MetaBike Review

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

I’ve only had the MetaBike since late July, but as it’s had a silly distance put on it since then courtesy of London Edinburgh London and the regular commute, it seems high time to write up my thoughts on this racing recumbent.

Again, where I haven’t been able to steal photos from other people I’ve taken them myself. Which means they’re rubbish…

The MetaBike, as it looked at Edinburgh.
The MetaBike, as it looked at Edinburgh during LEL2013. Photo by Laid Back Bikes

MetaBike

MetaBike are a Spanish company who churn out an array of difference recumbents all based around an identical frame. Each of these recumbents takes a different name depending on the fork and wheels that are supplied: the MetaPhysic is a dual 622mm wheel rim braked ‘road bike’; the MetaPhrastic mates equally large wheels with disc brakes to create a fast tourer; the MetaMorph has discs, front suspension and a variety of wheel sizes for some light off road action; etc. However, in my mind this is a little suspect – it’s an identical frame and boom at the centre of everything, and if I swapped forks and wheels on my upright tourer I suspect Kona would be a little aggrieved if I claimed this was a completely new bike. Therefore in this review I’m just going to call the thing I have the MetaBike. If you’re desparate to badge it, the custom spec places it closest to the MetaPhrastic.

I’ll also drop the italics, because it’s making me sound hyperactive…

Purpose

This bike was effectively built solely for LEL2013, i.e. to travel 1400km with a bit of luggage within 115 hours. Handily, the ‘reliable/fast/carries light luggage’ combination also covers off my commuting requirements.

The MetaBike replaced my long-loved Nazca Fuego (reviewed here). If you’re looking for your first recumbent, the Fuego is probably what you’re after. I’ll also be briefly comparing it with the High Baron (thoughts here), which to my mind is the MetaBike’s direct competitor in Europe at the moment.

Moving on.

The bike

The MetaBike is an aluminium and carbon highracer with disc brakes, a very direct chain route (for a recumbent…), an eye-wateringly rigid frame, and the ability to fit a rear rack and mudguards.

 

Still with the last few bits to be added, but definitely getting there.
The MetaBike in Laid Back Bikes. At this point it hadn’t even been outside, which is why it still looks unnaturally clean. A Scottish winter has soon sorted that out. Note the bracing either side of the fork steerer tube to prevent the pedals bobbing up and down with each stroke. You can also just make out the lower bottle cage bosses, under the base of the seat and just to the left of the left hand chain crossover.

The layout is pretty compact, with the rider on top of the wheels rather than slightly between them (High Baron-style). This puts you distinctly high up for a recumbent, to the extent that if you’ve got short legs you might struggle to get a foot on the ground when you stop. Try before you buy… This position gets your backside out of the way and means that the chain can run by a single double-idler under the seat. I’ve had no issues with losing the chain, other than those caused by overzealous use of the front derailleur (see later on).

Around the fork headset the frame has some bracing struts to reduce the boom dip on every pedal stroke. Being somewhat long in the lower-limb department I always end up with a very extended boom to ensure the pedals are far enough away; even then the flex is minimal. Whether this is down to the bracing is uncertain, but it certainly looks striking.

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I’m not really sure why the rearmost brace isn’t the same tubular design as the front. Note how much crap the idler under the seat sprays around.

The rear brake/gear and front derailleur cabling is internal, which is rather nice, although there is no cable-tidying along the tiller (unlike Nazca, where you can tuck everything away). The front derailleur post appears to change on a monthly basis, but on mine it’s ovalized for a questionable aerodynamic benefit. This means that your front derailleur needs to be of the braze-on variety, and that light fittings which rely on clamping around a tube (like Terracycle) won’t work. There is a drilled hole on the front of the bottom bracket casing for mounting a light, which unfortunately also provides a way for water to get inside.

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Looking forwards from underneath the seat. Cables for the rear derailleur, hydraulic brake and rear dynamo light exit from the frame here. The big battery pack and cable looping into the foreground power the Magicshine rear light. It would have been handy had MetaBike stuck a hole in the flat white plate that the battery is mounted on to secure the front of the mudguard – as it is I’ve had to bodge it a bit with the spare length of inner tube you can see coming in from the left.

