With its stiff and light carbon fibre construction, space for up to 45mm tyres and dialled geometry, the Parlee Chebacco is right at home on the road with slick tyres or churning through the rough with knobblies; regardless of the terrain, the performance and handling really shine through. This is a thoroughly well designed and highly capable bike limited only by your imagination and lust for adventure.
Road bikes are evolving, becoming increasingly capable of tackling a multitude of terrain and surfaces, with the advent of gravel and adventure bikes offering wider tyre choice and the ability to stray away from the usual confines of the road network, to explore where tarmac turns to track and follow a path previously off-limits to a conventional road bike.
Parlee has built a reputation for designing and building high-performance carbon fibre bikes, but it has stepped out of its comfort zone and into the adventure category with a bike designed, and subsequently named, after the old roads, paths and trails that make up the company's local riding in Chebacco Parish, north of Boston in the US.
It set out to create a bike that was at home on the road and the rough, a bike that can cover everything from fast endurance riding to commuting, cyclo-cross sportives, gravel riding and any sort of long-distance adventure you might be tempted to tackle. Versatile and do-everything are words and phrases that get bandied around a lot at the moment, but here they seem apt.
What really shines through from riding the Chebacco is the performance, and that's regardless of the tyre choice. It doesn't matter whether it has skinny or fat tyres, the handling is the highlight. The frame is exceptionally stiff in the right places and its transfers power very effectively. Steering is direct with a light action and it's predictable at a range of speeds, with the thru-axle fork giving the front end a very solid feel in its feedback through the handlebar.
'The biggest thing we were trying to bring to the bike was a road bike feel, so a lot of that had to do with the tuning in the main triangle,' says Tom Rodi, Parlee marketing manager. 'We really tried to tune so it would feel good with a gravel or cyclo-cross tyre, but also feel good with a 23mm tyre at 100psi.' I would say Parlee has completely achieved that goal.
With fat slick tyres fitted it rides with the character of a fast endurance road bike in the style of a Cannondale Synapse or Genesis Datum, but it feels sharper, crisper and more alive than both of those examples. It's a good rival for the excellent Cervelo C5 endurance bike, one of my current fave fast endurance bikes that manages to provide the comfort and compliance you want, but infused with race bike reactions.
The low weight, thanks in part to a generous specification of Shimano Ultegra Di2 and a smattering of high-end kit, certainly contributes to the positive reactions of the bike, whether it's chasing your group of riding buddies or tackling steep hills. At 8.51kg it is lighter than some disc brake-equipped road bikes; for an adventure bike with big tyres that weight is impressive – it really doesn't hold you back. Admittedly, it doesn't have the lightning quick reactions or blistering acceleration of an out-and-out race bike, but it's not exactly tardy in its responses.
The geometry of the Chebacco is aimed at producing a bike that is comfortable and stable on the road, and surefooted on gravel. Compared with an endurance road bike like the excellent Giant Defy Advanced, the Parlee has a slightly slacker head angle, longer wheelbase and shorter head tube, but offers space for much wider tyres and has mudguard eyelets. Some of the geometry numbers of the Parlee bring it quite closer to a cyclo-cross bike like Specialized's Crux, but the Parlee is shorter and higher and, of course, it accommodates wider tyres with mudguards.
At higher speeds, and especially on any fast descent, the Parlee displays fantastic stability and balance, such that you can hurtle down your favourite descents full of confidence. It really is a fun bike on the downhills, and the control and power of the hydraulic disc brakes come into their own when you need to adjust your speed or stop quickly.
Contributing to its composure on such roads is a lower bottom bracket than you would find on a typical cyclo-cross bike, which places your centre of gravity a bit lower. Also adding to the stable nature of the bike is the relaxed head angle, which comes in at 71.75 degrees (a typical road bike is 73°), and the longer wheelbase (1024mm) via stretched chainstays, necessary to provide clearance for the wider tyres.
