Massachusetts-based Parlee has a reputation for high-end custom-made carbon-fibre frames, but in recent years the company has developed several Asian-built frames to reach a wider market. The Parlee Altum is one of those and seeks to combine light weight, stiffness and comfort
This is the Altum-R, which features the same geometry as the Altum but is significantly less expensive and is marginally heavier thanks to a different carbon layup. Claimed weights for the model we have here are 810g for the frame and 330g for the fork.
The Altum is available in six sizes, with each size available with three different ‘flex fit’ caps on the head tube. These enable you to raise or lower the stack height without using unsightly spacers – and it also maintains structural integrity. Geometry is relaxed, with a relatively high stack and short reach, similar to that of a Giant Defy but with a shorter wheelbase.
There’s plenty of clearance in the frame for wide rims and tyres as big as 28mm. The Altum frame shouts quality with lots of neat details such as the seatpost clamp, cable slots and carbon dropouts.
Furthermore, custom paint jobs are something the Massachusetts brand prides itself on. Our test bike came with a standard gloss Grey/White, which looks great. It’s a very current colour and looks superb in the flesh – or rather, carbon. To see an example of this, check out the Parlee ESX-R we had custom painted.
One of the great things about Parlee is that custom builds are offered. Being a top-end frameset, we wanted to do it justice and built it up with the help of Madison, who kindly supplied the latest Dura-Ace R-9100 mechanical groupset.
Wheels can make or break a bike too, so we put in a pair of excellent DT-Swiss RR65 Clinchers, fitted with Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres, tan sidewalls being the cat’s pyjamas.
The saddle is a Pro Stealth while the stem and bar are both Pro Vibe. I fitted a 140mm stem as the reach on the Altum is fairly compact at 381mm in our size ML.
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Parlee frames are renowned for their ride quality and, having ridden the ESX aero frame, I was intrigued to see how the Altum compares.
Fortunately it didn’t disappoint – the ride is plush and compliant when rolling along less-than-perfect roads, yet put the power down and the stiffness is excellent. Although not crazy light, the Altum-R feels at home on climbs, if a little back-end heavy in our build.
The geometry is relaxed with regard to stack and reach, something which I countered by way of a long stem. However the wheelbase is significantly shorter than many so-called sportive bikes, giving a greater sense of urgency and added agility in the corners.
Handling is assured, but some may prefer a lower front end as the stack is fairly high at 587mm on what is roughly a 56cm frame. Ideal for those wanting a more relaxed geometry, but if you seek an aggressive position, a negative stem may be required.
The DT-Swiss RR65 wheels felt great and the stiffness complemented the frame well, with no brake rub. The Dura-Ace R9100 groupset performed faultlessly too. If you want to read reviews of these, you can click on the links.
While riding the Altum I was testing several aero bikes for Cycling Weekly. It’s not a deal breaker, but I could feel the difference in slipperiness between an aerobike and the Altum, which has not been designed with aero as a priority.
There is no escaping it – Parlee frames have a premium price tag and consequently the Altum is going to struggle to compete in value with direct-sales brands.
However, the quality is excellent and the frame has a limited lifetime warranty. There are lighter frames out there for a similar price but – and it’s is hard to describe it until you ride one – the Parlee Altum feels a little bit special. Parlee is superb at laying up carbon and it results in a bike that’s quite simply beautiful to ride.
If you are lucky enough to be in the market for a Parlee, the Altum will not disappoint. The ride is excellent, with a harmonious blend of compliance and stiffness when and where you need it. Owing to the relaxed geometry and lack of aero features this is not a bike suited to racing, but the trail and wheelbase create a bike that tracks beautifully in corners and feels stable on descents.