Spectacular 700c performance recumbent
Although this review is, as ever, courtesy Edinburgh’s Laid-Back-Bikes, unlike most reviews this particular bike is not available for purchase. That’s because, after almost two years, I finally found something to replace my RaptoBike Lowracer…
The split rear stays will be immediately familiar to anyone who has seen the classic Baron low-racer, but the resemblance ends there, with a full size carbon fork and 700C wheel up front.
Perhaps because of its “low racer with a big front wheel” geometry, the High Baron has amazingly smooth and steady handling. While both the Bacchetta Corsa 700c and MetaBike 700c distinguish themselves with handling sharp to a fault, the High Baron strikes a great balance, combining a light ride quality with a feeling of sure-footedness – twisting through narrow descents it feels like you’re riding rails.
(One man’s twitchiness is another’s lively handling, so I’m prepared to be shot down by Bacchetta and MetaBike owners who feel otherwise! )
The High Baron is very stiff and accelerates strongly with minimal sign of flex. This is crucial for high efficiency riding – there’s no point having a bike that is lighter if it loses out transmitting power to the road, and this bike gives up absolutely nothing to the opposition here:
The gusset on the [High Baron’s] head tube is actually a huge internal gusset, what you see on the outside is the tip of the iceberg. This is what gives our frames so much strength.
Mick Sims, Optima
A very rigid cockpit setup and extremely straight power side chain help with the feeling that every ounce of pressure is converting into forward motion, while the big 700c wheels (with tyres up to 28mm wide) steamroller over imperfections.
Despite the big wheels, the High Baron’s seat height is a very agreeable 57cm – easy for the shorter legged amongst us to handle. However, do note the x-seam implications of a big front wheel: Optima say that this needs to be 42″ for a double chainset (at just under 5’10” in height, my x-seam is around 43″).
You can partly work around this with shorter cranks, as these require a longer boom extension for any given rider (155mm cranks need the boom to be extended by 20mm compared with conventional 175mm cranks). The effect on tyre clearance is actually doubled, as not only is the bottom bracket 20mm further away from the wheel, the crank pointing back towards the bike is also 20mm shorter…
The High Baron makes few compromises to flexibility and this is where it chiefly loses out to rivals, with no possibility of running 26″ or 650B wheels, no disk brakes, no easy facility for mudguards (unless running thin tyres, at least) and no luggage options beyond seat-slung bags.
Whatever; within its domain the High Baron is a sensational performer – so much so that it carried me to 21st in my category on the epic Tour o’ the Borders… not because I am particularly mighty, but because the bike is simply as efficient as can be at converting sparse watts into forward motion.
As with all high recumbents, you’ll face a greater learning curve than a low bike if you’re a novice, and that’s definitely something to be aware of (and a good reason why you might still opt for something like the Nazca Fuego).
I don’t normally dwell on the weight of bikes as I think it’s overemphasised just because it’s easy to measure. However, I’m making an exception here since I’ve made the bold assertion that the High Baron is pretty much the winning package.
The High Baron frame weighs a little over 2.8kg and to this you should add the weight of a carbon boom – circa 450g – to make a fair comparison with other bikes – total 3.25kg
All other parts of the bike -frame, fork, seat, idlers, etc – are standard and can be excluded when making a comparison (at least between 700c bikes).
By contrast, I’ve ascertained that a Bacchetta Carbon Aero 2.0 frame weighs around 1.7kg. What’s the effect of this 1.55kg weight penalty on the High Baron’s performance?
With test conditions comprising climbing a sustained grade at 250W, we might expect the following results:
|Bike||Weight (kg)||Rider weight (kg)*||Speed (mph)||CA2.0 advantage (mph)
|Carbon Aero 2.0||9.5||70||10.19||0.19|
|Carbon Aero 2.0||9.5||85||8.57||0.13|
|Carbon Aero 2.0||9.5||100||7.40||0.10|
* ‘rider weight’ here refers to the complete payload: rider, clothes and shoes, tools, water and food carried, if any.
