First let me quickly set the stage for how we actually 'test' our bikes. Keep in mind that the bikes and equipment we carry do not define Above Category. We carry, ride and sell the products that we think perform the best for a given use, are original and are developed from passionate people that know and truly understand the sport we all love. Secondly, we ride, a lot. We understand the subtle differences between materials and construction techniques and use that to help put each of our customers on the bike that most fits their needs. Third, we keep a close and personal relationship with the folks who build the bikes we ride to fully understand and stay apprised of every detail regarding the bikes we sell. With that being said, let's get to the Z3!
Why are we testing a custom Z3 and what is the difference between it and a stock Z3? The only difference is the geometry. I have pretty short legs (888mm saddle height from pedal to top of saddle) and a long torso (785mm from sweet spot of saddle to center of the handlebars.) There are not too many stock bikes I can fit nicely on unless I want to use a 14 or 15cm stem. I'm usually fine with that, but even then, the head tube on those stock bikes is a little on the tall side and I find it hard to get the 8-9cm drop that I prefer. So this bike has a 56.5 top tube and a 48.5 seat tube, center to top. The head tube is 11cm and I use a 3mm Chris King spacer under a +/- 6 degree 3T stem. This gives me about 9cm of drop. Seat tube and head tube angles are 74 and 73.5 degrees respectively.
Of course a custom costs more: $1,500 extra ($6400 total) for the bespoke upcharge. Parlee has a ton of stock sizes and chances are one will fit you, if this is the case you are in luck as the stock size price for a Z3 is $4900. Everything is included in the stock price as well, any tubing you want or a mix of it, an EDGE 2.0 OR 1.0 fork (the best made), two choices of head tube length and any decal color. Also included is a Chris King headset, again, our favorite. My bike uses super light tubing for the top tube, seat tube and seat stays. Regular tubing everywhere else. Frame weight was 2.2lbs with all hardware. I chose the nude carbon finish with minimal decals...
For components I went mostly with the SRAM Red group. Traditionally I ride with Campagnolo components, but we want to be able to tell you the differences between all the groups out there and to do that we have to ride them all. Complete build is as follows:
- SRAM Red rear derailleur, brake calipers, brake/shift levers.
- SRAM Force front derailleur
- Shimano Dura-Ace cassette
- Campagnolo Veloce Chain
- Fulcrum RRS compact crank and bottom bracket shell
- 3T 44cm Rotundo Pro Handlebar and 120mm ARX Pro stem
- Fizik Antares saddle with Kium rails and Microtex tape
- Jagwire red cable kit
- Speedplay Zero white ti pedals
- Fulcrum Racing Zero two-way wheels with Hutchinson Fusion 2 tubeless tires
- King ti cages
- Thomson Masterpiece setback seatpost
- Chris King headset
- EDGE 1.0 fork
Here you can see the bars and stem. Again, my goal was to build a sweet handling and durable race bike. In fact to be legal (for elite riders who actually have their bikes weighed), you'd have to add weight. SRAM Red brakes are fine, not as nice as Campagnolo nor as strong as Shimano but after Kris did a rebuild they offered great modulation. I'd see no reason to replace them and unlike Campagnolo I can change brake blocks in under a minute. Had to add a little bling so I put on the red Jagwire cable kit. Also, the stock SRAM cables leave a lot to be desired, so this was a nice upgrade as well.
EDGE 1.0 fork. Superlight but very strong. One of the best forks for transmitting road feel that I've ever used. Matte finish matches the frame. Fulcrum Racing Zero hubs have a carbon and aluminum construction and have been extremely durable.
Parlee developed their super lightweight front derailleur clamp. But the main reason it is great is because it all but ensures you can't over tighten your clamp and damage the thin carbon seat tube. They have beefed these up a little since the original design and I find the front derailleur shifting to be great. I also like the Force front derailleur. Just a little more durable and stiffer than the ti caged SRAM Red offering.
I love this saddle! Fizik products are incredibly made and have a model to fit almost any rear end. This is the Antares model and is pretty flat on top with a medium wide rear section. You can get Carbon or Kium rails and since I knew this bike would already be light, I chose to save a little money (and add some red) and went Kium. The saddle is sitting on one of the best seat posts ever made, the Thomson Masterpiece.