On rough roads (of which I'm spoilt for choice) it offers a composed and smooth ride, and certainly ticks the comfort box, despite the wide diameter 31.6mm seatpost. Wide tyres no doubt help, but even with 25mm tyres on – at the narrow end of what you'd likely fit to this bike – the frame and fork still do a good job of filtering out the vibrations from a rough road.
The advantage of a bike with such generous tyre clearance is being able to choose from a wide range of tyres to suit the sort of riding you have planned. I've been regularly swapping between two wheelsets, one with slick tyres and the other with gravel tyres, and just changing the wheels based on the sort of riding I fancy doing that day. I appreciate not everyone has the luxury of a spare set of wheels – though it's something worth bearing in mind for convenience.
I've racked up some serious miles on this bike, riding it as a road bike and a cyclo-crosser for tackling my local mountain bike trails. I also used it as a gravel bike, taking part in the inaugural Dirty Reiver 200 gravel race earlier this year. You can read about how I got on in that race here.
Founded in 2000, Parlee has only every worked with carbon fibre, being one of the few brands at the top end to offer fully custom US-built frames with its iconic Z1 road bike, which came to define the brand when it launched many years ago. While the Chebacco frame isn't made in the US, it is beautifully designed and brimming with details that show the company has really considered every aspect of it.
The most unusual and attention grabbing feature of the frame is the Flex Fit top cap system. It basically provides a wide range of stack adjustment, up to 2cm, by swapping out the top cap for a taller or shorter version. It's an elegant solution to providing a frame with a wide range of fit possibilities and avoids an ugly stack of spacers.
The frame and fork are made from high-modulus carbon fibre, with a claimed frame weight in the region of 870-980g which is right on the money and compares well with rivals in this sector. The fork is 390g and has a full carbon fibre tapered steerer tube and integrated bearing race. If you don't like the Alaskan Railroad Blue paint finish, custom paint jobs are available.
Tyre clearance is huge; it swallows up to 45mm tyres without mudguards, 40mm with. That really opens up your tyre choice to a vast degree. It can take a 33mm cyclo-cross tyre with bags of mud clearance, or you can fit one of the growing number of gravel tyres such as the 40mm wide Clement X'Plor MSO tyres I used a lot with this bike. It's equally happy with 25, 28 or 30mm slick tyres, all of which I fitted to the bike at some stage during my long review of the bike.
The frame is designed for disc brakes and comes ready for 140mm rotors, with adapters if you want to upsize to 160mm. It's using the current post mount standard which works just fine, though the very latest disc bikes are switching to flat mount. It's hard keeping up with the rapidly changing standards in this industry.
Parlee has cleverly designed modular rear dropouts that allow it to be used with most current quick release or thru-axle standards. The bike came fitted with a 142x12mm rear axle, and I can't see any reason why you would change it, but if you're building a frame up from scratch it could be a useful thing.
The fork uses a 15mm thru-axle setup, and this front and rear combination worked just fine and allowed wheels to be swapped easily, as most good disc wheelsets use interchangeable hub end caps. Parlee has also sandwiched the carbon dropouts with aluminium plates to protect the frame.
Naturally, as is the tendency with top-end carbon road bikes, the cables are all routed internally. Like with the modular rear dropouts, Parlee has developed a routing system that can be easily adapted for different groupsets, whether mechanical or electronic, with replaceable ports. The test bike used a Shimano Di2 groupset with the battery mounted inside the seatpost.
That internal routing even extends to the hydraulic hoses, with the rear hose going through the down tube and popping out of the chainstay, and also through the fork up front. It's an elegant solution, clean and smooth, and avoids nasty zip ties.
In the States Parlee is offering full builds, but at the time of writing it's not offering these same complete bikes in the UK. But Bespoke Cycling, the London-based dealer for Parlee, will build you a bike with the components of your choice, and there are a number of examples on its website, including this fine 1x11 XTR Di2 specimen.
