Parlee Z-Zero Review

Parlee In The Northern Quarter & Inner Carbon Conflicts

Posted by Julian Wall

I confess that back in 2006 I fought Ben Serotta hard on the need for an all carbon Serotta when their roots were down deep in steel and titanium. I well remember a ride we took in Leicestershire together and talked for a few hours on the merits and de-merits of carbon versus titanium. I felt at the time Serotta should stay true to its core and not blatantly stray into Parlee, Calfee, Kestrel custom carbon territory. Ben's mind was made up and he went onto innovate the bike that became the Serotta Meivici. How wrong I was.

I Was Wrong

In 2007 Ben made me ride an early prototype Meivici in The Alps on a trip we were leading for some American politicians. And I had to admit I was wrong. The Serotta Meivici was a masterpiece and rightly hailed as one of the finest bikes of the era.

Interestingly the other bike critically hailed to be at least on a par with Serotta's Meivici was always Parlee's Z1.

Parlee Z Zero Cobbles

"The Serotta Meivici was once a contender with Parlee for the title of "The World's Best Bike"; Parlee's Z-Zero is now the undisputed title holder for "Best Carbon Bike""

Ben & Bob

Whilst it is a shame that the last ever Serotta Meivici left Saratoga Springs a few of years ago now; it is some recompense that their Massachusetts cousins, Parlee nearby continued to flourish by adhering to cultural and material cornerstones of custom carbon without compromise.

Where the Meivici was a lugged frame similar in construction to Colnago's C50 and C59. Parlee has historically preferred tube-to-tube construction because it enables lighter frame weights and arguably more customisation. On the Z-Zero Parlee has leveraged-to-the-max their legacy relationship with Enve from Utah to help them produce in-house in their Boston workshop a line of custom tubesets that nods to both lugs and tube-to-tube (pictured).

To give this some context the current Z-Zero is at least 300 grams lighter than Serotta's last iteration of its Meivici.

Northern PowerHouse & Breathing In The Spaces

Matthew at Cyclefit MCR intelligently built our demo Z-Zero with Enve 3.4 wheels, fork, bar and stem befitting the two company's close relationship and collaboration in carbon innovation. Shimano Dura Ace Di2 makes sense because it is currently unrivalled in terms of electronic shifting (said as a lifelong Campag user). a set of Dura Ace pedals and we roll out of the shop into the Northern Quarter a shade over 6.6kg - safely impressive.

Now Manchester may be The Northern Powerhouse and the Northern Quarter (NQ) may the most dynamic area within this great city but the roads are still currently on the challenging side. And this is where a bike like the Z-Zero defines itself against front-line bikes with more corporate origins. The current trend (Trek and Cervelo included) is to build the lightest possible fuselage delivered by the most robust drive-chain imaginable. The Parlee breathes in different spaces and could not ride more differently (note I didn't say better).

Parleez Z Zero2
Parleez Z Zero Bb

All Carbon is Equal? Discuss

Judging carbon is hard because of all the materials it is the most variable in price, performance, concept and execution.

A top-end high modulus (see video clip below/opposite) monocoque has hugely impressive performance envelope coupled with a particular sound and feel that doesn't, with a couple of notable exceptions particularly suit my riding style. And it is a huge relief that the Z-Zero could not feel, look or sound more different. The high-modulus tubes rather than a monocoque give a calmer and beautiful fluidity to the ride. No sound, very little fuss or buzz and an expensive hush to every ride circumstance. I genuinely am not sure if the Parlee forsakes anything in terms of lateral stiffness to the likes of Cervelo's R5 or Trek's Emonda SLR and I really don't care.

"As much as I like performance my particular penchant now is for poise, quality, and sophistication (in all things including bicycles)."

The Jutland Street Challenge & saying it plainly

As much as I like performance my particular penchant now is for poise, quality, and sophistication (in all things including bicycles). And quite simply I have never ridden a bike (Serotta Meivici included) that balances genuine super-bike performance with a palpable air of hypersophistication and depth of refinement.

I would rather be on this bike climbing the 1:4 medieval cobbles of Jutland Street off Manchester's Northern Quarter than any other bike in the world. I can't say it plainer than that. Why? It is very simple - because it just feels so thoroughly damn pleasant. I can feel just enough of those over-sized cobbles to make control decisions but not enough to annoy or distract. It is like someone just turned the volume down on disrupting ride noise but dialled up fine control and finesse.

Reassuringly Expensive

I can’t imagine anyone spending nearly 8k on a bicycle frame without having an interest in its provenance? Neither is a frame of this quality merely a solution to the perception that a custom frame would work better for a particular client. To me you order Parlee Z-Zero because you want to entirely enjoy the process of customisation from the Cyclefit upwards and onwards. You are fully bought in to Bob Parlee as the rightful wearer of The King of Carbon Crown; further you like that he has never even flirted with other fabrication materials such as steel or titanium (other than as ride influences). You covet the fact that your frame will be hand-made in Boston using tubes that reflect your weight and riding style. As I write I appreciate that I am writing about me. My love of cycling and bikes as evolved from the romantic when I was a boy to functional when I raced and is currently decamped in the uncompromising (probably a final destination).

Serotta Meivici v Parlee Z-Zero - Ali v Tyson?

A pointless exposition. Who would have won a hypothetical boxing match between Ali and Tyson?

Only made partially relevant by the fact that we have so many clients riding ancient Meivici’s with ‘space-shuttle’ mileage on the clock; some determined to fly their beloved into the ground because nothing before or since has inspired so much passion, devotion and trust. To be sure Ben’s Meivici was a fine bike and a class above the C50/59 and certainly on par with Parlee frames of that time. But Bob has moved and innovated whilst the Serotta Meivici is inherently preserved in 2010 R&D aspic. As a result the Z-Zero is about 40% lighter and 60% more lively than its now defunct Massachusetts stable-mate. In isolation a Meivici is still a wonderfully resonant and stable ride, but compared to the Z-Zero it already has a vaguely retro feel. And I never thought I would write that. Sorry Ben.

Oh yes and Ali would have won by a country mile.

About the author

Julian Wall, Co-founder

Co-founder, general manager, bike fitter and bike designer. Jules rides an Open U.P., Seven 622XX, Trek Top Fuel & a Trek Emonda SLR. Jules enjoys riding off-road on his U.P. and MTB racing. When he's not on his bike he tries to keep his garden under control, walks his dogs and enjoys nature.
Julian's Cyclefit bike-fit speciality is that he leads Cyclefit's work with professional teams and riders. In his element when he is calmly working through complex problems with someone whose livelihood depends on the outcome.

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