For those unfamiliar with the Massachusetts-based brand, Parlee has a reputation for producing superb quality carbon-fibre bikes with a large emphasis on customisation. New for 2015 is the ESX-R, which is a slightly more affordable version of Parlee's ESX (£3.999). We put it through its paces to see how good it is.

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 9

Parlee ESX-R Custom


  • Incredible custom paintjobs available
  • Sublime ride quality
  • Superbike excitement
  • Looks
  • Lifetime frame warranty


  • High front end geometry
  • Paint mark on the fork from catching the frame
  • Saddle clamp can slip. Allen bolts are hard to access
  • Aero seat post can stick.


Parlee ESX-R Custom


Price as reviewed:

£3,299.00 (The ESX-R frame set only)

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When Parlee approached us with the offer of supplying us with a custom ESX-R to test and review, it was quite frankly too good an opportunity to turn down. The first part of the process was a trip to Bespoke in Farringdon, where their fitter Chris used a Retül jig to determine the exact frame size I would require and how to best set it up.

Befitting of a super bike, our Parlee ESX-R features Lamborghini Orange

Befitting of a super bike, our Parlee ESX-R features Lamborghini Orange

Following my visit to Bespoke, we chose the components and custom paint job. The finish we chose is matte black and white, with Lamborghini orange on the inner stays and forks. Considering this is a super bike, I wanted to add some super car style colour. To experiment with your own custom paint jobs, here is a link to the Parlee configurator.

In order to avoid parts being damaged, Parlee ships its bikes direct from the USA unassembled. When the bike arrived we built it up from scratch. Below is a time lapse video of the Parlee ESX-R being built by our mechanic at Cycling Weekly. 



Cable routing is all internal. The headset is integrated for added aerodynamics.

I went for a fairly simple matt black and white with Lamborghini orange on the inner stays and forks. Considering this is a superbike, I wanted to add a little supercar colour.

The Parlee ESX-R frame is striking and features unusual Recurve tube cross-sections that Parlee claims were chosen in order to maximise aerodynamics without sacrificing comfort or stiffness.

The pursuit of aerodynamic tube shapes can quite often result in a harsh ride and excess weight. Company founder Bob Parlee has a background in designing and fabricating boats, which, according to Parlee, was of great use in the design of the ESX: “His experience creating shapes and sections that move through fluid with optimal efficiency helped inform the design process of Recurve tubing.”

Parlee claims that, with its unique ‘fluted tail’ shape, “Recurve delivers the ideal blend of low drag and high torsional stiffness — along with road-smoothing comfort so often lacking in aero bikes.”

I weighed the frame and fork and can report that their respective weights are 1,060g and 370g, which is light for an aero road bike.


Parlee offers its Z-Zero model in full custom geometry, but not on the ESX and ESX-R . Instead they offer an extensive range of sizes to go with custom specification and paint job. The sizes range from small to extra large, with each individual size offering three different stack and reach combinations.

This huge choice means that a relaxed geometry is possible, which is in contrast to the aggressive stock geometry on many aero frames, such as the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX. Based upon the fit data from our Retül session at Bespoke, Parlee suggested a size ML with a short stack, to be used in conjunction with a 120mm stem.

Geometry is compact/sloping similar to that found on the Giant TCR. For those interested in specific numbers, my drop is 102mm and the tip of the saddle to bar tops is 575mm.


Distinctive tube shapes may not be to everyones taste, but the ESX certainly looks like it means business.

The Parlee ESX-R frame is striking, and can be considered fairly Marmite. It features unusual ‘Recurve’ tube cross sections that Parlee claim were chosen in order to maximise aerodynamics, without sacrificing comfort or stiffness. A common association with aero road bikes, is that the pursuit of aerodynamic tube shapes often results in a harsh ride.

Bob Parlee has a background in designing and fabricating boats, which according to Parlee, was of great use in the design of the ESX. “His experience creating shapes and sections that move through fluid with optimal efficiency helped inform the design process of Recurve tubing.”

Parlee claims that with its unique ‘fluted tail’ shape, “Recurve delivers the ideal blend of low drag and high torsional stiffness—along with road-smoothing comfort that is so often lacking in aero bikes.” Needless to say, I can’t wait to see how it translates on the road. The pseudo pavé that makes up many a Surrey lane being an ideal proving ground.


Viewed head on the ESX-R has a narrow silhouette

Viewed head on the Parlee ESX-R is clearly an aerodynamic machine, with its bladed fork and narrow tube sections. Also fitted, is a K-Edge Garmin mount and Michelin Pro 4 Race tyres.