So, depending on the payload the bike must carry, we can see an advantage to the Carbon Aero 2.0 of between 0.1mph and 0.19mph (for me weight is around 90kg, once I add the gear I need for an ultra endurance event, so it “costs” me around 0.12mph ).
Say I was to climb solidly with my long-lost twin for an hour – the version of me on the CA2.0 would nose ahead by around 0.13 miles, or 208 meters. To combat this, the version of me riding the High Baron would need to average 254W instead of 250W (unfortunately this is not much above the 1% quoted accuracy of most power meters, so let’s not take the test to extremes).
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here: if you enter the World 1 Hour Recumbent Hill Climb championship you’d be pretty annoyed to lose by one meter, never mind 240 meters. A lighter bike also has intrinsic subjective value to many people, as their wallets will tell you – and that’s all fine.
However, given the cost difference between an aluminium High Baron and a carbon alternative, and given that there are other, much more important factors (seat height, handling, durability, looks!) in its favour, I am very comfortable recommending the High Baron to anyone who is interested in high performance.
PS. If you’re wondering about the implications of the frame weight while riding on the flat, it’s somewhere under 25% of the advantage while climbing, so perhaps 1W of power difference between the two bikes. The High Baron might easily have an aerodynamic advantage of 20x that (or maybe not).
For further reading I highly recommend the following two articles:
Adjustment, Comfort and Suspension
The High Baron has a rigid frame and the ride is relatively hard as a result – although the long wheelbase does help attenuate shocks compared with more compact designs.
Ultimately tyre choice is what really defines comfort on bikes such as this; the Baron’s ability to accommodate 28mm tyres allows it to tackle rough road surface with great efficiency.
The seat recline is adjustable, but only from “pretty laid back” to “even more pretty laid back”.
Optima quote this as 23-28 degrees but it feels lower to me. In common with most hardshell bikes, changing where you drill the seat allows you to modify this whole range in either direction, subject to the limitations of the hardshell’s curve and whether or not you’d consider cutting any part of it.
Seat adjustment is performed with a QR, but be careful – the first time I tried this I was sitting on the bike (during the build process) and the bolts through the seat itself were long enough to tear into the paint on the frame when the seat bottomed out – oops!
The front seat mount is also QR, so removing the seat entirely is tool free. However, because this bolt is shared by an idler in the stock drivetrain configuration, it’s not quite as simple to free up the front bolt and doing so will interfere with your ability to perform simple drivetrain maintenance as the idler swings about wildly… just something to be aware of.
Seat, Bars & Controls
The Baron takes a hardshell seat, either glass or carbon fibre. My particular Baron is re-using a spare carbon Nazca seat so I won’t dwell on it (this means I can’t comment on either seat option from Optima. If it’s any consolation the Nazca one is very comfortable!)
The stem and handlebars are very rigid and substantial – there’s no hint of the flex that I often find irritating on folding stem bikes. The bar clamp incorporates a neat cable guide to keep the cable runs away from the thighs, a feature I very much appreciate.
That said, it’s not perfect. My hands don’t sit in a neutral position as they do with RaptoBike’s superb handlebars, and there’s quite a weight jump too (the RaptoBike stem and bar combination is 180g – or the best part of half a pound – lighter).
Cables do not run internally with the exception of a short stretch of the front derailleur cable, which enters the frame near the headtube and exits the boom, keeping the front of the bike very clean.
Braze-on cable runs are provided however and keep the bike looking neat to the rear:
As you’d expect, the boom includes the nearly weightless mounting tab for a front light that is standard across most Euro bikes. This keeps the bars free for sundry items like GPS.
By default, the High Baron runs with a three-idler drivetrain – one on the power side and two on the return side to lift the chain above the wheel.
Even the foremost idler is nicely tucked away and won’t come into contact with your leg, although this does mean (with the outer ring of a triple crank especially) there can be quite a bend on the return side of the chain between chainring and idler.
