By Jim Weaver, Service Manager Emeritus, Fit Werx, Vermont
I retired as Service Manager at Fit Werx in Waitsfield, Vermont at the end of 2018. Shortly before retirement, I acquired a Parlee Z-Zero XD frameset. Spending just shy of 10 years building hundreds (if not thousands) of bikes, and servicing an equal number of client bikes, I have ridden just about every quality bike brand/model I can think of. After riding so many bikes, how do I feel the Z-Zero XD stacks up?
Parlee Z-Zero XD Frameset Specifications
The Z-Zero XD is Parlee’s top-of-the line Adventure, or gravel road, bike. As such it has all the current design features for this type of bike. The full carbon fiber frame, made by hand in USA, includes mounts for flat-mount disc brake calipers both front and rear, internal brake hose routing, 12mm thru axles front and rear, and frame and fork dimensions that allow mounting up to 40mm wide knobby tires. The frame can be built to accommodate whatever shifting options you prefer, whether internal cable routing for Shimano Di2 or Campagnolo EPS, external routing for mechanically actuated shifting, or no cable routing for SRAM eTap.
The default bottom bracket shell is PF30, but the frame can also be ordered with a threaded “English” bottom bracket. The seat tube is oversized for a 31.6mm seatpost and the headtube is an oversized tapered unit with 1.25” bearings on top and 1.5” on the bottom. This is pretty standard for many quality road bikes these days.
The rear triangle is a monostay that specifically takes the more dropout based loads of disc brakes into account. The carbon fiber fork is designed and built especially by/for Parlee. The frame is manufactured at Parlee’s factory in Beverly, MA. The Z-Zero XD is available as either a frameset, or as a complete bike equipped with Shimano or SRAM electronic shifting.
Z-Zero XD Frame Sizing
The Parlee Z-Zero XD frameset is available in custom geometry, as well as 16 (!) production sizes, from XS to XXXL Tall. Try to find such a variety of sizes in a carbon fiber bike from any major manufacturer! Stock geometry or custom, the carbon fiber lay-up schedule in the Z-Zero can be customized to take into account what will work best for each rider, their desired ride characteristics and the type of terrain they ride. If you work with a good fitter/bike designer, they will help make decisions for you with Parlee if wanted.
Parlee Z-Zero XD Set-up for Pavement
Instead of covering the same ground as a prior post we did on the Z-Zero XD , I will focus more on my impressions and use of this bike. My goal is to share what you get when you buy a bike of this level and the value it can offer.
As a preface, I did not get this new Parlee to use as an Adventure bike, even though that was the design intent for the frameset. My wife and I each got a Moots Routt RSL to serve in that capacity, and those bikes are fabulous for such purposes. Instead, I was looking to replace my old Parlee Z2 that is getting on in years and this bike came up as an opportunity at the right time. I use the Parlee Z-Zero XD as an endurance road bike.
The idea of setting up a bike with Adventure geometry on the road has appealed to me ever since the emergence of this genre of bike. A high-quality Adventure bike can make a very nice endurance road bike by the simple expedient of replacing the gravel road wheels and tires with road wheels mounted with road width tires. This is exactly what I did.
The Build Kit
I equipped the new Z-Zero XD with components that you would expect on a bike of this level. The drivetrain is SRAM RED e-Tap electronic shifting with the Wi-Fli rear derailleur, along with SRAM Hydro disc brakes. I liked the simplicity of the e-Tap system when it was first introduced and that hasn’t changed since. The wireless installation and easy battery replacement are icing on the cake. I carry a spare battery in my saddle bag in case I forget to charge the batteries in a timely fashion.
Up-front, I installed Zipp carbon bars with a new Zipp stem on the Z-Zero. Parlee’s own OS carbon stem and bars (which are normally included with the frameset) are great. They are some of the laterally stiffest I have ridden. However, I already had the Zipp bars and thus wanted to use them. Similarly, I used the Easton carbon fiber seatpost from my old Parlee, topped with my existing Fizik Arione saddle. Finally, I mounted Corima WS32 carbon rim disc brake road wheels that I had previously purchased for use on my Moots Routt RSL. I mounted a new pair of Continental 700 X 28 tires and the bike was ready for the road.
Parlee Z-Zero XD Ride & Handling
I have had the Z-Zero XD for almost 18 months. What do I think? Overall, I cannot sing its praises highly enough. It has done everything I have asked of it very well. Even though the bike has the geometry of an Adventure bike, it handles much the same as my old Z2. In fact, it is arguably better as the additional lateral stiffness from the OS headtube/fork, bottom bracket and thru axles more than makes up for any minor loss of stiffness due to the more relaxed geometry.
