Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

By Cycle EXIF’s Technical Editor, Richard Gearing: Parlee are a brand I have admired from afar for a while. They came to prominence when a riding buddy ordered a custom Z2 from Bespoke Cycling in London sometime around 2008 — a bike which blew me away when I first saw it as the lacquered raw carbon finish looked incredible.

Since then I have watched Parlee grow and seen their progression; from the stock Z4 and the full custom Z1, 2 & 3 models back then, to the impressive range of stock models they produce along with their Z-Zero custom super bike now.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

The Altum heads up Parlee’s stock offerings on the road side. We have been lucky enough to spend a decent amount of time on one over recent months. What follows here are our thoughts on what it has to offer.

Unpacking the box was done in the kind of state of giddy excitement that comes with unpacking a new toy, all whilst attempting to be as careful as is possible. Picking the impeccably packed, feather-light frame out of the box along with the fork and set of accompanying small parts revealed a collection of perfectly finished components.

The only thing missing for me was a set of instructions but the headset assembly was easy enough to work out and the cable stops were not needed for the initial build as the bike would be running eTap, so this didn’t prevent us getting up and running.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

Accompanying the frameset were Parlee’s new carbon handlebar, stem and seatpost. These are finished to perfectly match the Altum frame and, when built into a complete package, make for an undeniably good-looking bike. The bar and stem have been designed around an oversized 35mm connection, rather than the 31.8mm standard that most bars and stems use.

Cleverly, and to overcome some of the issues associated with carbon components, the stem utilises aluminium inserts on the threaded side of the carbon clamp area, rather than screw threads in the carbon carrying all of the clamp force.

In addition, the stem faceplate is aluminium, and the faceplate bolts screw into that from the back of the stem. Whilst this can be a little more fiddly in the initial build it does offer a more confident, reassuring connection.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

At 6.8kg as pictured this build was right on the UCI limit without trying. That weight could easily be reduced — albeit at some cost — with a change to lighter wheels, chainset, pedals and finishing kit (those Parlee components are beautifully finished, but they are comparatively sturdy).

Despite this low weight it exhibits absolutely no trace of being a fragile bike, nor does the handling suffer as a consequence. The bike feels planted and sturdy; and even in the wind on a set of 50mm carbon rims, the bike responds without a hint of nervousness or instability.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

I can’t claim that this is the absolute best or most exciting bike I have ridden; but what it may lack in terms of the all-out zip of some carbon bikes or the buttery smoothness of custom steel, it absolutely makes up for it in that does everything you ask of it extremely well — and, on that basis, it is one of the most well rounded bikes I’ve been on.

It is also one of the most confidence inspiring. To know that a bike is going to do exactly what you ask of it, every time you ask, regardless of the situation you are in, makes for a very pleasant and enjoyable riding experience. In fact the turn-in on descents particularly is so good it still makes me wide-eyed whenever I came back to this after riding something else.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

The oversized bar/stem combination made for a solid feel at the front — so much so that after a while I switched to a 31.8mm setup to see whether that softened the feedback through the front end (it says a lot that the Parlee stem makes an Enve carbon stem look skinny!

Whilst that change didn’t make a dramatic difference, it did mute some of the road feedback; and there are better damping stems and bars that could have made more of a difference. On the flip side, anyone looking to use an Altum for racing would probably love the stiffness and direct nature of the 35mm own-brand setup.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

The supplied carbon seatpost does a great job of holding the saddle nice and firmly and being really easy to setup. Like the bar and stem it is also quite rigid — this example being the inline version and with the post being 31.6mm diameter — and consequently seemed more prone to transferring larger road bumps and feedback.

This was probably more apparent to me having recently been on a string of bikes that used a setback seat post in a more compliant 27.2mm size, though.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

The seatpost is held in place with a ‘hidden’ wedge-style clamp, which does a great job of holding the post very firmly. There are simple clip-in cable stops to make the frame suit mechanical or electronic drivetrains; and I believe they will also be sending the frames out with blanks for eTap in future (our example came with a prototype 3D printed eTap blank).

Then there’s the ‘love it or loathe it’ top tube hump that enables a smoother visual transition into the different height options for the headset top cap, which effectively alter the stack of the bike.

These elements combine to emphasise how well this frameset has been designed. Top it off with a custom paint job (which you can configure using Parlee’s online tool) and you will have a bike to proudly display at the race start line or café park-up.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

Purely because the opportunity was there, we also set the bike up with a mechanical groupset for a brief period. This highlighted the adaptability and the ease of use of those interchangeable cable stops.

Versatility like this offers great future upgrade potential for those switching an existing groupset over to a new frame with a view to changing to Di2, EPS or eTap further down the line — which could be an important consideration, given that the comparatively high price of this frameset could prevent some from splashing out on an electronic drivetrain at the time of purchase (the RRP is $6,000 AUD at the time of writing).

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

This is the first full frameset review we have done on Cycle EXIF; and it came about entirely by chance. We approached Parlee to see if they would be prepared to send us a frameset for our eTap review.

We wanted to feature the groupset on a frame that wasn’t any old production bike and for it to pictured on a bike that wouldn’t have redundant cable stops or holes for Di2. Not only did they happily oblige, but they told us to spend some time on the bike to really get to know it. A review was the least we could offer in return.

Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum

From what I have seen through others, customer service has always been a Parlee strong point. Their response to us throughout our time with this bike has reinforced that. Our thanks to them for this, and for the opportunity to experience what their bikes have to offer.

Also pictured on this build are a set of 38mm Caden carbon clincher wheels – a review of which will follow soon.

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Matte Blackness From Massachusetts: Parlee Altum