Fast roller let down by compromised handling
Awkwardly high and difficult to turn, but your mileage may vary
I’ve been looking forward to testing a stick bike for a long time. Everything about it is completely different to the shared concepts that unite European manufacturers – no hardshell seat, no seat-lowering swoop in the frame, no tiller bar.
A straighter, more efficient chainline and lower weight are the oft claimed advantages versus a 700C “Eurobent” design. Since riding with John Schlitter (he probably doesn’t remember – it was dark!) and other friendly Americans in France last year, I’ve been particularly keen to try this out.
Corsa 700C at the seaside – photo courtesy LaidBackBikes
The Bacchetta Corsa may as well be the archetype of the classic “highracer” genre – it gives up weight and perhaps a little stiffness to the Carbon Aero (and Carbent) designs, but nothing more. This one, as always, was on loan from Edinburgh’s excellent Laid Back Bikes.
Both Euro and ‘stick’ designs are prioritising the easy-rolling 700C front wheel over the strength and absolute aerodynamics of the lowracer style, although it might be more accurate to say that some European manufacturers, particularly M5, have fitted their lowracers with 700C front wheels.
I’ll write separately on the 700C vs small wheel design choice some day, there’s lots of argument on the internet already! 🙂
Unfortunately, I found the handling of the Bacchetta Corsa in tight spaces and at low speed to be unacceptable.
Acknowledging that there are other tastes (and longer legs!) than mine in the world, I’ve still tried to produced a detailed report, and I did churn out a fair number of miles both in and out of town (the former with a slight grimace, the latter with a smile).
I’m 5’10” tall, a little over average height in the UK. Having to get the front of my shoes down like this in stop-go traffic just isn’t going to work out (I don’t know how long my shoes would last!)
This was the larger of the two frame sizes, so it’s probable I should prefer the smaller; my X-seam is 43″, which is into the recommended range for the large by 3″ (but also within range of the small). That said, according to Bacchetta the height difference is only 1.75″. If you look at the photo above, it’s going to take a lot more than 1.75″ to get good solid contact with the ground.
(If a small Corsa comes through Edinburgh, I’ll definitely take the opportunity to try a fitting and if it’s drastically different, make a note here.)
The other issue was that I found the ‘open cockpit’ bars really complicated riding through the urban environment because you can’t possibly turn hard while pedalling – the bar strikes your thigh (or if you’re unlucky, stabs it sending you into a wild swerve).
The Corsa therefore has the distinction of being the first bike of any design (including the FWD Raptobike) that I haven’t been able to ride on all my potential commute routes, just due to the physical handicap of the bars.
These were ‘stiffy’ bars, apparently. There are other options which may mitigate these issues, such as a pivot steerer (I considered whether it would be worth having the existing riser 180 degrees reversed!)
Setting off from traffic lights was also complicated a few times by the inability to get a wide range of steering while pedalling, but I think that was partly due to the tip-toe way I had to balance when stopped, sometimes with insecure footing. If you’re tall enough (or have small wheels) so as avoid that problem, you shouldn’t worry about setting off at all.
On the open road the Corsa rolls superbly, and the stiff frame feels very nimble uphill. I did enjoy the low kerb weight too, although I don’t want to overestimate what is a small factor in overall performance (at just under 75kg, I consider myself on the upper threshold of “being allowed to” worry about bike weight). I actually noticed it more carrying the bike up and down stairs!
At high speeds the Corsa is really solid – like it’s on rails. The weight distribution must make it very stable, as I hit a big patch of deep gravel through some roadworks at around 20mph and both wheels slewed sideways before the bike pulled itself together and I came out unscathed. I’ve crashed out on less several times…
Cornering was also excellent, although here I noticed other riders may pull away from you if they can pedal through the corners, ably demonstrated by David Gardiner on a Fujin SL – I was left dropping my inside leg to clear the OC bars.
The low Fujin also seemed able to pull away into the wind – I had to work much harder on the return leg of one ride with a headwind than the tailwind-assisted first half.