There are two sets of water bottle bosses (hurrah!); one under the tiller which works very well, and one under the seat, which is too close to the chain to allow you to actually mount a bottle… I’ve used that one to store a pump, and added another set of bosses to the top of the tiller for a second bottle. Whilst we’re around this area, the tiller pivots up and down to allow you to get in and out easily.

The recline of the seat is adjustable, although you’ll need a large allen key to get enough torque through the bolts to secure it, so it’s not really a mid-ride option. It does lay back a long way, which is a bonus for me. The seat support struts can also be used to secure a rear rack, should you so wish.

The rear derailleur tab is replaceable, and whilst we’re back here there are separate mudguard and rack mounts (as well as clearance for proper mudguards front and back). Take ten points, MetaBike. Brake-wise, you can go for discs or rim.

Cpation
Things to see here are the two mounting points for a mudguards and racks (and, as it happens, a really bright rear light), as well as the black removable derailleur hanger in centre shot. Dirt is the model’s own.

I snaffled most of my components from a variety of online sales to add to the MetaBike frame package, so:

  • A carbon seat and front fork. Ventisit pad on the seat.
  • Hydraulic Shimano disc brakes (SLXs).
  • A mid-to-high level SRAM 2×10 speed drivetrain (a mix of Apex at the front, X9 at the back and X0 trigger shifters).
  • Sensible long-distance wheels (Hope rear hub, Mavic Open Pro rims, 36/32 spoke count), clad with Schwalbe Ultremo tyres.
  • SON delux hub generator, powering a B&M lighting system (with USB charging socket) reviewed here.
  • Time Xpresso pedals, which are made of flimsy cheese.

Total weight in this get-up is around the 12kg mark, which is damn light for a recumbent, particularly as the components are chosen for robustness rather than weight. On that note, it is solidly put together. I recently blindly hammered through a pothole with enough vigour to get both wheels off the ground and the only ill effects were to my personal comfort.

The ride

Important stuff; the MetaBike is fast, unsubtle, and punishingly twitchy.

It’s undeniably fast. With the seat laid all the way back, that efficient chain line and light weight allow impressive acceleration and climbing, certainly equal to any similar recumbent. My ‘fast cruise’ speed is up about 5kph on the Fuego (35 vs 30), although the descending speed under gravity is a bit lower; about 70 vs 75 on my test hill. You can’t get away from the fact that a highracer is going to have more wind resistance than a lowracer. You’ll still leave anyone on an upright in the dust.

It takes a head-on view to really see how little frontal surface area the MetaBike presents. I mean, my ears are a decent percentage of the total.
It takes a head-on view to really see how little frontal surface area the MetaBike presents. I mean, my ears are a decent percentage of the total. Photo by Uberuce (and bike is the 26″ wheeled Laid Back Bikes demo MetaBike)

What you gain in speed, you lose in comfort. The MetaBike is painfully adept at passing feedback on the road surface directly into your spine via those seat support struts. Broken surfaces will make your glasses vibrate off your nose, cobbles are a brace-and-hold-on affair, and hitting a pothole of any size is like being struck on the back by a chair. You can mitigate this to a certain extend through DIY carbon springs or careful use of rubber washers; I’ve just fitted fat 28mm tyres and avoided the really bad roads. If you commute with a laptop, I probably wouldn’t use a MetaBike unless I also had shares in a hard drive manufacturer…

Finally, the steering goes beyond sensitive into the realm of bambi-on-ice, probably because the entire thing is pretty rear-heavy. The High Baron has responsive steering; the MetaBike feels like it’s awaiting a moment’s inattention before lobbing you into a bush. Reading around, raising the seat to bring the centre of mass forward apparently calms things down significantly, but at the cost of aerodynamic efficiency. I want speed and excitement, so I’ve stuck with the back of the seat only a few inches clear of the rear tyre and just learnt to deal with the whole riding-a-tiger sensation. This is definitely not to say that the bike is uncontrollable; indeed, the willingness of the MetaBike to deviate from a line means you can properly throw it around even at high speeds. It’s just something to bear in mind.