Having the rear brake mounted on the bottom bracket results in very tidy seat stays

The down tube features an iconic and distinctive fin shape, that protrudes from the leading edge. I was initially unsure about this shape, but its profile has really grown on me. Maybe this is a case of if an object is highly functional and performs very well, the visual appreciation of the form will follow.


The Parlee logo is featured on the underside of down tube


Not wanting to compromise the top-end frame, I specified Shimano Dura Ace Di2 for this bike.

>>> Complete buyers guide to road bike groupsets

The chainset is a mid-compact 52-36 matched to an 11-28t casette, as I feel this is the best all-round option for most scenarios.


Dura-Ace Di2 is the perfect match for a no-compromise bike

The brakes on the ESX and ESX-R are direct mount. I am a huge fan of the increased power and superior modulation offered by direct mount brakes. It is a big advantage and selling point found on other bikes like the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX and Merida Reacto.


The front EE Cycleworks direct mount brake with aerodynamic cover.

One minor disadvantage of Shimano direct mount brakes to be aware of is that the rear calliper can sometimes prevent the fitting of a Stages power meter.

Parlee informs me that this is not an issue with the EE Cycleworks brakes fitted on our test bike. For those not familiar with EE brakes, they are super light, weighing less than 200g per set,  and super functional with a very industrial aesthetic (our pair weighed only 154g!).


The bottom bracket mounted rear EE cycle works brake.

In the same way a Ferrari would look ridiculous with 16 inch rims, aero bikes just don’t look right unless they have aero wheels. Considering this I specced the ESX-R with Enve 6.7 carbon clinchers and Chris King hubs.

SES stands for Smart Enve Systems and the number corresponds to the rim depth. The 6.7 indicates that the front wheel is 60 mm deep and the rear one is 70 mm deep. The 6.7 clinchers are not the lightest wheels available to humanity, hitting our scales at 710g for the front and 930g for the rear, but there is no doubting their practicality aerodynamics and visual appeal.


Enve 6.7 Smart carbon clinchers.

Some sounds seem to really appeal to the human psyche, for me, the resonating roar of a Spitfire Rolls Royce Merlin engine is something very special indeed. While maybe not quite in the same league, there is no doubting the ability of the Chris King free hub’s bee swarm like buzz to put a smile on the face of anyone riding one. Even when building this bike, it was clear that these hubs and bearings love to roll.


Chris King hubs make a great sound!

Possessing quite narrow sit bones and position that is quite aggressive, the saddle of choice is a Fizik Arione. The R1 fitted on this bike has carbon rails, hitting the CW scales at a featherweight 149g.


The super-light Fizik Arione R1 saddle

We recently did a bar tape grouptest in the March 19 issue of Cycling Weekly. The deserved winner of this test was Lizard Skins, so I was delighted when the ESX-R came with this bar tape. If you haven’t experienced Lizard Skins tape, I highly recommend it – its supple and highly tactile feel is a joy. In addition, it is highly durable.


Lizard Skins bar tape is superb.

Bars and stem are from the Italian specialists, 3T. The stem is an aluminium 120mm ARX II team which weighs 138g and the bars are 3T Ergonova Team 42cm carbon, weighing 199g. The Ergonova bars feature a classic and pretty neutral shape.


3T ARX II team stem and Di2 junction box


In a word: sublime. Having ridden several aero frames on the pseudo pavé that constitutes many a Surrey lane, I have often been shaken to bits, ending long rides feeling the onset of vibration white-finger. Without question, this is the most comfortable aero frame I have ridden.

It really does iron out the road. The plush ride does not hamper performance; you can be serenely cruising around, then ferociously launch up a hill or round a corner, should you want to. The ESX-R’s excitability is thanks in part to a relatively short wheelbase, very stiff bottom bracket and laterally stiff fork.


The chain stays feature white Parlee logos

Handling is assured, but some may prefer a lower front end (the stack is 58cm) on what is roughly a 56cm frame — ideal for those wanting a more relaxed geometry, but if you seek an aggressive position, a negative stem may be required.

Two slight niggles. Firstly the saddle clamp could be a better design. I suffered a couple of slippages during the test period. Secondly the fork has a tendency to catch on the frame just below the head tube. This has caused a slight mark in the paint on either side of the fork, which, considering the price, is unacceptable and something I would want sorted.


Narrow tube profiles and integrated seat post bolt.


If you are after value, you shop at Netto, not Harrods. Despite being prohibitively expensive (somewhere in the region of £10,000 for the build shown), the Parlee ESX-R Custom will not leave the lucky few who can afford it dissatisfied.