The Bacchetta Corsa has a fixed frame length – there’s no boom. Instead, you adjust the fit by sliding the whole seat up and down the ‘stick’, and this is certainly a quick operation, using quick release:
Moving the seat front obviously affects the recline, but this is also controllable by the rear seat stays, which use a sort of grenade-pin style fixing, super convenient:
Altogether this gives you a huge amount of control – you could easily have the bike set upright for a morning’s climbing and then take 30 seconds to move to a flatter profile for a headwind on the return leg:
Roll over for a comparison of quick-release adjustability
(FYI: the more reclined of these two setups is how I rode the bike during test. I haven’t tried to estimate the seat angle, but it was respectably reclined).
The Bacchetta Corsa is fully rigid, but it does have a mesh seat – fabric slung around a metal frame.
Normally you’d think of mesh seats as super wide, pretty inefficient things but I was very pleasantly surprised here – it’s narrow and doesn’t have much give.
I’m not convinced you’re losing much against a carbon seat in terms of power transfer, for mere mortals at least.
Combined with the foam pad, this makes the Corsa exceptionally comfortable for a rigid bike – I’d say it’s up there with suspended models in terms of rider comfort (although of course, “seat suspension” doesn’t protect your bike from impacts like frame suspension does).
The pad wasn’t noticeably more sweaty than a Ventisit in my opinion, although the scratchiness of it might irritate some.
Altogether this is a very pleasant bike to be rolling along on. I did wonder if under conditions of heavy surface water, the mesh and foam would eventually wet out, but unfortunately it stayed very dry right through my loan – if it was that wet, you’d probably be soaked from above anyway!
You won’t get mudguards on, unless you go for the o-ring temporary racing type. This may limit the bike for the long-distance audience, although it’s not uncommon in 700C recumbents (and you could always use a different fork, at least).
A small seat bag will fit easily as shown on my Radical Solo Aero review, even if the seat is quite highly reclined.
This gives plenty of room for the sort of stuff you’d want on a day ride – I’d be nervous of side-panniers (i.e. Banana Bags) because the weight is so far off the ground. It is possible to get aftermarket underseat racks that clamp onto the frame, and at least this will not exacerbate the problem of high centre of gravity.
Having your luggage hanging fully down in the wind, rather than behind your body, probably isn’t the best, but at least it’s something.
Lower models of stick bike accommodate wider tyres on smaller wheels which don’t require heroic leg lengths, and that’s probably a better bet; I know at least one local rider who has a Giro touring bike.
With no standard screw mount for lights up front, the Bacchetta Corsa half made me wonder if people don’t ride bikes at night in the new world 😉
This weirdness means you’d need some kind of adapter to fit a light to the derailleur post, and then there’s the worry of lighting up your own feet (anyone who’s ridden through the night regularly will know how annoying a 180 beats-per-minute strobeshow can be).
Inevitably, these sort of adapters also make it a bit more difficult to fit a dynamo light, leaving you to bodge, or stuck with inferior battery models (
if any reader knows better, please leave a comment).
Since writing the above, David Gardiner was able to clarify that there is a “One Armed Bandit” mount you can get from Bacchetta, which does look like it will address these concerns – for battery lights at least.
If you’re just travelling in streetlit areas, of course, you can put a light on the OC bar, but I really can’t see how that would work for open roads without lighting up your feet.
The Bacchetta Corsa uses rim brakes and although they stopped the bike OK, they were very much put in the shade by the front disc on bikes like the Challenge Fujin SL.
I wondered if a simple pad change might be useful, since the braking on other rim-braked bikes like the Nazca Gaucho is better, and there’s no particular reason why one rim-braked bike should be far better than any other.
The Bacchetta Corsa came equipped with an FSA Gossamer triple chainset – especially nice to note the 52t big ring, on a bike which you can expect to ride pretty quickly.
Having a wide triple up front (at a very small weight penalty) would easily allow a conditioned rider to use a close-spaced road cassette over a mountain bike one, although like almost all recumbents, the bike came equipped with a wide-range cassette anyway.
I hardly dropped into the granny ring at all, but I was pleased by the shifting, which was particularly quick and precise. This may be in part due to the excellent Jagwire cables (a worthwhile upgrade on any bike) that were fitted to the Corsa.
Straightness of drivetrain / idler
The Bacchetta Corsa has one idler on the power side and one on the return:
You’d imagine that the stick frame high-seat design would give a straighter chainline (less deflection across the idler) than a curvy low-seat European frame, so I decided to check this by photographing both bikes and digitally measuring the difference.
