Parlee Cycles factory tour prototype aero road bikes

What’s a factory tour if there aren’t some prototypes and other new projects laying around?

After seeing how Parlee Cycles builds up their custom carbon fiber road bikes in Part One of our Factory Tour, I turned my attention to the new things scattered about. Like the Aero Road Bike prototype shown above.

It’s a bike that started with the Prius Project. Brandon McKean, their industrial designer, and Bob Parlee kept working on it to see how it could roll into a production model. Bob sketched different shapes and they put them into CAD and other programs to test drag on individual tube shapes. Once they were satisfied with it on screen, they created a mock up for the wind tunnel.

The shape is unique among aerodynamic bikes like the Cervelo S5 and Specialized Venge we’ve seen and ridden.

“The modified ‘tadpole’ downtube shape has a thicker section than aero blades tubes,” Parlee said. “So we can get the stiffness we want, and the trailing edge still gives us the aerodynamics they want.”

Parlee Cycles factory tour cad drawings for the aero road bike prototype

It all started as sketches from Bob, then McKean puts them into CAD.

Parlee Cycles factory tour prototype aero road bikes

Once the design is done and virtual aerodynamics are tested, they make a wood model for the wind tunnel. Note the hump behind the headtube (on the top tube) on the model that’s not in the renderings. On screen, you’re seeing the standard model, and the physical model is for Tall frames. The hump streamlines air flow behind the taller headtube.

Parlee Cycles factory tour prototype aero road bikes

Compared to tear drop shaped tubes, Parlee’s ‘tadpole’ downtube is far more visually interesting. Rear brake will be mounted under the chainstays, something not typically found on aero road bikes.

Parlee Cycles factory tour prototype aero road bikes

The fork is new and their own design that’ll be used on their TT bike, too. It uses custom TRP brakes made to fit the lines of this fork. The seatpost is obviously a work in progress.

“The trick is to make it aero and still make it ride like a road bike, not like a TT bike. That’s the next step, to test the ride quality, which we can do with layup,” says Parlee. “The whole thing is making it so the tubes work together, not fight each other. The material doesn’t care what it’s doing, it’s how we orient the fibers to manipulate the stiffness or flexibility that gives the bike it’s personality.”

They’re about a month or so out from finalizing drawings, and then it’s likely six or seven months until production can begin. In that time, molds are cut and prototype frames are built and tested for visual correctness. Once those are OK’d, test bikes are built with the correct layup for CEN testing. Parlee was coy on where this model will be made, but it will be a production offering like the Z5 with a target weight around 900g.

Parlee Cycles factory tour prius project bike prototypes and drawings

These sketches were for the Prius Project bike. Note the fork mold prototype hanging over the wall divider and the integrated stem designs on the right. Initially, they thought about putting the integrated stem on the new Aero Road Bike, but it made getting the correct geometries difficult while still offering their full range of sizes. It also made the headtube really tall, which made the proportions look odd.

Parlee Cycles factory tour prius project bike prototypes and drawings

Various frame prototypes for the Prius bike still hang on the wall. You can see the drop in the headtube required for an integrated stem. It looks sick IMO, but sometimes production methods win the day.

Bob still does the initial designs and build the prototypes. Lately, he’s been working on this frame and fork, new tubesets for their custom bikes, and tweaking small parts like the cable stops and hangers. As with any growing business, plenty of time is spent in meetings and planning, but he still likes to get out on the floor and build stuff. Like this:

Parlee Cycles factory tour carbon fiber shovel

Carbon fiber snow shovel anyone? He also makes the occasional carbon lacrosse stick since one of his sons is into the sport.

Parlee Cycles factory tour carbon fiber bike trailer

And if you’re gonna haul a trailer, it might as well be light and fast. This one was made for the Constructor’s Challenge at Oregon Manifest a few years ago.

Parlee Cycles factory tour BB30 and PFBB30 adapter for Shimano cranksets

Not everything’s carbon. They make BB30 and PFBB30 adapters to run Shimano’s cranksets. They run $70 and are made of aluminum with Enduro stainless steel bearings.

Parlee Cycles factory tour new TT triathlon bike paint scheme

Parlee’s TT/Triathlon bike is getting a new paint scheme. The production (stock) model is shown above, but they do custom TT bikes, too. All of the logos here are paint, no decals.

Parlee Cycles factory tour 3K carbon fiber threads

Ever wonder what 3K carbon means? The unbroken strand above is 3,000 carbon fiber strands in about an 1/8 of an inch wide strip. When you see 3K weave, it’s a fabric woven from these.

Parlee Cycles factory tour 3K carbon fiber threads

The close up (click to enlarge) shows just how fine the individual threads are.

That wraps up our Parlee Cycles factory tour. We have the Z5 in on long term review and will report back as we log the miles.


  1. Both articles are super interesting. Great original content, guys. Carbon manufacturing is still such a black art for a lot of people, glad you could demystify the process a bit.

  2. Tyler – Great job on the story. Did you ask if Parlee is considering using making the frame compatible with the Magura hydraulic brakes? The pictured front brake cable/tube seems out of place in an otherwise sleek looking package. That said, the Magura brakes seem to use single pivot conventional road brake mounts rather than the dual pivot mini TRP mounts which the prototype Parlee has.

  3. Awesome article. Kinda wished I had enough money for a Z5sl right now…but I don’t. I’d settle for that shovel. We get more than enough snow up here.

  4. hope they’re working on a disc braked model and that they’ve had a look at the Neilpryde Alize for a few extra features.

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