After 4000 kms bedding in, it is time to describe the experience of my Parlee Z-Zero. Many people have asked about the feel and ride of a made-to-order bike, but it can be difficult to describe. As you might expect, it is so perfect with nothing out of place - it feels like a natural extension of your own body.
At MC, we believe that when sized and fitted correctly, no bike should hurt when you ride. And while we enjoy several bike setups for different uses (from commuting to long distance to aero), each adjusted and fitted for its purpose, after a longer ride you sometimes can feel something somewhere. And so my early descriptions of the Z-Zero quickly became relative to those bike setups - the perfection of the Z-Zero is obvious when contrasted to other bikes! But that isn't very fair, so this is a blog about my journey to the Z-Zero...
There are more and more custom bike builders around these days, including the resurgence of steel and titanium hand-made. Parlee is a made-to-order hand-made carbon frame and bike builder, established over 20 years ago and based in Massachusetts, USA. The story behind Parlee - from carbon yacht keel design to carbon bike frames is a good one.
It is a privilege to go through a bespoke bike build process, and is the pinnacle of bike selections for any avid cyclist. Pro riders don’t get much choice in frames (which are determined by team sponsors), and if you do spend as much time as possible riding and are in a position to, why not have a frame that is uniquely yours - from sizing, to angles and riding preferences, colours, and component options. In these times, with high demand for bikes and factory bike supply significantly challenged, the cost and time to delivery of bespoke bike builds looks pretty attractive.
Unless you are visiting your bike builder, you will need a local partner. MC Cyclery provides a build service to guide you through each step of the process. It is nothing like selecting an off-the-shelf bike. It is also wise to have a local partner such as MC. who has built many custom and bespoke bikes, to guide and advise you of the choices available to you, what to expect, and perhaps what mistakes to avoid.
You will simply need to know the type of riding you enjoy, have a design inspiration, and a budget.
FIT - MEASURING IT UP
A bike frame built uniquely for you is an exact science.
It isn’t simply a case of taking the measurements from the current bike that fits you well. MC partners with Daniel Bain at OneBody for your Personal Bike Fitting Report, which is what Parlee will use for exacting measurement of your frame - tracked, reviewed and optimised in 3D, to the millimetre.
The measurement and fit session with OneBody is an extensive session over a couple of hours to measure, adjust, and consider component options (bar width, crank length, pedals, shoes) to align to the bike design and style in mind. Dan took the time to apply those measurements to my current bike (to the greatest extent possible on factory frame) which would allow some riding experience approximating those perfect measurements.
After a week or so riding that setup, my fit improvements were already noticeable. Since my last bike fit, my riding had changed and fitness improved, and was another good reminder that reviewing your bike fit with a professional has merit. We discussed the measurements again in the context of the Parlee build, made a few tweaks, and the fit report was finalised by OneBody and sent to Parlee’s Australian lead, Kim Roberts.
There were two different design aspects to consider. The first was riding style to inform angles and carbon densities of the frame, the other is aesthetics (how hot it will look).
The team at Parlee asked me about riding preferences and style as input into the discussion with Dan at OneBody and their own input to the frame spec. The Z-Zero is to be an all-day bike, something for Sydney riding mostly, but ready for longer rides (without compromising speed too much). The many years of Parlee experience designing and making frames made this process easy, and the interaction between Parlee and OneBody was seamless to ensure everything was just right for riding preference and the fit.
And then I had the final frame design by the team at Parlee.
The second is the most exciting - paint design. Like an artwork, it can be anything you want, and for some people the unlimited choice may make it daunting. Elegant and classic? Radical? Non-descript? Eye-catching? These can be difficult choices when you are designing something that is you, on a long-lasting frame.
My tip is to start with an idea, topic or theme - an inspiration. This will help to ground your choices and decisions on placement and colour and also how you expect the finished product to look and it not remind you (and others) of Frankenstein.
I started with a classic design. Simple and elegant. Clean, yet something that stood out without the need for fluro trimmings. For colour, British Racing Green is where I started and ended. I explained this to the team at Parlee and I sent the images below for colour matching.
After a few tweaks to the design playing with deep gold and white, the final render looked a treat with a racing number and tip to MC Velo for personalisation. It was then onto production.
I didn’t get lost in unlimited component choices - group set, wheels, seat, cockpit… This bike was my first move to disc brakes on the road and I knew I wanted to go with SRAM Red AXS. Once I had concluded to stick with the Parlee made seatpost and cockpit, the only choice remaining was wheelset for which I defaulted to Enve 3.4. The finished bike weighed in at 7.8kgs.
PERFORMANCE - THE RIDE
It is a simple conclusion. The fit and ride is perfect as you might expect from something designed to the millimetre.
It is very different to that feeling of a brand new bike that is markedly contrasted from your old familiar bike. Yes it felt fresh and new like that, but there was no need to get used to the Z-Zero. Other than the riding change in brake tech (switching from rim brake to disc), the feeling on the bike was like being home.
A professional bike fit should improve your performance. But instead of fitting you to a standard bike, fitting the bike to you will produce even better results in our opinion. And this is noticeable in my ride performance on the Z-Zero, where I am seeing higher weighted-average power across all sorts of riding conditions. You know what this means? More power also means faster.
QUALITY - THE FEELING
The quality of the finished product is visible. The striking quality and shine of the custom paint by the Parlee Paint Lab is an obvious one. But the finished endpoints and frame strength of Parlee hand-made will stand out every time you pick it up. Needless to say, the MC build quality tops it off!
The frame and build quality also go to the ride. I think that the way this is best described is not by adjectives such as light, or responsive, or fast, or soft or comfortable. It is all of these. But the best descriptor of this Parlee Z-Zero’s overall ride quality is refined - you get all the power response you expect, but in a way that is smoothly passed through the system.
Where this makes the biggest difference, is on longer rides. The bike has no body strain points and after a ride of any length, but most noticeable on longer rides, there is less tiredness and better recovery. The Parlee Z-Zero makes rides feel like a ride of half the distance.
The end result is a bike that fits perfectly, is an ideal ride, bringing quality build and improved riding performance.
It might not be something for you today but put the a made-to-order bike down on the long-term dream. And you won’t go past a Parlee Z-Zero.