It’s not too often that we feature custom-built bikes here at CW and there are lots of reasons, but when Parlee offered to make us a frame from the ground up it was frankly too good a feature to turn down.

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 10

Parlee Z-Zero Custom

Pros:

  • Beautiful ride
  • Custom Paint
  • Custom Geometry
  • Carbon layup tuned to the rider
  • High end spec

Cons:

  • Not many

Product:

Parlee Z-Zero Custom

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£6,999.00 (The custom frameset)

Parlee is known for its highly desirable custom carbon frames and it was prepared to build a completely custom build to highlight just what it could do with our geometry, our choice of paint and even our ride tuning. Frankly Parlee offer mind-bending choice, even for us, and we see a lot of bikes.

Parlee featured

Putting the Z-Zero through its paces

Interestingly the first port of call with Parlee is nothing to do with the design of either the tube shapes or the lengths but simply to get your name on the build list. Yes really! At this end of Parlee’s spectrum the frame will be hand-built in Boston, Massachusetts and they are so in demand that your build schedule is the first thing to confirm — normally, one would presume, with a reasonable deposit at your local stockist too.

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As the build draws near, the next gate to negotiate is that of the tubes, designed to a completely customisable programme that means you can select the ride tuning of the frame as well as the lengths and angles of the tubes. When it comes to the geometry of the tubes, that’s an easy one for us, thanks to the benefit of experience gained over many years. Unless you’re an old hand you’ll be relying on your bike fitter so it’s worth figuring that into any equations.

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‘Ride Tuning’ is a little harder because one man’s stiff sprint machine is another man’s road drill. Given that this was to be the first Parlee I’d ridden I had no terms of reference so went with the standard Parlee ride tuning for my weight — UD. I also had an ulterior motive thanks to a little insider knowledge.

It turns out that the name behind the brand, Bob Parlee, rides the same size as me, so I figured that with all his access and years of experience building his own bikes he had probably worked out the best ride characteristics for this size of bike. In the real world a customer who isn’t too sure of what they’d like can ask Parlee staff for advice and the correct Ride Tune can be ascertained.

 

Custom Paint Job

And so the process moved forward until six months had passed and an email arrived asking for my thoughts on the paintwork. That horrible sinking feeling ran through me, like the one where you got to school and realised that while you were out having fun you should have been doing your homework. Luckily we were the client (even if not a paying one) so if we held things up it was our problem. All the same it caused a flurry of activity, looking for inspiration in all sorts of places. We came up with a shortlist of different designs, two of which are pictured below.

Parlee 1

A candy cane seat tube perhaps?

 

Trouble was, nothing looked truly special and different. Once again it was back to Parlee’s Instagram site to try and find inspiration. It was there that a very different, head-turning design was found; that of digital camouflage. Obviously no one wants to just copy a design, so we went back to Parlee’s design team with a number of alterations to the digital camo design that would personalise the look.

PRI305 - render

The classic gulf livery also crossed our minds…

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Preferring a more subtle style I wanted to see the camo reduced in scope and settled on a band around the seat tube, the main logo and on the inside of the fork with the rest of the frame in gloss black. As for the colours, for me that was another easy choice as I replicated my club kit with green, gold and black.

FinishRender-(MikeHawkins)

In the end we went for this digital camo design

With a project like this it’s easy to lose sight of reality in terms of costs, especially in the paint department. The Z-Zero starting price is £5,899 for a ‘semi-custom’ frame that uses predetermined geometries — that’s pretty steep in most people’s books. A ‘full custom’ geometry starts at £6,999. The paint scheme we selected is classed as a level 3, which costs £600, but they run from £300 to over a grand if you really want to go to town.

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Ride Tuning options

With the introduction of the Z-Zero, Parlee moved away from Enve-manufactured tubes made to its own specification and it now prefers to make them in-house as they can be lighter and customisable for internal cable routing.

MIP_30719

Digital camo on the inside of the fork

As a starting point there are three tubesets that Parlee uses: SL, UD and XL. Each is used throughout the bike for a given rider weight and is itself tuned for the length of the tube and therefore the size of the frame. Where it gets interesting is the ability to go up or down a tube range for a given part of the frame, such as the head tube or chain stays.

Alternatively and/ or additionally, a junction can be beefed up or slimmed down to further tune the ride. There is one final tubeset that can be used, the CL — a comfort option that allows a touch of controlled flex.

Parlee2

Our frame featured custom geometry and lay up

Equipment

With the frame sorted we move on to the not-so-small task of specifying it. When you’re talking about a bike of this calibre you don’t want to throw any old gear on it, it needs to be something appropriate to the machine, something that looks factory — after all you can’t have it looking a lesser machine than something on the shop floor.

