Recumbent power training

Observations on sweaty self-abuse in the garage, as I have one last mid-life crisis fling with bike fitness!

Observations on sweaty self-abuse in the garage

This spring I’ve had a turbo set up in the garage with the High Baron on it, and I’ve been doing 2×20 minute intervals.

I haven’t ridden a recumbent seriously since August, and I wasn’t in the best shape then either. However, I’ve kept up my hundred miles a week commuting on a DF through the winter, and a fair bit of running.

I’ve never done structured training before for any sport. I’m aiming to do better at a couple of sportives (Etape Caledonia in May, Tour o’ the Borders in August) than I have previously from just commuting mileage. Call it an early midlife crisis…

Potential FTP / diamond frame performance

I’ve assumed my recumbent FTP could get as high as ~300W since I climbed Alp D’Huez last summer, on a normal bike, at an average of 291W – which took me just over 58 mins.

I was halfway through a week of big climbs and riding solo, so maybe that’s even an underestimate (I’m sure I could have gone harder with someone to chase!)

Either way, it’s some kind of line in the sand – if the physiology of recumbent riding was the same as diamond frame, I should be able to hit an hour at 290W in short order.

Rude intervention of reality

My opening session on the High Baron was three five-minute intervals, just to avoid destroying myself after six months of upright riding.

Optimistically I started at 304W, which dropped to 285W for set 2, then just 263W for set 3. I couldn’t push it any higher. Depressing stuff!

One Month

After a month, I could scrape out 2×20 minutes at 265W in exchange for much sweat and pain.

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The interesting thing is that I’m challenging my cardio more than I expected. 20 minute intervals at 265W on the High Baron got my max HR up to 165bpm on the first interval, 170bpm on the second. In contrast, climbing Alp D’Huez for an hour at 291W on the DF only got my heart up to 159bpm (one factor that makes me think my FTP was actually quite a bit higher).

From “real life” riding I always feel “leg limited” on the HB versus “lung limited” on diamond frames (and I can hit 185bpm running, so I have the ability to deliver a fair bit more O2 than I’m using on either bike). In contrast, the turbo is definitely exposing a central cardiovascular limitation.

This leaves me with a bit of a puzzle over what sort of training I should actually be doing, not to mention a worry that riding the High Baron on a turbo might be structurally different from riding it on the road somehow.

The plan was to keep churning out my hundred miles a week of diamond-frame commuting at a low wattage, then add in two high intensity workouts each week on the recumbent. However, I figure that since my wattage can be so much higher on a different platform, maybe 20 minute intervals on the recumbent are not ideal, as they won’t really be working on the intended energy pathway?

At the same time I think this is an unrealistic way of reasoning. If the hardest I can go on the recumbent for an hour is 265W, then that’s my threshold power and I should be using that for threshold intervals on the recumbent (and go up to 290W for threshold intervals on my DF, if that was relevant).

Let’s not even consider whether 2×20 is the appropriate type of workout! 😐

Two Months

Towards the end of the second month I started to get pretty tired (I think adding these workouts, simultaneously increasing my commutes as the weather improves, plus running, was having a cumulative impact).

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I took a “rest” week (actually a hiking holiday) then did an FTP test loosely following the Coggan protocol – a short hard interval to drain your legs a bit (8 minutes at 301W) then a 20 minute all-out effort.

I did want to die, but I managed 288.5W (first ten minutes at 285W, second ten minutes at 292W) which gives an FTP of ~275W based on 95% of the longer interval.

This is still at least 15W shy of my diamond frame FTP, although I should probably validate that by riding the same test protocol on the turbo on my racer – but it’s definitely progress.

I’m not sure how much of this is improvement to my general fitness, to recumbent-specific muscles (hip flexors etc) that were lagging behind, or maybe just to my pain tolerance… but I’ll take it.

I now have five weeks until the Etape Caledonia, so armed with this FTP estimate, it’s time to think about what sort of training to do – probably don’t want to turn up at an 80 mile ride having only done 20 minute turbo intervals, for starters!

Etape Caledonia -4 weeks

Four weeks to go before the Etape Caledonia, which is my “B” event (I mainly entered it so I would get my recumbent out of the garage before June!)

As I haven’t ridden the High Baron for more than an hour since last summer, I decided it would be a good idea to [URL=”https://www.strava.com/activities/540340314/”]ride the route[/URL]. Partly to check for any corners that I can’t take at full speed, partly for the long ride training aspect.

It’s 80 miles / 130km but only 1,200m / 4,000ft of ascent. It took me 4:10 moving time (19.5mph average) with just under 25 minutes of stops (half of that was getting breakfast, the other half was watering the verge… FFS!)

I felt my power was pretty poor on this ride, but I think my expectations were unrealistic considering I had no taper and didn’t eat any carbs before heading out / only had a light energy drink on the bike.

Interestingly it felt like my efforts at short rises were noticeably stronger (even though this is above-threshold wattage) whereas I wasn’t able to ride anywhere near my threshold otherwise – the sustained central portion of the ride I was just putting out 200W, and the long flat finish I was right down at a 160W average.

There are a few niggles with the High Baron to sort out, then I think I’ll repeat the dry run in two weeks’ time. That will give an ample taper into the event, and we’ll see what happens!

Tour o’ the Borders is the goal, but the Etape Caledonia route is also quite a bonny one. It will be fun to ride this event in its own right 🙂

Schlitter Encore review

Custom-sized carbon stick bike ticks all the boxes for smart design, light weight and great handling…

Superbly detailed stick bike redefines all stick bikes forever

In all the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve only put serious hours on one stick bike.

I didn’t like it.

Awkwardly high seat height, tricky open cockpit handlebars which stab your thighs in turns, obstruct your vision when going straight and spoil your aero profile all the time… stick bikes are a bit lighter and have a simpler drivetrain than euro-style 700c bikes, but that’s never enough to outweigh the downsides to the point that I could actually recommend one – until now.

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The Schlitter Encore is a development of the established CarbonRecumbent design by a small team including the eponymous Schlitters, and it has basically thrown out some of my assumptions about the way this type of bike has to look and handle.

When you unbox the Encore frameset your first thought will be that, somehow, it looks even better in the flesh than you thought it could. The finish is not just better than the finish on other recumbents I’ve handled, it’s practically in a different league. (If your tastes run to naked carbon you’ll probably prefer the MetaBike, or perhaps an out-of-production Zockra or VeloKraft, but like many high end diamond frame manufacturers, this is a matt finish and it would fit right in with a high end diamond frame stable)

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But it doesn’t just look good, and the relatively reasonable price is not the end of the story. The Encore is custom-sized and this gives it perfect weight distribution, addressing the biggest failing of the stick bike school of design, while the subtle crank in the frame (along with the clever seat mount) gives it a comparatively low seat height for the wheel size.

It’s also an extremely versatile bike (where it wins over a couple of lighter rivals), able to be configured as anything from a race bike to a brevet machine or light tourer or (for the very brave) even a gravel grinder. Even the all-carbon road fork has great clearance:

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Weight

Technically my first thought was actually relief that the box wasn’t just full of packing chips. At just 1900g for a typical frame the Encore is fantastically light – a full kilo lighter than the equivalent parts of an M5 Carbon High Racer, which is itself around a kilo lighter than my Optima High Baron.

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It’s not the lightest recumbent in the world, but then if you want a Carbent with the seat moulded into the frame it will cost you plenty extra. The closest rival to the Encore is probably the Bacchetta CA2, which seems to be around half a kilo lighter, but you lose the disc brakes, the tyre clearance and options for different wheel sizes, plus it brings you back to serious handling issues if you don’t sit comfortably in one of Bacchetta’s preset frame sizes.

