Parlee Altum R Ultegra 6800 Review and Overview
Fit Werx has been carrying Parlee bicycles since 2005, so a lot longer than many dealers. We originally started representing Parlee as Bob Parlee produced bikes offering an industry-leading combination that balances size appropriate lateral stiffness (for excellent power transfer and quick reactions), superior comfort, manufacturing excellence, and light weight. Parlee bikes in general are very comfortable, even on a long century ride, yet they remain light and handle with precision. With the introduction of the Parlee Altum models, does the Parlee tradition of a really well balanced ride continue across the line and into the production bikes too? Read on…
Parlee only manufactures full carbon fiber bicycles. Early on, all that Parlee made was custom bicycles, but Parlee started offering their first production geometry bikes a number of years ago with the Parlee Z4. The Parlee Z4 was a production geometry frame made to Parlee’s exacting standards in Asia and thus reduced costs while still providing the ride hallmarks of a Parlee. Following in the Z4’s footsteps was the Parlee Z5 line and now the Z5 has been supplemented by the aero-shaped Parlee ESX and ESX-R, and replaced by the Parlee Altum line for ‘15. Initial supplies of the Altum have been very scarce and were not helped by the dock workers’ strike on the west coast. This has left me chaffing at the bit to get one in the shop and our first Parlee Altum finally arrived recently. We already have a full description of the Altum on our site. Therefore, I will not bore you with repetition of that overview information. Rather, I am writing about my impressions of the design elements of the Parlee Altum and how the factory equipped Shimano Ultegra 6800 version of the Parlee Altum R stands up.
Pulling the frame out of the box, the first impression of the Parlee Altum R is that this is a really high quality frame. Parlee carefully chose the carbon factory in Asia that would be used to build their stock frames, and each Parlee Atlum is built strictly to Bob Parlee’s design. This means that the carbon layup schedules of each size matched Parlee Altum frame is specified down to what carbon fiber is to be used in different locations of the bike and how. While the Parlee Altum models are not made by Bob Parlee in MA, the construction of the Altum reflects the focus on quality that is a hallmark of Parlee’s custom frames – this is not a “cookie cutter” production frameset by any stretch.
The second impression of the frame is weight, or to be more accurate, the lack thereof. Our Altum R frame is a size “medium”, and weighs 820 grams. That means under 2 pounds and that is for a painted frame with. High quality paint can weigh 100 grams on its own and the Parlee Altum R is the “heavy” Altum – the ultralight (“non R”) Parlee Altum is about 100 grams lighter still.
After years of using Enve forks, Parlee switched to a house designed and built fork, made to their specifications to match the Parlee Altum. The new Parlee fork weighs 350 grams and, once I cut the steerer to the proper length, that weight dropped to 300 grams. The total frame and finished fork weight of the Parlee Altum R came to 1,120 grams. That 1,120 grams is not just a competitively light weight, but when you take into account the frame quality and ride quality in combination with a fork that was designed and built precisely to match the frame, you not only get light, but you get something truly special that the big bike factories just don’t deliver. The Parlee Altum R delivers with character and soul as well as having all the modern features expected in a race capable frame. Tapered steerer fork, hidden integrated seat clamp, mechanical or electronic dual routing, PressFit 30 bottom bracket…it is all here.
Beyond the expected, Bob Parlee and his team took their time designing this frame and they integrated many of their best features from previous work into the Parlee Altum R design in order to make it more aero and more responsive without compromising ride quality. For example, the hidden seatpost clamp of the Parlee Altum is borrowed from the aero-tubed Parlee ESX for smoother air flow. The seatpost clamp on the Parlee Altum blends into the top tube for better aerodynamics while the top tube flares where it meets the head tube and the down tube flares at the head tube and the bottom bracket shell. These flares add strength to these joints while increase stiffness of the head tube and bottom bracket and helping to lead to more laminar airflow all at the same time. The down tube of the Parlee Altum is quite wide, and the top tube and down tube are ovalized for strength. The top tube shape, just behind the heat tube, on the Parlee Altum is also borrowed from the aero-tubed Parlee ESX and there are three separate innovative head tube inserts that increase the length of the head tube in order to provide as wide a range of fit options as possible from the stock geometry. The shape of the Parlee Altum R top tube helps integrate the headtube inserts into the top tube, while also providing aerodynamic benefits. Finally, the Parlee Altum R updated the Z5 design and now will accommodate 28c tires as well. That is a lot of technology wrapped up in one frameset.
