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As the gravel category grows up, a natural divide is developing between gravel race bikes and more utilitarian models. The Parlee Chebacco falls squarely into the race bike category.
Perhaps ‘falls’ isn’t the best word. It charges. It rockets. The Chebacco is, in other words, a bike you can get up to speed quickly and keep it there all day. Take it to Dirty Kanza and seek your best time. Should your weekend call for a bikepacking trek, perhaps its better to use a bike with more attachment points and adventure features.
The best word I can think of to describe the Chebacco is “refined.” Everything from its looks to its build, and even the ride quality itself, has an air of dignity about it. So this stately bike looks the part, and that certainly has a lot to do with Parlee’s history.
To be sure, the Chebacco borrows heavily from Parlee’s experience in the road bike segment. The Chebacco’s geometry is not that of an aggressive road bike; instead, it matches more closely with an endurance bike’s geometry.
The head tube measurement sits at 71.75 degrees, which is on the slack side for road geometry but quite nice for gravel. It’s certainly not the slackest when it comes to gravel bikes, though, with some competitors coming in around 70 degrees. That explains the Chebacco’s mannerisms on and off pavement.
What are those mannerisms, exactly? After riding up some steep gravel roads to the top of Green Mountain outside of Denver, I took the Chebacco on the pavement up and over Dinosaur Ridge to see how it handled the blacktop.
The transition felt nearly effortless; the Chebacco felt at home on both surfaces, though of course you’ll get some sluggishness on pavement due to the wider tires. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to take this on a pavement jaunt with a few more PSI in my tires.
It did, however, feel overmatched when the gravel gave way to bumpy singletrack, or less maintained dirt roads. It felt similar to a cyclocross bike in these situations, and it became immediately clear where the Chebacco’s limitations lie.
For starters, in those tight singletrack situations, you’ll need to do a lot more dramatic steering than you would on a straight gravel road. I struggled with toe overlap, a product of the Chebacco’s road-reminiscent geometry. A fairly long 1,024mm wheelbase doesn’t help the Chebacco’s case in really tight direction changes, but it’s a boon on straight-shot gravel, which is what it’s designed for anyway.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from throwing on some wider tires and seeing if it suits your riding style in such conditions. The Chebacco accepts up to a 40mm tire. That would certainly help you roll over more obstacles you’d otherwise have to steer around. And it’s that kind of versatility that makes this an intriguing bike: If you’re a roadie who wants a gravel bike that can hit pavement, but also take on grittier races, this is a great option. It’s no road bike, but more than holds its own on blacktop.
And it’s a regal bike for sure. If there’s a drawback to be found here, it’s really a compliment disguised as a critique: In an era of near-perfect bikes, the Chebacco fits right in. But it doesn’t exactly stand out, either. Is it a problem to not stand out from a crowd of excellent bikes? That’s for you to decide. But rest assured you’ve got an excellent bike here in a category filled with excellent bikes — many of which cost thousands more than the Chebacco.
Okay, that’s one more critique. It’s still pricey at nearly $5,000, which seems to run counter to the spirit of gravel, or at least what has, up until now, been sold to us as the gravel dream. Affordable bikes, adventure, adaptability — it’s all part of the gravel narrative. But the Chebacco, like its competitors at this price level, is selling something different. This should be considered a race bike. Now we all just need to accept the fact that gravel racing is here to stay, too.