When I was told I had the chance to test a Parlee I was rather intrigued. I have ridden many bikes, but never ridden a high-end American designed frameset before. From what people said about Parlee I was under the impression this was a top range frame builder making high quality, race ready framesets. So when the matte black, Parlee Z5i Frameset rolled into the office, I could not wait to see what all the fuss was about!
An American company, Parlee are known for their stunning custom paint schemes and understated designs. The Z5i was no exception. Made in the Far East, this stylish frameset came in a stealth-like black with an uncluttered white Parlee logo adorning the down tube. Black on black Parlee graphics under the frame also give a high quality finish.
It is also worth noting, if you prefer a frameset with a bit more colour, you can get the stock frames custom/hand painted in the USA workshop to your own design preference. This comes at an extra cost of between £300-600 depending on scheme and takes 3-4 weeks to complete.
So it looks good, but how does it ride? Off I went, 120km ride round the Essex lanes, some roundabouts, lots of cornering, rough, potholed roads, a couple of climbs and twisting descents and to top it all off it was raining and blowing a gale...the perfect testing ground!
First impressions as I clicked into the pedals were the responsiveness of the frame. I shot away as the bike leapt into life. Riding along and straight into a headwind I could feel this was one stiff frame, but as I rode over a rutted section of road, it soon became apparent comfort was of key importance when designing the Z5i. The bad road surface seemed to be soaked up in the frame, no bone-shaking ride here!
Comfort is all well and good but what about when you want to liven things up a little? Well a mere 5 kilometres down the road and the Parlee’s first test of performance was looming, a short, sharp 400-metre hill. Stamping on the pedals, out of the saddle and the Z5i felt effortless. Hills are definitely this frame’s forte: it seemed to lap them up and want to go faster and faster, just a shame my legs were not so keen.
Cresting the top of the climb and I kicked again, the frame responded instantly. Direct power transfer made for rapid acceleration.
Now for the descent, a true test of a frame’s handling and composure. By now it was pouring with rain and there was a strong crosswind, this was going to be interesting! No need to worry though as the frame took it all in it’s stride, confident, sure-footed and stable, like riding on rails.
A nice aggressive position felt perfect for me. The Z5i is available in 2 geometries, the short headtube, which I was using, and a taller one which is about 20-25mm higher at the front. This makes the frame ideal for racing as well as sportives and longer rides where comfort is a key consideration.
A hundred wet and windy kilometres later. This is often when you start getting tired and comfort becomes compromised. Thankfully not here with the Z5i, it was still going strong. The position is aggressive but not overly so and I had come to the conclusion this was a great frameset for all day riding, long sportives and epic days on the bike. It is grounded, not twitchy, yet responsive, lightweight and perfect for racing, pretty much an all round, very special frameset and quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever ridden. Thank you Parlee!
We have a full range of Z5i test bikes available to try in all sizes. For more information please contact our in store experts
Let us know you thoughts on the Parlee Z5i, or if there are any products that you'd like to see us test, in the comments section below.
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