Short review—M5 carbon highracer

The M5 carbon highracer makes the High Baron redundant, and the MetaBike survives only because of its versatility. This is a spectacular bike.

(When you’re done here, you can see all the other recumbents I’ve reviewed on this page.)

It’s been a rather fine day today for a variety of reasons, but the one I’m going to share with you is that I squeezed in a 30km ride on the carbon M5 highracer that’s loitering at Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh.

I used my usual Edinburgh testing circuit, which is respectably lumpy (for a route that doesn’t go very far), and covers a good range of surfaces, gradients and corners:

Map and elevation profile of route
It’s also a loop – I was having a Garmin Moment at the beginning.

You can get all the data from the ride here, but a few quick caveats/excuses if you’re going to dig through that link:

  • The boom was a touch short for me due to the demo bike’s chain and cable lengths stopping it extending further. I was definitely off full leg power.
  • I was dragging the brakes on the descents to stay sociable with Bruce, who was on an upright (and provided the camera for all the photos).
  • Both of us were taking it easy.
  • I was starving.
  • I’m not very fit at the moment…

But enough about me. More about the M5.

Set the scene for me.

We’re talking about highracers—fast recumbents with normal road bike-sized wheels front and back (622mm). The M5 competes against:

  • Optima’s Baron High Racer (my short review here, with Dave McCraw’s review of the bike he eventually bought here).
  • A MetaBike (my full review of the bike I own here).
  • The Nazca Gaucho (which is a little heavier, and has suspension).
  • A variety of American-style  “stickbikes” like the Bacchetta Corsa.
Four highracers
MetaBike top left, then moving clockwise: High Baron, Bacchetta Corsa and Nazca Guacho. Top two photos are mine (and top left bike is mine too!), bottom two from the manufacturer’s websites.

In my mind the Baron has always been the best riding of the above, but lacks versatility and simply refuses to stop (and not in a good way—it’s almost impossible to set up decent braking on it). The Gaucho is capable, but a more like a very fast tourer than a full-on racer. The MetaBike has “livelier” handling than either, can take racks, mudguards and hydraulic discs, and has a very efficient drivetrain.

I know very little about the Bacchetta Corsa and its compatriots, having only ridden one once about 100 metres.

So what’s different about the M5?

It’s plastic for a start, which makes it remarkably light. Viz:

M5 at arms length.
True, Bruce isn’t the slightest of individuals, but that’s still damn impressive for a recumbent.

The carbon is very nicely done (as you’d expect; this bike isn’t cheap). However, it also reduces the adjustability. You can still adjust boom length (accommodating a range of leg lengths), but it doesn’t go that short. I certainly wouldn’t order without testing if I was under, say, 5’9″.

Seat angle though is very reclined, and you can only modify that by adding spacers. Happily I like a very laid-back position, but if you’d rather be more upright; tough.

Under seat view of the M5
The under-seat support, with spacer washers at the top. Whilst we’re here, note neat internal cable run to the rear brake, and the way the power-side chain idler is free to move left and right to improve efficiency as you move across the cassette.

You can see from the photo above that the return chain is “dropped”—it runs alongside the front wheel. This is the most efficient option, but severely limits your ability to turn the front wheel right. Even more so than the MetaBike with its hideous heelstrike, this is a recumbent that is turned by leaning, or not at all.

Chain blocking steering
That’s the limit before you start eating your own chain with the tyre, and don’t even think of trying to pedal at the same time (photo taken from the front, looking almost straight down the centreline of the bike).

There is an option to hitch up the return chain above the front wheel, to give a chain run very like the Nazca Fuego lowracer. If you’re planning on doing urban riding or anything with hairpins or switchbacks, you should definitely do that.

Apart from the dropped chain, the other thing that immediately struck me is the handlebar.

M5 handlebar
Garmin, model’s own.

There’s not much of it! The gripshifts work nicely, but because your entire handhold is rotating you need your other hand on the bar to keep you steady. Changing gear whilst indicating would be an acquired skill. Changing gear whilst braking is similarly dodgy.

Talking of which, the brake levers are mounted beneath the tiller, point directly back toward the rider, and are operated with the thumbs by pushing upwards. This is weird as hell to start with, but I acclimatised fairly quickly and only had one “phantom trigger finger” moment when I clutched at where brake levers would normally be.

All this makes for a very compact cockpit, perfectly positioned to get your elbows tucked in to your sides and minimise wind resistance. Here’s roughly what you can see from the seat:

Cockpit view
Much like the MetaBike, the M5’s cockpit puts a Garmin exactly where you want it. Because it’s so close to your face the mirror can be very small and still give a great view of what’s behind. The brake levers are those flat paddles beneath the Garmin, and push upwards.

Again, those under average height might struggle; this time with difficulty seeing over the handlebars.

A few other bits and pieces:

  • Rims brakes only on this model, although a front disc fork is an option.
  • All cabling is internal apart from the front brake, which is so short a run it wouldn’t be worth it.
  • There are mudguard bosses for the rear wheel, but you’ll have to bodge something at the front.
  • 25mm tyres or skinnier.
  • No rack mounts, but M5 will sell you a small carbon tailbox for 600 of your finest Euros. As you can see in the top photo, this demo bike is using a much cheaper Radical Design seat bag (a Solo Aero Narrow)
M5 front brake
That’s the front brake, complete with external cabling. Note how low down the fork the dropped return chainline is.

Enough design details. What’s it like to ride?