SRAM Red shifters are great. I love the feel of the Campagnolo 10spd levers and these are pretty close so it feels like home to me. They are super crisp and downshifts are the best in the business. You can shift up 3 cogs at a time as well.
Fulcrum Racing Zero two-way wheels. If you have not tried tubeless, do so. This is the future! The ride is so smooth as you can run pressure super low, 90psi in the rear and 85psi up front for me. The Fulcrum wheels are super durable and I have run them in some of the worst road conditions in races and training without a hint of them coming out of true. I run 1oz of Stans sealant in the tires and have yet to have a flat. Campagnolo, Fulcrum and Shimano are the only companies to really embrace this technology so far and will be way ahead of the game when others decide to employ tubeless. Dropouts on the Parlee Z1, 2 and 3 are 6/4 titanium and beautiful.
Here is proof to how strong carbon is. I'm not running a chainstay protector and there is not one scratch or ding on them despite all the chain slapping they take. Despite the smallish diameter of the chainstays, the Z3 has a very stiff rear end and sprinting on the bike is a joy. Also, as you can see from the cable stop, it is molded on, not drilled and riveted. Parlee does not believe in drilling any holes in their frames. Great attention to detail.
Another great example of how tough the Parlee is; I ride a lot of dirt roads and single track on this bike, these pictures were taken after a long ride in the dirt and after cleaning the bike it looks brand new. How many carbon bikes would you feel comfortable doing this on? Also, there is a reason these bikes ride so well, tube to tube construction. All the tubes are mitered and then hand wrapped in carbon. These are not pre-made carbon lugs where the tubes are just pushed in and glued. It give the bike the 'snap' of a well made steel, aluminum or titanium bike and is an expensive and time consuming process that sets Parlee aside from so many other custom carbon frames.
SRAM Red rear mech. A little more time intensive to set up but once there, holds it's adjustment flawlessly. Shifting is very accurate as well. A quick note on component selection; in these images I'm running a SRAM Red cassette and chain. They wore out very quickly--in just over 1,000 miles. In fact the chain was so worn that the cassette was useless. I switched to a Dura-Ace cassette and a Campagnolo 10spd chain and the shifting improved hugely. The Campagnolo chain is much more durable and I'm now getting over 2,000 miles out of one and after changing chains, the cassette is still fine. This is by far the way to go if you run Red, or Force for that matter.
Again, the 3T bar and stem. The Fizik tape is my favorite and in my opinion the best looking, but is a little firmer than some like. Can also tend to be a bit slicker, so if you don't like wearing gloves, take note.
The rear brake was performing very poorly at first, even with maximum spring tension. They were very mushy to say the least. But, they are also very easy to rebuild and Kris did so and re-torqued all the bolts and now they are much better, not the best, but like I said before, I don't see any reason to change them for a different model on this bike. The best pads for these wheels are the green Swiss Stop, much improved stopping power.
Another view of the matte finish and King ti cage. Understated but perform perfectly.
Chris King headset. You will not find another model on our bikes. Check out the cable stop, again, molded, not riveted.
So, how does the bike ride? It rides like a lighter version of my Pegoretti Marcelo. That is a compliment of the highest order. Perfect road manners, holds a line with out thought, dives into corners with out hesitation and comes out the other side like it was on rails. It does it all well, sprint, climb and descend. The fit is perfect and it is beautiful. Parlee, like Pegoretti and Moots, keeps it simple, round tubes, no extra bulges and oversize this oversize that. It does not need those things and rides as well if not better than any carbon or metal bike I have ever been on, period.
Parlee frames have been ridden by many European professionals (usually with decals from other companies) to a range of great results. Parlee is a soulful family run business that puts their pride into every frame that leaves its Peabody, Massachusetts workshop and have a lifetime warranty.
The bottom line, if you are looking for the best carbon bike made right now, I strongly believe the Z3 should be at the top of your list.
We will also add more to this review as we put more miles on this Z3. Next week though, I will be putting this aside for the winter and building up a Z1 for all the wet miles to come. Look for reviews of that bike as well as the Parlee Z5 in the near future.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions at all, give us a call @ 415.389.5461, email or come by the shop.