Bike: Parlee Z1
Components: Dura-Ace Di2
Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace Tubeless
This Fall I had the opportunity to ride the much lauded Parlee Z1. I was excited about this for a number of reasons. For one, Parlee is known for making custom carbon fiber bikes of unparalleled performance and comfort. They often score high marks in weight, handling, and ride comfort in reviews by traditional cycling publications. The Z1 is custom built to the specifications of the customer. Nearly every inch of my test bike was naked uni-directional carbon fiber. A cursory inspection of the Z1 revealed an attention to detail seldom seen in bike manufacturing. Even the front derailleur clamp was handmade from lightweight carbon fiber. Even more enticing, the bike I was given to ride was outfitted with Dura-Ace Di2 and Dura-Ace tubeless wheels, neither of which I had ridden. There was only one noticeable deficiency. While the bike itself was beautiful, its paint-scheme left a little to be desired. Clearly the brilliant engineers and bike-designers at Parlee did not share my aesthetic tastes. Luckily for potential customers like me, the paint-scheme is entirely customizable. Anything you’d like, no matter how beautiful or atrocious, is available to the customer.
Dick and I headed out for our test ride on what Dick calls his “five-and-dime,” a hilly 2 hour route that he often rides when he’s short on time. Our Parlee rep took our geometries over the phone, so the Z1 was set up to my specifications. As soon as we rolled out, I noticed two things. Light weight bikes have a tendency to feel one of two ways. Some are light, but in order to achieve the weight savings, companies compromise on lateral rigidity. A bigger rider like me (6’1’’, 175lbs) will often describe the ride of one of these ultra-light bikes as “noodley.” In contrast, high quality light-weight bikes feel different.
When you get on a light bike that is built to be rigid in the proper places, it feels as though the bike is dancing under you. Heavier bikes will resist changes in direction, as their greater mass leads them to have greater inertia. A stiff and light-weight bike responds with the flick of the wrist or even a shift in weight at your hips. What I noticed right away on the Z1 was that when I stood up and accelerated, it felt as though little stood between me and the road. While many of the bikes I have previously ridden felt sluggish under load, the Z1 responded immediately to every pedal stroke, transmitting power effortlessly to the pavement.
As I mentioned earlier, the Z1 was outfitted with Dura-Ace Di2. I had never ridden Shimano’s electric group before, and when our rep. mentioned, apologetically, that he hadn’t charged the battery since the Interbike trade-show several months prior, I felt a little nervous. My fears were unfounded, as neither derailleur missed a shift all ride. Perfect and predictable shifting with each and every click does take a little getting used to. On mechanical shifters, a rider can miss shifts or over-shift depending on the amount of force he or she exerts on the shift lever. With Di2, this is never a problem. What’s more, the automatic trim adjustment ensures that regardless of the gear you choose on your rear cassette, the chain will never rub against the front derailleur cage. Silent and smooth; every gear, every shift.
Finally, the Dura-Ace tubeless wheels: I’ll admit that I had my doubts initially about tubeless technology. I’ve long been a devotee of tubular wheels. While various sponsorship commitments have prevented me from riding them in recent years, I’ve always found that their handling and comfort unparalleled. What’s more, in all my years riding tubular wheels, I have never once pinch-flatted. I was skeptical that tubeless tires, which are basically a clincher with a very tight bead seated on a sealed rim and inflated to high pressure, would even approximate the ride-quality of tubular rims. While the weight savings rival, and often exceed, those achieved by tubular tires, I was actually more impressed by the way the tires handled. One of the main reason tubular tires handle so well is that a tubular tire can inflate into a rounder shape than can a clincher, which inflates into a boxy shape. With a hooked rim on tubeless wheels, one would expect a tubeless tire to inflate like a clincher. However, the Hutchinson tubeless tires that I rode inflated into a shape nearly as round as those found on tubulars. As a result, the tires performed remarkably well, and rode very comfortably.
The only question that remains concerning tubeless tires versus their tubular counterparts is tire pressure. Tubular tires can often be a pleasure to ride when deflated to lower than normal pressures for road riding. I did not have an opportunity to test how low tubeless tires could be deflated before they would belch air off the rim on frost-heaves and potholes. However, they certainly outperformed my expectations for both comfort and handling, making for an excellent overall ride quality.
The Z1 was a pleasure to ride. Its light weight combined with its lateral rigidity combined for excellent performance, especially on climbs and while sprinting. The added advantage of an entirely customizable geometry and paint-job makes this an enticing option for anyone looking to spoil themselves with precision engineering, unparalleled comfort, and excellent performance. Perhaps the fact that it is handmade in Beverly, Massachusetts will provide extra incentive, if you are motivated by the now very rare “Made in the USA” label.