What's Cool In Road Cycling

Best of Pez 2012: Parlee Z5SL AC/DC Special

Parlee Cycles Z5SL is the third frame from the company to make it to PEZ and the 5th product in the Boston masters life cycle. I’ve wanted to pay a little tribute to my favorite head bangers AC/DC for years and the Z5SL is as black a platform as it gets.

As we recap our Best stories for 2012, The Parlee Z5SL lands as the fave tech review.

Parlee Cycles have worked very hard over the past 10+ years to go from a “who?” brand in north America to an “it” brand virtually the world over…

Looking back, Parlee were one of the very first shops concentrating strictly in carbon fiber at a time when lots of brands were still fully concentrated on giving aluminum a “new” name for the third or fourth time. Being focused firmly on the “black art”, Parlee have continued to develop and refine their custom work and also created their 2nd generation production product (their 5th gen product overall).

The Z4 was a great first production (non-custom) effort and Parlee took loads of information and feedback from both professional racing sponsorship and their large family of existing custom-ers. That list of requests was predictable for sure, however execution of the list wasn’t going to be easy. But Parlee dug in and came up with a solution in the new Z5SL…

click the thumbnail at the top for a nice big pic…

TThe sTTarting poinTT
Like I said, Parlee had a list of requests that were fairly easy to predict given the limited scope of features most companies try to push on the public. But they were anything but easy to pull off given the Z4 was a very good bike to start with.

Priority one was make sure that the bike still rides like a Parlee. “Don’t give up that plush roll and make sure it still has reasonable feedback” was a toughy. That’s a fair task as a standalone, but next up is the ever present (and usually dumb) “make it stiffer” and add on the always important (and dumber) “make it lighter”. The list was what every major manufacturer is selling but few are delivering in proper combination or equal measures.

Talking to Parlee 18 months into the Z4’s life cycle about “the list” and what it really meant, I thought it realistically translated to “take a great bike in the Z4 and spoil it so that any idiot can market it”. That seemed ridiculous given Parlee’s marketing guy has never been worried about talking points versus the better path of developing a product that speaks for itself. And I don’t think “selling” a bike has ever even entered Bob Parlee’s mind, much less made it to a list of priorities

Still, they felt like they already had the ground work to do make the right changes within the current Parlee build system for their high end custom bikes and that turned out to be true.

The tube sets would need to be tweaked for carbon type and layup to bring a bit more stiffness and keep the smooth feel. That was a given and already planned. That left the biggest change in fabrication and that technology was already in house for their custom TT bikes.

Parlee are better known for more substantial looking joints, but they developed a very clean, higher pressure process for their TT rig…

And they use a version of this for the new Z5…

Put in fairly simple terms, Parlee uses a preformed foam core shape and hand lay carbon on / around that shape ahead of going into a metal shell (mold). The bike essentially looks like a Z5 with carbon relatively tightly in place ahead of the molding process. Because the carbon is already where you want it and in the direction you want it laying and moves very little (versus more traditional molding where you press / form / move carbon into place) you can use a lot less material (making for lower weight) while producing a better quality part.

The process also produces a VERY clean product from the mold, both inside and out. That makes for a cleaner inside and it also means less hand finishing work, but this process is actually more work overall than several other processes.

A lot of folks won’t go to a process like this because it’s simply much more expensive. A lot more care is taken in the lay up process to get a lot less material into exactly the right place. There’s also more than double the molding costs because on top of the traditional outside mold, you have the mold for the foam cores and you have the labor and expense of producing the cores themselves.

All of that extra effort was necessary though to create a production process that created not just a single great frame, but can consistently produce that level of frame again and again.

That attention to detail in a very conservative shape is fairly apparent and meant that the paint work that would go on the outside needed to be on Par…

For that, a guy named Allan Edwards, who’s produced a few other project bikes that you’ve seen in places besides Pez (as well as my latest moto helmet), got the call to knock out a special version not only for the frame and fork, but of the group set as well.

The details requested were a dark gray over black on carbon. The fonts chosen were pretty easy for any ACDC fan to recognize but my initial design was too plain (yes you should be shocked at that). It was originally just a matte grey ACDC logo as well as the couple of Parlee Logo’s and few other details…

Alan took a look at a few album covers and we set sights on their latest to dress things up.

That said, neither of us wanted too much clothing and not enough skin showing on the new baby, so we settled on a portion of the black Ice Cover, pushed the finish to all matte and the whole works came out pretty well…

Don’t recognize a wind tunnel when you see one? This was the bike at FASTER, waaaay before it became operational.

This is one of those bikes that keeps giving up details as you get a closer look.

Keep in mind that this project launched ahead of SRAM actually making a SRAM Black. And we don’t have a hint of Red left here as it just wouldn’t do.

The levers were completely skinned and brought back up in matte monochrome. Even the lever bodies got the new name.

And it would have been easy just to scuff the finish on the cranks to matte, but Allan went full monty inside and out and the carbon blows up way more in the light now…

Bebop pedals were virtually the only bling allowed, a review should roll shortly.

The rear mech also got a refinish to mono dark and a “black” font.

A logical choice for the bar and stem were the already mean-matte finished set from ENVE Composites. But while the finish was the appropriate gloss (or lack of), the bold white ENVE logos were just too much.

So the bar stem and seat post all got new matte grey ENVE outlines that are MUCH more in line with the total package.

JAGWIRE had black teflon cables and both carb and silver housings.

A hair under the 205 gram spec for the bars and 2 hairs under the spec weight of 120 grams for the stem, with the benefit of bolting them on without any sort of finish work beyond what’s starting to get the reputation as fantastic full grain leather wrap from HANDLEBRA.

