Just Landed: Being a custom bike, it has taken a while but first impressions suggest it was more than worth the wait. A full review will follow once we have had take time to fully ride and test this mean machine.
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.
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.
For those unfamiliar with the Massachusetts-based company, Parlee has a reputation for producing superb quality carbon fibre bikes, with a large emphasis on customisation. New for 2015 is the Parlee ESX-R (£3,299 for the frameset), which is a slightly more affordable version of Parlee’s aero road ESX (£3,999).
The ESX-R is claimed to feature the same stiffness and ride quality as the ESX at the cost of a 100g increase in weight over the ESX. We look forward to seeing how it performs out on the road. I weighed the frame and fork and can report that their respective weights are 1060g and 370g, which is light for an aero 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.
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 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.
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.
Being a top end frame, and not wanting to compromise, I specified Shimano Dura Ace Di2 for this bike. The chainset is a mid-compact 52-36 as I feel this is best all-round option for most scenarios. If Mark Cavendish sprints on a 53-11 then a 52-11 is sufficient for a rider such as myself.
Again, wanting the best all-round option, the cassette of choice was the hugely versatile and increasingly popular 11-28t.
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.
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 inform 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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Predominantly black bikes are not to everyones taste, but I really like the way this machine looks. It is stealthy with the flashes of orange adding an element of Lamborghini excitement.
Close up the quality of the carbon frame is evident from the carbon dropouts through to the custom paint job. If this bike handles half as good as it looks, I am in for a special ride indeed. Having tested a several of the current aero road frames it will be great to see how the ESX-R compares to likes of the Merida Reacto, Cervelo S5 and Canyon Aeroad.
Minus pedals, the complete bike weight is an impressive 6.99Kg. Considering the weight of the deep Enve 6.7 clinchers (1640g a pair), switching these out for some much lighter and slightly shallower tubular wheels would save a considerable amount of weight. Overall, the weight of the bike is competitive for that of an aero road bike in this size.
For more information, head over to Parlee.