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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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.
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:
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.
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.