Dec 24, 2009
Posted by MJR
We wanted to follow-up on our original Z5 post of last month with a few thoughts on how Parlee’s new sub-900-gram chassis actually performs. A few of us around here have had more than a few rides on the SRAM Red equipped machine and we’ve tried it with at least three different wheelsets just to see how rolling stock affected the bike’s performance.
All told, Bob Parlee’s latest creation whispered to our scale at just 12.8-pounds when equipped with utterly anorexic Carbonsports Ventoux wheels and right about 14-lbs with a pair of Easton’s new 1450-gram EC90SL carbon clinchers. Just for reference a large Z5 frame is 870-grams while a very small (50cm) Pegoretti Marcello loads up the scales at 1810-grams and builds anywhere from two to three pounds heavier than an average Z5. We’re the last shop to tell you that weight is everything, but it certainly isn’t nothing.
One thing everyone here agrees on is that, while in the same weight category as bikes like the Pinarello Prince, Cervelo R3 SL and Specialized Tarmac SL3, it is utterly different than those race inspired machines in a few ways. Some of us feel that bikes like the Cervelo and Specialized give off an air of fragility in exchange for their low weight. With simple tube shapes and clean lines the Z5 simply doesn’t have that same glass jaw feeling. More noteworthy is the fact that the Z5 has incredible vertical compliance—the best of any sub-1000-gram frame we’ve ridden yet. Out on the road that means the bike rolls over bumps instead of bouncing off them and leaves your back(side) feeling much less fatigued after a long ride. One of the hallmarks of the other sub-1000 gram frames we’ve ridden is their near total lack of vertical compliance or comfort. We all agree that the Z5 has that in spades. “The Z5’s tubing is resilient and supple, taking the edge out of dirt and gravel roads while providing a stable platform for grinding on the flats,” says Lunner.
As anyone can imagine, climbing on a bike that weights as little as our Z5 is a revelation. “While climbing the Z5 feels like it’s trying to run away from me,” joked Lunner. “It was as if the frame was shooting me a baffled look questioning whether or not I could keep up.’ Seriously though, the Z5 accelerates quickly and easily enough to give anyone the impression that, if they just didn’t have that nagging full time job, they’d be destined for Tour greatness. In Marin we’re not blessed/cursed with the ultra-steep climbs found just over the bridge in San Francisco and I wouldn’t doubt that a stout machine like the Marcelo might be a better platform for short, aggressive ascents that demand all-out power. Still the Z5’s oversized BB30 bottom bracket shell, one-piece high-modulus carbon dropouts and tapered headtube all but guarantee it will withstand twisting forces better than the Parlee frames that have come before it.
The number of long drops around Mount Tamalpais gave us any number of opportunities to test the Z5’s descending manners. Most raved about the bike’s vertical compliance and how it definitely helped to keep the tires on the pavement and traveling in the same direction. While we couldn’t agree on where it was coming from, there was an inkling that this whisper light bike could’ve a bit more of the heft (think 1990’s Eddy Merckx with Columbus Max tubing) would help the Z5 to better carve corners. As it is, this is a bike you have to turn. Truth is, it’s a 14-pound bike and, at the end of the day, it’s not going to ride exactly like a 16 or 17-pound bike no matter how well the frame is designed or how dialed the geometry.
Back at the annual Interbike tradeshow in September, journalists were saying the Z5 could be the bike launch of the year. That’s big buzz for a small company that definitely wasn’t taking journalists on trips to the Tour or handing out free frames like Chicklets. The reason being that the Z5 is the absolute perfect match of clean, conventional lines and the latest advances in composite frame technology.
While the Z5 doesn’t come in custom frame geometry (as do many other Parlees), it's available in a total of ten different sizes if you count the standard and tall (additional head tube height) versions. It's also possible to order the Z5 with a range of custom decals and/or paint.
So, what do we think? It's not just that the Z5 is the lightest Parlee yet; it’s also probably the best riding. It’s tough to overestimate the effect of additional features like the BB30 bottom bracket, one-piece carbon dropouts, conical headtube and an exhaustively revised lay-up schedule. All those tweaks add up to one great riding machine.
Want to jump on the Z5 for a test? If you ride a 57.5 top tube, come into the shop—we’ve got a size Large demo bike. Or just give us a call if you want to hear more about Parlee’s best effort yet.