To my surprise, the Corsa actually bends the chain just under 25% further than the Nazca Gaucho – that is, the Gaucho power idler deflects the chain by 20.2°, the Corsa power idler deflects the chain by 24.7°.
Edited to add: I deal with this more fully (including diagrams) in the “Stick bike VS Euro bend chainline” article, on this site.
Although in truth I don’t think this is very important, a lot of people do seem to place great value on having a straighter chain, and in this case the Nazca highracer beats out the stick bike hands down. (The way I think about it is, if the idler was absorbing a significant proportion of your watts it would have to get really hot – how hot is a 10W halogen bulb, for example?)
Naturally, you’d need to do the measurement again for the result to apply to any other bike (the Raptobike chain is deflected by a whopping 108°, yet the Rapto is known for a very direct feel about the drivetrain). For what it’s worth, I measured from the biggest rear cog to the large front ring in each case.
The Bacchetta Corsa comes fitted with open-cockpit bars- the distinctive U-shape wraps your legs as you ride, hands to the outside of each knee, in stark contrast to tiller bars which are so widespread here.
The dramatic riser and huge bars give the bike a very distinctive and, in my mind, “US style” appearance (even though most European manufacturers do have open cockpit as an option).
Strangely in Europe these are often called ‘aerobars’ despite being, as far as I can see, far less aerodynamic than a tucked in tiller. Look at any of the hour record recumbents and you’ll see nothing that looks even vaguely like an ‘aerobar’. Confused already?
Your arms themselves probably even out with the elbows of a tiller rider, but then there’s the question of the ~60cm wide chunky handlebar you’re pushing through the air in front of you, probably loaded with accessories…
Still, this is probably of academic interest to anyone who isn’t doing time trials. Even ultra-distance racers don’t go so fast that the n’th degree of aero is absolutely vital.
I’ve already discussed the handling issues so won’t dwell on that again here. Shifting was easy with the gripshifts and the shifts were crisp and direct, despite the extended cable run to cope with the open cockpit (another overstated issue?).
However, I did have trouble with the ‘stubs’ of grip below the gripshift migrating off the bars as I rode. You could solve this by buying lock-on MTB grips and cutting them down to size, but you shouldn’t really have to – this is another ‘problem’ unique to the open cockpit I suppose.
Going to bar-end shifters would fix the issue, at the expense of making the steering lock limitation even worse.
The cabling isn’t internal like a Challenge bike, but the huge size of the riser does allow the cables to be quite tightly controlled without concerns over too tight bends etc.
I was pleased to see Jagwire cables – these are excellent and a recommended upgrade for any bike.
Adding a 10mm spacer to the riser (an operation of surprising complexity, although you’ll only have to set your own bike up once) didn’t quite stop me occasionally scuffing my shin against the handlebar, but riding under power it was OK.
The Bacchetta Corsa ships with a reasonable pair of 700c wheels – Xero XR4’s. For stock wheels they aren’t too heavy and, of course, they aren’t too fragile either.
The bike rolled as well as you’d expect a 700C bike to do, but I experienced a lot of trouble with the Kenda tyres, which in total flatted twice and pinch-flatted at the front despite running over 100psi – this is more trouble than I’ve had over thousands of kilometers of brevet riding on Continental 23mm GP4000s’es.
However, at the end of the day tyres are a consumable and on many European bikes you’ll pay more when you order to secure your choice of tyre anyway, so meh…
There is clearance for a tyre wider than 23mm – you might get 28mm in there, it’s not clear on the Bacchetta site what the official limit is:
versus the Nazca Gaucho
Roll over for a comparison with the Nazca Gaucho
The modest-looking difference in the height of the front lip of the seat belies the huge difference in handling between these two bikes (remember there’s the suspension to consider when you’re actually on the Gaucho too).
While I was able to ride the Nazca Gaucho easily despite exhaustion on the 90-hour Paris-Brest-Paris, I found it more difficult to ride the Bacchetta Corsa fresh from a full night’s sleep! See the photo at the top of the page to refresh your memory…
At 5’10” I’m around average height. This would absolutely not be an issue for someone with longer legs than me, but of course most people don’t.