MIP_30726

Enve 3.4 clinchers really do the bike justice

With historic ties between Parlee and Enve, and forks still made by Enve, I figured that would be a great starting point for the equipment too, it also helped that we’d just finished testing the Smart 3.4 wheelset so we were off to a flying start. Enve stem and seatpost were obvious choices but when it came to the bars there were three options we’d not used before, with the most exciting and newest being the SES Aero bar, so obviously we went with that one. Enve are available from Saddleback.

 

The Ride

When you think about the value of a bike like this it could be easy to get overawed, but it’s still just a bike and needs to be hammered like any other. All the same it wasn’t easy to roll it out into the rain for its very first outing — summer in Britain, what else would it be doing but chucking it down?

Parlee3

Enve aero bars, seat post and stem complete the build

With all the contact points measured out to be identical to every other test bike, the Parlee immediately felt familiar, but climbing the first hill revealed it wasn’t quite. Every bike at this end of the range is good these days; they’re all fast, all light, all stiff. The Z-Zero had all that in spades but still there was a little something extra; it edged the bar a little higher compared to previous test bikes we’ve ridden.

On the descents we would rate it as being one of the more neutral-handling machines, similar to the new Trek Emonda SLR, quick to change direction, light and fleet of foot but with enough stability to give that ever-needed confidence when reaching over 40mph.

We would say there is plenty more to learn, especially about the playful nature of the bike, which seemed to encourage you to push yourself that little bit harder.

 

For more information, head over to www.parleecycles.com

 

The piece was originally written by Mike Hawkins for The Sept 4th issue of CW.

Verdict

We know this bike is expensive, but it cannot be marked down in this regard as it is in a league of its own. Akin to a super car this is a super bike with a comparable purchase being a Savile Row suit. The lucky few who get to experience a Z-Zero will not be disappointed as it offers all the qualities you would expect, with a little something extra.

Details

Frame:Parlee Z-Zero Custom
Groupset:Dura Ace Di2
Wheels:Enve Smart 3.4 Clincher
Handlebars:Enve SES Aero bar
Saddle:Selle Italia SLR
Stem:Enve Carbon 120mm
Seatpost:Enve
Bar tape:Arundel
Cages:Parlee carbon cages
Pedals:Dura Ace
Chainset:Dura Ace 52-36
Cassette:Dura Ace 11-25
Tyres:Vredestein Fortezza Senso 25mm
  • Tommy Thornton

    Yes, it is. I have a Z-Zero. I needed a bike with a high stack and shorter reach. Parlee provides me with the perfect bike for my body and riding style.

  • Ragtag

    Could not agree with you more. I think the bike mag industry can learn a lot from the Car review mag / TV industry. Car reviewers do shoot outs, have ordinary folks provide feedback, mix it around and what not. People do not buy bicycles in isolation but weigh options against each other.

  • Tony Short

    I agree it’s ridiculously expensive and, for my tastes at least, a pretty ugly thing but I’d rather read ten articles like this than one about this years Trek Domane, Emonda, Nomade, Edamon or whatever crap anagram it is now, that looks and rides exactly like last years model except it’s 2 grammes lighter, 1% stiffer and can change gear one nano second faster thanks to an upgrade on this years Ultegra Di2. People obviously buy these mass market cookie cutter bikes in their droves so I understand that magazine editors have to review them, but for Christ’s sake let’s have a bit more variety. The average rider doesn’t look like Alberto Contador or need a bike that does the things his does in the way it does. How about Cycling weekly starts promoting some of our home grown frame and bike builders and giving them a lot more space in their mags and online versions? How about doing a feature where you give this years Trek/Giant/Specialized to an ordinary rider and let him compare it to something custom built out of steel or titanium for the same (or probably less) money and seeing what difference it makes in the real world to a real person? Just a thought.

  • ghh

    Oh dear. More overpriced American junk. Is this thing really worth the same as two C60s or more than two Condor Leggero SLs? Of course it isn’t.

  • Tony Short

    “It’s not too often that we feature custom-built bikes here at CW and there are lots of reasons”

    Go on then, like what? There’s plenty of independent frame and bike builders in the UK who would love to get their bikes featured in a mainstream publication and plenty of punters who’d like to read about them, but instead we’re usually treated to the same old Trek/Specialized/Giant roadtests. There’s nothing wrong with those manufacturers per se but come on, do you think that all we want to ride and read about are identikit mass market carbon bikes kitted with Ultegra Di2?