(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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…).
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.