Optima High Baron review

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…

optima-high-baron1

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! :) )

optima-high-baron4

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…

optima-high-baron9

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).

Weight

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)
High Baron 11 70 10.00
High Baron 11 85 8.44
High Baron 11 100 7.30
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!)

optima-high-baron11

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:

optima-high-baron3

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.

Idlers

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.

optima-high-baron6

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.

Although the High Baron is set up OK now, it was a huge battle (see my ‘sneak preview’ series [1] [2] [3] for the gory details) to arrange the brakes.

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… £££

optima-high-baron5

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.

optima-high-baron8

Comparison

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.

Conclusion

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.

optima-high-baron1

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.

Related articles

52 Comments

  1. Great review Dave! I do like the look of this recumbent. Thanks for your well written articles and coverage of performance recumbents.

  2. Dave

    No problem Mike – glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Nice article, as always :) And a nice bike to go with it 😉
    I see nice long distance wheels met their match :) Gotta get that SP hub for myslef.

    I have one question though: what the triple/double crank has to do with x-seam range ? Don’t quite get what’s that all about.

    Cheers!

  4. Dave

    Igor, I have no idea either… the only possibility I can come up with is that it might stop the angle of deflection onto the big ring being too crazy (closer it gets to the idler, the bigger the angle)?

  5. Yeah, that’s the only reason I can think of, too – the problem with to large of a sideways deflection of the chain between the front return idler and the chainwheels,
    where the angle gets smaller as the distance increases.
    Makes sense, since they list the shortest x-seam range with the single ring.
    If that, that shouldn’t effect the drop chain option (no front idler)
    To me it doesn’t look like a much greater distance then on a Rapto Midracer between the chainrings and the idler,
    and I have successfully used a triple on it, without any sign of trouble with the chainline,
    be it the power or the return side.
    Although if the return idler is tucked to the inside as you mention(as not lined up to the crankset’s chainline), that would perhaps make things much worse, and indeed limit the maximum angle of return chain deflection.

    How would you compare the ride stiffness (as in comfort) of the Baron vs. Rapto Midracer ? (if you rode it with the same kind/type of tires)

    Btw I also find the “lowracer with a large wheel” to be more stable at high speeds,
    then the stickbike, as the center of weight is much more closer to the front wheel axle,
    which makes the two wheels more equally loaded, or perhaps with a tendency to have more weight on the front wheel, whereas a stick bike has more wight on the rear wheel then the front.
    Which could pretty much explain the difference in handling.
    I don’t find the stick bikes to be twitchy, but I can really feel more stability that comes out of this kind of bike, where there’s more weight on the front.

    Cheers!

  6. Dave

    Thanks for the thoughts Igor (especially interesting to hear how other people find the ride characteristics of the different bikes!).

    I didn’t use the same tyres on the Midracer and the HB so it’s hard to comment – 28mm vs 23mm is a big impact!

    I wouldn’t think there would be a large difference between them with the same tyres.

  7. The ‘why single’ chain ring for shorter riders is to do with the cross over of chain. On some bikes with the boom too far in the front mech just won’t shift well. Basically as the boom and mech shifts inwards the ‘wrap-round’ of chain round big ring increases engaging more slightly. Some models are worse than others.
    If someone was to use short cranks (155s) then the chainring size should drop to compensate gearing.
    There are options with moving the seat slightly forward on a recumbent but from my brief ride on this HB it seems nicely balanced. Handling is good and keen to have a longer ride on one (LB is doing an HB build in next few weeks. Optima are supplying brakes).
    A good review of a bike that up to now has been a bit below the surface (like the Tour o’ the Borders!). Ligfiets& magazine did a long review in Dutch over a year ago but apart from that I haven’t read too much on it. It was shown with open cockpit and tilting steering options and a red, green and white frames. Interestingly the Low Baron is offered with more general ‘touring’ extras – Rohloff, SON hub and kickstand. This low racer / tourer market is one which has sold well but would be nice to see more high racer sales here.
    Look forward to seeing how it fares on your next Audax, Dave.

  8. David Scott

    Nice new bike Dave, heres wishing you many happy miles on it.
    That was an interesting essay on the culture of filming from the bike, car, bus. I have filmed a number of times from a historical perspective, but never realistically considered it necessary to film for evidence/analysis . Definitely something happening here worth keeping an eye on.
    With the amount of cameras in use everywhere, by almost everyone, someone is bound to have a photo of any public activity, I am thinking of the violence in Boston.
    I hardly ever cycle in the towns on my recumbent and thankfully most drivers give me plenty of elbow room on the road.
    I recall cycling in Edinburgh required eyes in the back of yerheid, or at least nowadays a high speed camera.

