When we moved into our present house, my wife insisted on installing a designer kitchen; she was adamant that, although pricey, it would be well worth it. Large chunks of it were handmade - truly a bespoke product. Once it was installed, and being a typical bloke, I couldn't tell the difference between this kitchen and one that cost half the price! Yes, I noticed (in passing) the dovetail joints rather than the normal mass-produced cast fixtures.
Yes, there was wood under the paint rather than chipboard, but did this custom approach mean the drawers held cutlery any better, or the cupboard doors closed in a fashion that enhanced my life in some way? In the world of bike manufacturing, Parlee Bikes are a relative newcomer, but have already earned a name as a quality producer.
As the company was only founded by Bob Parlee in 2000, I was somewhat surprised that the Z1 Custom carbon frame I was testing on the steep slopes out of Eze village - of the famous Col d'Eze - had exceptionally traditional lines. Parlee were able to build me an entirely custom-made frame, and I mean entirely, as they are able to change every conceivable aspect of the geometry thanks to the tube-and-lug construction method they use.
Whichever way you cut it, this will never be as optimal as a one-piece design. However, the advanced way they have employed this traditional technique means they have probably got as close as is possible to the one-piece performance without actually being a one-piece - if that makes sense. By choosing this route, they have sidestepped the main downside to one-piece construction, namely, having to offer only a limited number of sizes.
were the rear ends, machined from solid titanium to give an ultra minimalist, exceptionally strong finish
The attention to detail continued, from the custom-made cable guides to reinforced bottle bosses that look like inner tube patches with very utilitarian-shaped bolts rather than Allen key fittings. These carbon 'reinforcements' are claimed to eliminate the weak spot that a normal rivet-style bottle boss creates. Finishing the absolute custom approach were the rear ends, machined from solid titanium to give an ultra minimalist, exceptionally strong finish.
In my view, none of these expensive details actually made the bike function any better than if they had gone for standard parts, but apart from the bottle bosses, they looked nice and gave substance to the total bespoke experience. For our test, I didn't choose the smoother, main road to the summit which is used in Paris- Nice, but instead opted for the shorter, steeper climb out of the village itself.
This tougher route highlighted the Z1's stiffness and that of the Reynolds carbon bars and alloy stem. At the top, rather than swing onto the big main road, I chose instead to venture into the national park where the roads became twistier and the surface decidedly worse. Handling was fine in general, but I was becoming very reluctant to push too hard, hampered as I was by the Reynolds wheels, or, more specifically, the rims.
As I have said before, lowering weight - particularly the rotational type - is a laudable goal, but you have to decide just how much function you are prepared to sacrifice. These hoops were beyond my personal threshold. After accelerating hard a few times to verify that the straight rear stays were as stiff as they looked and gave flawless power transmission without a hint of damping, I settled into a more even climbing position.
The Fizik saddle was deceptively well padded and, despite the rigid frame, it served to make for a comfortable ride over the rugged roads; exactly the combination I would choose. For some reason, the saddle does extend rearwards to a point, meaning you are carrying material that you are never going to touch, presumably just for style reasons. This was a feature I wasn't as keen on.
When I had been adjusting the saddle earlier - I like mine with the nose up a little - I found the Reynolds seatpost, with its dual Allen bolt system, easy to use and a nice, neat design to boot. As well as the wheels, this was one of many Reynolds parts this bike was finished with. Along with the bars, stem and bottle cage, they all worked well.
100 grams lighter - including the bottom bracket - than the
Italian manufacturer's top offering.
The bottle cage was a little lightweight to really hold onto the bottle firmly over the rough road, but it was elegant, and could be a more functional design if it was beefed up a little. I like some of the little details, too, such as the clean machined finish of the Reynolds badge on the front of the stem. One thing that fitted neither the Reynolds or Campagnolo theme was the Zipp 300 full carbon chainset, which claims to be more than 100 grams lighter - including the bottom bracket - than the Italian manufacturer's top offering.
In use, it certainly was very stiff and nicely finished, but I remain unconvinced that carbon will ultimately end up being the optimal material for this component. Nevertheless, it offered benefits that aren't found on a standard top of- the-range chainset from either of the 'big two' manufacturers, and as they are trying so hard to outdo each other, it's very rare that anyone manages to get one up on them, so hats off to Zipp.
As this is a bike review, I know I am going a little off track talking about shoes, but I know you couldn't fail to have been dazzled by my footwear! Imelda Marcos I'm not. Once I find shoes I like, I tend to wear them to death, so when I first saw these Lake CX400s being inserted into an oven at the Las Vegas bike show last year, I was more intrigued than attracted to the bright white footwear.
I asked Lake to send some over for a test and ever since I first used them, I can't bring myself to ride a bike in anything else. Once warmed in an oven, the sides of the shoe can be moulded to fit the wearer's foot perfectly. At a claimed 235 grams, they are incredibly light and the lacing system that I first thought was a complete gimmick turned out to be the best tensioning system I have ever used. At around £250 they are expensive, but they are worth it.
The Reynolds DV wheels are built using what is now a fairly conventional spoking pattern with similarly conventional hubs (using bent-head spokes rather than straight pull). The rims have the look of something that had been put together for a oneoff trial run. Unfortunately, I thought they also had the feel of a prototype, while the slightly uneven braking surfaces compounded the problem of braking on carbon even further.
Refreshingly, for these days, the bike came equipped with tubular tyres, in this case the new Vittoria Corsa Evo CXs, which looked and felt as if they were based on the ever-popular Vittoria Corsa design, except now with a slightly larger 23mm section. Regrettably, these were stuck to a rim surface with a noticeably shallower radius than the tub itself (even with the slightly increased diameter of the Evo), making them 'roll' a little when the bike was healed over.
Back to the bike, and all in all I like what Parlee have done, even if I sometimes had to look hard to see what it was. I liked the minimal amount of transfers, the thought that had gone into every aspect and I totally respected the remarkable level of detail they had lavished on even the smallest parts. But I can't honestly say it outperformed other bikes I have ridden - even though I wanted to.