Mike’s M5 Carbon High Racer

How about the much-feted M5 Carbon High Racer as a first foray into the world of recumbents?

I recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Mike on the purchase of his first recumbent, intended to work around some neck pain he’s been having.

It’s safe to say that he plunged in at the deep end with an M5 Carbon High Racer and I’ve been following his updates with interest as there has been something of a learning curve.

Mike kindly agreed to write a little about his initial experience with the CHR:

At the end of last year my neck finally decided that my 25 years of riding a DF were probably at an end. Even on a turbo with the front wheel raised a foot to get the bars much higher than the saddle made no difference to the pins & needles in my arm & fingers.

I got in touch with a young chap who I’d only met a couple of times on the club run but I was quite certain that he had dabbled with ‘bents. Sure enough his Optima Falcon was very kindly loaned & locked onto the turbo.I tried an hour session & incredibly there was no neck or arm pain at all. Google soon linked me up with Bikefix, Kevin at D-Tek & David at Laid Back Bikes & then onto Dave McC. The UK forums seemed very quiet but BROL was incredibly active.

chr3

I was initially drawn to the Fujin & Low Baron purely on looks but was quite aware of the skittishness of the 20” front wheel from a few rides on the Falcon. Both Kevin & David pointed me in the direction of dual 700C’s & David was the one responsible for mentioning the M5 CHR. Although there was a demo at LBB it was quicker to go & see Bram in Holland than to journey to Edinburgh. A half hour test ride was enough to convince me to bite the bullet & a frameset was bought. I had read many times that you won’t know what a particular bike is really like until you’ve lived with it, warts & all, for about 6 months.

The build was relatively straightforward, the only odd bit being the need for a Campag rear U brake for the front (modified with a longer through bolt). The spec was Sram XO 3×10 Gripshift, Rival rear mech, Shimano 105 triple chainset (50x39x30) which would allow for the use of a smaller “granny” if necessary, a 105 front mech to replace the XO which refused to stay put on the mounting post, a 12-27 cassette & Tektro rear dual pivot brake & minimalist levers.

The worst part of the build was drilling the seat. There are two reinforced areas where the carbon is marginally thicker. When I left Bram’s I took what I thought was the most poignant dimension on the test bike ie from the front of the seat to the bottom bracket. The seat was set up, the holes drilled & then a sigh of relief to find that the end of the crank just missed the tyre by 10mm. I’m just 6’ but have a relatively long 34” inseam & thought this would have given me plenty of clearance at the front end. Without shifting the seat considerably more forwards (& so drilling into the unreinforced section) I don’t know how those with an inseam of much less than 34” can fit the CHR, unless opting for shortened cranks.

chr2

And so to the first test ride. Let’s say that the bike unceremoniously dumped me far too often during slow speed manoeuvres. Road junctions were treated with dread, particularly 90’ right turns. I gave up trying to work out what was phasing me until I got home. On the bright side, a relatively flat route of 40 miles had resulted in a 18mph average without even breaking into a sweat. Initially I thought it was the dropped return chain which was causing the slow speed offs so I lifted the chain into a tube. A bit more investigation & the penny dropped; it was my feet clipping the tyre which was throwing me.

My first reaction was “how daft is a design like that” but I am now learning that ‘bents are a series of compromises & that you can’t have everything. I have learned that starting off at junctions benefits from one-legged pedalling until under way. Also you’ve got to keep your feet out of the way when doing sharpish turns at speed. Climbing is another adventure. Remember that I’m still quite new to this type of bike & I’m trying hard to cope with the relative instability of slow speed climbing. At present the wobbles get to me at about 7mph. I know I have to relax my upper body & that with practice I’ll be able to spin at a much slower road speed.

