Parlee has been making beautiful custom carbon road bikes in Massachusetts for over 20 years. Originally focused on custom road rockets, in 2015 Bob and the team released the go-anywhere Chebacco which has become their best seller.
The Chebacco bike is named after the old parish and lake in nearby Essex, MA (not Kashyyyk, sorry). This area is full of pine trees and ponds, with lovely gravel roads behind green metal gates. But those gravel roads can quickly turn into gnarly old carriage roads and steep rock-n-rooty singletrack, so it’s no place for a road bike.
The Chebacco woods require a bike and rider up for adventure. The Chebacco bike has been updated a bit since 2015, continuing to improve on its offroad adventure capabilities to live up to its namesake woods, while still maintaining its road bike roots.
The bike’s popularity isn’t surprising. Parlee’s years of inhouse custom carbon manufacturing transitioned really well to the Asia-made Chebacco, which is more affordable, while still retaining the light and efficient nature of a custom frame. Combine that with the potential for one bike for both gravel and road, and it makes sense that a ton of riders are going to line up for one.
Living in the area, I’ve been itching to try one for years, and I was not disappointed after a week of riding a new Chebacco XD LE with Parlee’s all-carbon parts kit, new Parlee Sky Ridge carbon wheels, and SRAM eTap shifting. I crammed several memorable group rides and lot of fun solo exploring into that week, and like these last days of summer, I wish I had a little more time.
Price and Build
Parlee offers 2 build levels. Our Review bike had the LE build, which normally retails for $8,599, and has Parlee’s own carbon parts spec: post, stem, cages, and handlebars. The LE typically ships with ENVE AG25 carbon wheels, however, the Review bike was set up with Parlee’s new Sky Ridge carbon wheelset (MSRP $2,499). In comparison, the core level Chebacco with alloy post, stems, bars and wheels retails for $6,499.
The LE full carbon Large Review bike weighed just over 18lbs, which is apples to oranges lighter than the usual $4k or $5k carbon gravel bikes I see on group rides. And now my older generation carbon road bike feels like a boat anchor. The Chebacco is super easy to shoulder or “throw” over a fence.
Drivetrain options can vary, but I thoroughly enjoyed the SRAM Force eTap AXS groupset and 1x Eagle gearing. It’s a super clean looking setup, and 1x is intuitive to a MTB rider like me. I’m a fan of eTap’s crisp and flawless shifting (and the on-the-fly micro-adjust buttons to keep that way). With limited time to Review, I didn’t geek out on the available AXS App, but there is a whole world of shifting options, battery status, and connections to other devices and meters to be explored. The spare battery is a nice option too, piece of mind, even though I probably wouldn’t have needed it on the short Review. Overall I really liked the cleaner look and quieter ride of 1x eTap, despite my retro-grouch nature.
Parlee Carbon Frame
The Chebacco frame checks all the boxes for a fast gravel bike. It’s a bit slacker and has a lower BB than their road bikes, for more stability. Plus there is ample 45mm (47mm with 650 rims) tire clearance. Yes, there are gravel frames with more clearance, but I already have a shed full of XC mountain bikes for that. The Chebbacco also has hidden fender mounts and sufficient storage mounts: top tube, underside of downtube, and fork legs. You can load it up with tons of gear for a multi-day adventure; then strip it all off to its 18lb base for a gravel race.
The frame is lightweight (950-1025g) and intricate. The BB is flared and braced along the lower edge, creating an open box for maximum strength to weight and offers internal cable routing. The head tube is also beefed up as expected for a carbon frame, but has a fancy steerable hump, which Parlee calls a “flex fit integrated top-cap”. These frame-matching spacers come in 2 additional sizes to further adjust stack and reach up or down from each frame size, and I liked the look of it before I knew it had a purpose.
The internal cable routing handles mechanical or electronic shifting, with clever clip-in stoppers to keep shifting options open and frame lines clean. And lastly it has carbon dropouts with a 12mm thru axle and replaceable hanger.
Altogether it’s a very sleek and well designed frame. The geometry is scooched from road toward gravel/offroad, but not radically (71.75º/ 73º for size L). With years of inhouse experience making high-end, lightweight and super efficient road bikes, it was clearly in Parlee’s wheelhouse to design a lightweight and super efficient gravel frame.
The size Large frame fit me well, despite my leggy T-Rex body type. I always have to push saddles forward, but whether you’re a t-rex or gorilla, the 5 size options and integrated top-cap adjustments should fit most riders. With final fit being dialed in on the LE build from the optional sizes in stem, bars, and seatpost (25mm offset, or in hindsight I would have tried the zero degree offset).
