Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

By Cycle EXIF’s Technical Editor, Richard Gearing: Unwrapping bike products is an experience that will never grow old. I’m lucky enough to be entrusted with products from cycling companies across the globe – a privilege which means I get to experience the excitement of picking the product out of its packaging without the expense that comes before it; albeit offset with the trepidation of fairly and accurately articulating that product to our readers to repay that trust.

When the product in question is a review bike which comes with the additional thrill of an unexpected custom paint job, that excitement steps up a notch. This was the very surprise that greeted me when Parlee sent me their latest Altum Disc frameset to review. We promptly got the bike together and spent some time with it to understand what it shares and how it compares with the rim brake version of the same bike that we reviewed back in 2016.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Parlee has done a lot of work in defining their bike range of late. For 2018 their off-the-peg Altum and Chebacco offerings remain a trusted pair in that range, but they are now distinguished by the standard model (disc and non-disc, in the case of the Altum) and the ‘LE’ version in each case – and that LE model is what you are getting if you order custom paint, like this example.

The standard paint options on the Altum and Chebacco are hardly shabby in their own right – for 2018 the Altum Disc is a rich sky blue with royal blue and white details, whilst the Chebacco is a bright red with darker red and yellow details. What the ‘LE’ version offers is an opportunity to further customize what are otherwise non-custom bikes, making them more truly ‘yours’ without going to the expense of full custom – quite literally ‘Limited Edition’, but in each case, it will be number one of one. In fact, this example is the very model Parlee have used for the photography of the LE model on their own website; and the paint finish is absolutely flawless.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Perhaps originally known for their custom offerings in the Z1, Z2, Z3 & Z-Zero, Parlee have always offered a standard road model – first the Z4, then the Z5, then the Altum; not ignoring their TT model too. The Chebacco followed after as a more all-road, adventure and cyclocross-based offering; and at the same time the Altum range was refined to a single rim brake model and a disc brake variant. As the cycling industry moved towards flat mount and thru-axle for road (and road-based variations), Parlee updated the Chebacco and Altum disc to follow suit.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Accompanying that up-to-date flat mount and thru-axle disc brake spec is the PressFit30 BB. Whilst many find this to be a questionable option that can result in a noisy bottom bracket, Parlee has retained this standard since the Z5 was introduced. Personally, I have now used PF30 across three Parlees without a hint of noise; and I even had it on one of my own custom titanium bikes in the past without issue.

The benefit this standard brings is loads of room within the BB shell to accommodate the hydraulic hoses and electronic cable routing – and in fact the construction of the Altum frame is such that it is possible to route all of these without even using the BB shell, if you are nimble of finger and patient enough to deal with the fiddling required to make it work that way.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

As was the case on the rim brake model reviewed previously, the frame is supplied with all of the necessary fittings, stops and guides to run the bike as a mechanical, electronic or wireless setup; and the space in the frame is comparatively cavernous, meaning installing a groupset is nowhere near as fiddly as it can be on some frames.

Perhaps the trickiest element is routing the rear hydraulic hose – but the Campagnolo H11 hoses were set up to help in this regard (their system is supplied with guides at the end of the hoses to put a mechanical gear cable into, to help guide the hose).

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

One slight pain point with the brake hose routing is that the front fork has no hose guide running through it. Whilst not a deal-breaker, having mounted disc brake setups on forks like the Columbus Futura which does have hose routing, the time spent having to fiddle with what should be a very straightforward part of the build was unnecessarily frustrating.

Whilst the Altum disc no longer really needs the brake bridge on the seat stays, Parlee has opted to keep it in there (albeit without the brake caliper mount hole, obviously). They could have readily adjusted the carbon layup to replace the stiffness that might have been lost from removing this but, as Tom Rodi – who heads up Sales & Marketing at Parlee – told us, they preferred to keep it there because “frankly, we liked the look of it”. It also helps Parlee keep the disc and non-disc versions of the Altum looking as similar as possible, which was something they were keen to maintain.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Curiously, that bridge also has a threaded hole in it. As odd as this is, particularly given there is no concession to any other mounts or bosses aside from the bottle cages, there is no penalty to it being there. Parlee left it in such that it could serve as a rear light or race number mount point, should you feel the need to utilize it.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

The rear dropouts on the Altum Disc are modular. Parlee has done this in the hope of future-proofing the frame in the event that thru-axle standards might still develop from where they are now. I also see this offering the potential to switch to the Mavic Speed Release thru-axle system if that were to gain traction – although at this stage such a move would require the specific development of a non-drive side dropout to suit.