The Ultegra Di2 groupset with RS685 hydraulic disc brakes is a wonderful combination, and proved utterly reliable on and off-road, with the shifting coping even when the transmission was caked in thick, gloopy mud. The brakes are solid and dependable, with no rotor rub detectable at all.
The 11-32 cassette in unison with the compact 50/34 chainset was a good setup for off-road exploits, low enough to get up most steep, gravelly tracks or road climbs. The chainset was fitted to the frame using Parlee's own PressFit inserts.
Mavic's Ksyrium Pro All-Road wheels are a new offering from the French company, with a 19mm wide rim. They're light, strong and stiff and worked well with the 40mm Clement tyres, though it's a shame the tyres weren't tubeless because the rims are tubeless-ready.
The Clements are a good choice if you want a tyre that isn't draggy and noisy on the road but provides enough grip to cut through dirt and provide good grip on loose surfaces, even mud if there's not much gradient involved. They're durable and tough tyres and even at low pressures they are right at home on the road. Clement does offer a tubeless version, which road.cc has reviewed here but it only comes in a 35mm width.
Parlee has branched out into building handlebars and stems, to go along with the seatposts it has been making for a number of years. They're made from carbon fibre and they aren't cheap (handlebar is £320, stem £260, seatpost £250), but they're very light, tough and look really good with an understated appearance. For the bar it's using the 35mm diameter that a few brands have dabbled with and serves to boost stiffness while allowing weight to be reduced.
The bar has a compact shape with extended drops that makes riding in this position comfortable for long durations, and offers more possible hand positions than some. The flattened tops are very comfortable when grinding along a relentless gravel road, and the bar also has a bit of rearward sweep. The drop is 128mm and reach is 70mm, and it comes in 400, 420 and 440mm widths.
The stem is made from carbon with an alloy face plate – fitting the stem faceplate is a bit fiddly on account of the rear-facing bolts, which Parlee has used to avoid threaded inserts in the carbon stem. It does give the front of the bike a nice clean look. The seatpost has a two-bolt clamp system and it was very easy to adjust.
All of just which just leaves the price. There's no getting away from this, it's top dollar. With a frameset costing £3,499, it makes most others look cheap. As I've said, no complete bikes are being brought into the UK – yet – so for a full build you'll need to speak to Bespoke Cycling in London.
If the price is too steep, you could look at the £3,199 Genesis Datum, which offers thru-axles, disc brakes and tyre clearance up to 33mm, with fittings for mudguards. And an absolute belter of a bike is the Jamis Renegade Elite, which is a snip at £2,500 with a carbon fibre frame and fork, thru-axles, space for 40mm tyres just like the Parlee, and a mechanical Ultegra groupset with BR785 hydraulic disc brakes. It also won the road.cc Bike of the Year 2015/16 award.
But if your pockets are deep enough, the Parlee Chebacco absolutely delivers on its guiding design principles, being equally at home on the road or well away from it on gravel paths and beaten tracks. Its exquisitely designed carbon frameset is light and stiff with splendid handling, offering performance and versatility that goes some way to justifying the price. As I said at the start of the review, this is a thoroughly well designed and highly capable bike, limited only by your imagination and thirst for adventure.