(I’ll go out of my way here to point out that if you are a good fit on a Bacchetta stick, the weight distribution will be OK, and many people find it to be so).

Performance

Let’s get one thing right out of the way at the start – the Encore may be relatively low for a stick bike, but you’re still sitting up too high to offer much shielding to your wheels, and the double-J bars still add quite a significant area of tubing to the bike’s aero profile.

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I found the Encore to be surprisingly fast on the flat, but just not quite as fast as Laid Back Bikes’ demo M5 CHR or my highly-optimised High Baron. (The similar Bacchetta CA2 has been benched at a CdA of ~0.20 by a few people online, whereas the M5 has been seen in the wild with a CdA as low as ~0.155).

When it comes to climbing, the Encore really performs well as long as you can keep your thighs inside the open cockpit bars – a couple of times I failed to stay on the bike ascending steep slabs that I’ve managed before and since quite happily on the heavier, flexier High Baron.

Aside from that issue, which only hit me on gradients above 20%, I really found the bike responded well to power and I set a couple of recumbent climbing PRs on local Strava segments while out on test. Part of this is the weight, but I think the surprising rigidity of the Encore’s frame plays a big part (I don’t subscribe to Jan Heine’s planing theory). Check the size of the rear stays, which are triangulated by the seat supports for great stiffness:

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The M5 CHR may be stiffer, after all it has an extra kilo of material in the frame, but I’m not certain – there’s not enough in it for me to be confident that it’s more than observer bias either way.

In contrast I didn’t come close to any of my flatter Strava segment PRs, but in fairness they were mainly set on days when I had a beastly tailwind…

Build options, Adjustment, Comfort and Handling

The Encore is just littered with great features, like the ability to separately lift the front and back of the seat as well as sliding the whole seat forwards and backwards (even though the stick itself is custom sized) to absolutely nail your position.

The mount at the front of the seat even has a little rubber ‘tongue’ to prevent any rubbing on the frame if you have the seat cranked down/back, otherwise it just sits out of the way. Very neat.

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A wide range of seat angles can be accommodated and you can even choose different seat designs optimised to support you at lower or higher angles. Rather than a large, sometimes-uncomfortable “cup”, the seat on this bike was profiled to keep the lower edges out of my way when laid back, and being narrow enough to let my shoulders move and breathe, the whole experience was extremely comfortable.

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Even with narrow tyres I found the ride quality of the Encore to be top notch. The steerage is relatively more nervous than the High Baron or M5 CHR, and this can’t entirely be down to wheelbase, as the Encore actually has a 15mm longer wheelbase than the Baron (although it is 150mm shorter than the CHR). I guess it’s a combination of fork rake / trail / headtube angle.

The Encore is probably more assured than a Metabike, but I’ll leave this as an impression only, as it’s been a year or so since I rode a Meta and I don’t want to give a false impression there. It’s certainly a lot stiffer generally than I remember the Meta being.

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The rear triangle of the Encore can be shimmed with enclosed spacers so that it fits 130mm or 135mm hubs perfectly (and the shims bolt on, so once they’re on you’ll never know they’re there). The wider size accommodates disc hubs, which is what allows the Encore to accommodate any size of wheel – you’ll need to choose an appropriate fork from the range available though, as a 700C rim-brake road fork isn’t going to accommodate a 650B 42mm rando tyre!

Plenty of bikes will fit either size, but few do it this nicely (no need to spring a 132.5mm drop out every time you want to remove the wheel!)

Bars & Controls

The “double J bars” do a great job of getting out of the way when looking ahead – they’re basically a kind of cranked variation on the standard u-bar setup, and can be adjusted in more or less any direction imaginable to get a good fit.

double-j-bar

I did have a couple of issues getting the bars set up nicely – first, the diameter of the left and right bars where they’re gripped by the riser needs to be very similar, otherwise only one bar is really held firmly enough when you crank down the shared bolts. On my review bike they seemed to be just different enough that one bar would often move independently over the course of a ride, which was pretty annoying.

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The bars were also about as short as I could manage (I had them adjusted as far towards the back of the bike as they would go, and it was fine – but if I’d been super short armed, it would be tricky). I did still have had trouble riding with the open cockpit on tight terrain, including on my first commute (where I almost binned the bike at speed after I tried to take a tight right bend and the bars hit my inside leg).

I also gave up on the idea of riding this year’s Tour o’ the Borders on the Encore after I failed to climb the signature hill despite two attempts (at over 20% with lots of pulling on the bars, it was just too hard to keep enough power on and the bars away from my legs) – in the end I rode my High Baron, at 2-3kg heavier still fast enough for a 7th place finish.

Outside of hard climbs and tight manouvers, I did find the cockpit a pretty relaxing place to be. In particular I thought descending on the double-J bar was better than expected – at speed the Encore rides pretty nicely, although then you are more concious of the size of the bars in the wind.

I ran bar tape over Dura-ace bar end shifters and standard brake levers:

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Alf Chamings has a good section on the J-bars contrasted with his other bikes in his writeup here.

Lighting

Finally! A screw fitting on the bottom bracket allows you to mount a light at the optimum point (with separate adapter) – just like on a Euro s-bend frame from anyone since about 1933.

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No more lights on the bars which inevitably shine on your feet (which would drive me insane on a 24 hour ride) and no cludgy derailleur post adapters either. Plenty of people already enjoy riding stick bikes fast in the middle of the night, but they’ll enjoy it more with a light out in front of the boom. 😉

It’s not a massive selling point either way, but it’s much easier to mount a tail light on the Encore’s seat stays than on some other bikes, including my old Raptobike or High Baron.

Drivetrain

The Encore has the familiar stick bike drive layout of a single over/under idler around the front seat mount.

Unlike a Euro s-frame bike with boom, you don’t need to adjust the length of your chain when you’re sizing up the Encore, as the distance between the bottom bracket and rear dropouts is constant once the bike has come off the assembly line.

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Although I didn’t notice any blatant advantage when riding, the Encore has a very clean feeling drivetrain when you spin it by hand (compared to a typical s-frame drivetrain, especially one with chain tubing). It’s also not going to suffer from problems with the chain striking the wheel in tight turns or slapping the fork and frame when you’re powering over rough ground, as you get on a race-trimmed CHR.

I did find that the idler made a bit of noise when riding – no more than any other bike, but we’re still not quite at the point of having a silent recumbent under power!

The front end is a standard threaded BB mount, and worked perfectly with a spare pair of compact double cranks:

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Brakes

The frame is fitted with V-brake and disc mounts for the rear wheel, and I chose to build this example up with a Shimano V-brake so I could take advantage of my wide range of road wheels. Apart from a slight issue with the internal cable routing, which was a little tight to be ideal, I couldn’t have been happier. Powerful stoppers with no fuss – just like it should be, and a big contrast with the High Baron.

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The front brake was a Bacchetta x-eye and this was perfectly capable (the massive advantage is that it actually fits, without fuss and without threatening to hit the frame, chain, or whatever..)

Tyres and clearance

The Encore supports any wheel size, and will take tyres up to a whopping 700x42c for ultimate flexibility. The carbon MetaBike is probably the only other frame which remotely competes on this front, and (based on admittedly quite a short test ride of the carbon Meta) I think the Encore has the edge in handling.

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I only rode the bike with relatively narrow tyres – up to 700x28c which is my preferred balance between performance and tolerance of rough surfaces. At ~90psi on a 28mm tyre the bike was really comfortable and held to the road like glue on fast rough descents. Fitting bigger tyres would allow it to manage light gravel easily, although the height of the bike above the ground would make me nervous (I’ve only done gravel riding on a Challenge Furai with 24″ fat tyres).

