M5 CHR and High Baron: first impressions

A quick comparison of notes taken on the M5 Carbon High Racer and the Optima High Baron…

With apologies for substandard rollover image…

Now that the better weather is here and I’ve got my Optima High Baron (full review) back on the roads, it’s time to offer some early thoughts on the M5 Carbon Highracer I borrowed from Laid Back Bikes.

Unfortunately I’ve misplaced my tripod and didn’t make a particularly good job of photographing each bike from the same position on separate days (I’ll re-take these at some point… promise!). You’ll get the idea by rolling the mouse over the name of each bike under the picture:

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  • High Baron
  • M5 Carbon High Racer

The High Baron is already noteworthy in this class of bike for its long, relaxed wheelbase and low seating position – see my earlier Dual 700C recumbent roundup article.

The CHR takes this one step further with an extra 17cm (7″) between the wheels, which does make a noticeable improvement to high speed handling. Although the Baron is extremely sure-footed, wriggling around potholes and manhole covers at 40mph the M5 is clearly a little bit ahead here. It’s almost no-hands-able. If you like the mega-twitchy style of the shorter, higher bikes, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that neither will particularly please you.

The seat pan is 9cm (3 1/2″) lower on the CHR and this really opens up the bike in dense rush hour traffic – on the Baron I tend to sit on one cleat with my toes pointed down (without moving from the riding position) but it can sometimes be a bit of a strain – no bother on the Carbon High Racer. Neither bike is anything like as bad as the seating position on a Corsa or other stick bike of course.

You can see that both bikes have a very similar seat recline as stock – both of these examples have a little more adjustment in the downward direction before you’d need to consider anything clever with the mounts or holes that are drilled in the seat. Ultimately the M5 has more capacity to go completely flat as you’ll end up lying on the High Baron’s chainstays at some point – but most will not be able to put out significant power at such an angle, so it’s not too relevant a distinction.

The chainline is extremely similar on both bikes and both are gravely compromised in terms of low speed manoeuvrability and a tendency to throw the chain when dismounting / walking with the bike. However, this is one area where the CHR’s extreme layout starts to hinder, and with fully dropped chains, you can turn quite a lot harder on the High Baron without coming unstuck than you can on the M5. See the recent report by Mike for an illustration of the struggles that are possible here.

The M5 has a nice cockpit setup with the handlebars positioned comparatively further from your chest, but this is balanced out to some extent by the extreme narrowness of the stock bars, which I found limiting (I ended up riding holding onto the actual shifters most of the time – I wouldn’t fancy this on an ultra event).

Where the High Baron comfortably takes normal road bike kit, if you are of average height the M5 might need to be run with shorter cranks – I was fairly close to the limit and we did cut down the carbon boom so that the cranks could be moved as close as practicable to the seat.

Shifting is not a point of distinction between the two bikes – although the SRAM Rapidfire shifters on the High Baron are far superior to the gripshifts on the CHR, it’s not like that is hard to change. The M5 CHR has competent brakes – so does my High Baron, but only after extreme effort (see the full review) so this is a plus point to M5.

As for the riding experience, I haven’t had a chance to ride the CHR with power data yet, but I must say that hasn’t blown me away as I had been expecting – perhaps because ultimately the riding position is quite close between the two bikes, as is the total kerb weight (including rider). As I generally average ~20mph over a trip this will downplay differences between the two bikes aerodynamically as well.

I’m hoping to get out again on the M5 soon, with better recumbent fitness so I can push the envelope a little more (and try and get some drag numbers from power data). Based on a week with the M5 CHR I’m left with an impression of a bike which is significantly more expensive and can be quite a lot harder to live with (if you ride lanes and big climbs, not if you only ride on trunk routes). It might not pay back as much interest on the investment as you were expecting, but this is definitely a first impression.

In the meantime I’m building up a Schlitter Encore to add to a new three-way “best of breed” 700C article… watch this space!