If you’re wondering, the ‘LE’ part of the Chebacco XD LE name means that this bike is one of Parlee’s premium production bicycles. All LE models include upgraded, carbon components and personalization options, including Parlee Paint Lab custom paint.
The Parlee branded carbon bars, post, and stem on the Chebacco LE are the same ones they spec on their road bike models, so they’re light. It’s a testament to their strength that Parlee didn’t need to change the designs for the Chebacco’s rougher intended use. The 35mm diameter bars (220g) are ovalized and provide wide, comfy grip options, and matched the stem (125g) which has rear-facing ti bolts. Bars, post, and stem are the same understated gray matte color.
The 31.6mm seatpost (190g) has replaceable alloy rail clamps, which are accessible and easy to adjust. The 35mm clamp diameter bars and 31.6m dia seatpost might set off red flags for too much stiffness over rough terrain, but I didn’t find them harsh, or worth any princess-and-the-pea experiments with other parts. If you want a gravel bike efficient enough for racing, then the part spec makes complete sense. The fork (400g for 400mm steerer) is obviously specific to the Chebacco, with additional mounts and more offset for greater stability on looser terrain.
New Sky Ridge Carbon Wheels
Parlee’s Sky Ridge carbon wheelset is designed for bigger (32 – 47mm) tires and lower pressures. Billed as “road bike light, mountain bike tough” they are reasonably light at a reported 1,490g. With a shallow rim profile, these won’t do well in a wind tunnel (unless it’s a sideways wind tunnel), and lean toward compliance over aerodynamics. The I9 Torch hubs buzz with 6 pawl engagement, an audible call out for instant acceleration over rough terrain, and for less coasting over tarmac. The hubs and rims are US-made and assembled, and match the Chebacco’s intended offroad use.
It’s been a few years since I’ve tested a sub-19lb bike, and while I was setting up the Chebacco for my first ride I moved it gently around the shop like a priceless vase. But once on the bike, I was soon hammering both roads and trails with confidence.
Arguably overconfidence, judging by some of my route choices. Over the course of the week, old carriage trails often turned into gnarly technical singletrack, but I never turned around. And the Chebacco came through unscathed, sans some dings at the crank ends (and my pedals). The WTB Nano 40mm tires gripped firm to singletrack and exposed ledge and with the 50T Eagle I could climb steep ups like I was on a XC bike.
On trails I picked my way around the big rocks, but otherwise let it rip, using the drops for better grip and braking, and occasionally sliding back behind the saddle on the steep downhills. I trusted that the Sky Ridge wheels would hold up fine on rocky singletrack, and they did.
Under normal gravel riding conditions, the Chebacco excelled. On a couple 25mi group rides I was giddy from the bike’s efficiency through rolling double track, and climbs. The bike’s road racing pedigree shone through on the climbing especially. It also did really well in sandy areas and trails, thanks to the knobby 40mm WTB Nano tires. However, “gravel riding” in my area requires a lot of pavement to link the wild areas together. At least 50% pavement on most of the longer rides, and the aggressively knobbed Nanos and compliant Sky Ridge wheels were noticeably slower on road descents. While the handling and climbing felt great on the road, I could hear the vibrating tires drag on the descents, and I had to pedal to catch the pack coasting away from me. But would I have traded anyone for any other bike on those rides? No way.
So my short time on the Chebacco confirmed the obvious, that road riding should be done with road wheels. And a second set of wheels shod with road tires is the solution to the one less bike “problem”. Where the Chebacco could serve dual roles of fast gravel bike and comfy road bike. For actual gravel racing and long gravel rides, the Review Chebacco was set up perfectly, with possibly a switch to less aggressive tires for known routes with tamer conditions. But if you wanted the Chebacco to serve as your road bike too, then at the minimum you’ll need to change over to smoother tires for the road.
Who should get this bike?
I’ll admit that the answer to this question is often “me”, no matter the bike. But in this case, it’s especially true. I used to love road racing, and miss the speed, but I can’t justify a new road bike right now. However, I’ve caught the gravel bug and the miles of new adventures to be had.
One Chebacco with a second set of wheels would kill 2 birds, and do so with impressive style. If I were to pull the trigger, I would stick with the 1X setup, and electronic shifting with SRAM Force eTap a great choice. And I really like the gloss green/black paint scheme (sand or matte black are the other choices). I’m sure Parlee will continue to do well with the Chebacco, because it continues to be a stand out, even as the field of carbon gravel bike options has exploded in recent years.
And I know now that I need one for much longer than a week.