Mudguards and luggage

You can fit proper mudguards to the Encore (“fenders” to our friends in the US) which is good news for people who like to ride in all weather. I don’t fancy four days non-stop riding in Paris-Brest-Paris with a steady trickle of water from the back wheel spraying my neck, thanks… 🙂

When it comes to luggage, you can just fit mainstream luggage to the bike for touring purposes (although you could also go with the usual type of seat bag by Radical et al, I found it difficult to mount anything on the seat due to the close proximity of the rear wheel – less extreme seating reclines are available though).

Conclusion

I did have the option to buy the Encore frameset (at market prices) but in the final analysis I decided that the bike wasn’t quite able to beat the High Baron: although undoubtedly lighter and arguably better looking, I just couldn’t quite get over the aero penalty I felt sitting higher up with the open cockpit bars, not to mention the occasional manouvering difficulty.

I was tempted to try the Encore with a tiller, but meh! It seemed like that would be a waste of the very nice double-J bars. Even with the Encore’s seat dropped to an unrealistically complimentary angle for review photos, this side-by-side photo shows how much sleeker the High Baron is:

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In fact my decision not to keep the bike myself actually made it quite difficult to put the finishing touches on this review. Normally the bikes I take out on test (from the Laid-Back-Bikes showroom) are already spoken for, as shop demos or customer builds, so the question of whether I would actually buy one is never that relevant. It is a bit harder to give such a warm recommendation for a bike you could easily have kept, but didn’t…

Overall I think the Encore is a cracking package, mitigating some of the worst difficulties of the stick bike format in a very good looking and lightweight format. It handles excellently within the constraints of the cockpit type and the seat height (although much lower than some stick bikes, you can see it is substantially higher than my High Baron in the photo above).

The fact that the bike is custom-sized and has great weight distribution is, in my mind, the biggest factor behind the great handling properties it enjoys. I really can’t over-emphasise how nice I found riding the bike compared with previous experience of conventional aluminium sticks.

It felt like it would be much easier to live with than the M5 CHRs I’ve tried, although that’s not a great comparison since at 5’10” I’m right on the marginal size to ride that bike at all. YMMV!

In a climate where recumbent manufacturers seem to be going bust in droves, the other thought you may be having is about the long term prospects of the new Schlitter outfit, and things like their dealer support. While I’ve found it very easy to get answers to my emails, of course this is something of a special case, and I can’t speak to the general experience.

However, based on my time with the Encore I would be surprised if these guys aren’t churning out bikes for a long time to come, and I wouldn’t be too concerned, especially if you are able to sort something out through a local dealer instead of ordering the bike unseen (after a few experiences with i.e. Raptobike, you get grateful for this kind of safety net…)

Overall verdict: highly recommended! And I’ll sell a kidney if these guys ever make an s-bend frame as low as the M5 Carbon High Racer but just a little bit more compact!

See also this review by Andy Allsopp, and also this excellent article by Alf Chamings (both of whom are accomplished long distance riders, i.e. London-Edinburgh-London / Paris-Brest-Paris)

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M5 Carbon High Racer review

Is this the fastest production recumbent money can buy? It just might be, although not without some significant pitfalls!

The pinnacle of performance… with some constraints

When I heard that Laid Back Bikes were stocking the M5 Carbon High Racer I had mixed feelings. Partly excitement, but partly trepidation too. With the possible exception of the Cruzbike Vendetta, it seems like there are no production bikes that challenge the M5 CHR for sheer performance on open roads (especially with the demise of rivals like Zockra, Velokraft, Troytec) so one way or another, I was about to discover how good things were going to get for the foreseeable future!

The CHR was introduced at Cycle Vision 2006, so it’s all the more testament to the design that nearly a decade later, largely unchanged, it still sits at the top of the pile. M5 have produced a few one-off bikes for the hour record, and of course there are bespoke options (like John Morciglio) and the barely-useable out-of-production VK Nocom… but that’s about it.

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The winning formula seems to be dual 700C wheels paired with what is conventionally a lowracer frame design – keeping seat height down to just 48cm (a bit over 19″ – without pad) and shielding the upper half of each wheel (where effective airspeed is highest) in the dirty air around the rider’s body. The M5 Carbon High Racer is actually lower than many midracers, and much lower than US-style stick bikes. Combine that with a massive all-carbon construction for ultimate stiffness, and away you go.

Aesthetically the M5 CHR is not great, in the eyes of this beholder – side-on is definitely the “best side” of this design – in the flesh it looks boxy and ungainly. The free flowing shapes of a Zockra or VK frame are much more pleasing, but you can at least admire the fact that the CHR was modelled and built for a specific purpose – to go fast, rather than merely to look fast!

In a strange way, it has something of the awkward kit-car feel that I got from the Milan velomobile I reviewed a few years back. There are options such as paint or a more traditional carbon finish, but then you’re talking about a nine month wait and significant upcharge from the factory.

If you want a really nice factory finish, the Schlitter Encore is far and away at the top of the pile (full review coming soon).

Weight

M5 make some bold claims for the all-up weight of the M5 CHR. I’ve now handled three separate examples but didn’t disassemble them to weigh the components separately – the one pictured tipped the scales at just over 10kg (22lbs) including seat pad and pedals, and there are some obvious weight savings that could be made if money was no object.

However, Aussie randonneur Andrew Heard has disassembled and weighed his CHR and the parts are heavier than you might think: 2600g for the frame, 500g for the boom, 670g for the seat, 440g for the fork, 200g for the bars.

Taking only the frame and boom into consideration, that means my High Baron is only 500g heavier than the CHR, while the fabulous Schlitter Encore (at 1900g) saves 1.2kg over the CHR (and the Schlitter is also cheaper… bonus!)

Weight isn’t everything – especially when the bike is very aerodynamic and the extra weight is providing a super stiff platform for power application. The front of the High Baron is noticeably soft compared with the CHR, especially in the small ring. However, a whole kilo saved on the Encore does contribute to measurably faster climbing: ~0.14mph extra on a 10mph hill with power and all else equal. Does the aerodynamic edge of the CHR (if any) outweigh this?

Performance

The CHR is very stiff compared with anything else I’ve ridden – and no wonder when you consider the enormous cross section of the frame:

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When it comes to speed, I did put the M5 head-to-head with my High Baron and the Schlitter Encore in this article. The take-home message is that without optimising the Laid-Back demo CHR for my purposes, there was nothing much in it at the low power levels I can sustain for multi-hour rides.

The M5 CHR could certainly be significantly sped up with a flatter seat, and I have set a couple of downhill Strava segment PRs on it, so there is definitely potential beyond the High Baron, which is slammed as far as it can go. Note also that the flat course deliberately isolated the aerodynamic component, further flattering the High Baron (which is heavier and more flexible than the CHR and Encore).

The best independent figures I’ve seen for the CHR are from this old post by Sean Costin where he gets 25.6mph for 200W in a velodrome with an aero wheelset – that’s a 3mph step up from my own speed at the same power and compares well with Larry Oslund’s recent 100 mile ride (25mph for 194W on an open road loop) on an optimised Cruzbike Vendetta.

As ever, be careful about ranking bikes based on the performance of their riders. CdA and Crr are objective measurements, and you don’t have to check many race reports to see what a massive difference the rider’s condition makes – see Maria Parker’s Hoodoo 500

Adjustment, Comfort and Handling

First and most important, the long wheelbase and slack head angle of the M5 CHR make it quite a limiting bike in terms of rider height.

At 5’10” with pretty average legs for my height (X-seam 42-43″) I can ride comfortably providing the cranks are cut down to 155mm. Regular cranks at 165mm would not be possible unless I went for a pedal with a higher stack height (i.e. effectively have slightly longer legs):

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You can of course drop down to a smaller wheel, like a 650 or 26″, but beware! For mortal cyclists who are not putting in massive wattage, rolling resistance is a huge component of performance and it scales roughly in reverse proportion to the size of your wheels. In this great topic on BROL, we see a more aerodynamic Velokraft VK2 lowracer is not actually faster than a Zockra highracer until somewhere around 300W, way beyond the sustainable power for most riders. This is because 50% more rolling resistance is more than offsetting the aero benefit.

