Handbuilt aero goodness
By James Huang in Sacramento, California
Few small builders are in as elite company as Parlee Cycles, whose
name is virtually synonymous with some of the finest - and most highly
sought - carbon fiber frames available thanks to their uncanny blend
of performance and ride quality. Even more rare are those riders fortunate
enough to ride one for free such as David Kemp of Team Fly V Australia
p/b Successful Living, a late addition to this year's Tour of California
roster. Team members actually receive not just one but three
Parlee frames to use for the season: two Z4 road models for training
and racing plus Parlee's latest creation, the TT.
We first saw the TT back at the 2007 Sea Otter Classic where it was
still a development prototype but it is now ready for market and employs
some proven aero bike technology: the head tube, down tube, seat tube,
seat stays and seatpost all employ modified NACA airfoil cross sections;
the seat tube sports a deep cutout to shield the rear wheel; the rear
brake caliper is mounted down below the bottom bracket where the air
is already 'dirty'; and the internally routed cables enter the frame
at the top tube just behind the stem. All of the frame's trailing edges
are also admirably sharp for a carbon frame.
"All the sections that are 'in the wind' are modified, low-speed NACA
profiles specifically designed by Bob [Parlee] to be versatile at a
wide range of yaw angles," said Tom Rodi of Parlee. "With carbon it
is easy to heavily style a frame design with all kinds of swoops and
jogs and bumps that may look aero or stiff, etc. but in reality a lot
of these elements do nothing for efficiency, comfort or aerodynamics,
so we have taken the opposite tact, which is clean, simple, elegant
design which allows us to hit the comfort, performance and weight targets
Though the TT has obviously been designed for minimized drag, Rodi
also says much care has still been taken to ensure it still rides and
handles as well as other bikes in the lineup. Claimed weight is 1150-1250g,
depending on size.
"What we tried to do was create a great riding bike that happens to
have low-drag sections," continued Rodi. "We felt that the ride quality,
specifically in regards to comfort was the most critical, and often
over-looked, element so we tried to make the design more like our road
bikes in terms of
lay-up and general structure, and therefore ride character."
Proper fit was also a key design goal for Parlee, especially given
the facts that roughly 90 percent of total drag on a bike still comes
from the rider and you still move slowly - no matter how aero - if you
can't effectively put the power down.
Parlee offers the TT in an impressive five-deep size range - with top
tube lengths running from 495mm all to way to 575mm - but goes even
further by offering two head tube lengths for each in order to best
accommodate a rider's particular position. According to Rodi, "What
we found looking at all the custom bikes we have built as well as talking
to athletes, fitters and coaches who have spent a lot of time in a tunnel
is that finding the optimum position on the machine that balances power
output and aerodynamics is key and in a lot of cases that means a little
bit higher bar position than what ProTour riders use."
Naturally, Parlee has also fitted the TT with an aero carbon seatpost
with lots of fore-aft adjustment but even there it has forged its own
path. Instead of a sliding rail or basic two-cradle arrangement, Parlee
has borrowed a concept from an unusual source. The Weaver-style mount
- usually found on firearms for mounting sights and other accessories
- offers three additional positions relative to the two-cradle approach
and is less likely to slip than rail systems.
Kemp's frame is suitably fitted with a variety of high-end gear. Parlee
tubing supplier Edge Composites also supplies the 2.0 Aero carbon fork
and 68mm-deep 1.0 carbon tubular front wheel, aero guru HED provides
its Black Dog integrated aero bar and Jet disc, and both wheels are
wrapped in Panaracer's Extreme Jet tubulars.
Fitted to the ends of the aero bars are TRP RL970 carbon aero brake
levers controlling T925 brake calipers and SRAM TT Shifter 900 bar-cons
wired to Red derailleurs. Rounding out the build is a SRAM Force crankset
and OG-1070 cassette, fi'zi:k's new Antares saddle and Speedplay Zero
chromoly pedals. Total weight is a reasonable 7.93kg (17.48lb).
Regardless, the question remains as to why a company with such a loyal
following as Parlee would even bother with a project as ambitious -
and expensive - as sponsoring a complete pro team but Rodi suggests
the research and development value more than offsets the cost.
"Our fundamental motivation for working with the team is simply that
we love the sport of bike racing and we love to build race bikes," he
said. "As competitive as the athletes riding the bikes are, we are the
same way about building the best race bikes in the world, so naturally
we want them to be used at the highest levels of competition. The R&D
we get from the athletes, mechanics and staff is really valuable, well
worth the investment. A team of 14 pros is going to beat the snot out
of the bikes and expose things that might take years to find otherwise.
"We have always looked to build not only the best riding, but also
the most durable race bikes out there and pushing the bikes hard not
only in testing, then riding and racing but also in travel and transit
exposes areas to do better," he continued. "We are all for that. Getting
our name in front of tons of fans around the world doesn't hurt, either."
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