Parlee Z-Zero Disc Bike Review
By Jim Weaver
Service Manager, Fit Werx, VT
As I have often said in my posts, one of the great parts of working at Fit Werx is getting to build, work and ride some truly wondrous bicycles. At times, it is sort of like the automotive journalist getting the chance to drive the latest Ferrari at Ferrari’s private Fiorano test track or a stereo reviewer getting to listen to the latest ultimate high end audio components from Lamm, Solutions, Wilson or Clearaudio. In these other industries, I read these tests because it is fun to dream, and see what the latest technologies of such industries are capable of producing. The same applies to whatever particular hobby or interest attracts you. One of the great things about bicycles is that for far less than a top of the line car or stereo system, you can get one of the very best bikes in the world. Bikes are truly one of those items where most anyone who sets their mind to it can actually buy the Ferrari and that is awesome.
Once in a while I like to write about some amazing bicycle that I have had the chance to build. Right now we have in the shop an example of such a machine. The frameset is a custom built Parlee Z-Zero, Parlee’s top-of-the line frameset. While previous custom Parlee bikes were built using carbon fiber produced by Enve, the Parlee Z-Zero is now built totally in house by Parlee in Beverly, MA. Parlee has taken over the manufacture of the carbon fiber parts, starting with the prepreg carbon sheets that create the tubing and this allows complete control over the entire production process. Parlee has always produced some of the best riding frames available anywhere, for any price. I can confidently say this because, as I have written before, I have two Parlees (Parlee Z-2 and Parlee TT). Now that Parlee is producing their own tubing, they can exhibit even greater control over matching the ride quality to the desires and needs of the end user. The end result is a beautiful, classic-looking frame, as the pictures can attest, and one that offers a quality of ride very, very few bikes can match.
This Parlee Z-Zero has been built with SRAM Red Hydro road disc brake components. Much has been written by us at Fit Werx, and others, describing this system. The latest iteration of SRAM’s shifting system works great, particularly the front derailleur with its unique Yaw design that solves the previous “weak link” in SRAM’s road components. The double-tap shifting system now works lighter, and more precisely, than ever. The bike is equipped with what SRAM designates as its “Wi-Fli” rear derailleur, allowing the use of a rear cassette with a largest cog of 32 teeth. When coupled with the SRAM Red compact (50/34) chainrings, this bike is definitely designed to help the rider climb even Lincoln Gap, the steepest road we have around here in the Mad River Valley and arguably about as steep as they come. And speaking of cassettes, the SRAM X-Glide 1190 cassette must be seen, and handled, to be believed. Even with wide range gearing, the SRAM X-Glide 1190 cassette is one of the very lightest cassettes on the market and an exquisite work of art to experience. Yes, I’m drooling and waxing poetic over a cassette and for good reason…
This Parlee Z-Zero is equipped with SRAM’s Red road hydraulic disc brake system. On the post build test ride that bikes at Fit Werx receive, once the pads were bed in, the braking was firm and modulation was excellent. Disc brakes remove the brake effort and strain from the rims, allowing for better heat management and better braking in all conditions, such as rain, or long descents. Hydraulic disc brakes definitely have braking advantages, even on standard road bike. So, as easily as this bike may go up-hill with that gearing combination and the ride of the Parlee, it can also handle steep descents with the confidence that the brakes will perform very well indeed. Road disc brakes are not a fad, nor simply marketing hype. They offer too many advantages to end up on the trash heap of bicycle history – there is a reason why every other performance wheeled vehicle on earth tends to use disc brakes!
The wheels on this Parlee Z-Zero are Enve SES 3.4 Disc Clincher wheels. Enve just makes carbon rims and when you purchase an Enve disc brake wheelset, you have a choice of having the wheel built at Enve’s factory with DT Swiss 180, 240 or new 350 hubs, or Chris King R45 hubs (we can build up other custom hub configurations at Fit Werx with Enve rims as well). These particular Enve SES 3.4 Disc Clincher wheels were built using Chris King road disc hubs. It is next to impossible to fault any component manufactured by Chris King. Oh, one might snipe that they are not the lightest components available. However, for pure excellence of engineering, operation, and longevity, they are VERY hard to beat. These hubs spin very smoothly, with a distinctive freewheeling sound that are indicative of the fine tolerances and design inside that cassette body. The internals of these hubs are works of industrial art, very finely machined. We love these hubs here at Fit Werx, and have built many sets of wheels using Chris King hubs as they make a great choice for the long-haul.