Leg length aside, there is a deep drop from the bottom bracket to the seat on the M5 CHR, which may or may not suit you as a rider (some find it gives them hot feet, for instance) but the low seat height above the ground can hardly be overstated as a handling advantage. It’s just so easy to get your feet down on the CHR and this promotes confidence in traffic, hill starts, and the rest. In that respect, this is far and away the most rideable performance recumbent I’ve had the pleasure of pedalling.

At speed the long wheelbase makes the bike feel incredibly relaxed, and it’s almost possible to ride no hands.

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However, take a look at the amount of overlap between the chain and front wheel. Without running an extra idler, the M5 CHR can be an extreme handful to negotiate tight bends – if you venture onto bike trails, beware! It also adds an extra degree of difficulty to steep hill climbing, where you may be zig-zagging the bars. Pulling away from T-junctions on small country roads can also be quite a big challenge (I try to pre-position myself on the minor road, so I’ve got the first half of the turn done without crossing the give way line).

I run my High Baron with a dropped chain so am no stranger to this way of riding, which deliberately adds handling difficulty as a trade-off for drivetrain efficiency. The M5 CHR is an all-round harder bike to ride (chain dropped or otherwise) in exchange for the performance boost it gives you.

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The carbon seat is narrow but very comfortable – the curve at the bottom should not bother the back of your legs unless you go for a wildly laid back seat angle. Note the cut-out at the front of the seat to allow it to be mounted far forward – without this it would be impossible to fit riders less than 6′ or so to the bike at all!

This bike was fitted with the obligatory Ventisit pad. Nothing much to mention there!

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The seat angle is essentially fixed from the factory, to one of three different carbon “pillars” that hold the seat off the frame. (I believe it may be possible to get a new frame shipped bare with the pillars loose, if you want to experiment). The stock seating angles are not outrageous, at 18, 20, or 23 degrees. You can obviously pack under the seat to lift it, but vice-versa is not so straightforward.

Seat, Bars & Controls

Another distinguishing feature of the M5 cockpit is the short stem and tiny handlebars:

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I have to be honest and admit that these are too narrow for me. There’s not enough room to rest your whole hand on the bar, which is fine if you’re riding hard and paying attention, but not great for longer rides at all. An implementation with different shifters could clear enough space to rest the whole hand, but not this one.

However, I did really like the fancy aerodynamic brake levers mounted under the stem – very comfortable (even if the implementation does slightly fail to live up to its promise). I gather these are out of production unfortunately – you can just about see on my dual-700c lowracer project page that I ran conventional brake levers staggered on my Rapto’s stem for a while…

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The narrow width does promote a very tight and aerodynamic shape on the bike, which is its main advantage. Try holding the handlebar assembly of an open cockpit like Bacchetta’s out of the window of a car doing only 30mph and you will feel a surprising amount of resistance from all that tubing. The M5 solution keeps your computer and mirror close to your face and everything is tight for maximum efficiency.

In the interests of fairness, I will point out that a lot of US riders don’t seem to get on with this kind of bar at all, and ride open cockpit despite the disadvantages (or to be precise – for those riders the tiller bar has more disadvantages, so they made a smart choice). YMMV!

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Lighting

A nice touch is the front mount for lights – this saves attaching a heavy and potentially unreliable adaptor to your boom or derailleur post to carry illumination on longer events. (Ironically, this particular bike is fitted with an adaptor to mount a battery light, but standard European lights bolt directly to the boom).

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The back of the CHR is singularly badly suited to fitting lights. You can get by using the headrest at a push, or whatever your luggage solution is, hang a light off it!

Drivetrain

You can run your choice of drivetrain on the M5 CHR. This particular bike had a tighter cassette than I’m used to (for smaller jumps between gears) but a triple ring up front to allow climbs of 20% or more, as demonstrated by David Gardiner on the Tour o’ the Borders.

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The same hill completely defeated me on the Schlitter Encore and I was barely able to manage it on the High Baron, but of course you can choose your own gears, so YMMV! The bottom bracket is a standard threaded fitment. No press-fit here…

m5_carbon_high_racer_5

Perhaps because of the boxy carbon frame, I found the M5 Carbon High Racer to have a fairly loud drivetrain. The short length of chaintube was OK (although my own bike I would remove this and have a dirty leg) but the power idler really rattled. It wasn’t any better or worse than my High Baron, but I would pay a lot of money for a totally silent recumbent drivetrain 🙁

m5_carbon_high_racer_2

This bike had a return idler fitted to the headtube which helped make the bike more steerable in tight sections and also reduces the chance of slipping the chain from the front end. Again, you’re trading a straight and efficient drivetrain for handling convenience.

Brakes

I gave the brakes their own section merely to emphasise how much better they are than the brakes on my High Baron. These are the exotic M5 super-light Brams brakes, tipping the scales at 80g. (Not quite enough to offset the 1.2kg weight penalty over the Encore frameset, but pretty nice all the same).

m5_carbon_high_racer_13

The brakes are plenty powerful even with the thumb lever on the handlebars, allowing you to ride with confidence. The rear caliper is mounted under the frame, protecting it from road spray and improving the cable run:

m5_carbon_high_racer_12

Tyres and clearance

The M5 Carbon High Racer has disappointingly small tyre clearance – 25mm tyres are the widest I could fit, and even then it required a tight and true wheel. My favoured 28mm Schwalbe One was a complete no-go!

The pictures here are showing a 25mm tyre, with basically no clearance at the front or rear:

m5_carbon_high_racer_14

This is one of the few areas where the bike shows its age. Now that the peleton is moving even to 25mm tyres (wider for the Spring classics) it’s a bit awkward to have a recumbent that won’t run to 28mm. We don’t need the massive clearance of a Metabike frame here, but unless you ride perfect blacktop asphalt, it does put the CHR at an unnecessary disadvantage.

Don’t get me wrong – the CHR is a fantastic descender with the super stable long wheelbase and slack head angle. However, on quiet Scottish roads, it’s certainly losing out without the ability to run a more forgiving, faster-rolling tyre.

m5_carbon_high_racer_15

Mudguards and luggage

A front mudguard is not so easy, but a rear one can be fitted too much trouble. And as for luggage… you can fit a rack and do some touring if you can only get over the limited tyre size. In fact, as one visitor to Edinburgh demonstrated, you can go crazy on your touring luggage!

m5_chr_luggage

Conclusion

In the end the M5 Carbon High Racer is a bit of a mixed bag.

When I first rode the High Baron, I was instantly hooked. It handled perfectly, it was super smooth and easy to live with (except the terrible brakes!) and put out a mean turn of speed for a very reasonable price. I expected to get on the M5 CHR and feel like I had “gone to 11” but in the end it was a much more incremental experience. Perhaps the hype is so great that I was inevitably going to be slightly let down.

If you aren’t tall enough, handling could be badly compromised, or you might have to compromise the spec of the bike itself to get on it. Once you’re on, if you can put up with the sometimes challenging low-speed handling, the minimal tyre clearance, the tiny handlebars, and the fact that it’s surprisingly heavy for a fully carbon bike… you’ll be on a super stiff and aerodynamic speed machine!

While there are certainly lowracers with a more aerodynamic profile, only the most powerful riders can hope to put in enough watts to overcome the higher rolling resistance of those designs. The average guy (and anyone doing brevets!) will experience better performance on a big-wheeled bike, and pretty much the best performance of all on the M5 CHR.

