2016 Tour o’ the Borders – video

1st place finish at this year’s Touro, shortly after the birth of our twins… a gruelling effort!

So the big day finally arrived, three weeks after the birth of twins which made the McCraw household less of a place for bikes and event preparation…

After hardly any sleep for weeks, lots went wrong on the day but I can’t be too critical because I pulled off the upset, placing 1st with a time of 3:31 on a very windy and respectably hilly course. Again, proper write-up to follow in due course!

Who would have imagined that I would be the first rider to summit the 20% climb at Talla… on a recumbent?

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I can only say that the agony of having newborn twins makes any amount of bike riding, however hard, seem like no problem – so I can’t take much of the credit for this performance… In the meantime, below is the whole of the event sped up to 800%.

At 3:00 into the video you can see me put in a break on the peleton (such as it was). I held this for almost the whole of the next 69 miles, and was first to summit four of the five climbs on the event – all except Paddy Slacks near the finish, where I had finally been reeled in by another break. I then set the KOM on Paddy Slacks descent towards the Tweed by quite some margin to go on and sneak the overall result by just five seconds.

More highlights from the video:

The climb up Talla begins at 10:00 and the descent down the other side at 11:00

The descent from Megget to the extremely fast St Mary’s Loch section is from 12:00 (picked up a KOM here!)

The descent from Berrybush into Ettrick valley at 15:50

Finishing the Swire climb and screaming descent from 19:35

The final climb up Paddy Slacks starts at 22:00 and you’ll see one solo rider then two pairs manage to pass me. I immediately overtake the second pair on the descent (from 23:30) where I picked up another KOM.

Pain now to Peebles. After 26:00 you can see some nice descending from Kailzie and the run in to the finish. Boom!

To be continued with a full write up in due course…

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2016 Etape Caledonia – video

Headcam footage of the first half of the 2016 Etape Caledonia (I finished in 21st place).

This year I rode the Etape Caledonia as a warm-up to get me training early in the year (if you like, a B event ahead of August’s Tour o’ the Borders).

I finished in 21st place, five minutes off the pace, which wasn’t awful for the first ride of the year. The High Baron was great as usual, mainly held up by traffic in the first two thirds of the ride, as can be seen on the video.

I’ll write a longer report separately, but I did get a headcam rigged up to the front of the bike which recorded roughly the first half of the ride before the batteries died:

After the video ends, there’s one climb up Schiehallion (not as long as you’d expect, nor as steep – it took me just over eight minutes at 270W), a bit of descent then a pretty dull main road finish, barring a slightly lumpy section immediately before the line.

I was pleased to ride the Etape just to see what it was like, and it did prove valuable incentive ahead of the Touro in August, but I have to say that the quality of the riding isn’t great with so many others on the course. I did a recon ride a few weeks before and was only passed by a handful of cars, but otherwise had it all to myself!

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.

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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)

Related articles

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.

m5_carbon_high_racer_6

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!

m5_carbon_high_racer_7

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:

m5_carbon_high_racer_17

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…

m5_carbon_high_racer_9

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!

m5_carbon_high_racer_10

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).

m5_carbon_high_racer_19

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.

m5_carbon_high_racer_11

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!

Mike’s M5 Carbon High Racer

How about the much-feted M5 Carbon High Racer as a first foray into the world of recumbents?

I recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Mike on the purchase of his first recumbent, intended to work around some neck pain he’s been having.

It’s safe to say that he plunged in at the deep end with an M5 Carbon High Racer and I’ve been following his updates with interest as there has been something of a learning curve.

Mike kindly agreed to write a little about his initial experience with the CHR:

At the end of last year my neck finally decided that my 25 years of riding a DF were probably at an end. Even on a turbo with the front wheel raised a foot to get the bars much higher than the saddle made no difference to the pins & needles in my arm & fingers.

