First Look: Parlee ESX aero road bike

Aero Road Bike Sea Otter Classic

Over a million custom color combinations mean almost anything is possible, including very bright yellow.

To meet Bob Parlee is to understand a lot about his approach to building road bikes. Parlee is contemplative and calculating just the way you’d expect a New Englander to be. Nothing has to get done before it is ready to be done.

No surprise then that Parlee took his time designing the ESX, his company’s first aero road bike offering. It took upwards of two years of CAD modeling, prototyping and wind tunnel testing before the bike was ready for the masses.

The end result is a unique-looking frame Parlee and company claim has the aero chops to measure up with some of the other top wind cheaters on the market (see photo gallery below), and the road feel that measures up to a traditional Parlee. Road buzz absorption, comfort, light weight and torsional performance would not be sacrificed simply to gain a few watts on a windy day.

“All that is hard to achieve with traditional aero sections,” explained Parlee operations director Tom Rodi, who was showing off the new bike at April’s Sea Otter Classic. “This led Bob to develop a custom airfoil shape we’re calling recurve. It has the similar torsional performance characteristics to a traditional tube shape, but with lower drag because of its fluted tail. When it comes to performance, we’ll put this bike up against any other aero road bike on the market.”

Parlee’s custom recurve tube shaping seen in cut-away form in the seatpost and throughout the frame.

The unique design was then applied to any tube section that directly faces the wind, meaning the fork, headtube, downtube and seat tube. Parlee also added traditional aero road bike features such as fully internal cable routing and direct mount brakes front and rear. The rear brake lives underneath the bottom bracket to further enhance aerodynamics. Cables enter the top tube behind the stem to decrease drag.

The bike is also highly versatile, claims Rodi. “We didn’t want to develop a one-trick pony that was fast, but nothing else,” he said. “But because of its ride quality we feel like it’s simply a great road bike that happens to perform very well in terms of aerodynamics. It can even handle tires up to 31mm if you want to go that direction.”

Parlee’s flex fit top-cap fits a wider variety of riders with less frame sizes.

The frame also features a unique flex fit top-cap design that allows Parlee dealers to carry less frame sizes, but fit a wider variety of riders.

“It basically allows for a given range of sizes within a single frame size,” explained Rodi of a bike that comes in small, medium, medium/large, large, and extra large. “The top cap is recessed into the frame at the steerer tube, so the frame is effectively taller, meaning less spacers are needed to fit taller riders. So you set your height with it and then you can add spacers on top to fine tune it. So within 5 sizes we’ve mimicked the size run we used to do for 10. On top of that, the recurve technology seatpost is available in 0 and 25mm setback sizes so you can further dial in your position.”

Brakes are direct mount. The rear brakes is hidden from the wind underneath the PF30 BB.

Claimed frame weight is a respectable 950 grams for a size medium (56cm). MSRP for stock frame, fork and seatpost is $5,400, or it’s available in eight builds that top out with a $10,200 Shimano Dura Ace 9070 Di2 spec. The ESX is not part of Parlee’s custom build program.

Frame color options start with the base black-on-black configuration Parlee is known for. But the company is making frames unpainted, so with its expansive custom color palette, Rodi say there are over a million other options. “Plus this frame has more surface area and interesting shapes so you can do more with custom paints,” he said. “I expect to see some really cool stuff coming out of our paint shop this year.”

More info: www.parleecycles.com

First Look: Parlee ESX aero road bike Gallery
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Parlee ESX

The ESX can be run with tires up to 31mm wide, says Parlee.
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Parlee ESX

Cable routing is internal to further enhance aerodynamics.
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Parlee ESX

The recurve shaped seattube's clamp is flush with the top tube.
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Parlee ESX

Parlee's patented airfoil shape has a fluted design to maintain road feel.
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Parlee ESX

Rear brake is recessed and direct mount.
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Parlee ESX

Direct mount front brake.
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Parlee ESX

Compatible with mechanical or electronic shifting.
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Parlee ESX

Flex fit top cap.
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Parlee ESX

Airfoil tube shapes.
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Parlee ESX

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Parlee ESX Aero Data

Parlee claims that during a 40km ride at 200 watts, the ESX save 1 minute, 44 seconds over its traditionally shaped road bike.
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Parlee ESX Aero Data

Watts saved = 16 at 40km per hour.
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Parlee ESX Aero Data

How the bike measures up to the competition.
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures in British Columbia, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, and Peru among many others. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in January, 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and edited a book on cycling tips. When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Lisa.


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  • Stephen Govier says:

    eecycleworks brakes are missing? This cannot be be Bob’s preferred?

  • mike says:

    Regardless of how well it works, it’s gonna be hard to get past how fugly it is.

  • Chris says:

    I’ll take a Look 695 Aerolight instead…

  • Kim says:

    Stephen – eeCycleworks direct mount eeBrakes aren’t yet available. Actually, as of this writing, NO eeBrakes are available via their Webshop at all!

    Mike – Actually, with the right paint, it’s quite beautiful.

    Chris – You keep your Look and enjoy it (just don’t ride a Parlee to know what it is that you’re missing).

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