, and without question, that the frames that I saw that didn’t pass muster at Parlee would be accepted as good work in MANY other factories. In fact, I have seen carbon frames made in a few places where the manufacturer would have liked their best work to look as good as what Parlee consider garbage.

I was so goofy about it that I honestly though my (relatively weak) chain was getting yanked… When told that this was really the trash bin, I basically said “bullshit”.

At which point they grabbed a couple things out of the box, walked to the band saw and confirmed trash status by cutting stuff in half… It’s insane that Parlee might be throwing away better bikes than most people are actually riding…

Once past the shitebox…


Frames get a hand job…

“Hand made” doesn’t mean that they use their hands to take a frame from one auto doohickey to another…. It means that these things are all hand cut tubes, hand laid joints…



taken from joining to be hand rubbed…



from stem to stern, to the point where almost any paint is a downgrade from the raw finish…

The detail is exceptional relative to virtually anything I’ve seen first hand. In fact my first request was for a completely unfinished frame after taking a look at how good the finish was on anything and everything I pulled out of the process…



There’s also a bit of function after the fact with the finish detail as relates to the weight of the Parlee.

With no need for a clear resin coat (below the clear coat paint on many frames) to fill voids and air holes and certainly no bondo / filler needed to create the smooth joints and finish found on some other frames (before black paint to hide the filler), a very good finish can be had at a measurable weight savings when you take the extra time Parlee do…

Some weight weenie friends have taken to skinning bike finishes from a few other light weight carbon bikes then hand rubbing out the imperfections (basically doing what Parlee do, but what other manufacturers can’t afford to do and still sell as inexpensively as they do) then spraying a new clear. Saving as much as (or sometimes more than) 100 grams…

Personally when bikes get below 1000 (or 900, or 800…) grams, it’s nice to know that the Parlee is that light, but that 100+ grams of that weight are structural integrity (carbon fiber) on the Z1 SL rather than filler and paint.

It’s this finish, along with the already VERY light Z1SL tube set that help this bike to tip the scale at 13.5 pounds, fully built with no parts having ultra low rider weight limit or special care.

That’s a full build; 2 bottle cages, pedals even things like Barphat…



Add a set of reasonable clincher wheels and the bike is still easily under race limit weight and the build is what we would call very basic, nothing stupid light…

We did get a little help with the Build kit from some sweet partners though…



Jagwire sent us the cables to replace the inside lines of the alternating colored NOKON CABLES. That’s actually 3 different colored links, chrome and brushed silver sets and ano blue…



They really jumped off the bike color wise and set well with the Zipp bar / stem combo.

Zipp wheels were also a nice show adder, and Zipp were kind enough to do a one-off set of blue logos for a sweet set of 303’s…



And to finish putting the Z in Z1SL… Zipp also tagged a one off set of blue label cranks to keep baby looking frosty…



You might also note the Look Keo Ti pedals that help keep the float up, the load stable and the weight down…

Out back, the Blue/Silver Bling kept rolling as Tiso and Cyclinginnovations knocked out a set of blue pulley wheels and bolt kit to match the ano blue from the Nokon Cables…



In fact, Cycling Innovations has complete bolt and pulley upgrade kits now in several colors to pimp both Campy and Shimano…



Tiso also added the head set for this bike, and we rolled it out with Zero Gravity brakes…



And these mounted next to an Easton EC90 SLX fork that got a house refinish to match the Frame…



Vittoria Corsa KS (KS for killer Smooth) from Bike Mine dressed out the wheels…


We also added a sweet matching set of Bold Precision QR’s from those retail purveyors of p0rn at FAIRWHEEL BIKES who could have put me in the poor house had they sold me some of the other exotic kit they pull through…



We topped this thing off with a genuine padded saddle (something of a rare find on bikes this light) using Fizik’s exceptionally well made braided, carbon railed Arione. At 179 grams, this is one of the better examples of “functional but light” in saddles…



And held it in place with Reynolds’ new seat post (so new this was a prototype and had temporary decals on it for the Interbike show) that has just the right set back and has very friendly clamps that allow no gouging and are also extremely easy to adjust…



I also love the water bottle cages by ARUNDEL that come in a unidirectional weave (they also sell a couple other weaves and colored logo’s for you pedal pimps) that looks really neat when the sun hits them along with the spiral weave of the rear stays…



It’s this kind of funk factor that really sets this bike off and meant that on the first several group rides that featured a stop, it hardly ever leaned against a wall as people had to touch it… (Watching people’s faces when they lift a 13.5 pound bike with full paint and standard geometry is kinda fun…)

So that’s the parts photo shoot, but of course I did the ride test with the house set of bars, stem, saddle, and wheels that is the standard test gear so that we do a bike test rather than a parts test… (yep, we take the time to rebuild em a little…)


Ride The Damn Thing!
What I asked for in ride was a bit different than what I wanted with the last Uber Carbon custom bike here… I wanted a bike that dialed the comfort way up, even at the cost of some stiffness.

