Just two seasons ago there was a bold line drawn between bikes that were ridden off road and bikes that were ridden on road. Today, that line is almost imperceptible.
Enter two of our best selling models: The Seven Evergreen and the Parlee Chebacco. At the heart of both bikes lie three basic qualities: a standard 700c diameter wheel (commonly found on road bikes), disc brakes and clearance for up to a 40mm tire.
These characteristics define a new category that is as flexible in its functionality as it is in its category name. Gravel Bike, Adventure Bike and Mixed-Terrain Bike, are three names which are fitting to the bike’s capabilities but one could also add Cyclo-cross, commuter and as of this summer: long-distance road bike!
It is no wonder that these bikes are popular – they are as close to “one bike for all applications” as the industry has ever seen. And as the proverbial saying goes – the cherry on the top is that almost every wheel and tire manufacturer has created products specifically to serve these uses.
In the past 24 months we at Velosmith have witnessed the rise of wider tires, wider rims, lower tire pressures and the explosion of disc brake options.
Personally, I have spent countless miles on both an Evergreen and the Chebacco. We took delivery of the studio’s first Evergreen back in November 2014.
In November 2015 we took delivery of the first of our Chebacco demo bikes. We opted to build our demo with Shimano Ultegra Di2 with hydraulic disc brakes – Shimano’s B785 system. In the Ultegra specification we opted for compact chain rings (50t/34t) and an 11-32 cassette. This type of gearing is bordering on MTB granny gearing from the days of triple crank sets, all while utilizing a double chain ring configuration.
At first blush, it is hard to ignore the fact that the frame weighs just less than 900 grams, a frame weight that is squarely in road bike territory.
My first true shakedown of the Chebacco came under the golden sunshine of Southern California during a visit to Santa Monica – a place I know well. The diverse terrain and elevation changes make the greater LA area a place that is ideal for cycling. For the visit, I opted for a wheel and tire set-up that would accommodate the widest range of usage.
I set the bike up with a Mavic All-Road wheel set and a pair of Compass Barlow Pass Extralight tires in a whopping 38mm. The Barlow Pass is essentially a road tire but nearly twice the size. The Extralight casing makes for a very comfortable ride even when ridden at a slightly higher pressure.
My first outing included some pavement, some LA traffic, and miles upon miles of dusty, dry So. Cal. dirt. The Westridge fire road and Sullivan Canyon put the gearing to the test (Midwestern climbing legs meet steady California gradients) with 40 minutes of steady 4-7% gradients while the terrain tested the machine’s off-road worthiness and component durability.
Sullivan Canyon is a mountain bike’s wheelhouse, although there are no insane drop offs requiring full-suspension. Back in the 1990s when I rode those trails on suspended mountain bikes I felt they were challenging – especially at speed. The Parlee’s geometry and component spec proved the Chebacco to be a very competent mountain bike and, as I mentioned in my post-ride Instagram snap, this bike is truly worthy of being called “the mountain biker’s road bike”. Stable yet responsive with more than enough tire to handle the trails, it’s got braking power that us flatlander’s have heard about but rarely experience when descending a highway overpass or slowing for stop lights.
All in all a truly an impressive performance from a bike that does not look like a mountain bike. It proved to be a joy to ride in conditions well outside the design parameters. Tire Set-up: 40 psi front / 45 psi rear
Gravel Bike, Adventure Bike – check!
Following the Parlee’s incredible performance off-road there were a number of days spent riding some of the Pacific Coast Highway’s most beautiful stretches, mostly beginning at one coffee shop and finishing at another. The Parlee felt like any great road bike for these low demand rides. The Compass 38mm tires felt like balloons and when I jumped into a group for short stretches the bike could easily be mistaken for my road bike in terms of acceleration and handling and overall ease of pedaling when sitting in with a group.
The photo above was taken on the roll into Malibu from the second position within the group. The group on this day was a mix of riders from around the country and local folk who met up for the Rapha Cycle Club morning ride. All who were there rode road bikes. According to my Garmin, the temp was 52 degrees (cold for Southern California). Tire Set-up: 60 psi front / 65 psi rear
The true test of the Chebacco’s roadworthiness came a few days later when I met the Bike Effect crew for their annual New Year’s Eve ride. A ride that meandered its way through West LA and Hollywood with promise of a view of the city from above the Hollywood Sign. What made this particular ride notable was the diverse range of riding conditions. This ride has a little of everything: Pavement, gradual climbs, steep climbs, long descents, steep descents, short explosive sections, long, steep sections of gravel with gradients ranging from 2-16%. The group consisted of a few out-of-towners but mostly locals. A group of strong riders, all fit climbers with a climate that spells no off-season.