Don’t get me wrong – the M5 Carbon High Racer *is* the fastest bike I’ve ever ridden over mixed conditions on real world roads. It’s really quite tempting as a prospect to replace my High Baron for a big year of riding in 2016, if not the step-change in performance that I hoped it would be (and at considerable expense!)

For casual riders, I’m not convinced the M5 Carbon High Racer is such a good choice, especially if it would be your only bike. It’s a bit of a hassle, and it punishes mistakes in a way that would simply never happen on a Nazca or Optima design. As a first recumbent this would be a very courageous choice indeed.

In my opinion the Schlitter Encore (and perhaps the carbon Metabike or Performer HR) is a massive challenger for our money if you are looking for a better *all round* experience. See Rob Williams’ (aka Darkersider) short review of this same M5 CHR for perhaps a more positive outlook.

Available to demo now via Laid Back Bikes, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend this bike without trying it out first… you have been warned! 🙂

Related articles

Fast 700c recumbents – power test

A side-by-side comparison of the speed of the Schlitter Encore, Optima High Baron and M5 Carbon Highracer

Side by side M5 CHR, Schlitter Encore, Optima High Baron

I’ve been riding a review copy of the Schlitter Encore recently, along with the Optima High Baron which carried me to a 7th place finish at this year’s Tour o’ the Borders.

To complete a nice side-by-side performance test I borrowed the demo M5 Carbon Highracer from Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh – brief side by side comparison here.

The test protocol was simple – go to the promenade and ride up and down beside the sea (nice and flat) holding a given power for the whole of a lap without touching the brakes, then see how fast I went on each bike.

I varied as little as possible between the bikes, including using the same wheels (where possible) and power meter etc. I also tried for the calmest conditions in terms of wind, although naturally in Edinburgh it was impossible to find a calm day.

Just a note – it would be much better to perform virtual elevation calculations for each bike. I think there is a good bit of error in the testing described below, but I just can’t find a convenient route that doesn’t require use of the brakes (compounded by living in the world’s windiest place… it’s a hassle!).

Until someone produces a proper calculation, we make do with cruising beside the sea in the sunshine… I suggest that these results are taken as indicative only, though for what it’s worth I do feel that the ordering matches my gut feel of how each bike rides.

Headline results

It turned out to be a little tricky to get exactly the target wattage for each run, so first of all here is a graph of speed per watt for each bike (all laps of both directions averaged) to give a comparable ranking of “bang for your buck”.

overall-speed

To add extra context, I’ve plotted previous data from a head-to-head comparison between my DF racer and the Raptobike Midracer which was not captured at the prom (and obviously on a different day, three years ago!)

As you would expect, while you go faster at 250W than 200W, higher power gives diminishing returns due to the exponential increase in wind resistance, so the high power runs (plotted in red) show less speed per watt than the lower power runs (plotted in blue).

The ordering hopefully won’t come as much of a surprise, with my DF racer languishing at the bottom of the pile. The M5 Carbon Highracer was fastest, followed closely by the Optima High Baron, with the Schlitter Encore coming in just behind. Probably the most interesting thing about this for me was how little separated each bike:

rawdata

The next chart breaks down the laps by direction. You can see variation between the bikes that is only really attributable to varying wind speed as the test went on (the Encore does better downwind and worse upwind than you might expect, presumably because the wind speed / direction wasn’t steady). That said, if the Encore was less aerodynamic you would expect to see it hurting more on the upwind laps than the downwind ones (the big open cockpit riding in the airstream etc?):

wind direction

Assorted caveats

TL;DR – the CHR is a shop demo and not optimised for naked speed, the Encore is a new-to-me review bike and I haven’t spent a lot of time tweaking it, while the High Baron has been mine for three years and I’m very comfortable on it!

Here are a few confounding factors to consider in detail:

– I’m not tall enough to ride the CHR with my power chainset (170mm) so I was using a PowerTap wheel and plain 155mm cranks instead. The PowerTap reads 1-2W higher based on testing conducted with both meters fitted on a turbo trainer (so this slightly disadvantages the CHR, by about half of one percent – down in the noise of wind gusts unfortunately).
– I used the same 32 spoke 3-cross Archetype wheelset with 28mm Schwalbe Ultremo tyres on the Encore and High Baron, but the M5 CHR doesn’t have enough clearance, so I had to use the provided Shimano R500 front with Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres (faster wheels but slower tyres on the CHR).
– The Archetype wheelset has a Shutter Precision hub dynamo on the front, the R500 does not. (The lights were off, but there is still a small amount of extra friction, amounting to the equivalent of a couple of feet per mile extra gradient).
– I used a Radical Aero seatbag on all three bikes, but on the CHR I used the stock bag from Laid-Back-Bikes which still has the fabric bottle holder on the side – I cut this off on my own Aero seatbag.
– I didn’t have a mirror fitted on the Baron or Encore but had a small mirror fitted on the CHR, although I turned it parallel to the wind for the test.
– Both the M5 CHR and High Baron are running dropped chains, but the CHR has a bit of chain tube to make it more useful as a shop demo, which will add some (an unknown amount of) friction to further disadvantage the CHR.

Seat Angle

Refer to the posts linked in the first two paragraphs for photos of all three bikes (I’m afraid I’m still working on formal reviews of the M5 CHR and Encore, so don’t have comparable shots of them to stick in a rollover).

My High Baron is as reclined as the frame will allow, but the M5 CHR can go flatter with a bit of modification to fit a lower seat pillar, as can the Encore (to a lesser extent – the seat back was closer to the max recline without doing something drastic).

If you’re willing to ride with a really low angle seat you can certainly get more speed out of these two bikes than I’ve demonstrated, whereas the High Baron is probably about as good as anyone is going to get it. (M5 have the world hour record on a similar design where the rider lies flat on his back!). Of course, you may not want to ride around flat on your back with special measures to avoid looking under your bars to see the road ahead. There’s a reason that almost all bikes are sold with a seat at these angles or above…

You could also put a tiller on an Encore very easily, and get your arms tucked up out of the way (while the J-bars are one of the big selling points of this design, you are sticking a couple of feet of pipe into the airstream above your knees, and also your arms are spread wider). But maybe you’ll decide that a nice handling bike which is pretty fast is fast enough! There’s more to life than speed at any cost…

Weight

Finally, I didn’t attempt to equalise the weight of the bikes, since I’m not interested in purely their aerodynamics, rather the “complete package”, and on the flat the difference should be minimal anyway. However, note that the M5 CHR and Schlitter Encore both weighed in at a little over 10kg (22lbs ish) whereas my High Baron weighs more like 11.5 – 12kg in current form.

All could be lightened but the High Baron will always be heavier. This, plus frame and cockpit stiffness, would show up in a bigger way on an actual cycle ride with hills, dropping the High Baron down the ranking.

I believe (subject to a full dismantling and the weighing of individual parts) that the Encore can be made lighter than the M5 CHR.

Anyway… hopefully this is of interest, and as ever, feel free to drop a comment below…

Randonneuring: recumbent efficiency

Measuring the difference in wattage between equivalent performances on a 400km brevet, recumbent vs upright

It’s easier lying down… but not by as much as you might think.

I’ve written before about the power advantage my High Baron recumbent enjoys over my normal road bike, but only in the context of a ~20 mile commute to work. I found that on average each recumbent mile cost 36.2kCal, versus 47.3kCal for each upright mile.

If that held out for a long brevet, it would be a significant advantage to the recumbent platform (a 3800kCal saving on a 600km brevet, for instance). But how comparable is my commute, an hour pretty much as fast as I can go, with an all-day or even a multi-day effort?

