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Parlee RZ7 review

10 Dec 2019
Verdict:

Parlee’s latest aero road bike is fast, versatile, fun and surprisingly affordable, but lacks some of the character of its predecessors

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Fast, slick and rigid frame • Impressive comfort • Great versatility with up to 32mm tyres
Against 
Lacks a little of Parlee’s historic custom appeal, especially in aesthetics

Bob Parlee started his bike-building business 20 years ago with a maiden voyage aboard his own handbuilt carbon Z1 frame. It was a 30-mile ride from his workshop to his house, and the bike hadn’t previously been tested in real riding conditions. ‘By the time I got home, I really felt like I had done it,’ he recalls fondly. ‘The bike just felt phenomenal.’

Bob Parlee’s handbuilt approach to carbon set him apart from the crowd in luxury custom bikes, and the Parlee Z-Zero remains one of the most expensive and coveted frames on the market.

‘The only “real” material out there is carbon,’ Parlee said at the time, arguing that steel was not best for custom bikes, because only with carbon fibre could a builder customise each individual tube and each individual layer of material.

Things have changed, however. Parlee still produces its tube-to-tube custom carbon bikes entirely in the US, but increasingly now makes moulded monocoque frames with stock geometry in the Far East, and the RZ7 is the latest example.

Faster, fatter

The RZ7 cuts a similar silhouette to Parlee’s Altum disc frame. Yet while the RZ7 is an aero road bike equipped with disc brakes, a closer look reveals it to be a very different proposition to the Altum.

‘The key is our tube design, which we call Recurve 2.0,’ explains Tom Rodi, Parlee’s marketing manager. ‘It allows for a profile that is structurally and torsionally more efficient than a traditional, low-drag airfoil “wing” section. The signature visual indicator is the “scallop” on the trailing edge.’

The ‘scallop’ profile is not dissimilar to the truncated aerofoil that we’ve seen on numerous top-end aero road frames for several years, but is a departure from the rounder tubes of the Altum Disc or airfoil profile of the previous ESX frame.

The benefits of the new tube shapes are not just aerodynamic. The design means Parlee can cut weight and also increase tube stiffness, including a claimed 7% increase in bottom bracket stiffness compared to the Altum.

While those percentage stiffness figures may seem a little abstract, I found the difference to be palpable with the RZ7 compared to the Altum – laterally it was very stiff.

That made for a solid platform when pushing hard on the pedals, resulting in very reactive accelerations – the kind that had me flicking eagerly down the cassette every time I picked up speed.

The other significant development on this new model compared to Parlee’s previous road frames is tyre clearance. The RZ7 can comfortably accept 32mm rubber.

‘We were all laughing during the development of the RZ7 – 10 years ago a bike that could take 32mm tyres was for cyclocross,’ says Rodi. ‘We have always said that all road bikes are gravel bikes, just some of the new ones are better at it.’

I put that theory to the test with the RZ7 by riding through some of the muddiest trails of Essex. The dialled-in flex and stability really made a difference. Riding over rugged terrain and negotiating tree roots, I found the frame to rebound softly and predictably, where many aero frames would jolt alarmingly with each impact.

Yet the next moment, when back on the road, the RZ7 was a different beast, returning to its smooth and fast aero character.

How much?

So the Parlee RZ7 is a polished performer, but when comparing it to other similar bikes in the aero road market, the biggest thing that struck me about it was the pricetag. At £6,899 for the entire build, it is actually kind of cheap – not a word I would normally associate with Parlee.

By comparison, an S-Works Venge has an RRP of over £9,000, while a Trek Madone SLR Disc costs £10,000, and although there is a sacrifice in terms of the groupset – Sram Force AXS in the RZ7’s case instead of Sram Red – the functional difference is all but undetectable when riding.

In terms of performance, the RZ7 hits well above its price point. In looks, though, perhaps it doesn’t so much.

I’m no fan of overt branding on a frame, but the black-on-black look of this particular model is so minimal that the bike almost looks like an unbadged Chinese frame.

I think Parlee could have maintained a little more of its signature aesthetics in the design. In truth it looks a little ordinary – like every other aero bike out there. Thankfully, the generic appearance is in no way mirrored by the ride quality on the road, which very much reflects Parlee’s unique character.

The RZ7 has a distinctly clean ride quality. On my regular test routes it seemed to hold speed easily and glide over the road surface, absorbing the minor imperfections with nonchalance. The RZ7’s 870g frame weight also made it feel like an agile and a capable climber, aided by the stiff Reynolds AR 41 wheelset.

The handling was assured, although it seemed a little less reactive in tight turns compared to the very sharpest race bikes on the market. That was probably at least in part down to slightly longer chainstays compared to many disc road offerings, but also partly related to the curiously high front end position.

At first the fit of the Parlee RZ7 had me slightly puzzled. The head tube is a reasonably short 167mm for the 57cm top tube, yet the bike had a distinctly upright position.

I realised the bearing cover (available in three sizes) and integrated spacers add a stealthy extra chunk of height to the front end – which may sound trivial but is significant in preserving looks while adding fit versatility. 

Curiouser and curiouser

Sitting back to reflect on the bike, I couldn’t help feeling strangely ambivalent about it. I have always coveted a Parlee, and the Z-Zero was one of the first bikes that I was truly infatuated with. In all honesty I can’t get as excited about the RZ7.

It simply isn’t as sexy as the slick raw carbon tubes that comprise the Z-Zero, and it doesn’t have that all-custom quality that separates it from the competition. But then it doesn’t come at the same premium price. When stacked up against the likes of Trek, Scott or Specialized, it really represents an exceptionally good bike at a good price.

It will take me some time to get my head around a Parlee that is distinguished by value over luxury.

Spec

Frame Parlee RZ7
Groupset Sram Force eTap AXS HRD
Brakes Sram Force eTap AXS HRD
Chainset Sram Force eTap AXS HRD
Cassette Sram Force eTap AXS HRD
Bars Parlee RZ7 carbon  
Stem Parlee RZ7 carbon
Seatpost Parlee RZ7 carbon aero
Saddle Fizik Arione R1
Wheels Reynolds AR 41 DB, Vittoria Corsa Speed 25mm tyres
Weight 8.0kg (medium)
Contact parleecycles.com

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Price: 
£6,899 (£4,799 frameset only)

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