  9. Jorn

    Great review!

    I’ve mounted crud roadracer 2 fenders on my highbaron (Rohloff equiped ) and that put a limit on tyre size. I run Conti Force 24 mm back with latex tube and use an ultegra 6700 wheel (borrowed from my road bike) with Ultremo ZX tubeless 23 mm in the front. It’s surprisingly comfortable in spite of the narrow tyres and still feels pretty efficient. It’s certainly more comfortable and faster than my (now obsolete) roadbike. Feels safer too.

    I can’t decide whether to take of the fenders and mount wider tyres or keep the fenders, which is rather nice to have when the road is a bit whet.

  10. Rob

    I’m intrigued as to how the increase in chain efficiency with the high-racers balances off against the improved aerodynamics of the low-racers. Or whether both aspects are too marginal to care about, and the real benefit comes from being able to use standard 622mm racing components…

  11. Dave

    Hi Rob,

    I think the penalty of the smaller front wheel is the main trade-off versus the increased wind resistance of sitting up high. The R&D money going into 622 tyres vs 406 ones (and narrow as opposed to wide) compounds that of course!

    For me, while I love the feeling of being down low and moving fast, the type of events I do rarely average over 20mph for any length of time – but you do spend plenty of time on rough roads moving more slowly! So, the efficiency of the bigger wheel is attractive. That’s why I started out with the big wheel Raptobike lowracer.

  12. Nick F

    Another thorough and well put together review Dave, thanks. The bike looks the business! Glad you’re happy with it. How do you get on with the non-folding steering stem when getting on/off the bike?

    Just an idea for the “noisy” drive chain idler. As you know, the Metaphysic uses a double idler (for both the drive and return chain lines) made of plastic without any toothed cog. As you have discovered, this is – in my opinion – entirely suitable for chain lines with very little deflection, as there is never more than one link at a time that engages with the teeth on a cog. The subsequent small “throbbing” action as the chain runs across the idler teeth is what causes the noise. The Metaphysic idler has an elastic rubber ring inserted into the channel that takes the chain, and this supports the chain on its rollers, thus avoiding the same “throbbing” action from the chain’s side plates rolling through the channel. However, I found that this rubber ring wears out after 3000km or so, which is a pain. But I decided not to replace the idler with (say) an expensive but sexy Terracycle toothed cog replacement because: (a) I don’t believe the cog is any better for such a straight chain line, and (b) the noise it makes.

    My solution was to buy a much cheaper skate board wheel (approx 50mm diameter) which takes the same 2 bearings as the Meta idler. I then machined my own “channels” into the wheel material (hard plastic) while leaving a narrow ring of material protruding in the centre so as to replicate the rubber ring annulus as per the Meta idler. Not having access to a lathe, I bolted an axle through the wheel and inserted it into the jaws of my electric drill. Clamping the drill to a table, I then simply pressed the blade of a wood saw into the spinning wheel to machine out the material. Adjusting the depth and angle of the saw blade allowed me to create the channel+annulus just like the original Meta idler. So far it’s worked perfectly, and is totally silent. I’ve also got three more skateboard wheels as spares (I had to buy a set of 4) to make more when this one wears out. Dead easy really, and much cheaper than buying a Meta replacement idler! You can also saw the idler to a narrower width if you don’t need to manage two chain lines.

    Hope this idea may be helpful (to you or someone else).

  13. Dave

    I don’t find the rigid stem to be an issue, I just turn it to one side for the dismount…

    Your idler idea is pure genius. I’m not sure I fancy the whole drill strapped to a table but I do have access to a friend of a friend with a lathe… hmm!!!

  14. Nick F

    Hi Rob

    I have both a 700C Metaphysic Hi Racer, and a home built 700/20″ Low Racer. I use the same 622-25 GP4000s tyre as the Meta on the rear of the LR, with a 421-28 Durano up front. So rolling resistance is not too compromised on the front wheel tyre, and this is compensated for by lower aerodynamic resistance (being smaller) in any case. In practice, I find both bikes achieve much the same top speed of 75km/h on a steep local descent (where I am going to fast to pedal), so I don’t think there’s much difference aerodynamics-wise. I think you’re right that these kinds of differences are too marginal to make any noticeable effect, especially compared to a bit more oomph in the legs from more training!