Now that power meters are getting a bit more commonplace, it’s easier to answer this question without going to heroic solo efforts in the name of science.

recumbent_vs_road_bike

I rode the National 400 out of Dingwall this year, 256 miles (or ~400km! 😉 ) with around 14,000 feet (4270m) of ascent. Rather than ride the National 400 route twice on different bikes, instead I’m going to compare my power with another rider who did the course on the same day. The advantage of this is that weather etc. is exactly matched, but the danger is that energy use is proportional to weight (especially going uphill) and also the speed you travel at, and if these aren’t controlled, you might not get such useful data. In particular, if riders are drafting you may as well call the whole thing off!

Fortunately in this case our speeds were fairly closely matched and neither was drafting at all. I chose four segments between controls in the middle of the ride for comparison, as our average moving speeds were 16.496mph (recumbent) vs 16.507mph (upright), probably close enough! The total distance was 137.6 miles, the ascent 7,500 feet and the route profile between each control is as follows:

seg1

seg2

seg3

seg4

As you can see, it wasn’t the hilliest of routes, but there was a respectable amount of climbing. The first segment had a bit of a headwind, the others a tailwind. See the overall map view:

map

Before looking at energy used, it will be useful to calculate the respective weights. I looked at a fairly steep hill (7-8%) to broadly isolate the weight component. In this case the recumbent sustained 7.7mph for 247W, while the upright got 8mph for 239W. Knowing fairly accurately the all-up weight of one rider, we can crudely solve for the all-up weight of the other. In this case my own weight (inclusive of bike, spare clothes, tools, 2L of water) works out at roughly 6.5kg heavier than the rider on the upright.

Ideally we would have had a set of scales at the arrivée, but what can you do! This will be useful in a moment as a caveat on the overall comparison…

Knowing duration and average power we can calculate total energy consumption across each platform. See the table below for some of the detail:

Notwithstanding the weight penalty, the recumbent rider travelled at the same speed using 8.5% less energy.

Overall the recumbent used 5240kJ (36.9kJ per mile) whereas the upright used 5715kJ (40.27kJ per mile). The calculated efficiency for the recumbent is interestingly close to the 36.2kJ from my previous comparison, but the DF efficiency is much better than my commute’s 47.3kJ per mile. Quite a different result overall to the 24.5% saving on my commute – I suppose this highlights the difference between riding at 15mph and 20mph, which is my average speed for a commute, in terms of the recumbent’s aero advantage.

(I’ll just take this opportunity to point out that my recumbent, pictured below, didn’t weigh 6.5kg more than the upright, although it contributes a couple of kilos for sure. If I’m honest, it’s probably mostly the rider who was a bit more portly!)

highbaronchainline

When you break it down a bit, as expected the relatively flat stage over the watershed from Lairg to Achfary (roughly 30 miles, 800 feet of climbing, into the wind) shows a dramatically better result for the recumbent than the other stages (hillier, no headwind). I was travelling at 18.4mph while the upright rider made 16.7mph – yet I used just 885kJ to get between controls, compared to 1091kJ for the upright – an increase of 23% in energy spent AND a reduction in 1.7mph average speed…

Anyway, that’s quite enough geeking out on power data for one day. Hopefully this is thought-provoking – please drop a comment below if you have any feedback!

Schlitter Encore preview

Early thoughts on the excellent Schlitter Encore – a custom sized, aggressively priced carbon highracer

Aggressively priced custom-sized carbon highracer

Last weekend I got out on the Schlitter Encore for my first long ride – a hilly 55 miles around the Tour o’ the Borders short route with David Gardiner of Laid Back Bikes (who took these pictures).

The company kindly sent me a frameset to build up and review, so I’m now using it to put in the miles before coming to a final verdict. However, here are some early impressions…

encore-preview1

First, the Encore is scandalously light. Even with spare parts from my garage collection the complete bike (including pedals and seat pad) weighs in at ~10kg, so it could easily be lighter if you invest in the finishing kit. As it is, I don’t think you will find a lighter frameset off the peg at anything like this price. A frameset will set you back a little over 1900EUR.

It’s also impressively stiff – possibly the stiffest recumbent I’ve ridden since my RaptoBike lowracer. That said, the super long handlebar setup does bend a lot when you haul on it, which is giving me some caution trying to rank the bike absolutely (I’m not sure how I would rank it against the M5 CHR for stiffness, for instance).

The frame does not have a sliding boom – instead the factory glue the BB ‘cap’ onto the end of the frame once cut to length. There is a little adjustment in the seat clamp to allow a range of riders to fit comfortably, so it’s not going to be impossible to sell on, but someone with the original owner’s dimensions is always going to be in the sweet spot.

And what a sweet spot it is!

encore-preview3

It’s hard to overstate how well the Encore handles in a general sense. It’s night and day compared to the poor experience I had on the Bacchetta Corsa, quite apart from the issue of getting your feet down (see below). The bike is perfectly balanced which means you can take full advantage of the short wheelbase without it feeling too unstable or twitchy.

Although there are other reasons to choose one over the other, I would rank the Encore above the Metabike (carbon and aluminium versions) in the handling stakes too. You can see from the photos that these are challenging roads, but I was able to descend almost as fast on the Encore as I did on my High Baron next time out. The MetaBike never quite made it for me on limited review mileage. That’s extremely impressive when you consider how much experience I have on my own bike!

encore-preview2

Although the seat is still high compared to the High Baron (or especially the M5 CHR) it’s fine for me to touch down when stationary without having to move on the seat. Since I have a relatively short x-seam, this makes the bike even more attractive compared to the traditional stick bike models.

One of the most visible innovations on the bike are the handlebars – “J-bars” which try to combine the open cockpit riding position with the forward visibility of a tiller setup. I’ve never got on with open cockpits in general, but I will say that the bars on the Encore are surprisingly comfortable once you get them adjusted right. The forward visibility really is excellent and for that reason alone I think they’re a no brainer.

encore-preview4

Unfortunately I’ve already had two incidents where the bar hit my thigh. One forced me to abandon the steep (> 20%) climb up Talla because I just couldn’t keep my legs inside the bars while putting out full power to keep the bike moving. The second was a high speed sweeping turn onto a shared path where I had to basically slam my inside foot into the ground and grind on my cleat to stay upright after entering the corner a bit too fast and sharply. I should add that in normal riding (including a few rush hour commutes) the Encore has given me no trouble at all. I’m probably just too used to the ease of the tiller setup.

I don’t feel the Encore is quite as aerodynamic as the High Baron for any given seat angle, and indeed my power meter testing shows a small advantage to the Optima (to the tune of ~0.5mph at 200W) on the flat. I used the same wheelset for this comparison and think it is broadly valid, although more research is needed!

Anyway, enough rambling for now. It’s time to go for a ride!

Hit the comments section if you have any questions or feedback…

encore-preview5

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:

none

  • 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!

GP4000s II vs Pro 4 Service Course

Continental GP4000s or Michelin Pro 4 Service Course? Which of these top-flight road bike tyres is best for you, and where’s cheapest to buy them?

Michelin and Continental: who makes the best road tyre?

My review of the Continental GP4000s II is one of the most popular on the site, and I notice this week that they’re now up to a cracking 41% discount on Wiggle.

However, this year I’ve also been dabbling with the dark side and fitted a pair of Michelin Pro 4 Service Course slicks to my main road bike. These are also going for a song at 40% off. Clearly this is the time of year to grab a bargain on some new road tyres…

These two tyres are very much targeted at the same audience. I’m basically a long-term GP4000s rider whose tyre geekery means I can’t resist picking up different tyres when I catch a good deal. After the popularity of my Ultremo comparison, I decided to put together another overview to help you decide which tyre is right for you.

michelin-pro4-vs-gp4000-ii

Comfort / handling: Michelin Pro 4 Service Course

The Michelin Pro 4 reminds me distinctly of the Ultremo ZX when it comes to comfort and handling – it’s definitely my preferred tyre over the GP4000s in this respect.