All recumbent riders are happy. Even halfway through 1,400km... Photo by Noel Toone.
All recumbent riders are happy. Even halfway through 1,400km… Daytime running lights of the Luxos IQ2 front light are pretty pleasantly visible. Photo by Noel Toone.

Actually, a finally-plus-one. The MetaBike has a wicked heelstrike (and not wicked in the disco sense). Heelstrike, for any non-recumbenteers who have reached this far, is when your heel hits the front wheel when turning. Recumbents with a small front wheel generally don’t cause a problem unless you’ve got clown feet, but the MetaBike is build so that if you turn the front wheel more than a few degrees, your next pedal revolution will cause this:

  • Heel hits top of tyre. Clip-in pedals force foot downwards, creating a surprisingly effective brake and locking that foot in place.
  • Rider panics, and fails to unclip other foot promptly.
  • The now stationary MetaBike notices that a lot of the weight is now over the back wheel, and rears amusingly into the air.
  • Further comedy ensues.

This has happened twice to me, both times when moving away from a junction into an immediate left turn. To avoid it, you have to steer almost solely through leaning, more so than anything else I’ve ridden. Your position at junctions has to be such that you can get in a few shoves on the pedals before any manoeurvering. Good tyres help as well.

Luggage

Even on a racing recumbent you need somewhere to store a light toolkit, pump and water. The bottle-cage bosses take car of some of that, but I’ve also added a rear rack using the mounting points provided. Being able to throw on my normal upright-bike panniers is a big plus for me (the High Baron will not take a rack), but clearly your opinion may differ. Handling isn’t really affected so long as you don’t take the kitchen sink.

Admittedly if you have the seat laid back a silly amount (like me) you might have to have the rack at a slightly jaunty angle.
Admittedly if you have the seat laid back a silly amount (like me) you might have to have the rack at a slightly jaunty angle to actually fit a bag on top.

Components

Given we’re now stepping away from the MetaBike and into the custom stuff I’ve added, I’ll keep this short. Skip on if you’ve got your own build in mind.

  • Drivetrain stuff generally worked OK, although the front derailleur requires love and attention to avoid throwing the chain off when up to the big ring. This is probably a SRAM Apex thing, but the MetaBike might also be providing an odd chainline for it to work with. Ten speeds are really fiddly for cable adjustment.
  • The wheels and tyres are great. No problems at all and spin up nice and easily.
  • Buy the carbon seat and fork. You deserve it.
  • Shimano SLX hydraulics are sublime. I haven’t had to faff around once to remove disc rub, which was a constant problem with the Avid BB7s.

Final miscellaneous thoughts

The MetaBike comes in white, blue or black. The first two are robust and glossy, the black is a fairly fragile matt black powdercoat that I’d avoid (although it would briefly allow you to have an excellent-looking stealth bike).

The kickstand is pants. It doesn’t work, so I took it off. Save the £20.

The headrest is a huge lump of (admittedly lightweight) metal, which is nicely adjustable. However, it protrudes a long way from the back of the seat into the space where I have a racktop bag (or Radical seat bag), so I’ve now taken it off. You probably don’t need it.

The MetaBike factory takes a somewhat relaxed Mediterranean view towards shipping dates. If you possibly can, don’t buy directly from them – find a dealer based in your own country who can do all the legwork!

You can fit decently wide tyres in the front carbon fork, probably up to about 32mm combined with a mudguard. You could fit a car tyre in the back, there’s that much space.

Am I happy with it?

I wouldn’t want it as my first recumbent; the handling is a touch too aggressive. However, it ticks all the boxes I was after (fast, robust, carries luggage), and my introduction to the world of recumbenting via the Nazca Fuego means that I’m comfortable with the twitchiness (although I’m not sure that’s a word…).

A somewhat unfair comparison between the High Baron and the smaller (26") wheeled MetaBike I initially tried out at Laid Back Bikes. If you mentally raise the black MetaBike up a touch, you'll get the idea. Maybe.
A somewhat unfair comparison between the green High Baron and the smaller (26″) wheeled MetaBike I initially tried out at Laid Back Bikes. If you mentally raise the black MetaBike up a touch, you’ll get the idea. Maybe. Next time I’m across I’ll get an updated photo…

The bike I was seriously considering it against is the Optima High Baron, which has better handling; rubbish brakes; can’t take a rear rack; and requires really skinny mudguards. They’re both comparatively fast, with the slightly lower Baron position giving it a tiny edge on the flat and the MetaBike’s more efficient chainline giving better climbing and acceleration. I have no data to back that statement up, but that’s what it feels like.