An exceptional bike with exciting handling whether on the road or off the beaten track
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Parlee Chebacco (frameset)
Size tested: 56
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
DESIGN: Compact, multi-surface road geometry
TT SLOPE: 9 degrees
TUBING: PARLEE High Mod XD
SEAT STAYS: Monostay, up to 40mm tire clearance, hidden fender mounts
TIRE SIZES: 20-40mm (with fenders)
CABLING: Full internal, mechanical and Di2/EPS compatible, quick access replaceable clip-in stops
BOTTOM BRACKET: Press Fit 30 (68mm x 46mm)
DROP OUTS: Carbon (w/replaceable hanger) - Modular 142x12mm through axle or 135x9mm QR
BRAKES: DISC, post mount front and rear, 140 or 160mm rotors, internally routed
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Braze-on
STANDARD FINISH: Alaskan Railroad Blue, with Diablo Green and Silver accents
OPTIONAL FINISHES: Custom finishes available
FRAME WEIGHT: 870-980g
FORK SPECS: PARLEE XD, Multi-surface disc, tapered steerer, integrated crown race, 15mm through axle, 390g
FENDER MOUNTS: Integrated, hidden, front and rear
HEADSET: Integrated Cane Creek, IS41 upper, IS47 lower
Shimano Ultegra Di2 RD
Shimano Ultegra Di2 FD
Cane Creek Carbon Headset
PARLEE Shimano PF30 BB
Shimano Ultegra Crankset
Shimano Ultegra Brakes (RS685)
Shimano Ultegra Di2 Shifters
Shimano Ultegra Cassette
Shimano Ultegra Chain
Mavic Ksyrium Pro All-Road wheels and Clement tyres
Fizik Arione Kium Saddle
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
"It's inspired by a place where history runs deep. North of Boston, in the county now known as Essex, Chebacco Parish was one of the earliest European settlements in the mid-1600s. Today, centuries-old roads, paths and trails make it a perfect place for adventurous rides – if you have the right bike.
Meet the Chebacco. It's named after our local stomping grounds, but it's at home wherever roads can get rough and rides turn into adventures. Gravel grinding, cyclocross racing, tackling a commute in the urban jungle. Now, for the first time, you can do all those things on one bike that delivers remarkable versatility plus the signature Parlee ride quality.
Rather than follow the traditional blueprint for a cyclocross bike, we set out to create a premium ride experience with nearly unlimited capabilities. With disc brakes, wide tire clearance (up to 40mm) and hidden fender mounts front and rear, this 100 percent carbon fiber frame that lets you expand your riding possibilities''while giving up nothing in terms of lightweight performance and ride quality.
The Chebacco shares the same DNA as Parlee road bikes such as the Z series and Altum models. The frame is handcrafted from the same carbon fiber materials, but with purpose-built geometry and design features including wider chainstays and seatstays. The bottom bracket is a bit lower than traditional Euro' style cyclocross bikes, and the head tube angle a bit slacker. This gives the Chebacco a smooth, stable ride at speed, especially when you're pounding through gravel, dirt or variable road surfaces.
The Chebacco's rear brake hose is routed through the downtube and chainstay, allowing the rear disc brake caliper to be mounted inside the triangle. The rear dropouts are modular, compatible with either thru-axle or QR, and the frame also includes integrated fender mounts for a sleek setup in wet weather conditions.
You don't need three different bikes for cyclocross racing, gravel grinding and winter road riding. You just need one Parlee."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Excellent quality and attention to detail, and really nice paint finish as well, which is proven to be durable for riding on gravel and boulder-strewn tracks.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
High-modulus carbon fibre frame and fork with compact geometry and 9-degree sloping top tube, with a frame weight of between 870-980g. Fork is 390g with a carbon tapered steerer tube and 15mm axle.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry of the Chebacco is aimed at producing a bike that is comfortable and stable on the road, and surefooted in gravel. Compared to an endurance road bike like the excellent Giant Defy Advanced, the Parlee has a slightly slacker head angle, longer wheelbase and shorter head tube, but offers space for much wider tyres and has mudguard eyelets.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes it was extremely comfortable.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It didn't lack stiffness in the key places you want it.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Well weighted.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Handling was sublime, regardless of the tyre choice. At home on the road with slicks or off-road with knobbly tyres.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Impressed with Parlee's new 35mm handlebar and stem, very stiff yet comfortable, and plenty of positions provided by the handlebar.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The Parlee Chebacco offers exceptional performance with a huge range of tyre possibilities to suit any sort of riding you want to do, with fantastic handling that is exciting and fun. There's no getting away from the price, though, it's a premium product and there are a few more affordable options if you want the sort of versatility this bike is offering.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.