chr1

I’m now in week 6 & the only tweaks so far are:-

  • swapping the Michelin Pro 23mm rear for a 25mm. This just squeezes in so a 28mm will be out of the question.
  • Using folded wet & dry as a series of shims for the boom (Bram’s advice).
  • Tried XC shoes & SPD pedals for the first month but still had to stick on a non slip heel (a cutting from an old flip flop) so swapped back to road shoes with the same modification. Still not 100% slip proof particularly on wet roads.
  • Finally solved the hydration & transport of tools, tubes, cape etc. by using a Decathlon Camelbak clone (3 litres of storage & 1 litre of liquid). The straps at the top were crossed over & stitched together so as to slip over the top of the seat & at the bottom new straps made of Velcro were stuck to the seat.
  • The M5 carbon headrest sadly wouldn’t work when wearing a helmet. I’m now using a 2”x2”x6” section of foam Velcro’d to the cushion so as to just miss the bottom of the helmet. Finished off with a cover of a very stretchy black sock.
  • My next tweak will be to try 150mm cranks as my knees are starting to ache. My ‘trailing’ knee is bent way over 90’ & I think this may be the cause of the discomfort. It’s worth a try.

So, all in all, quite an eventful last 4 months. I still have a one minute re-learn curve before each ride & I still marvel at the manoeuvrability of a DF which, apart from its ability to cripple your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, back & backside, is quite a brilliant design.

I’ll be keeping in touch with Mike in the hopes of further updates and that he’ll get the starting and turning nailed.

I’ve just started riding the Laid-Back-Bikes’ demo CHR with a view to a long-term review… watch this space.

If anyone has any observations or tips for Mike (or me!) please leave a comment below –

Challenge Furai 26″ review

John Mills talks in depth about his Challenge Furai 26″ midracer…

John’s Nazca Fuego is a popular “Readers’ Bikes” entry, and I’m pleased to be able to add this article by John to the site, this time featuring his Challenge Furai — Dave.

Introduction:

Over the last few years I have owned and ridden a good few bents, from stick bikes to low racers. My first bike was a Nazca Fuego and I eventually went back to this model as it is, for me, a near perfect all-rounder.

The Furai also caught my eye and I did have a brief ride on a 24” all-rounder version. Later, I read Dave’s review of the Furai based on a very wet short tour in the Highlands. It came across as a bike with many similar qualities to the Fuego but with a bit less weight and a slightly higher seat. Intriguing.

Then last year David at Laidback told me about a 26” version he had taken as a trade in. I travelled up to view it, tried it and bought it.

johnmills_furai1

The Bike:

My bike started life, I believe, as a 24” model. Challenge supplied a replacement fork.

The bike is fitted with an Rock Shox air suspension and carbon boom. It is built using Avid Elixir hydraulic disc brakes, SRAM X9 rear mech, and twist grip controls. The supplied SL seat was too short for me so I approached Challenge directly about getting a Large carbon seat and the associated fittings. The process went smoothly enough and the seat arrived. There were no instructions so I set about it using my own judgement. The outcome is a seat sitting a little further forward than the SL seat. This seems to have benefited the handling (I’ll explain this later)

I made one or two changes. I substituted a pair of wheels comprising Shimano XT hubs and Mavic XC717 rims (a personal favourite), a SRAM PG990 9 speed cassette and fitted 28mm Schwalbe Durano tires. I lowered the gearing by fitting a Shimano XT 26/36/48 ATB chainset. I am using a Bacchetta Big Bag as a seat pack for stuff and a bottle cage is mounted on the stem. All the changes went smoothly and the finished bike, ready for the road with mudguards, bottle cages, computer, Ventisit and pedals came to approximately 14kg. All that remained was to wait for the blessed rain to stop!!

Handling:

When I first rode the bike I felt what appeared to be a slight hint of wheel flop at low speeds. It disappeared at anything above walking pace. After I fitted the carbon seat this characteristic had vanished. Either I had dialled this out of my consciousness or the slight shift in weight distribution eliminated it.

Directional stability is excellent, yet it responds quickly to steering inputs. Changes of line feel secure with no feeling of under or over steer. Across cratered surfaces it holds its line well and the narrow tyres seem to cut through some of the muddy surfaces left from the winter storms.

Brakes, as you might expect, are superb with power and good modulation.