All I can suggest is give the MetaBike a go and see how you get on.

Despite its failings, the speed and aggressiveness of the handling means I still find every ride and commute exciting, even as we plunge into the Scottish winter.

I love it.

15 thoughts on “MetaBike Review

  • 2013-11-28 at 00:57
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    I have ridden recumbent for two years now (transitioning post neck injury from being a serious roadie). I found your blog & would like to subscribe to future posts. I appeared that I needed to leave a comment to subscribe.

  • 2013-12-10 at 17:13
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    Hi Rob. Nice write-up, and very fair I thought. I also have a 700CMetaphysic in fragile stealth black, and was one of the other bents with you on the 2013 LEL. Don’t think we crossed one another on the road, but I remember seeing your white Meta parked up at some controls. What a great event! Well done!

    Unfortunately I haven’t tried – or even seen – a Baron HiRacer, as I’d love to compare the rides. I share your feelings on the Meta; not perfect, but not far off, and great fun to ride. Agree about the twitchy handling but (fingers crossed) so far it’s never bitten me, apart from one or two nervous moments.

    I also have my seat VERY laid back, and I have only average length legs; the result is that I’m only barely comfortable with feet flat at a stop. I’m sure the slightly lower Baron seat would help here, as well as with the handling from its lower CofG. I re-drilled my seat mount holes to slide it as far forward as the idler allows. This does help a tad with the weight distribution. I also cut the standard idler to half width (i.e. removing the return line side) and hung a derailleur idler wheel underneath to take the return chain. This narrower width allows it to fit between the carbon fibre “seat rails”, so you can slide the seat even further forward. Watch out for brake caliper rub though if you want to try this, as the clearance with the lower return chain line is tighter.

    I’ve ridden around France on my Meta with luggage and tent, running on 25C tyres. I concur with your comments about road shock transmitted to the spine, but just like everything else I just got used to it. Wouldn’t say it’s “comfortable” but not sure I’d go as far as fitting rear suspension to avoid this; just doesn’t seem cosher on a fast road bike! Enjoy!!!

  • 2014-02-25 at 20:14
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    I’m definitely too short to ride a Metabike (my Pashley PDQ gave me vertigo) but am happy low down on my Fuego (purchase encouraged by your review!). I was interested in your comments on the BB7 brakes… my Fuego has them and they have been entirely trouble free. In start contrast, I also have a recumbent trike with BB7s and can never get them right. The recumbent world seems to think BB7s are wonderful and that I must have mine set up wrong, I ‘m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who has had issues! I do wonder if the QC varies between batches and hence the variation in need for adjustment between brakes.

  • 2014-03-20 at 18:44
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    I rode my MetaBike in Greece for a month . . . credit card touring using Arkel panniers. Before going on the trip I had the bike set-up as a MetaPhysic. In this configuration I did not have good braking and horrible heelstrike. I changed the fork, added BB7 disc brakes, increased the tire size to 28 front, 32 rear and added pedal extenders. After a few days to get everything dialed in, this configuration made for a great touring bike, fast and a strong climber with great stopping power. The fork arms on the disc fork are longer than the original road fork. That additional length coupled with the pedal extenders nearly eliminated my healstrike problem. Over the month the wheel only touched my heel lightly once or twice on hard, slow turns but I was able to stay upright. Overall, I loved the bike as a tourer with one exception . . . I was never completely comfortable riding crowded urban boulevards with lots of stop and go. I’d rather stay clipped in and cruise the rural countryside.

  • 2014-06-07 at 07:02
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    Nice review and comments, thin I will look at the Highbaron as surgery to my spine wouldnt welcome the road feedback of such a hard ride , enjoyed your article thanks for posting.

  • 2014-06-12 at 12:15
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    Hi Neil

    You can do some things to soften the MetaBike’s ride, but if you’ve got sensible reasons for wanting slightly more comfort I agree you’re better off looking elsewhere. I’d actually be tempted to skip either of these and look at something from Nazca with under-seat suspension — maybe the Gaucho if you were after big wheels?