You can get a Corsa with small wheels to make it easier to touch the ground, but it will still be higher than the Gaucho, and the Gaucho has those big full-size wheels that you’re really after!
The Corsa is stiffer than the Gaucho and lighter, as well as being more reclined – clearly the faster of the two on the open road. The mesh seat also makes the Corsa surprisingly comfortable – on road buzz I don’t think it gives up much to the Gaucho’s air shock (big impacts are a different story).
Personally, if I was limited to choosing between these two bikes, the Gaucho would be my choice for a long distance or solo riding bike, but I’d take the Corsa if I wanted to race with a pack of uprights (which seems to be a big part of the Bacchetta concept) or if I lived in the Alps.
At the end of the day, these bikes are at different ends of the big-wheel spectrum, and the designers have made the compromises necessary to appeal to their respective audiences. Which is your use case?
versus the big-wheel Raptobike Lowracer
Roll over for a comparison with the big-wheel Raptobike lowracer
Although it may seem odd to compare a production bike with my adaptation of Arnold’s Raptobike lowracer, the geometry of the big-wheel Rapto is very similar to bikes such as the M5 ‘M Racer’ and ‘Carbon Highracer”.
You can see it is far more aerodynamic – more reclined, lower, and the rider’s body covers the upper halves of the wheels, where the churning spokes have disproportionately more impact than lower down.
A bike like this has a lot more foot overlap than the Corsa, although crank interference is not implied. This makes it challenging to manouvre really tightly, although it’s still better (easier to deal with) than having the handlebar strike your spinning leg in my opinion.
FWD like this, or RWD like an M-Racer, a bike this low will have a larger degree of idler deflection (not something that I think can notice in reality). On the other hand, you can get your hand down on the ground to balance, depending on your height.
The bendy Euro-style frame can’t match the stick frame for weight, of course – you can get down to 18lbs, but whatever aftermarket parts you fit, the same stuff on a stick will be a little lighter.
Make sure you’re not unacceptably heavy (over 75kgs) if you want to obsess over the performance impact of a waterbottle’s worth of weight! 😉
There were two things about the 700C Bacchetta Corsa that would write it off for me as a purchase:
- I don’t just ride on the open road, I need a bike which you can turn tightly while pedalling, and this isn’t it.
- The huge gulf between seat and ground makes stop-start riding an unnecessary trial.
Clearly, if you’re happy with the steering ‘lock’ and you are tall enough for the bike neither of these would apply, so I’m going to assume that’s the case and think about the rest of it:
The seating position doesn’t cover the top portion of the wheels with your body at all, plus the OC bar feels massive in terms of airflow. Still, you can recline the Corsa a lot, which is the principal restriction on high speed – this is still a very fast bike indeed for mortal cyclists.
The chainline isn’t as straight as the chainline on a Nazca Gaucho – I don’t personally think this matters, but it may to you, and certainly it removes one of the classic objections to a low seat height.
You could drop to a small wheel Corsa, but why would you bother when you can have a European design that gives you the low seat with 700C wheels and a straighter chain on top? Have your cake and eat it too.
It’s pretty light, especially for the price, and stiff, so the Corsa felt like a good climber (providing you can keep it going, the thought of stalling and taking a tumble because you can’t get your tiptoes on the ground on an Alpine climb is unpleasant, especially as it’s a long way to fall just to get down on the tarmac).
For most people the climbing performance of a bike practically defines your trip average and so this is big feather in the Corsa’s hat – it definitely outclimbs the suspended Gaucho and is just as comfortable with the mesh seat and foam pad.
The Bacchetta Corsa is also exceptionally comfortable for a rigid bike – and without seeming to give up much in efficiency for it. It definitely makes me wonder why narrow meshes aren’t more commonly seen.
There’s a good range of accessories available and Bacchetta have a reputation for customer service (and promptness!) which puts many European manufacturers, who shall remain nameless!, to shame.
Really, the handling issues kill the Corsa for me, especially because I think you can match all other aspects of the performance in a European-style design (so there’s no reason to put up with it).
Because handling is in the eye of the beholder, though, and because the Bacchetta Corsa is nicely priced, I’d still encourage you to give the bike a try – who knows, you may love it (in the small size!).
- My main Laid-Back reviews page – all recumbents on one page