    This might be of interest to you.

    http://www.recumbentjournal.com/views/columns/item/124-given-the-same-seat-angle-hiracers-are-just-as-aerodynamic-as-lowracers.html

  15. John Tromp

    Have you ever had any experience riding an M5 M-racer, and if so, how would you
    compare the riding experience to this bike?
    They’re pretty close in specs, except for the 14-16cm difference in seat height,
    which should keep the M5 rider more out of the wind.
    Or is that bike unsuitable to you because of front wheel interference?

  16. Dave

    Hi John,

    Sorry for the late response – house move left me without a ready internet connection for weeks :(

    I haven’t any experience of the M-Racer. I did consider it but there isn’t an easy way to try one out. I would probably need shorter cranks to avoid hard interference (which isn’t a problem in and of itself).

    If you have the chance to try both, I’d be very interested in your thoughts. The M-Racer is certainly the more aggressive of the pair.

  17. PaulM

    Just thought to mention the standard HB is listed at 12kg
    http://www.optimabikes.com/en/products/optima-baron

    I think you need to fit your own carbon seat to hit 11kg

    That said, I’m sure stiffness is more important than the odd kilo

  18. Bruno

    Hi Dave,

    great review of the HighBaron! As usual, I might add. :-)
    I’ve just had a taste of M-racer – and a lengthy chat with its genius designer – and it feels super fast (seat-of-the-pants, no speedometer), deliciously compact and very direct. It really feels like a race bike. With my 83 cm inseam the cranks narrowly miss the wheel, but heel-wheel and chain-wheel interference is something I would need getting used to. I definitely need to try out the HB to determine which bike to buy this winter. :-)
    As for the tiller arrangement: if the Raptobike’s is so much more comfortable to you, why not change the handlebars (or bars and stem in case of incompatibility) for Raptobike’s Mid Racer setup?

    Best regards

  19. Dave

    Hey Bruno,

    The M-Racer was also a strong possibility. I made a loose enquiry, but in the end I haven’t tried an M5 bike and there’s no dealership (Laid-Back-Bikes could probably get one in as a one-off, but I don’t like to cause a fuss!)

    I suspect they would be very close, if anything the M-Racer may be quicker I suspect.

    I could change the tiller but it’s not a cheap thing to do on a bike which is already getting quite pricy. Probably over £100 delivered, I can wait for an opportunity…

    Thanks for your comment. Do post up any comparison you can make between the bikes :)

  20. Dave

    @PaulM – I haven’t weighed a stock High Baron so I can’t comment on what it would actually weigh. The best thing to do is get base frame weights for comparison, so you know that whatever is fitted to your bike, it will be so many kg either way vs another bike (as in this case, you can save 1.5kg buying a Carbon Aero 2.0 if you have the same parts on each).

    I don’t think a few pounds is at all significant except the very highest levels of sport, for what it’s worth. Almost everything else about a ride and rider will be more important at determining the outcome. :)

  21. Bruno

    Since it was a really short ride with the M5 and it may be some time before I get to trying out the HB, any comparison would be highly subjective and inaccurate. But I’ll see what I can do. :-)
    Speaking of comparisons, how does the HB compare to your dual 700c Rapto?

  22. Dave

    Compared with the dual-700C Raptobike the HB handles much better (as you’d expect).

    The position is not quite so radical though so I suspect not as quick aerodynamically.

    Alas I sold the Rapto on so I’ll never be able to put them head to head :)

  23. Peter G

    I have recently got a high baron demo from David. However made some modifications. Firstly a carbon disc fork from Kinesis to allow disc brakes – the lack of stopping power from the rim brake was a bit worrying for me. It could however have been that my previous 2 bents (fuego and Fujin SL) were equipped with discs and had great stopping power. The second ammendment is using the carbon fork from the Fujin SL1 – not sure how much difference this makes but I do like a wee bit of carbon bling! The third difference is using a Nazca non-toothed idler. This certainly has made things quieter!

    In comparison to the Fujin SL1 my average speed is up – however that could also be down to increased fitness. The Fujin SL1 was a screamingly fast bike, particularly on a descent where it has a higher top speed 44mph v 42mph on the Baron. However the Baron certainly climbs better in my view and again my stats do indicate this.