I have had no issues with the idlers. I wonder whether chain tubes (which are installed) prevent the chain leaping off? Perhaps chain length and therefore tension plays a part?

Some time ago I remember reading a number of posts on BROL forums concerned about the potential for heel strike on a Furai 24. It was some weeks after I got the bike that I remembered and looked up this thread. Up to that point I had not thought about or experienced heel strike. It certainly can occur (though there is no hard interference between cranks and wheel) but in practice it is a non-issue.

In Dave’s report of the 24” version he mentioned the issue of pannier bags rubbing on the swing arm. I haven’t ridden the bike with panniers (Radical Bags) however when I offered them up they looked as though they clear the swing arm. The only difference is that Dave was running the SL narrow seat and the standard seat is at least 2 cm wider. There might be an issue with sway but that is easily dealt with by tying the bag to a convenient point on the rack.

johnmills_furai2

Comfort:

I realise that hard shell seats suit me well and comfort levels are excellent. The rear shock does its stuff. There is no sensation of pogo-ing. The bottom bracket is, for me, just the right height above seat level. Performance riders may wish it to be a little higher. Combined with the moderate seat recline the BB height gives me a good view of the road surface immediately in front.

The unsuspended front does transmit some road shock but the longish wheelbase helps mitigate the effect on the bike.

Seat height is 55/56cms. You sit between the wheels and because of the shape of the seat reaching the ground is easy. I’m 6ft with an X seam of 42.5” and inside leg 32” i.e. short legs / long torso. At junctions I can sit comfortably with one foot clipped in and the other flat on the ground. Ergonomically this is a very friendly machine. Compared to big wheel stick bikes I have owned the Furai delivers better comfort, seat height, weight distribution and bottom bracket height all without any significant weight penalty.

The narrow handlebars – slightly V shaped – are excellent for fast riding. They give you a real feeling of being tucked in to a cockpit. The folding stem looks fabulous but isn’t. The clamp that sets the handlebar height is woefully inadequate and the ‘bar height continually slips out of adjustment. A solution is easy though. Take one slightly bent target archery arrow, cut a portion of the shaft equivalent to the width of the clamp, squeeze gently in a vice until it will slide into the space underneath the clamp and presto you have limited the distance the clamp can move! Shouldn’t be necessary though.

Performance:

The first time I rode the bike I took it over my short hilly circuit and immediately felt it climbed faster than the Fuego. I seemed to be one gear up all the time. Downhill was good but not as good as a low racer of course. And into the wind it is marginally slower as well. Where a big wheeled bike shines is on less than perfect surfaces. It just seems to roll better over them. And coarse surfaces abound round here. Over a number of rides I would say that my average speed was consistently 1-1.5 kph faster than the Fuego. I put that down to lower weight and less rolling resistance. It is winter and these figures are the result of moderate (not performance) riding efforts.

On steep grunty climbs the bike feels very stable and seems to be able to drop to near walking pace and still hold a reasonable line.

Conclusions:

Overall I would describe this as a swift, smooth bike with good ergonomics. It is not a racer but feels as though it will make an excellent Audax / long day ride bike.

It is very versatile. With the standard Challenge aluminium seat fitted it can take a rack and panniers and feels robust enough to carry a load.

One of the tests I use about any bike is to observe how I use it after the initial novelty has worn off. The Furai gets picked as often as any of the others. It must be good! I look forward to warm days with no mudguards and some longer rides. A great bike – and like so many Challenge products it looks great.

Richard Quincey’s Nazca Fuego

“I was getting wrist pain and body discomfort on a normal bike; I also think the best European recumbent bikes are now quite mature as a technology and affordable…”

Recent Laid Back Bikes customer Richard Quincey has sent in a really comprehensive write-up regarding his new Nazca Fuego. I’ve interspersed photos:

Being a new recumbent rider (or going Dutch!)

If you have found these notes you are taking more than a casual look at a recumbent. A few months ago I was doing the same; these notes are my observations & comments after a few weeks acclimatising with a new recumbent.

fuego-rb3_1

Why I was looking ….