The Parlee Altum R can be ordered as a frameset or as a complete bike from Parlee. Parlee offers a wide variety of build choices: SRAM Force 22, SRAM Red 22, Shimano Ultegra 6800, Shimano Ultegra Di2, Shimano Dura Ace, Shimano Dura Ace Di2, Campagnolo Record, and Campy Super Record. Take your pick and let your personal preferences be your guide. The Parlee Altum R I just built was a complete bike with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 build kit, which included shifters, derailleurs, crank, brakes, chain, and cassette. We ordered our kit with the Ultegra 6800 GS medium cage rear derailleur and a Shimano Ultegra 11-32 cassette, making it a bit easier to get up the Vermont gaps. I often see bikes that are “Ultegra equipped”, yet have a different crank, different brakes, a Shimano 105 cassette, and a low-grade chain. Not so here – everything that could be Shimano Ultegra on the Parlee Altum R was Shimano Ultegra. Mechanically, this “full group” guarantees great performance and that the shifting and braking is just as Shimano engineered.
The Parlee Altum R Ultegra bike was equipped with 3T Ergonova Pro handlebars, 3T Ergonova Pro stem, and 3T Ionic Pro seatpost, all made of aluminum alloy and the wheels are HED Ardennes LT+. The wheels are worth of mention as the HED Ardennes LT+ are really nice wheels on a full Ultegra bike with a frame of this level that is under $5K. The HED Ardennes LT+ are actually complimentary of the rest of the Shimano Ultegra 6800 parts and not a significant step back as we see on so many bikes – thank you Parlee of understanding how important wheels are and not just trying to cut costs on such an important part. Parlee does not ship a saddle from the factory with the bike, which is just fine as saddles deserve rider matched selection as much as pedals and shoes. Many saddles that come stock on bikes leave something to be desired…
Our finished Parlee Altum R with the stock 6800 build kit and wide range gearing weighs 15 lbs, 11 oz., or 7.11 kg. While not in the “extremely light” category, anything under 16 pounds is doing really well in the weight department in my opinion. The Parlee Altum R Ultegra is already under 16 lbs, but the frame is light enough that you could go with lighter parts and wheels and quickly find yourself with a sub 15 pound bicycle and it wouldn’t take anything too fancy to get it brush up against 14 lbs even. Going to Dura Ace would save almost one pound on its own… The point is that the frame weight is only partly a function of the frame and fork – a bike’s weight is a sum of its parts and rotating weight will always be the real “important” weight.
Any nits to pick on the stock Ultegra bike spec? Well, yes, two. 1) I have never really liked the 3T Ionic Pro seatpost. Do not get me wrong, it is high quality, strong, and well made. The problem I have is that it is a bit heavy, and setting the angle of the saddle is very tedious as the splined cylinder design is one of the most complicated on the market. To change the seat angle, you have to disassemble these cylinders, realign them with each other and with the post, put it back together, and repeat as needed. A real pain. If a 3T seatpost is to be used, I would prefer the Stylus – much easier to set up, and slightly lighter too. The other nit is that, mechanically, I miss the external cable routing of earlier Parlee Z bikes. It is a bit of a chore to properly run the cables inside the frame. This being said, this is not Parlee’s fault, as this is a problem with many, if not most, bikes with cables routed inside the frame and Parlee has done a very clean job of figuring out a way to make the same cable routing work well for both mechanical and electronic routing. Besides, this is not really a problem for the owner, just for me as the mechanic when cables need to be replaced and I can’t do it in ten minutes the way I could years ago. Maybe this is just another reason to get electronic shifting!
The Parlee Altum R as equipped with the factory Ultegra kit described costs just a hair under $5,000. Remember, this is a top-notch frameset, designed and built to the specifications of one of the premier custom carbon fiber frame builders in the world. The genes of the Parlee Altum R run really deep. The frame and fork alone cost a little under $4,000, thus getting a complete Ultegra kit with wheels that cost almost $1000 on their own makes the pre-built bike a great value. Furthermore, there are few other mass produced bikes that allow such personalization of everything from gearing to cockpit selection and wheels, not to mention that you can choose how you want your bike painted for an additional fee as well. This is a lot of bike for the money.
Looking for that “ultimate carbon bike”, without having to pay the cost often associated with the refinement and hand crafted approach of a Parlee Z-Zero? Take a close look at the Parlee Altum R. Want disc brakes? Parlee offers the Altum Disc. Want an even lighter frame? The Parlee Altum (no “R”) frame weighs about 100 grams less than the Altum R. Even allowing for my acknowledged bias towards Parlee bikes, I dare say that the entire Parlee Altum line of bikes will exceed your expectations. The ride of the Altum is all Parlee, the factory component spec is really strong, and there are few bikes at any price point made to the tolerances and standards as Bob Parlee has made sure happen on the Parlee Altum line. If you are looking for a really well balanced carbon bike and the Parlee Altum fits you well, you can rest assured that it will deliver. Nice job Parlee continuing the tradition!
Fit Werx, voted “America’s Best Bike Shop”, is an authorized dealer of Parlee Bicycles with bike shop and fitting locations outside of NYC in Ridgefield Park, NJ, in Peabody and Lexington, MA and near Burlington, VT and Stowe, VT in Waitsfield. Fit Werx is changing the way people buy bicycles through their Rider First Bike Fittings and Rider Matched approach to bike sales. Don’t gamble on your next bike or your fit! Contact us for more information.