What I got was a bike that was only slightly less stiff than the last couple performance focused bikes I’ve had. But it is exceptionally comfortable. I have no problem with the trade when I had to give up very little of one characteristic to get so much of another…

Cyclingnews did a very good review on Parlee’s stock bike and made an accurate claim that the bike they got had some of the ride character that people talk about with some of the classic steel… What’s unfortunate is that even lots of custom steel bikes won’t give you something this smooth and composed if they approach the same torsion (head tube) or bottom bracket area stiffness. And if they get the stiffness and smoothness somewhat in line, they get no place near the weight…

Honestly, I’ve had 4 custom steel bikes and none gave me the ride quality of the Z1SL regardless of weight.




Handling was dead on, and that’s nice as well. The handling is a lot like the Crumpton SL, The Seven Elium Race and the Serotta Nove. And it should be similar, as the geometry is almost identical to those bikes that were also fully custom fit to my size specs.

I noticed the flex of the Easton SLX fork a bit more than with the Crumpton SL bike that also used this fork, but the fork worked well with both bikes and both tracked very well, allowing line changes and in corner adjustments without any fuss what so ever.

As far as twist resistance, this bike is still very good. Absolutely on par with bikes that ride far worse (chatter and buzz) trying to get stiffness this good. The Parlee is not over the top stiff, but that’s not what I asked for either. It’s over the top smooth… but wastes no energy.

Honestly I think some companies are now putting too much emphasis on “stiffness to weight” ratios and it’s not for the sake of selling better bikes, it’s for the sake of selling more bikes… The same goes for weight alone in some cases, as there are light bikes that give up some quality points to get the scale to read right and there are bikes like this that are built to extremely high standards and wind up being light without giving anything up.

In the case of the Z1SL, less is less (weight), more is more (comfort) and enough is enough (stiffness). They’re not marketing guys that seem to think the word “the most” automatically means “better”.

The Rest?
Parts are parts, and they all work better (shifting and braking) with the super sweet combination of Nokon housing with teflon coated Jagwire cables… It’s more money, but it’s absolutely less effort to shift and brake.

Nothing needs saying about the Zipp wheels doing their Job, and changing from cork pads that are nice for race situations to VERY nice all around pad with a bit more bite with Swissstop pads from Helvetia Sports

The cranks, bars and stem are also very good and I hear that the new stiffer bars available from Zipp are also very good (we’ll see).

You might not have seen many Parlee bikes decked out in paint like this, and I’m sure it was a real pain in the butt for em to pull off…



You might note the little snowflake just below the left cable mount… There are several little details in the paint like that, and the swirl has a combination of light to deep blue (deeper blue swirl in the logos that are a pretty complicated reversed out paint) and brilliant white pearl that makes shooting it in the sun impossible as the paint just explodes to the camera…




I just asked for them to “make it look cool”. Still, this is very non standard and I was more than willing to pay extra for something like this despite the fact that it will create more hassle for them than I am worth (and yeah, even with paint this trick, the bike is still sick-light…). Your cost may skyrocket with your imagination.

Complete-0-…
Ordering a bike with a one off paint scheme and custom logo components is, erm, a lot. Drop the extremely sweet paint and the fact that manufacturers stopped production to make a few of these parts a little more special and the standard trim full custom Z1 in SL form will run US$5850.

The EC90slx fork, Zipp feather Z3 wheels, SL bar, stem and INSANELY nice cranks, Reynolds post, Tiso rear mech, a few sets of Nokon’s, the Jagwire Ripcord, Zero G brakes, Ti QR’s, Barphat, Arundel uni weave cages, Look Keo Ti pedals, Vittoria Corsa tubular tires, Campy shifters and Fizik’s braided carbon Arione would have added another six grand and change…

Is it worth the price of admission?

Everyone would love to shop at the “top of the line”. If you’re one of the envious few people that can, you’ll find a few beautiful bikes. You’ll find that fewer of them are custom fit and tuned to your ride and handling desires. You’ll find very few that can come fully built in the sub 14 pound range AND ALSO allow you stiff bars with Barphat, strong, easily adjustable seat posts, two bottle cages, pedals without a weight limit and a saddle with padding…


See em at their new web site… PARLEECYCLES.COM


Have fun!

Charles Manantan



Note: if you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.

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