I was getting wrist pain and body discomfort on a normal bike; I also think the best European recumbent bikes are now quite mature as a technology and affordable (at least when compared with high quality road or touring bikes).

Some salient facts … my height is 1.69m, X-height 38”; I live in the countryside in Devon.

fuego-rb1

Why a recumbent ….

From a common sense perspective a recumbent helps solve the issues of:

  • stress on the wrist & arms
  • stress on the back & neck
  • stress on the abdomen
  • compression of the chest / lungs
  • stress on the knees (must be properly set up)
  • it is also significantly more efficient aerodynamically
  • it is also very flexible in use …. touring, day jaunts, audax etc

And admittedly I came from the perspective of why not try something different! And yes you will get attention riding a recumbent … but so far the attention has only been
positive (& very curious!).

I was also concerned about safety … I googled it a lot …. so far my experiences on country roads (big and small, bright jacket but no flag) seem to reflect the anecdotal evidence from other recumbent riders that the traffic notices you more and gives you a wide berth (even more if you wobble a bit!).

Choosing a dealer ….

If you have found Dave McCraw’s website you will have found Laid Back Bikes (LB). Although a long way from home I used Laid Back Bikes specifically as LB provides a bespoke service that I think is important if you are to make an informed choice and to get the specification / bike set-up correct. LB’s experience with recumbents, your specific fit aspects, the details thereof and the time willingly spent with customers to get it just right is rare nowadays.

fuego-rb2

Fit ….

In looking for a recumbent I learnt about fit & position on bikes; it seems that with diamond frame bikes fit is most likely to be always a best compromise. The frame geometry and typical crank lengths mean a degree of ill fit and thus body stress, especially the knees. It is surprising how few riders know much about proper fit and crank length.

With a bespoke recumbent, boom adjustment and careful choice of cranks one can overcome these issues and indeed so far in use, now that I am in control and have relaxed, there is an absence of aches after a ride. Indeed my body feels quite refreshed after a ride and my knees if anything feel happier & stronger. I just need to build up my recumbent muscles; up hill is slower at the moment, but downhills are quite exhilarating although I really recommend using cycling glasses.

fuego-rb3_2

What I ordered ….

I needed a bike that was not too high; this meant something like a Challenge Furai or a Nazca Fuego. I opted for the Fuego after reading many reviews (flexiblity, handling, quality, availability, LB’s opinion etc) and a test drive (it felt good).

The Fuego has a robust steel frame and thus is potentially not the lightest of recumbents; I also wanted a hub dynamo, lights, mudguards. I was concerned about weight, so I took time to careful specify certain components to control the weight – the key choices made were:

  • Medium frame
  • Carbon seat / Ventisit pad
  • ICE sourced shorter cranks
  • Rack removed and replaced with a barrel tool bag strapped to the seat / headrest (shockcord works well with a recumbent shell seat together making for a flexible carrying system… no rack needed for day rides!)
  • Folding Kojak tyres (lighter!)
  • Lightweight SP SD8 hub dynamo (only 155g more than a normal hub and so compact!)
  • B&M IQ LED lights (wiring in frame by Nazca .. very tidy, but long enough for the rack)
  • Lightweight ICE headrest (also an excellent rear end lifting handle with no rack)
  • Avid BB7 disc brakes
  • SRAM X9 gearing, lightweight block

There is a lot of debate & opinions about recumbent bike weight on the web; I concluded that a fair comparison was with a touring bike or MTB with some suspension, not a bare road racer.

My Fuego weighs in at 16 kg (without tool bag) or about 15.5kg if you remove kickstand & mudguards; I will also change to my lighter SPD pedals once I am ready. I think this weight compares quite well with a Furai (or similar suspension recumbent), a handmade touring bike or a good mountain bike with part suspension. The weight figures also concur with the weight figures given by John Mills in his Readers’ Bikes entry.

fuego-rb3

Learning to ride …. again!