  • 2015-04-02 at 17:50
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    Metabike is a great system for traveling or ridding. I am also like it. But I want to buy a Recumbent Bike for exercise. Its keep me or everybody fitness fit. Now I am wanting buy a bike with my 4 friends recently, now i am looking more information about this bike. I have gotten many information about this Metabike. Its will help me later. Thanks for shearing this page.

  • 2015-10-29 at 13:13
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    As the person who got ‘the frame after yours’ also from LBB I’d like to throw my comments into the ring. My seat angle is a more modest 33 degrees vs. what looks like 20-25 degrees on your set up. With this set up and moving the seat forwards to the front position I found the handling quite acceptable, but the other factor which almost certainly helps is the use of open cockpit bars rather than a tiller. Ok so this is a a larger frontal area, but I bought the bike as one that was ‘all the fun and comfort of riding a ‘bent but without a compromise on speed or mechanical efficiency. My 2015 tour of Norway confirmed this : http://bit.ly/1R1ifC3 . For touring open cockpit bars seem ideal – comfortable, space for the GPS and easy when you get to a hill you have to get off and push)

  • 2015-10-29 at 19:49
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    At some point I’ll borrow a bike with open steering from Laid Back and give it a go – it’s not something that at all appeals, but the point of comparison would be useful!

    And I agree that the handling could be made much more reasonable if I raised the seat angle. However, as I said at the end of the review, I do love the snappiness of the steering with my setup. At some point it’s going to lob me into a hedge, but until that day…

    Glad you’re getting on well with yours!

  • 2016-07-13 at 07:55
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    Hi,

    experience review: after 5 years of intensive use (about 10.000 km per year) the aluminium frame of my Metabike Metaphrastic is broken (right rear tube). Metabikes in Spain doesn’t reply to any request – even on the information about the used aluminium alloy, which is necessary to try successfull welding actions.
    Btw: i’m a medium-to-lightweight rider: 74 kg, 186 cm

    I’m very disappointed.

  • 2016-07-27 at 21:44
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    Hi Doctortee

    Communication from Metabike is disappointing (albeit not hugely surprising – they have a bit of a reputation for not being great at it), although 50,000km isn’t a bad mileage from an aluminium frame! Have you got a photo you could email across to me (rob@darkerside.org)? I’m intrigued as to where it’s broken.

    I have heard a report from LaidBack of a more recent MetaBike frame going at the mount under the seat, but that was definitely a manufacturing fault.

    Cheers

    Rob

  • 2017-10-21 at 11:16
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    My thoughts, now that Metabike’s Metaphrastic is back in production (via RBR in the US)[1]…

    – Aggressive handling — I was expecting to ride a tiger after reading reviews (but before riding my Metabike). Feels pretty mellow, IMO, but of course, YMMV.

    – Harshness, shocks — going from full-sus air-shocks (AZUB Mini) and partial-sus (Challenge Serian) I was expecting something severe and uncomfortable. Again, nothing severe to report IMO. (28c tyres and normal pressures, regular Ventisit pad).

    – Storage: I use an AZUB low-rider rack underneath the seat for well-balanced panniers plus a Radical seat bag and some TerraCycle ‘double century’ side-seat bags. Pretty decent for light and fast touring.

    Niceone, thanks for the review (and the content) Rob =)

    [1]
    http://www.bentrideronline.com/?p=11531 (scroll to Metabikes)

  • 2018-05-06 at 19:25
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    Query:

    Disc fork recommendations — I’m mid-way-through morphing a Metaphysic into a Metaphrastic. Stupidy didn’t check whether the bike would accept a tapered stem! I’ll be running 700c x 30c wheels with ‘guards (ideally). Stoked for any pointers for what has worked well for others. =)

  • 2018-10-11 at 11:12
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    In reply to the Cycling Forum post, if you can get it repaired, one way to reduce the bending moment on the bracket might be to put some rubber washers between the seat and the bracket. I did this to soften the transfer of road vibrations to the seat / rider. For this purpose it worked very well. Will

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