Few small builders are in as elite company as Parlee Cycles, whose name is virtually synonymous with some of the finest – and most highly sought-after – carbon fibre frames available thanks to their uncanny blend of performance and ride quality. Even more rare are those riders fortunate enough to ride one for free, such as David Kemp of Team Fly V Australia p/b Successful Living. Team members receive not just one but three Parlee frames to use for the season: two Z4 road models for training and racing plus Parlee’s latest creation, the TT.
We first saw the TT back at the 2007 Sea Otter Classic, where it was still a development prototype. It is now ready for market and employs some proven aero bike technology: the head tube, down tube, seat tube, seatstays and seatpost all employ modified NACA airfoil cross sections; the seat tube sports a deep cutout to shield the rear wheel; the rear brake caliper is mounted below the bottom bracket where the air is already ‘dirty’; and the internally routed cables enter the frame at the top tube just behind the stem. All of the frame’s trailing edges are also admirably sharp for a carbon frame.
“All the sections that are ‘in the wind’ are modified, low-speed NACA profiles specifically designed by Bob [Parlee] to be versatile at a wide range of yaw angles,” said Tom Rodi of Parlee. “With carbon it's easy to heavily style a frame design with all kinds of swoops and jogs and bumps that may look aero or stiff, etc, but in reality a lot of these elements do nothing for efficiency, comfort or aerodynamics. We've taken the opposite tact, which is clean, simple, elegant design which allows us to hit the comfort, performance and weight targets we like.”
Though the TT has obviously been designed for minimised drag, Rodi says much care has been taken to ensure it still rides and handles as well as other bikes in the lineup. Claimed weight is 1,150-1,250g, depending on size.
“What we tried to do was create a great riding bike that happens to have low-drag sections,” he said. “We felt that the ride quality, specifically in regards to comfort, was the most critical, and often over-looked, element so we tried to make the design more like our road bikes in terms of layup and general structure, and therefore ride character.”
Proper fit was also a key design goal for Parlee, especially given that 90 percent of drag on a bike comes from the rider and you still move slowly – no matter how aero – if you can’t effectively put the power down.
Parlee offer the TT in an impressive five-deep size range – with top tube lengths running from 495mm to 575mm – and go even further by offering two head tube lengths for each in order to best accommodate a rider’s favoured position. Rodi said: “What we found looking at all the custom bikes we've built, as well as talking to athletes, fitters and coaches who've spent a lot of time in a tunnel, is that finding the optimum position on the machine that balances power output and aerodynamics is key, and in a lot of cases that means a little bit higher bar position than what ProTour riders use.”
Naturally, Parlee have fitted the TT with an aero carbon seatpost with lots of fore-aft adjustment but even there they have forged their own path. Instead of a sliding rail or basic two-cradle arrangement, Parlee have borrowed a concept from an unusual source. The Weaver-style mount – usually found on firearms for mounting sights and other accessories – offers three more positions than the two-cradle approach and is less likely to slip than rail systems.
Kemp’s frame is fitted with a variety of high-end gear. Parlee tubing suppliers Edge Composites also provide the 2.0 Aero carbon fork and 68mm-deep 1.0 carbon tubular front wheel, aero gurus HED provide their Black Dog integrated aero bar and Jet disc, and both wheels are wrapped in Panaracer’s Extreme Jet tubulars.
Fitted to the ends of the aero bars are TRP RL970 carbon aero brake levers controlling T925 brake callipers and SRAM TT Shifter 900 bar-cons wired to Red derailleurs. Rounding out the build is a SRAM Force crankset and OG-1070 cassette, Fizik's new Antares saddle and Speedplay Zero chromoly pedals. Total weight is a reasonable 7.93kg (17.48lb).
The question remains as to why a company with such a loyal following as Parlee would bother with a project as ambitious – and expensive – as sponsoring a complete pro team, but Rodi suggests the research and development value more than offsets the cost.
“Our fundamental motivation for working with the team is simply that we love the sport of bike racing and we love to build race bikes,” he said. “As competitive as the athletes riding the bikes are, we are the same way about building the best race bikes in the world, so naturally we want them to be used at the highest levels of competition.The R&D we get from the athletes, mechanics and staff is really valuable, well worth the investment. A team of 14 pros is going to beat the snot out of the bikes and expose things that might take years to find otherwise.
“We've always looked to build not only the best riding but also the most durable race bikes out there, and pushing the bikes hard not only in testing, then riding and racing, but also in travel and transit exposes areas to do better. We're all for that. Getting our name in front of tonnes of fans around the world doesn't hurt either.”