The ride is comfortable but direct, handling is poised yet exciting, and the ESX-R is exactly as stiff as it needs to be. We are firmly in superbike territory, but considering how good it is, and that it is £700 cheaper than the ESX, one could argue it is good value.

For more information, head over to Parlee.


If you are lucky enough to be in the market for a Parlee, the ESX-R will not disappoint. For £700 more, you could buy the 100g lighter ESX, but considering how good the ESX-R is, I’m unsure why you would. Having ridden both, I could not tell the difference, and the £700 saved would buy you a stunning custom paintjob. Obviously I am biased, but I really like the way this machine looks. It is stealthy with the flashes of orange adding an element of Lamborghini excitement. While testing this, I was simultaneously testing the Cervélo S5. So good is the Parlee ESX-R that having to ride the top-spec Cervélo S5 felt like a chore. First-world problems…

Full Specification

Miles ridden:1031
Weight (without pedals):6.99Kg

Size tested:ML (short stack)
Size options:S, M, ML, L, XL with 15 stack and reach combinations

Frame:Parlee ESX-R (1060g)
Fork:Parlee ESX-R (370g)

Tubing:Parlee Recurve
Chainset:Dura Ace 52/36t (mid compact)

Cranks:Dura Ace 172.5mm
Shifters:Shimano Dura Ace 11sp

Derailleurs:Dura Ace Di2 11sp
Drop Outs:Carbon

Brakes:EE Cycleworks direct mount
Seatpost:Parlee Recurve Carbon

Stem:3T ARX II Team (6º 120mm)
Bars:3T Ergonova Team (42cm)

Wheels:Enve Smart 6.7 Clinchers
Cassette:Dura Ace 11-28t

Bottom Bracket:Press Fit 30 Carbon
Colour:Custom finishes available

Standard Finish:Matte Ghost

  • reece46

    That’s right, I pedal the same gearing as the pros too (albeit in squares), and don’t get me started on compacts.

  • Saul

    Not really. This hasn’t got anything any other road bike hasn’t. Plus it’s expensive and rather heavy.

  • Anna

    Parlee’s combination of aerodynamics and stylization is so appealing. It’s great to see a specialized road bike that seems to offer customization options more along the lines of commuter road bikes. Can’t wait to see where Parlee is headed in the future.

  • Neilo

    That makes no sense. They choose the smaller size because that is the one that “fits”. And the “pro peloton” is in “the real world”.

  • reece46

    What certainly is undefined is how many riders in the real world (again-real world) asking for a smaller bike than what fits because they want their chin on the front wheel. So many gear arguments are carried from the pro peloton by vanity and testorone without check because it helps to sell bikes.

  • Neilo

    An undefined number of bikes with aftermarket high stems or for sale isn’t very convincing evidence.

    With frames like this you DO end up with riders who would normally choose a larger frame having to ride S or XS because they can’t get the bars low enough otherwise. Not a huge problem, but it seems to defeat the purpose of offering larger sizes if only a few people with knackered backs can use them.

  • reece46

    The evidence is the 2 examples sited in the post you replied to. Your argument followed to its conclusion is we can all buy an xs bike and simple put an unlimited length seat post, stem and stack onboard.

  • Neilo

    A “high front end geometry” is a con because it is more restrictive than a low front end. With a short head tube, you can have your bars as high as you want if you are prepared to live with a load of spacers. With a long head tube, it is high bars or nothing.

    Also, is there any evidence that low bars cause many people back problems?

  • reece46

    In the real world for how many riders is ‘high front end geometry’ going to come under ‘cons’. The number of high spec bikes with after market high stems or listed for sale because of back problems shows how many people are suckered into what looks fast rather than what they can ride for more than 2 hours.

  • Andrew Bairsto

    The mounting of the rear brake although it might be efficient in dry conditions thing of all the crud that it will attract, I would also think there are far better frames at a much cheaper price .

  • XY

    A C60, for instance. Because Colnago have been making bikes for pro teams for decades, so ought to know what they’re doing. Parlee’s background, according to this article, is in boat building, which is no bad thing in itself but doesn’t necessarily make for good bikes. Also, I have had several Colnagos and found them to be very, very good. Plus, I am a bit sceptical of the way US bike companies have come to dominate the UK market.

  • Daniel Zhong

    some points make me impressed,rear brake seat,tidy seat post clamp method,head tube design and internal cable routing

  • nortonpdj

    Your comment would be more interesting if you could indicate which Colnago and the reasons for your preference. Please let us know. Thanks.

  • XY

    I’d choose a Colnago over this any time.

  • Douglas Fresh

    Bad A** machine, and a sublime ride as well I hear.