Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest defence contractors, has a department devoted to developing projects destined to fly under the radar… literally. It’s called Skunk Works, and lists the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Nighthawk and the F-22 Raptor in its portfolio. Skunk Works is also the nick name of a secret workshop in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, dedicated to assembling racing bicycles that fall inside the sub-6kg category.
Sydney’s Skunk Works is a non-profit organisation — the price of a build is a full beer fridge — and they also offer a parts procurement program for specialist components. Last week a bantamweight Colnago C-59 exited the garage doors, but today we’ll look at the Parlee Z5 SLi owned and ridden by the Skunk Works director. It’s a daily rider, not a scale tipper, so it’s a somewhat more robust build than what is actually possible.
Bob Parlee has been building ultra fine custom carbon fibre racers since the year 2000, with a focus on quality, strength and light weight. The Z1 has been a Parlee staple since the first year and, like each model in the lineup, improves incrementally each year since according to rider feedback and technological advancements. This is the compact Z5 SLi, weighing in at 750-875g for the frame alone and designed to integrate both mechanical and electronic groupsets.
It’s an excellent base to start from. A look at the components should, though, start at the top: The one-piece seat/post combo is by a young specialist from Slovenia, Berk Composites. Up front is a 3T Ergonova LTD handlebar that’s been sanded to match the dark Skunk Works theme and holds the Campagnolo Super Record levers. They, in turn, are grasped by an Extralite Roadstem OC stem and Ultratop cap. eecycleworks brakes and ENVE carbon pads haul everything up.
The most important components are the wheels: Alchemy ceramic hubs are laced to ENVE 6.7 Smart System rims, shod with Veloflex Carbon and Extreme tyres and skewered with Tune DC-14 pins. They’re turned by THM-Carbones cranks and chainrings by David Earle’s Praxis Works. As mentioned, this is a daily rider, so it is carrying the mule wheels. With the race wheels, two Emporelli bidon cages and Speedplay pedals, the scales read 5.3kg.