This group and the terrain made for a challenging day in the saddle. The most impressive aspect of the Chebacco was despite the range of riding conditions, not once did I feel as though I was on the wrong bike. It performed as flawlessly on the gravel as it did on the fast rolling sections of pavement. The brakes were astonishing – it was on this ride that I finally admitted to myself – the Shimano hydro brakes are the best brakes I have ever ridden on a bicycle. Period.
Mixed Terrain Bike, Long Distance Road Bike – Check!
The most recent notable Chebacco experience comes just a few weeks ago where I asked the question: what’s harder than a CX race? Answer? Riding to and from said CX race of course! One thing that the Chebacco and Evergreen have demonstrated is that a cyclo-cross (CX) bike is a purpose built tool. For decades, CX bikes have held this huge territory that lies between a mountain bike and a road bike. When a mountain bike was too much and a road bike too little for a given set of riding conditions a CX bike was a perfect fit. That was then.
Now, the Evergreen and Chebacco have taken this arena for themselves. These bikes are more stable than a CX bike (great for commuting, grinding gravel roads, getting lost on roads and trails rarely ridden, and, of course, touring) more dynamic than most CX bikes – add fenders? Sure. Bigger tires? Sure. Add bigger tires and fenders? Of course! Suddenly the CX bike geometry and cantilevers (on older models) seem perfectly suited for the rigors of a CX race and not much more. It is similar to the way streaming media has replaced the video store. A better tool for the given job is now available.
The ride to a race is a tricky one. What to bring is the true question. Not too much and not too little is the answer.
For the task at hand I chose the Revelate Design Pika bag. It is a seat pack on steroids.
The Pika was able to carry the basics: change of clothing, a fresh towel and enough food to keep me happy before and after my race. The Pika as loaded weighed roughly 15 pounds. Despite the added weight over the rear wheel, the Chebacco remained stable and predictable even when ridden no handed. Impressive enough that I tested it a few times to be sure. I was positive the weight would make the front end feel light. Nope.
Once at the CX race I dropped my bag and water bottles with friends and then bled out some air until the tire felt grippy. For race day set-up I stuck with the Mavic All-Road wheel set but swapped tires to the Teravail Cannonball 38mm tires and set them up tubeless. I am the first to claim my complete allegiance to French CX tubular manufacturer FMB and swear by their tires performance. In season’s past I would never have entertained anything other than a tubular tire. For reference: a tubular tire is glued to the rim allowing for insanely low tire pressures and “cat claws on carpet” traction. Tubeless is a tire similar to a clincher but the inner tube is eliminated and a liquid latex sealant is added to help the tire maintain pressure.
The Parlee geometry and its performance within the race was mind blowing. For a bike not designed to be a CX bike it excelled at being a CX bike! The Parlee proved once again that it is capable of far more than a single category label can convey. The brakes were once again exceptional, and the thru-axle wheel system insured that off camber, out of the saddle climbs yielded so little frame flex that not once did I detect the brake rotor rubbing the caliper or feel in any way that the frame was noodling about beneath me. Again. Exceptional.
Did I win? Oh no. But I did enjoy myself and the experience of pushing my limits in both the commute and the CX race itself. A small dose of adventure so close to home.
Commute South: 40 psi front / 45 psi rear
CX race: estimated 20 psi front / 25 psi rear
Commute North: estimated 20 psi front / 25 psi rear (I forgot to air back up)
Commuter, Proficient CX Bike, Local Adventure Bike – check!
The one area I have yet to explore with the Parlee is true, lost in the wilderness adventure. The kind where everything one needs is strapped to their bike. Scheduling simply doesn’t allow for this type of riding but that may be an area where the Chebacco comes up short. There are no rack accommodations on the rear or front of the bike so any gear that the Chebacco hauls is strapped or tied on…not always the best scenario for miles of bone jarring fire roads or steep descents where loads are secured up high rather than in the form of low riders or even panniers.
The Parlee is by far the most dynamic bike I have ever ridden. There are few points on my cycling continuum that the Parlee isn’t comfortable and even fewer that the Parlee avoids. All-in-all, the Parlee Chebacco is a bike capable of making the argument: one bike may be all one needs. Of course, that sounds like a terrible idea.