We shod these wheels with Hutchinson Sector 28mm wide tubeless tires, using Orange Seal sealant and Stan’s NoTubes Rim Tape. No, the Enve’s are not designed as a tubeless tire specific rim, but we wanted to see how well this combination works. We have had some luck in the past using tubeless tires on select carbon rims, and with the braking stresses being transferred to the brake rotor; it seems a good opportunity to try these tires on these rims. On the first few rides that we have taken, all indications are that they will work just fine.
The rest of the components on the bike are all top shelf. Handlebars, stem and seatpost are all by Enve and in high-grade carbon fiber. Enve carbon products are some of the very best in the industry and they tend to look great on a Parlee. With the wheels, cockpit, and seatpost all coming from the same manufacturer, the bike has a very clean and integrated look. The pedals are Speedplay’s new Zero Pave’ Titanium pedals. These pedals were designed for use in Paris-Roubaix, where components are stressed to the maximum by the potentially nasty conditions. Excess material has been eliminated to allow easier entry and release in nasty conditions, such as what might be found in a cross race. If these pedals can handle such conditions with aplomb, the dirt roads of Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey or beyond should not be a challenge.
So how does it all work? Wonderfully! The ride of the frameset is classic Parlee – it does virtually everything at class leading levels. Parlee bicycles have always been known for their ride quality, and the Z-Zero continues that tradition, in spades. The combination of the 28mm wide, tubeless tires and the Enve wheels beautifully compliment and further enhance the Parlee Z-Zero’s inherent ride quality. Yes, there are lighter bikes out there than a Parlee Z-Zero with disc brakes. However, I personally will gladly trade a few hundred grams of weight for the major gains in ride quality and braking power that this Parlee disc brake bike offers. Without being very careful, the pursuit of ultra-light weight in bike frames can lead to a harsh riding, twitchy handling bikes. This bike, as built, is admirably light, particularly for a disc brake bike. Coming in at 15 pounds, 14 ounces, with pedals and water bottle cages, this Parlee Z-Zero disc is certainly no heavy-weight, and is lighter than many, many very high performance bikes that pass through the shop. All of the systems perform flawlessly; any nits to pick would be pure rider preference. The Enve carbon cockpit and seatpost add to the quality of ride, filtering out a lot of that road “junk” that allow components transmit directly to your hands, arms shoulders, and seat. All in all, this is truly a high performance, high-end bike that does everything well, from climbing, to descending, to negotiating dirt backroads while providing all-day riding comfort.
To me, the mark of a great bike is one that I hate to get off, one that makes me wish I had the time to ride it more often. It’s like that great car that makes you want to keep driving even after 500 miles in one day, or that great stereo system that makes you want to just sit and listen to one more song. This Parlee Z-Zero disc is in that category – total and utter bike lust. The difference is that unlike the stereo or the Ferrari, almost any of us can potentially own one with some focus. Think about it. Yes, $16K is a lot of money. However, the sports car equivalent is well into six figures. While you can get a car for $16,000, it will not perform anywhere near as well as this state-of-the art machine. It all comes down to what you value; if you enjoy riding bikes as much as many of us, don’t you want every ride to be as good as possible? A truly state-of-the art bicycle, that you can enjoy simply by riding down your driveway into the road can be had for a small fraction of the cost of a similar level boat, car, motorcycle, horse and only costs a few a few hundred dollars in tires and tune-ups each year (have you fed a horse or changed the spark plugs in a Ferrari lately?). Needless to say, the Parlee Z-Zero is not a bad deal at all for true greatness. Each of us deserves to experience true greatness in life.
Whether you are buying a bike like a Parlee Z-Zero or are thinking about your first entry level road bike, a Fit Werx fitting is the best place to start and we can make sure you get a bike to match your needs and budget. Have questions? Contact a Fit Werx bike shop location in NYC/NJ, Lexington, MA on the North Shore in MA or near Stowe and Burlington, VT.