Learning to ride second time around makes you think; I realised that diamond frame bikes are ridden in at least two distinct ways …. you typically stand for greater control at slow speeds … the same is true on a recumbent albeit with some differences (obviously you cannot stand!).

This leads me to suggest that a Fuego can be considered to be ridden in two main positions:

  • Position 1 = handlebars up, body sitting up (back, shoulders off seat)
  • Position 2 = handlebars down, body sitting back (back, shoulders on seat, head on head rest)

Plus recognise that a recumbent is balanced & steered using:

  • body weight / position
  • lean
  • steering position
  • pedaling motion – unequal pedal pressure

However a recumbent is more sensitive / subtle; lean and steering movement is less pronounced.

fuego-rb3_3

So how have I got with learning to ride a recumbent?

The first few days are about trying & persevering off the public road! it soon becomes natural again …. here are my suggestions to newcomers about how to ride:

  • Initially …. to get used to balancing … position 1, legs hanging down, roll down a slope … steer and lean it to just get the feel of it, where the limits are etc
  • Starting off pedaling …. position 1, low gear (but not too low), lead pedal at 12 o’clock, push off firmly but not too strongly as this changes the bike balance … just enough to get some motion and the other foot on the pedal without wobble; once both pedals are in motion it aids balance
  • Up to speed …. drop back into position 2 and enjoy (especially down hills!) – Slight adjustments …. slight steering movements or slight shoulder movements or slight knee movement (outwards) or unequal pedal pressure (this can also help correct over-lean for example in tighter turns)
  • Straight cycling …. look at a point ahead on the road and take care when looking at the mirror or hand signaling as this alters balance
  • Tight turns / U turns …. these are the hardest to get used to; use position 1 and you will find your in-built diamond frame bike balance sense will work, but you may have to ratchet the pedals back & forth to avoid catching your heel on the front wheel

fuego-rb4

And some other random observations …

  • It is not far to fall if you screw up and the seat edge trim hits the ground first so at slow speeds (when you are more likely to come off) it is embarrassing rather than painful and no damage is caused to the bike
  • At stop have the bike leaning positively to one side (ideally the non lead pedal side)
  • Drop your feet down on the ground as you slow and the seat will stand you up as you stop
  • Keep your knees upright not waggling outwards as this changes the bike balance
  • Sorting a wobble …. steering into the lean will counter the bike progressively leaning over
  • The recumbent back end can be quite light on the road …. use the front brake mostly especially on loose surfaces, use the rear brake to add braking power rather than on its own unless it is trim braking
  • You might want to walk across busy road junctions

My thanks to Richard for an extremely comprehensive set of thoughts! 🙂

See also:

Alan Taylor’s ICE Sprint 26

“the trike is better for me in every other respect: it is more comfortable … and safer because motorists leave much more space”

Recent Laid Back Bikes customer Alan Taylor writes in regarding his new trike including some excellent pics (spot the mountain pass!):

For the past 7 years I’ve been riding to work on a typical ‘winter trainer’ DF road bike consisting of a generic aluminium frame, solid 32 spoke wheels shod with Michelin Krylions and mudguards, and typical roadie gearing: 53/39 chainset and 9 speed 13-26 cassette. This bike was ok for my 14 mile rural round trip to the office but like lots of cyclists I would give it a miss at the first sign of ice on the roads.

sprint
ICE Sprint 26 next to the River Tay

Continue reading “Alan Taylor’s ICE Sprint 26”

John Mills’s Nazca Fuego

Here is John Mills’s Fuego, weighed in at 15.2kg with pedals and without pad…

15.2kg with pedals, without pad

Another follow-up to the Nazca Fuego review, which featured a lot of discussion of weight in the comments section.

John Mills, a Laid-Back patron who was involved in the discussion, passed on this photo of his Fuego to David Gardiner. It weighs in at 15.2kg with pedals and without pad (my Ventisit weighed about the same as my pedals, so this is a good proxy for the standard “complete except pedals” quoted weight).

jmillsfuego

Pretty much the circa 15kg advertised, it must be said – and a lovely looking bike!

Thanks John!