The GP4000s has fantastic rolling resistance but it can sometimes feel workmanlike on the bike, with the Pro 4 providing a little more plushness, whatever the lab tests might suggest.

In fairness, both of these tyres are leaps and bounds ahead of the cheap rubber that is supplied as OEM kit on many new bikes, so if you’re looking for a first upgrade you can’t really lose.

If you already run one of the top-flight tyres there’s less advantage to be gained. The GP4000s, to me, loses out just a little and this is probably because the tyre has a higher level of durability designed in, so you just need to take your pick.

Durability: Continental GP4000s II

Continental struck gold with the design of the GP4000s, hitting almost the perfect balance of grip and durability with their Black Chilli rubber.

While the Pro 4 Service Course is a big step forward over the Pro 3 in terms of tread cuts, and while I’m still running through my first set, I can’t see them matching the impressive total mileage I’m used to expecting from the GP4000s.

While the feel of the Michelins suggests to me that they just won’t see out the Contis, I could be wrong. I’ll update this with a final mileage estimate when the time comes.

michelin-pro4-service-course

Weight: Michelin Pro 4 Service Course

My actual Pro 4 tyres weighed in at just over 200g each (a little heavier than claimed), making them pretty much a wash against the 205g GP4000s. Let’s be completely honest here- 10 or 20g won’t make an appreciable difference to you anyway, regardless of the fact that it is rotating weight.

It’s just not a significant component of your power-to-weight ratio given that the mass of rider plus bike for the average reader of this site is probably going on for 100,000g (100kg).

In the interests of fairness, I’ve given Michelin the nod here as their label weight is slightly lower.

Puncture Protection: Continental GP4000s II

When the Pro 4 Service Course was released, much was made of the revised tread and carcass which promised much greater cut resistance than its predecessor. While I’m sure that’s true, the GP4000s remains the reference model for me when it comes to puncture protection on a racing tyre.

The GP4000s features a Vectran fibre breaker layer which does an excellent job defending the tyre from unwanted penetration. I’d still choose the Pro 4 over something like Vittoria’s Open Corsa, but I don’t find the tread quite as reassuring on the Continental tyre. We’ll see if I change my mind after running this set into the ground, as my experience of the GP4000s is that it tends to be fine until a spate of punctures near its end of life – my Pro 4s are still a way off needing replaced, even at the rear.

Sidewall protection: Continental GP4000s II

I haven’t had any sidewall issues with the Pro 4, so it might seem unfair to put the GP4000s in front in this category. It’s just my feeling based on running each tyre through my fingers that the construction of the Pro 4 Service Course is a little more supple (and thus a little more slender) when it comes to the sidewalls.

While I’ve even ridden on unsealed surfaces on the GP4000s I would be extremely hesitant about doing so with the Pro 4!

As with Schwalbe’s Ultremo ZX, Michelin have consciously chosen to emphasise a supple tyre – if you want a fast tyre which is a bit more rugged, take a look at the Pro4 Endurance (the new Krylion) which Wiggle have at a nice 41% saving. That tyre incorporates extra protection at the expense of some rolling resistance – just a decision you need to make.

Continental GP4000s in the mud

Rolling resistance: Continental GP4000s II

The Michelin Pro 4 Service Course is a lovely supple tyre that really eats up the road. Over this Easter I put in almost 250km looping around the Border hills on single track roads, and even when the top dressing had started to weather I still felt it was seriously rapid.

However, there’s no question that Continental hit the ball out of the park with the GP4000s and Black Chilli – a recipe that has remained unchanged for years but still performs at the highest level on rolling tests.

My gut instinct based on riding these tyres is that the Pro 4 slightly edges it, based on road feel. However, road feel is a poor substitute for CRR tests, and the figures I’ve seen online aren’t suggesting Continental’s engineers will be losing much sleep over the Pro 4.

At the end of the day the difference is paper thin, so I think you’d be better off deciding between these tyres based on other factors.

Styling: Michelin Pro 4 Service Course

Neither of these tyres really looks that great, in my opinion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but the GP4000s is too plain and the Pro 4 isn’t much better. If you want a great-looking road tyre, the Ultremo ZX is where it’s at.

Not that cycling has ever been about looks, right?

GP4000s-vs-pro4-feat-final

Conclusion: GP4000s II

While the Pro 4 is a little more economically priced than the GP4000s, the hassle of changing tyres (or avoiding it!) is worth much more to me than that. Both tyres perform closely enough that overall I’d prefer Continental’s track record of resilience with the GP4000s for putting in the serious miles.

On the other hand, as with the Ultremo, the Pro 4 Service Course is a winner in terms of ride quality and for a Sunday bike or special days out, why not? I’m certainly in no rush to take mine off for another set of the GP4000s, even if they don’t roll quite as quickly in a lab.

gp4000s-vs-pro4

Looking for a good discount?

At the time of writing, both Chain Reaction and Wiggle have hefty discounts on the GP4000s II and Pro 4 Service Course tyres. Take a look:

  • Continental GP4000s II: Wiggle have a 41% discount while Chain Reaction are doing 33% off.
  • Michelin Pro 4 Service Course: Chain Reaction have a 40% discount while Wiggle are doing 44% off.

Garmin Edge GPS: complete range comparison

A head-to-head guide to every model of Garmin Edge GPS bike computer…

Buy the right Garmin GPS without wasting a ton of cash

(hint: don’t buy them all!)

Garmin’s Edge range of GPS bike computers has seven models of ever-increasing cost and complexity.

You probably just want one, but luckily for you (and unluckily for my wallet) I’ve ended up owning five GPS devices and can do this gratuitous handlebar shot. I have the Edge Touring, not the Touring Plus, and an Edge 810 over the older 800:

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Admittedly this is an unhealthy and expensive obsession…

Lots of sites will give you a huge table of features to compare, but like me your eyes probably glaze over after the fifteenth column. 😉

So, in ascending order of eye-watering price, here’s a concise guide to which Edge GPS is right for you (and why you might want to spend more):

The Garmin Edge range in one sentence each

  • the Edge 200 is a steal if you just want a bike computer that records GPS traces to look at later.
  • the Edge 500 does almost everything the Edge 510 does, but cheaper. If you want Ant+ sensors on a budget, you won’t regret it.
  • the Edge 510 improves on the Edge 500 if you’d like to easily choose between different data screens (i.e. one bike with PowerTap, one without), has better altitude and trace visualisation and bluetooth PC / phone integration.
  • the Edge Touring gives you mapping and navigation at a great price, so long as you don’t care about Ant+ sensors or altitude.
  • the Edge Touring Plus is very close to the Edge 800 in price, but does a lot less (but is much simpler).
  • the Edge 800 does almost everything the Edge 810 does for much less money.
  • the Edge 810 improves on the Edge 800 if you’d like to easily choose between different data screens (i.e. one bike with PowerTap, one without) or want bluetooth PC / phone integration.

Garmin Edge 200

If all you want while riding your bike is conventional stuff like speed, distance, and time, then the Edge 200 is all you need. You can just ignore the fact that it uses GPS while out riding, and you can’t significantly improve the GPS track it saves even with a device costing four times as much. It will be more accurate than the traces everyone else is uploading to Strava or MapMyRide from their phone, anyway 🙂

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The Edge 200 has much better battery life than a mobile, it’s smaller and less obtrusive on the handlebars, and it’s more reliable too (I’ve still to find a decent Android bike app).

Don’t dismiss this simple little gem just because it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles! Wiggle have these for under £90 (20% off) at the time of writing, while Chain Reaction are doing a similar deal.