Enve’s Seat post also plugged right in to the finish effect with the new graphics.

And a VERY light FIZIK ANTARES 00 topped it off perfectly in color and finish textures…

The rail clamps from ENVE are simple to adjust and come for standard round rails or can be ordered for over sized rails and worked very well with Fizik’s coarse fiber rail wrap. Fizik’s carbon rails have proven VERY durable as well with a number of different clamps… And yep… The saddle came in under weight spec too at 131 grams (versus 135 claimed).

The brakes were appropriately black, but I should have touched them with a buff pad to dull the finish just a teeny bit more.

Far and Near are a tuner kit company that have a host of slick stuff. The brakes pop the scales at 218 grams, with good machining detail, Ti hardware, good stopping power for their weight (and for a single pivot) and a relative bargain price point at $219 bucks from Fairwheel Bikes. But I should have buffed the finish down just a little more. Stock they’re not overly glossy, but with a bike that’s a black hole, I needed em deader…

Tune Bottle cages also blended in fairly well after a little rub with a 3m sanding sponge… Good bottle grip as well for a 19 gram cage.

Zipp’s Firecrest 404’s fit well with the theme…

At a glance they seem appropriately stealthy with Zipp’s featured custom decals in a nice grey on black, but these are a bit of an eye opener with a heck of a nice safety twist.

Rolling down the street in the day light (or with no photo enhancement) and they’re as menacing as they should be…

But in those predawn trips to meet your fellow ground pounders and or when you stretch it past dusk, right about the time that cars and street lights should be firing up, these are light reactive & reflective.

Hit them with a typical road light source like head lights and bang! 200% more reflective surface and 0% of the fred factor of oem reflectors…

The reflective decals come on their new stock “beyond black” hoops as well and are nice piece of mind when you’ve tried to make the rest of the bike as muted as this.

You could probably consider the ENVE fork included with the Z5SL as separate kit, but it comes as standard with the Z5SL. 300 grams un cut.

Of course having an idea of how something might look is very different from actually putting it on a fairly complex shape (as paint surfaces go) and the finish execution was fantastic from the paint flow from the head tube and fork, to a nice little parting message for your friends.

Toss all of these parts on the right frame (Medium) and you’ll have a bike that is 12.9 pounds all in… (bottle cages, pedals, bar tape…etc) The frame came under expeced at 780 grams with all of the new paint (a very nice tip of the cap again to the quality of the work…). The fork was 300 grams dead on, uncut.

The Ride???
Parlee did a very good job in executing on a tall order, especially for the crowd of people that appreciate a smooth ride more than the all out, ass splitting stiffness that some pro riders like to suffer on. Stiffness is favored a lot more by major brand marketing people than many pros in any case.

Any reasonable shop can now make a stiff & relatively light bike if they don’t care how it rides.

Thankfully Parlee chose to build a bike that won’t shy away from all but genuine monster mashers and / or the folks that just like all that vibration (hey, they’re out there and who’s to say they shouldn’t like what they like?). While it isn’t in the top 10-15 percentile of race bikes in stiffness, the Z5 is a notable step stiffer than the Z4 and has a more performance oriented feel.

You can call the geometry for the medium size here “middle of the road”, but you’ll find yourself pretty comfortable finding and holding an apex. The stiffness is right so that the frame and fork are not wallowing even when pressed.

But beyond very good handling, line holding and good stiffness, this bike feels both very light and very smooth.

Of course the high end build kit helps drive the light feeling, but I’ve had several bikes with similar total builds that weighed in at or near the 5.9 kilos (= 13 lbs – that’s the full build with pedals, 2 bottle cages etc) that the Z5sl does and most didn’t feel quite this feathery rocking back and forth at the same weight.

As for the smoothness, I used the house wheel sets that I’ve used for a long time now, with the same rubber and same pressures and the Z5 sits near the top of the smoothness charts for any of the bikes through here, custom or production. This is very close to their Z1sl (though they’ve since upgraded tubing and refined that model from when I had it in 2007).

There are not many frames this smooth at this weight from any manufacturer at any price. Most folks are just too focused on stiffness or won’t take as much time and expense with the tube set to give you the ride quality.

Parlee have always been focused on ride and build quality.

You just don’t see loads of marketing hype from this shop.

The fabrication technique to create this kind of an all rounder isn’t cheap, but you have several brands doing less in production detail yet charging a lot more. Other top line frames do come complete with three or four (or 20) different names for every bend or curve or gel insert. Hell, the number of different names several companies use for the same damn carbon would surprise you.

Parlee’s primary marketing hasn’t changed. Rather than spending massive piles of cash and investing thousands of man hours to fill magazine and web ads where they hype and praise themselves, Parlee spent that cash and invested those man hours in product development to create only a handful of models with a ride and build quality so good that their customers have filled countless hours talking on rides and countless pages in forums with well deserved and hard earned praise.

Again, the Paint work is Allan Edwards and you can contact him through CREATIVECYCLEWORKS.COM. And for the Record, it is the highest quality paint I’ve had done on any project at Pez to date. You can find a better web site : ) but you won’t find a lot of people that do this level of quality paint work.

It’s worth noting that Parlee have also increased their custom paint capacity in house. You can work with them on any of their custom bikes and can also have your dealer work with them on the Z5 Models.

They also have a paint configurator on line… for basic colors.

Parlee produce the Z5SL and the New SLI in 12 sizes (a range of six race oriented and “Tall” fits) and have stock colors available in all right now.

They also have a full selection of custom models available that will allow you to go as stiff, flexy, tall, short, skinny or fat as you please.

You can find them at PARLEECYCLES.COM

Have Fun,
Charles Manantan

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