Yep, you’ve read that price correctly – although the ESX is also available as a frameset for £3,999 / US$5,500 / €4,599. Parlee has an impressive reputation for its lightweight, tech-laden carbon bikes, which, in these days of Far Eastern mass production, are still custom-made in the USA.
Highs: Wonderfully fast and smooth
Lows: It is a very pricey proposition
The ESX is Parlee’s first aero road bike, and because of the aero design, the full-custom option isn’t possible, as it would make it astronomically expensive. Instead Parlee offers 10 different stack and reach options (broadly speaking these equate to height and length). This enables Parlee to offer numerous frame sizes, and allowed it to closely match our Parlee Z-Zero custom frame.
Video: Technical Editor Warren Rossiter takes a closer look at the Parlee ESX
Company founder Bob Parlee told us that the goal of the ESX was to make a more aerodynamic road bike while still retaining the Parlee ride character. And considering the quality of ride that Parlee’s bikes offer that’s quite an ambition. Their ride resembles that of steel or titanium but with the extreme lightness that only carbon can offer. And though the latest aero machines from Felt, Lapierre and Giant have come close none quite match the ESX when it comes to smoothness.
Yes, we’ve seen the impressive figures on the ESX’s aerodynamics, but the real proof with an aero bike is riding it out on the road. Yes, again, they all feel fast – but do they still feel fast all day, when you’re completely spent and looking forward to the end of the ride? And the answer with the Parlee ESX is another resounding ‘yes’.
Obviously any bike will feel pretty rapid when it’s equipped with Zipp 303 wheels, SL kit and SRAM Red 22 with a close-ratio 53/39, 11-26 drivetrain. But the ESX adds more – it handles with a balance and stability that allows you to punch down on the pedals and maintain high speeds on flat and rolling terrain. It combines this with a snappy, reactive feel on technical descents and challenging corners.
Even on steep climbs that require out-of-the-saddle efforts the ESX feels pitch perfect and instantly responsive, with the tall gearing offset by the 6.59kg weight.
The eecycleworks dual-pivot eebrakes have a complex cam system but still weigh less than 200g, though the cable routing for the front brake – when controlled by the right-hand lever – did hamper performance. With the front brake controlled, US-style, by the left-hand lever braking was consistently good, with bags of feel.
In all, though, the ESX is a wonderfully realised machine. It has all of the speed benefits of an aero bike with none of the compromises – if it weren’t so damn expensive we’d unreservedly recommend it for what ever riding you do.