Give me one final techy paragraph?

The M5 has a much longer wheelbase than any of the other highracers (54 inches between contact patches, compared to the 47″ of my MetaBike). This extra length is used to move the seat between the wheels and improve weight distribution fore and aft. It also makes the seat a full five inches lower than my MetaBike (the M5 is 21.5″ from the floor to the lowest part of your backside). The M5 feels more like a lowracer with big wheels than a highracer.

Chainstay of M5
This photo doesn’t fit the text, but we should still take a moment to appreciate that chainstay.

That weight distribution is matched to spot-on frame geometry to give a ride that simply can’t be beaten. It’s better than the High Baron, and knocks the MetaBike into a hedge. It carves corners like it’s on rails, yet shimmies elegantly round potholes. The bike leaps forward as you put the power down, yet the steering stays light and neutral. There’s a limit to how fast I’m prepared to go on someone else’s bike, but at 60kph it still only needed fingertips on the bars and had plenty left to give.

The carbon works brilliantly as well. This thing is properly light (for a recumbent), and so stiff that I couldn’t detect any boom-bobbing at all. Here’s a 500m sprint up a 6% grade that I used to test that:

Speed at the top, then heart rate, grade of incline, and cadence. Spot where my current acute lack of fitness kicked in.

183 is about my max heart rate on a recumbent, so I couldn’t put much more through the pedals than I did.

The carbon (and having the seat between rather than on top of the wheels) also soaks up a lot of road buzz. It’s more comfortable than my MetaBike, despite being on skinnier tyres.

I loved it.

You’ve already gone on too long. Give me a snappy conclusion.

(Ignoring cost…)

The High Baron is dead (and not only because everyone at Optima is busy building Urban Arrow cargo bikes at the moment). It still rides beautifully, but the dodgy braking never endeared it to me and the carbon M5 is better in every way I can think of.

The MetaBike still has a place because of its versatility. It’s nowhere near as refined as the M5, but it’s still the quickest bike that can take proper mudguards, a rack, and 28mm tyres. It’s ability to run disc brakes fore and aft should also not be ignored—all three of these bikes quickly reach speeds where rim brakes don’t cut it.

The MetaBike then remains the sensible choice for a fast highracer that can do a little bit of everything.

The carbon M5 is the bike you’ll wish you’d bought instead.


PS: Thanks to Laid Back for the loan of this demo bike, and to Bruce for chaperoning me, navigating and providing the camera.

PPS: Somehow I only managed to get the one photo of the entire bike, which you can see at the very top. I blame Bruce.


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Out today on the shop’s M5 CHR.

Some stats from bike computer. Nothing too sophisticated!.

Run was out over Redstone Rigg. Route here:
Mileage was 62.77 miles (plot a route has errors).
Run time 3.54 which equalled 16mph dead on for whole thing.
First section to Gifford (approx 150m asl) was completed at 19.9mph which is high for me. I had company of an ERC member for part of this which encouraged me I think!
Next section to top of Lammermuirs (427m) dropped average to 17.2mph.
After that we split at junction to Garvald. Down hill speed before sharp turn off maxxed at 50.3mph.
Rest was lumpier on single track so a slow decline in average speed set in.
Some tight turns down to Garvald where disc brakes would have helped.

Overall impression was good enough to make me want to take in Aberlady on the way back!

Not a bad speed at all! My only real concern with the bike would be hairpin climbs – I’m not convinced you could ever get it slowly round a sharp right-hander.

The guy from Hamburg’s CHR had the chain hitched up through chain tubes to allow clearance. I suspect that might have to be done for narrow and tight right handers.

Oh, it’s the business all right, with a few caveats… I live in the United States and ride my bike in an urban area. It’s a challenge to complete 90 degree right hand turns at under 10 MPH (turning w/o leaning) and more than once my achilles tendon area got tire burn from a sharp turn that all but put me on the tarmac. My bike uses 700c wheels fore/aft. Current generations of the CHR do have provision for disk brakes front/aft, and if you use a 650c wheelset you can get tires with a width for heavy loads. The bike also has provision for a 20″ front wheel which nullifies the steering issues. In hindsight I should have made that choice myself, but I wanted the full experience and I got it. Everything fades to bliss though, when you see a flat stretch of road extending before you and you crank out 200 watts. You look at your cyclometer and see the speed at that output, and you forget about the blasphemies you uttered back in the city trying to steer that barge through city streets.

Nice write up. I was out on Sunday on the Schlitter Encore I’m currently reviewing, and David had the M5 CHR.

Although I am 10kg heavier, he was dropping away from me on freewheeling descents. The CHR is just uncannily fast. Hopefully I’ll soon get the chance to stick a power crank on it and get some numbers, but wow.

Although I’ve actually ridden the CHR a fair bit I didn’t appreciate the difference until I was trying to keep up with it; for the first time I start to look sideways at my mighty High Baron :(

Yes… just deployed it to get me up to visit Irene in Kirkmichael. Around 72 miles using B roads through Fife. I just had speedo in front of me to confirm that yes… I was still going up slight uphills at 19mph. Even when terrain got in the way it broke out to 16mph when given half a chance. Going down Glenfarg it just cornered nicely and felt quite happy at 30+ mph. My trip average was 16mph. I think my legs fade a bit over 50 miles!
I noticed though that I had cleared Inverkeithing inside 55 minutes. I also noted that I arrived in Perth in under 3 hours. Was able to again go beyond ‘target’ before refueling.

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