As it is, the supplied DT Swiss RWS thru-axles are a firm favorite of mine, being of a respectable weight, very easy to use, comfortable in the hand and with the benefit of being able to move the lever to the desired closed position once the wheel has been tightened down.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

You might be inclined to think that the Altum Disc is exactly the same bike as the Altum with a change to the fork, dropouts and non-drive side chain stay to accommodate disc. However, you only need to slip a wheel with a wide tyre on it into the dropouts to know that this is not the case – for example, a 27c Challenge Paris-Roubaix clincher tyre (which inflates to around 30mm on most modern wide rims) is realistically too tight a fit on the rim brake model to be usable without repeated tyre rub, yet the same tyre has room to breathe on this disc brake version. Yes, the basis of the bike’s design is the same, as is the geometry; but it isn’t entirely the same and doesn’t ride the same as a consequence.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Despite owning the rim brake version of the older Altum R for the best part of a year prior to receiving this Altum Disc, it is hard to precisely pinpoints the differences in ride qualities between the two – in no small part because both were set up with very different wheels, but also because this Altum Disc was built with Parlee’s own set of finishing kit.

The Parlee bars alone are very different in feel as they combine with the very chunky Parlee stem via a 35mm intersection. The stem and the matching seatpost are both quite firm-feeling products which are quite different from the lightweight carbon kit I ran on my own Altum – although we did also run this same finishing kit on the Parlee we reviewed previously.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Without being in a position to better align the setups of my own Altum R and this Disc review version; and with it having been some time since we had the original Altum on review; my perception is that the Altum Disc rides more like the Altum R (which, to be clear, is no longer produced) than the Altum by way of it being less ‘out-and-out racer’ stiff, and more ‘stiff in the right places’ stiff. Whatever you do, though, do not read into that as meaning the Altum Disc is incapable in a race environment – it is simply a reference to the fact that it will also serve you well on a long training ride, or even a gravel excursion, without beating you up.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

One thing that remains clear on this Altum, which was also true of the previous review model and is one of the key factors that made me decide to buy the Altum R – that being the way it handles corners. The turn-in and mid-corner control on this bike is an absolute joy. Even having ridden bikes with almost identical geometry hasn’t yielded anything like the same cornering feel. It is an element that Parlee have got well and truly dialed through the geometry, tube and frame shaping and the carbon layup; and this is a yardstick that, for me, all future bikes will be compared to.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

Weight-wise, the Altum Disc is a great basis for a lightweight road disc build, should that be what floats your boat. At a published 820-940g for the frame depending on size, you could build a 7.5kg bike without much planning. Make allowances for a few boutique parts and a set of tubular wheels and you could easily come in under the UCI limit. As pictured here, this build came in at circa 8.5kg – but bear in mind the Campagnolo Zondas are a 1675g wheelset. The beauty of the Parlee is that the low weight doesn’t come at the expense of excessive rigidity, component integrity or a fragile feel, as if often the case in lightweight bikes.

Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review

To my mind, there’s no mistaking that this is as good as it gets in carbon road bikes without going full custom. Of course, less boutique road disc bikes are available; and from most road bike brands now – but those are inevitably less unique and often only available as complete bikes or much less desirably finished frameset packages. Besides which if you are reading this because Parlee is on your radar, you have probably already disregarded those alternatives.

Gold standard production carbon at a respectable weight and with handling that’ll put most bikes to shame, with options for incredibly finished custom paint to boot – that’s why you pay a premium for a Parlee, and their legendary customer service only enhances the reputation of the brand. Sure, they may not be for everyone; but that’s kind of the whole point. If you are in the market for a high-end production carbon bike running disc brakes, you’d be mad to exclude the Altum Disc from your list.

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Mass Magenta: Parlee Altum Disc Review