    Gearing wise I have a 50/34 with an 11-34 at the rear. Getting up hills so far has been fine with very rare visits to the 34/34 combination. I do wonder if a bigger front ring should be considered but it is rare that I spin out.

    I rode a metabike on the London Edinburgh ratrace event – nice comfy well paced bike – but not the same fun factor in my view.

    So a big thumbs up from me for the High Baron and thanks to David at Laidback Bikes for sorting the changes I wanted to the demo that he had.

    To see some photos of my Green High Baron (some taken before the ammendments) see laidBacBikes flicker stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/66067108@N08/sets/72157635200016090/

  24. Dave

    Hi Peter,

    Not sure which fork you’re using now – the Kinesis or the Fujin one? (have you put a 20″ wheel up front?)

    Very interested to hear of your swap. I’ve still not got around to a Meta writeup. They have the bonus of being (much) more flexible to different needs, but the bike itself didn’t catch my imagination, unfortunately.

    I’ve been for a few spins on my Baron of late with just a 12-25 on the back and I really missed those few largest cogs. I guess there’s over a third missing between 25 and 34t though (or I’m just not as fit as I think!)

  25. Peter G

    Apologies for confusion! I have a Kinesis fork for the 700c wheels – the carbon bling from the Fujin I referred to was the boom not fork! I have also added a headrest which makes a difference on longer rides.Agree the metabike gives much more flexibility – I found it alot more twitchy though – perhaps it is the shorter wheelbase?

    I would struggle with 12-25 and would suggest you are fitter than me! I was ourt yesterday in west lothian alps and had to drop into 34/34 once. Interestingly my observation re top speed – i acheved 46mph onthe baron in perfect dry road conditions on the hill (downhill of course!) where on the Fujin I was generally faster.

  26. Roy

    How is the bike up severe, walking speed, engage granny gear, I won’t stop and push only because I am too stubborn type climbs? Some of my summer retreats are in the Rocky Mountains. There are days when I have found the lowest gear and ride the recumbent for an hour or more in the 4 KPH range. At these very slow speeds, how does it compare to other similar recumbents? I have been on bikes in these conditions that wear a rider out from having to fight to control it. THX

  27. Dave

    Hey Roy,

    Well, at least with the tiller steering you don’t have to worry about hitting your legs with the bars and crashing off as you saw it around at low speed, which is one of my main complaints about the OC style bars.

    I find all bents quite tiring when I get down as low as walking speed, I’m not sure I could rank them other than the above. Probably I’d prefer a lowracer for the ability to take a breather and get started again with a hand-stand.

    cheers!

  28. Roy

    Could you mount a brake on the front of the fork? Would something like the Bacchetta brake that pulls from the non-drive side work?

  29. Roy

    Thanks for taking time to write down your thoughts. I just ordered one very similar to the one in your picture.

    I’m only about 4700 miles away – stop by.

    You probably didn’t realize the extent of your influence!
    THX

  30. Dave

    Hope you enjoy it Roy!

    That’s only 2350 miles each if we meet in the middle 😉

  31. Bruno

    Hi Dave! Today I went to Optima for a HighBaron test ride – again without speedometer. My thoughts on the M-racer/HB-comparison:
    The M5 feels a lot smaller, more rigid and super-direct. It truly feels like a race bike, almost twitchy even. I felt like I would need some time to master it fully, especially with the chain-front wheel overlap. In matt black one of the coolest bikes I’ve ever seen. A bike that will make your chest hair grow.
    The HB feels very light and nimble too, but it seems more docile. It also feels like a racer, but less hardcore and more practical. After 10 meters I already felt at home on it. So gorgeous it made my heart go bippety-bop. A truly sexy bike.
    My seat-of-the-pants speedo couldn’t tell any difference between the two. Perhaps the M5 might be better in recumbent races or riding against a hard headwind because it’s a bit lower and can be more laid back, but I wouldn’t bet any vital organs on that.
    The Optima’s rim brakes are no match for the phenomenal disc brakes on the dual 26″ M-racer, but no better or worse than the cantilevers on my Azub Max. It’s something I’ll have to learn and live with, because I’ve ordered one for next spring. Ooh, the anticipation! 😀

  32. Peter G

    Bruno, Roy

    Neither of you will be disappointed – it is a cracking bike. If the brakes do concern you – you can always do what I did and put a disc brake on the front – it works a treat with minimal impact on handling with the change of fork.