There are two main reasons you might want to spend more:

  • [jump] you want to record external sensor data (such as heart rate or cadence)
  • [jump] you want to see colour mapping, and have your GPS actually navigate for you (like a car satnav).

Garmin Edge 500

The 500 has the same compact size as the Edge 200 but integrates fully with Ant+ sensors for heart rate, cadence, and power.

Being one of the older models, your wallet may thank you for picking up an Edge 500 – there are often good deals on refurb models from Wiggle, while Chain Reaction are doing a straight 10% off at the time of writing.

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If you want a lot of data while you ride, the Edge 500 offers all you can imagine… instead of displaying one page of ordinary cycle computer data fields, you can have up to five pages each with up to eight configurable data fields.

I have one page for “right now” fields like current speed, cadence, and heart rate, another page for lap averages, while a third does trip totals, time of day, temperature and so on.

Additionally, the Edge 500 is equipped with a barometric altimeter allowing it to record quite accurate elevation data (something which is lacking in the Edge 200). However, it should be noted that many sites will overwrite the elevation data recorded on your ride using survey data, so this isn’t as big a deal as you might imagine.

The Edge 500 doesn’t “navigate” you, but it does have the ability to display a breadcrumb trail of a route you downloaded in advance (DIY or someone else’s). Like a road map with only one road (and no background detail) this will still display turn cues and warn you if you go off route.

There are two main reasons you might want to spend more:

  • [jump] you want to regularly use your GPS with multiple bikes or prefer a touch-screen interface
  • [jump] you want to see colour mapping, and have your GPS actually navigate for you (like a car satnav).

Garmin Edge 510

The Edge 510 is the big brother of the Edge 500, offering a similar number of data fields, integration with Ant+ sensors (speed, cadence, heart rate, power) and the ability to follow a pre-loaded route with turn cues – but no mapping or navigation.

You aren’t likely to find the 510 as a refurb deal, and it’s almost 50% more expensive than the 500: Wiggle currently have it for 12% off, while Chain Reaction are also doing 12% off.

garmin-edge-510

The main advantages of the Edge 510 over the Edge 500 are the touch-screen interface (an improvement over the sometimes frustrating process of remembering what the four buttons on the 500 do in every different situation!) and slightly better screen, but principally the ability to have a different screen setup for different bikes.

This is really useful once you start adding external sensors because, say, the fields you want to see on race day on a PowerTap-equipped time trial bike or a cross bike with heart rate strap are probably quite different to the fields you want to see riding to work on your shopper (with no sensors at all).

On the Edge 500 you’re stuck with one set of fields (although you can turn individual pages on and off without too much pain) but the Edge 510 allows you to set up the whole interface differently for each of your bikes.

The Edge 510 offers a full time altitude profile (missing from the Edge 500, but of limited interest while riding) and the navigation (follow trace) screen is a bit better too.

Finally, the Edge 510 will interface with a phone to allow real-time tracking online (if you have signal, and while your phone battery lasts). A niche feature? I’ll let you decide…

There’s only one reason you might want to spend more:

  • [jump] you want to see colour mapping, and have your GPS actually navigate for you (like a car satnav).

Garmin Edge Touring / Plus

The Edge Touring is a stripped-down version of the Edge 800, aimed at those who want navigation but *not* training / performance features.

The basic Edge Touring is only a little more expensive than the Edge 500: Wiggle are doing it for well under £200 (10% off), while Chain Reaction have 10% off.

garmin-edge-touring

With identical hardware but a streamlined firmware package, you lose the ability to interface with Ant+ sensors altogether (although you can pay £50 more for the Edge Touring Plus, this still only allows a HRM strap – no cadence or power).

Instead of sensors, Garmin are pushing the Edge Touring on navigation features – A to B (or circular) routes calculated using OpenStreetMap data, displayed on the excellent full-colour display. If you buy the Edge Plus you get a microSD card with maps pre-loaded, otherwise you have to get these as a free download.

The data fields that can be displayed on the Edge Touring are reduced, but still likely to satisfy a less data-obsessed rider – while the trace recorded for later analysis is top notch. The Touring Plus has the barometric altimeter enabled and displays a rolling profile of your ride along with current altitude and ascent.

Battery life on the Edge Touring models is good enough for a couple of average days in the saddle (or one really long one) at around 17 hours. While many people have been scratching their heads over a touring GPS which doesn’t take AA batteries, this is the downside of Garmin recycling their Edge 800 hardware – you’ll need to use an external AA battery pack instead (I’ve managed a 1200km continuous trace this way), though sadly the waterproofing of the Edge is compromised while under external power.

There’s only one reason you might want to spend more:

  • [jump] you want Ant+ integration and performance/training features alongside satnav

Garmin Edge 800

Despite the arrival of the 810, the Edge 800 is still readily available for a relatively small premium over the Edge Touring – Wiggle are doing it for 25% off just now, while Chain Reaction have 25% off too.

This will add all of the performance features you’d find in the Edge 500 combined with the screen, mapping and navigation abilities offered by the Edge Touring. As you’d expect, the firmware isn’t as simple as the Edge Touring and you’ll have to put a bit more time in to get the most out of the Edge 800.

In many ways the Edge 800 looks like the real sweet spot of the range just now:

– compared to the Edge Touring, you’re adding Ant+ sensors and a slew of performance data and training features for very little extra money
– compared to the Edge 510, you’re adding a bigger screen, full colour mapping and navigation for very little extra money.

Why would you spend more?

  • [jump] you want a few bells and whistles like smartphone integration

Garmin Edge 810

The 810 is more of an evolution than a real advance on the Edge 800, but comes at a hefty price premium unless you can find it on sale – worth keeping an eye on both Wiggle and Chain Reaction for this one.

garmin-edge-810

The main feature of note is the ability to customise the interface for each of your bikes (as with the Edge 510) – something that’s missing on the Edge 800, which is stuck with shared data screens for all bikes (though the 800 allows you to turn particular pages on and off).

However, apart from that, a streamlining of the menu interface and smartphone integration for live tracking online, that’s about all you get for a significant extra chunk of cash. Bluetooth is nice for uploading rides without reaching for the USB cable, but it strips an hour from the battery life of the Edge 810, so it’s not a clear-cut decision…

I have an Edge 810, but I’m pretty sure I’d have been happy sticking with the old 800.

Conclusion

My better half loves the Edge 200 and turns her nose up at anything more complicated – even the Edge Touring. She just wants to know the basics while riding, and to upload to Strava and look back on later.

The Edge Touring is a nice upgrade along the same lines, adding mapping (for a fistful of dollars). To be honest I didn’t think I saw the point of the Touring models until I actually started using mine – the simple interface is a massive improvement.

If I had to choose just one GPS, more often than not I reach for the Edge 500 – compact, reliable, and feature full. I ride with power, so the 200 and Edge Touring aren’t going to cut it.

For unknown rides where I want a map, the Edge 800 is ideal (I’ve got an 810, but I regret it). Many will be quite happy with one of the cheaper GPS models and falling back on their phone for the odd bit of mapping.

Whatever you choose, riding with GPS is major step up from conventional bike computers. The fact that you can look back and see where you rode any time in the past (and how long it took you to get anywhere) is a massive bonus.

Sebastiaan Bowier: fastest human ever

VeloX3 hits 83.13mph at Battle Mountain 2013…

VeloX3 hits 83.13mph at Battle Mountain 2013

Congratulations to HPT Delft / Amsterdam who have managed to clinch the world record at the eleventh hour of this year’s Battle Mountain event.

It’s the third attempt by the Dutch team (who are supported, amongst others, by RaptoBike) to take the crown from Canadian Sam Whittingham.

Rather than copy and paste their press release like everyone else has, I’ll just direct you to the press release 🙂

I mainly wanted to share these excellent pics by team photographer Bas de Meijer:

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