The power side idler, in contrast, barely deflects the chain in either dimension. This actually leads to one of my very few complaints about the High Baron, and it’s a fairly minor one – because the toothed power idler hardly deflects the chain at all it is relatively noisy. A chain which is pulled onto an idler over a reasonable range of deflection can be quiet (even silent) but that’s not the case here, where it feels like the chain is running so freely that it’s not dampening its own motion across the cog.
Of course, having an axle-axle-axle deflection of just nine degrees is great news for efficiency, just not if you want an absolutely silent bike.
It is possible to drop the return idlers, perhaps retaining a tiny length of floating chain tube to avoid excess slap, but the jury is out on whether the friction of these idlers is at all significant, so I haven’t (yet) bothered to do this.
Drivetrain / Brakes
In the current setup both brakes and gears are crisp and smooth, but it wasn’t easy!
Built from a frameset, I’m currently running a respectable carbon crank (donated from a Fujin SL) and SRAM doubletap flat bar shifters with a ten speed cassette. The shifting is absolutely sublime – better even than the friction-shifting bar-ends I was so happy with on the RaptoBike.
I consider the provision for brakes on the High Baron to be flawed, and the simplest thing to do is insist on Optima’s intended brakes (I think the Tektro R730) as even the Miche long drop calipers we selected had to be bodged on in an ugly fashion. I even needed to dismantle a Dura Ace front caliper for parts to help me assemble a hybrid that would work properly… £££
In common with other 700c recumbents, gearing choice is completely standard on the High Baron.
I’m currently running a 53/39 with an 11-32 cassette, but you can fit anything from a racing ‘corn cob’ to a triple up front and it will match an upright bike in every way.
Tyres and clearance
There’s space to accommodate 700x28c front and rear, but clearance at the back is probably too tight to go larger (due to the brake bridge).
As the High Baron is not disc compatible, it’s not possible to fit 26″ (559mm) or 650B (584mm) wheels, as you might on something like the RaptoBike Midracer or Metabike.
Neither will you easily fit full length mudguards. This won’t be a problem at the rear if you fit the excellent Radical Aero bag, which catches everything flung up by the rear wheel. A different fork could be fitted if a front mudguard remained a priority.
My previous reviews have generally included two or three roll-over images and a little commentary comparing each bike to its rivals. In this case I’m putting together a single article to look at all dual 700c bikes at the same time, so I won’t duplicate that information here.
Suffice to say, I think the High Baron is the real deal, although there are some convincing reasons to go for the other bikes, depending on your requirements.
The High Baron delivers on every level.
With dual 700c wheels it rolls easily over rough terrain, but it maintains a very agreeable seat height for those who value accessibility and the (small) aerodynamic advantage that accrues when your wheels are shaded by other parts of the bike.
The frame is exceptionally stiff and this gives it a feeling of tremendous acceleration – reinforced by the very stiff cockpit to create an environment where you feel every ounce of pressure is translating directly to the road.
I wasn’t sure if you were real or a hallucination! You blitzed by me…
rider report, Tour o’ the Borders
Wide tyres for optimum efficiency and a drivetrain which is about as straight as can be achieved on any bike makes this a superlative long distance platform. The relatively long wheelbase gives the High Baron great stability and helps make it the fastest and most reassuring descender I’ve ridden.
Although the clean cable runs promote crisp shifting and powerful braking, the actual provision for brakes is, based on my experience trying to use anything other than the OEM calipers, frankly a disappointment. You can work around this by using the OEM calipers, so let’s not make too much of a meal of it, but it’s not caused by some understandable design compromise… it just looks like it was welded together wrongly at the factory.
The High Baron is not as light as a feathery carbon wonderbike, but it’s vastly cheaper. It looks gorgeous (although the finish is fragile) and providing you’re happy without suspension and with only rim-braked 700c wheels, will be hard to better.
My advice to you is: look no further until you’ve tried one.
Available to demo now via Laid Back Bikes.
- My main Laid-Back reviews page – all recumbents on one page