  33. Roy

    Does anyone know the answer to my earlier question? Can I put a brake on the front of the fork?

  34. Roy

    I have finally gotten to put a few miles on the Red high baron. First, it is very docile when starting and stopping. I am completely flat footed. This is the main reason I purchased it. Second, I really like the seat. I haven’t been intimate with the Baron seat in many years. I had forgotten what an extra 1/2 inch here and there improves. Much better than the minimal M5 offering or the narrowish hard shell Bacchetta provides.

    I was able to assemble without much effort, everything fit together sans surprises. My only complaint is the static riser. I am aggressively looking to add a pivot. Dismounting is more trouble than it should be. Turning the riser to the side and crawling out is a major PITA.

    Finally, the braking situation turned out to be a non-event. The tektro brakes stop the bike, not glamorously, but the bike does stop. I haven’t ridden the bike in the mountains yet, but around here the current brakes will suffice.

    And, by the way, it rides gloriously. I don’t generally take to a new bike very quickly; this is going to be an exception. I was able to tell pretty quickly that it was near magical.

    My other minor nit is the chain wants to come off. It only happens when backing the bike, but it does it pretty frequently. Not a big deal.

  35. Dave

    Roy, great to hear you’ve got some stick time at last :)

    I’m really pleased to hear that the brakes are OK. My guess now is that Optima designed the frame using that particular brake for whatever reason, and the difficulty we’ve had with framesets using different calipers just wasn’t anticipated.

    Are you running the standard three idler drivetrain? I can’t think that I reverse mine very often, but haven’t been unshipping the chain.

    As for getting on and off… this might be teaching my granny to suck eggs, but I engage the front brake, turn the bars to one side and sit up. No problem (but then I’ve been used to rigid lowracer cockpits pretty much since day zero).

    I tend to find folding stems a bit flexy and annoying, so do let me know if you’re happy with whatever you get!

    cheers,

    Dave

  36. Roy

    I am running the drivetrain and chain tubing setup as from the factory. The chain peels off the under side of the chainring to the inside. Therefore when fed from that direction it sometimes escapes. I was in a hurry the last time I rode – it may be the boom is misaligned.

    The OEM brakes are not my choice , but they do work.

    The steering is an issue that I have enjoyed before… I will have a pivot or I will refashion to open cockpit. Doing the steering to the side hokie-pokie is pants, IMO. (I used the term pants)

  37. Roy

    Dave, if forced to use either the Meta pivot or the Challenge pivot. Which would you choose?

    Although, if the Challenge is not a threadless steer (since I can’t tell from the picture), it is not a choice after all.

    THX
    Roy

  38. Dave

    Hey Roy,

    Personally I prefer the Challenge folding stem. I’ve ridden a couple of bikes with those and got on OK.

    Both the Metas I tried had some subtle steering ‘pump’ when I going for it, but I wouldn’t like to suggest there’s all that much between them.

    I don’t know what either weighs. Both should be fine on a modern fork, I haven’t seen a threaded set for years (as far as I know!)

  39. Bruno

    By the way Dave, should you consider adopting the Raptobike tiller to your High Baron: I’ve looked into it. The Raptobike bar diameter is over 2mm narrower than the Optima’s so off the shelf they’re not compatible. Instead of tinkering with spacers, I’ve decided to order my HighBaron with a full Raptobike tiller setup. I hope the 20° higher angle agrees with me…

  40. Jeroen

    Great review!
    With the new frame series, it’s possible to mount disc brakes.

  41. Bruno

    My new HighBaron is great! :-) It’s a white one with disc brake carbon front fork (stock rear brake), Raptobike tiller and stem (a great decision, the position is perfect!) and carbon headrest. Crud fenders, LED lights and B&M mirror for my commute. It’s a wonderful bike and I wouldn’t order it any other way…

  42. neil

    Hi David
    purchasing a frameset highbaron just wondering what crankset you are using

  43. Roy

    Update – I put a Nazca pivot on my HB and love it. It is rock steady, but probably is heavier than others. I have had several cranks on it. The OEM crank was replaced with a DA double, which was shelved for an Ultegra triple, before visiting the Rockies this summer. My bike came with double taps, which I liked, but they were supplanted with 10 speed twisters (as my double taps were 2×10) – the XO twist shifters are amazing.