I got in touch with a young chap who I’d only met a couple of times on the club run but I was quite certain that he had dabbled with ‘bents. Sure enough his Optima Falcon was very kindly loaned & locked onto the turbo.I tried an hour session & incredibly there was no neck or arm pain at all. Google soon linked me up with Bikefix, Kevin at D-Tek & David at Laid Back Bikes & then onto Dave McC. The UK forums seemed very quiet but BROL was incredibly active.

chr3

I was initially drawn to the Fujin & Low Baron purely on looks but was quite aware of the skittishness of the 20” front wheel from a few rides on the Falcon. Both Kevin & David pointed me in the direction of dual 700C’s & David was the one responsible for mentioning the M5 CHR. Although there was a demo at LBB it was quicker to go & see Bram in Holland than to journey to Edinburgh. A half hour test ride was enough to convince me to bite the bullet & a frameset was bought. I had read many times that you won’t know what a particular bike is really like until you’ve lived with it, warts & all, for about 6 months.

The build was relatively straightforward, the only odd bit being the need for a Campag rear U brake for the front (modified with a longer through bolt). The spec was Sram XO 3×10 Gripshift, Rival rear mech, Shimano 105 triple chainset (50x39x30) which would allow for the use of a smaller “granny” if necessary, a 105 front mech to replace the XO which refused to stay put on the mounting post, a 12-27 cassette & Tektro rear dual pivot brake & minimalist levers.

The worst part of the build was drilling the seat. There are two reinforced areas where the carbon is marginally thicker. When I left Bram’s I took what I thought was the most poignant dimension on the test bike ie from the front of the seat to the bottom bracket. The seat was set up, the holes drilled & then a sigh of relief to find that the end of the crank just missed the tyre by 10mm. I’m just 6’ but have a relatively long 34” inseam & thought this would have given me plenty of clearance at the front end. Without shifting the seat considerably more forwards (& so drilling into the unreinforced section) I don’t know how those with an inseam of much less than 34” can fit the CHR, unless opting for shortened cranks.

chr2

And so to the first test ride. Let’s say that the bike unceremoniously dumped me far too often during slow speed manoeuvres. Road junctions were treated with dread, particularly 90’ right turns. I gave up trying to work out what was phasing me until I got home. On the bright side, a relatively flat route of 40 miles had resulted in a 18mph average without even breaking into a sweat. Initially I thought it was the dropped return chain which was causing the slow speed offs so I lifted the chain into a tube. A bit more investigation & the penny dropped; it was my feet clipping the tyre which was throwing me.

My first reaction was “how daft is a design like that” but I am now learning that ‘bents are a series of compromises & that you can’t have everything. I have learned that starting off at junctions benefits from one-legged pedalling until under way. Also you’ve got to keep your feet out of the way when doing sharpish turns at speed. Climbing is another adventure. Remember that I’m still quite new to this type of bike & I’m trying hard to cope with the relative instability of slow speed climbing. At present the wobbles get to me at about 7mph. I know I have to relax my upper body & that with practice I’ll be able to spin at a much slower road speed.

chr1

I’m now in week 6 & the only tweaks so far are:-

  • swapping the Michelin Pro 23mm rear for a 25mm. This just squeezes in so a 28mm will be out of the question.
  • Using folded wet & dry as a series of shims for the boom (Bram’s advice).
  • Tried XC shoes & SPD pedals for the first month but still had to stick on a non slip heel (a cutting from an old flip flop) so swapped back to road shoes with the same modification. Still not 100% slip proof particularly on wet roads.
  • Finally solved the hydration & transport of tools, tubes, cape etc. by using a Decathlon Camelbak clone (3 litres of storage & 1 litre of liquid). The straps at the top were crossed over & stitched together so as to slip over the top of the seat & at the bottom new straps made of Velcro were stuck to the seat.
  • The M5 carbon headrest sadly wouldn’t work when wearing a helmet. I’m now using a 2”x2”x6” section of foam Velcro’d to the cushion so as to just miss the bottom of the helmet. Finished off with a cover of a very stretchy black sock.
  • My next tweak will be to try 150mm cranks as my knees are starting to ache. My ‘trailing’ knee is bent way over 90’ & I think this may be the cause of the discomfort. It’s worth a try.

So, all in all, quite an eventful last 4 months. I still have a one minute re-learn curve before each ride & I still marvel at the manoeuvrability of a DF which, apart from its ability to cripple your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, back & backside, is quite a brilliant design.

I’ll be keeping in touch with Mike in the hopes of further updates and that he’ll get the starting and turning nailed.

I’ve just started riding the Laid-Back-Bikes’ demo CHR with a view to a long-term review… watch this space.

If anyone has any observations or tips for Mike (or me!) please leave a comment below –