Braking is better because of disc brakes as opposed to rim brakes on the Z2. The Z-Zero XD is very comfortable because of that Adventure bike geometry (longer chain stays and wheel base and slacker head tube angle). It soaks up bumps and cracks of all sizes in Parlee’s usual fashion; maybe not with quite the aplomb of my titanium Moots (a tall order for any carbon bike), but darn close. It is a very smooth ride.
Also like my Moots, the Parlee is very responsive, planted and stable, but with a lighter feel. Just like my old Parlee Z2, the XD jumps when I get on it. It climbs great and descends with confidence, and is very responsive to steering input. My wheel choice has contributed, as will any set of high-quality wheels for any bike. On the pavement, the bike has a quickness and responsiveness that the gravel road Moots Routt RSL does not quite match. It thus compliments my Moots really well – gravel days = Moots and pavement = Parlee for me.
All in all, this Adventure bike makes an exceptional, world class carbon fiber endurance road bike. No, it does not have aero shaped tubing, so it lacks some of an aero bike’s visual impact and some straight-line and descending speed. If aero is what you want, look to the Parlee RZ7. All the same it feels quick and rides fast for me. I am not a racer and usually ride alone or with a very small group, so an aero bike is not a priority to me.
While the gravel bike geometry arguably makes it slightly less responsive than a dedicated, high end road bike, it is far from sluggish. We are talking about picking nits here, not substantial differences. It may not be the ideal road bike for racers, but for serious recreational riders it is amazing in terms of ridea and versatility. This is a bike that can be ridden all day without feeling that you have been put through the ringer. This is certainly an issue with some carbon bikes I have built and ridden, and even more so with many aero bikes, over the years. If properly fit and designed to the rider the only soreness you will have after a long ride is that good muscle soreness, not that “beat up” feeling.
…and on the Gravel???
As for the Z-Zero’s performance on gravel, I have no direct experience. However, I built XD’s that are being used as gravel bikes. Talking with some of those owners confirmed my feelings about the Z-Zero XD. All gushed with praise for how the bike performs on gravel, mirroring my impressions on the road. The terms responsive, quick acceleration, stability under all conditions, light feel, and comfort were frequent on their lips.
How Much Does the Frame Matter?
I can hear you thinking, hey, all those carbon bits, and nice wheels, will help just about any bike ride better. True. I have said many times that switching from alloy to good carbon handlebars will notably improve the comfort of any bike. Replacing the inexpensive, usually heavy and not particularly stiff alloy wheels that come on most bikes from the major manufacturers with quality carbon wheels will make a big difference in how even a mid-level road bike will perform. These are investments anyone should consider when thinking about upgrading their existing bike.
This being understood, the quality and characteristics of the underlying frameset always shows through. A bike is a sum of its parts and the frame is arguably the most important part. New wheels and bars will address wheel and bar issues, not frame issues. Even if a Z-Zero XD is outfitted with alloy bars, stem, seat post, and good quality alloy wheels as cost saving measures the frame still performs at an exceptionally high level and enhances the way the bike as a whole functions.
Where is the Value in the Z-Zero XD?
The Parlee Z-Zero XD requires an investment – the frameset with a complete carbon cockpit (bars/stem/post) starts at $8500. However, if you want every ride to be all that it can be, a high quality bike is a worthwhile investment. A bike like a Parlee Z-Zero XD delivers years of riding pleasure and great versatility. With one Z-Zero XD and two sets of wheels, you effectively have two of the very best riding and handling bikes in the world in one platform.
You also know that you have an exceptional piece of machinery that is built for the long-haul. The workmanship on Parlee’s custom bikes is not bettered by any other carbon manufacturer.
Associated, it is worth noting that there is no lack of $10K+ bikes available today from major manufacturers. These stock geometry bikes usually come with nice parts, but everything is based on averages, not your actual needs. When you spend this type of money, why buy a bike that is specified to someone else’s idea of how you should fit on the bike, when you can get one that is designed specifically for you for a very similar price? No good reason I can think of.
Bias & Conclusion.
Being a cynic, whenever I read on-line or magazine reviews I always wonder what’s “in it” for the reviewer. Do they really believe what they are saying, trying to sell something, or just doing an advertiser’s bidding? I am retired; I have no “iron in the fire”. Whether as an Adventure bike, or as a road bike (or both), the Parlee Z-Zero XD ranks right up there with the Moots Routt RSL as being the best all-around bike I have ever owned or ridden. As much as I love the ride of the Moots Routt RSL on pavement I give the nod to the Parlee for such use because of its lighter feel, lighter overall weight, and slightly quicker handling. For gravel I don’t know; I have not used my Parlee on gravel and my Moots sets an awful high standard. Regardless, the Z-Zero XD is an amazing achievement by Bob Parlee and his team in Beverly, MA.