    Question
    Is there a premium seat pad? Mine seems to accumulate sweat so much that it pools at the bottom of the seat. Yuck!!

  44. Jan

    Hello Mr. McRaw,
    Thanks for this enlightening review.

    I am among those who dream this bent as a perferct long distance twin esoscheleton ; ).
    1. You’ve been suggesting here the possibility to upgrade the efficiency of the brakes through the use of “OEM calipers”, so I’m guessing what OEMs are ? Could you attach a link to display a couple of those ones ? Which brands/models would you suggest ?
    2. Plus I’m wondering if such disposition of the brakes could ever allow the use of the revolutionary contactless bike lights> by Magnic (it seems to me that’d be quite impossible, alas). Any tech suggestion about how to do it ?

  45. Dave

    Hey Jan,

    ‘OEM’ = original equipment manufacturer, I just refer to whatever brakes are issued by Optima with the stock High Baron. My bike has deep-drop Miche dual calipers but they are not sufficient to reach the rims unless I trim each brake pad with a sharp knife prior to fitting :(

    I imagine you could use the standard Magnic light kit. Although the front brake on the High Baron is mounted behind the fork, the bolt goes all the way through, so you can use the front of the fork to mount the lights anyway. The rear might require a little bending of the mount I suppose?

    thanks,

  46. Roy

    As we say on this side of the pond, just my 2 cents… I have found the OEM brakes to be very nice. I have the Tektros. While lacking in curb appeal, the are very adequate stoppers. I replaced the pads with koolstops and even bought another set of the same brakes for another project. I am not familiar with Miche, but it looks like it might be the same brake, rebadged.

    PS – About those 2 cents. I lived in England during the 60’s. As a very young fellow, I could never understand why a farthing was the same size as a US penny – and why wasn’t an English penny worth a small fortune? Oh, the ramblings of my young(er) memory.

  47. John B

    Hello Dave &

    Thanks for sharing this informative review. Dave, I have a recumbent trike, am new to recumbent bikes and have an opportunity to choose between an Optima high Baron and a newer Fuzin SLII, but with an aluminum boom. I’m in the Niagara region and our roads and bike paths take a beating from our winter months. Am I to understand the the Baron would deal better with our roads than the Fuzin? The Baron is limited by the 28 c tyre size, however, while the Fuzin can accommodate up to 35 c (or, would the larger 35c tyre negate the speed advantage of the Fuzin; or, is this advantage negligible, anyway?) I certainly don’t have the best neck and back, but I do appreciate speed and performance.

    In my area there is little support for recumbents and I haven’t the opportunity to try before I buy and so any and all information appreciated.

    Thanks,

    John

  48. Dave

    Hi John,

    I would always prefer a larger wheel size for rough roads (even over a few extra mm in the smaller size). It depends a little on what sort of experience you want. The Baron can mix after a fashion with normal groups – on the Fujin you’ll really be unable to give a draft for anyone to ride with you. On the flipside, I think the ride quality of a low bike like the Fujin is just a bit more exciting and fighter jet like than the higher bikes – it feels like you’re tearing along, and that’s hard to beat…

    The main reason I’ve settled on dual 700c bikes is because they roll more easily on rough roads and the aero penalty of the higher seat isn’t so significant. When my main pastime was riding 200km+ brevets these were important attributes. Nowadays I find the idea of a low bike more attractive again (I’m riding shorter distances, and want more fun!)

  49. John B

    Hi Dave &

    Thanks, your comments help provide perspective. Now I only need to decide.

    Thank you!

    John

  50. Mike

    Hi Dave – after reading your review of the High Baron I was amused to see that coincidence has presented me with the chance to add one to my stable. Having read and re-red everything that you have ever said about the HB I am exceedingly tempted to just do it. I have just one reservation and that is the potential damage to the front brake caliper and the possible clash between the two chains running so close to each other without tubes. Is this and issue for you? Other than making sure the boom is correctly installed vertically what else could I do to eliminate wear/friction from the chains as they pass each other and the front brake caliper? Regards and thanks for your amazing reviews – I even read the ones about bikes that I am not interested in buying.

  51. Dave

    Hi Mike. I went to check my bike and although you can see the chain had sometimes scuffed the caliper it’s nothing to shout about after many thousands of miles. No special precaution needed IMO.

    Just getting the brakes set up at all well be your biggest challenge but I guess you already know that!

Trackbacks / Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>