The M5 CHR – fast and exhilarating to ride. At last, a racing bike I can live with!

In early summer 2018 I had decided that the MBB/FWD Cruzbike V20, whilst being an awesome machine and without doubt the sleekest, sexiest recumbent on the market right now, just wasn’t going to work for me and so I made the decision to go back to the RWD platform. I started casting around for a new steed, one that was both fast enough to race and also something I could live with long term.

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It’s not often we get sun in December..

It seems like as soon as you enter the high racer market for a performance machine, it’s difficult to get both of these requirements in one bike. You can have super-fast and compromised design, or something a little more pedestrian but much easier to live with. Striking the balance has turned out to be harder than I thought. Perhaps a Metabike could have been the answer, but I didn’t get the chance to try one of those. I also loved the look of the Encore but by the time I was in the market for a new bike, the only one available to demo at Laid Back Bikes was too small for me, and there were no more Encore frames coming out of Hungary as the Pelso Brevet production was in full swing.

The list of potential V20 replacements was pretty small, but for some reason I had studiously avoided the M5 CHR when choosing the Cruzbike. I think it was the thought of the chain line management and the significant heel / wheel overlap which put me off, both of which are non-existent on the Cruzbike. However, I didn’t feel that any of the other bikes in my list other than the M5 were going to be quite as fast as the V20 and so I felt compelled to at least give it a try.

M5 CHR
M5 Carbon High Racer

There’s a nice gentleman who lives south of Edinburgh who loaned me his CHR for a week to try out (thank you John!), and I liked the way it rode. With John’s tail box on the back, it went down hills like a rocket, and I broke the speed limit cycling along our village high street for the first time. John’s bike has been somewhat altered to make it a bit more friendly with a 26” front wheel, wider bars and a partially raised chain line, but I felt I could probably deal with the stock configuration OK. All of this meant I ended up back at Laid Back Bikes making yet another unplanned purchase. At least this time I justified it by selling the Cruzbike frameset to pay for it! A frameset was ordered, and the bike then built to my spec by Laid Back Bikes and Edinburgh’s The Bicycle Works using components that I cannibalized from the Cruzbike.

Spec

My original spec for the bike is not what I have now. Specifically, I discovered that the Sram trigger shifters I bought do not work well at all on the tiny M5 bars as there is not enough space for the cables which get obstructed by the tiller stem – you need to rotate the shifters either further away or towards you which results in a very unnatural angle for the thumb (both ‘up’ and ‘down’ shifts are done by the thumb on these shifters).

I rode the bike in this configuration for a couple of months and then decided it was terrible. It gave me sore thumbs no matter what I tried, so I stripped down the bars and rebuilt them with Avid Speed Dial 7 levers and Sram TT return-to-centre bar end shifters, which I really like. This is how the bike is now configured and I’ll talk about it in this form from now on. I’d like to point out that there’s nothing at all wrong with the Sram trigger shifters, it’s just a bad combination with the M5 bar which has very little space for anything on it, so you can’t get the right position to make the shifters comfortable. I’ve ridden the Pelso Brevet with the same shifter and it felt great.

The final spec was as follows. The frameset is the standard black frame, with a disc front fork. I had hoped to get a disc rear wheel as well in order to utilise both the TRP HY/RD calipers I took off the Cruzbike, but it was going to cost too much extra, so I went with the rim brake version.  

I think this combo works fine on a recumbent, although it does look a little odd on the bike. I took the wheels off the Cruzbike (DT Swiss 240 hubs, Pacenti Forza rims) and as a consequence of my rear rim brake choice, had to get the rear wheel rebuilt which was handled by the ever excellent Bicycle Works. I went with the rim brake version of the Forza rim to keep things matching.

I also took the Force 22 groupset off the Cruzbike including the Power2Max crank spider power meter. I had invested a lot in that, so reusing this groupset was a priority. I put the TRP HY/RD disc brake on the front, and a Shimano Ultegra caliper on the back. I have the aforementioned Speed Dial brake levers and Sram TT R2C bar end shifters. 3 new Sram red 11 speed chains joined together finishes off the parts list.

Frame

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If Batman rode a recumbent, I’m betting it would be this one

The frame on the CHR is much more substantial than you might first imagine for a carbon bike. It feels very solid and indeed when riding the bike it is quite a rigid frame with no discernible boom flex at all. Compared to bikes like the Pelso Brevet, the overall frameset weight is almost a kilo heavier, and, given how light the tiller and bars are, I suspect most of that weight is in the carbon layup.

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Chainstay detail

The rear end has the very distinctive M5 swooping chain stays that are common to many of their racing bikes, and the front is a slightly hexagonal structure designed for strength and minimal flex. The boom can slide in or out to adjust for different leg lengths.

One issue you may experience on your own CHR should you get one – I had issues keeping the boom in place, it kept sliding out when I went over a bump no matter how hard I tightened the bolts. I tried various solutions using tape and so forth, but none of them really worked.

Eventually, I cut strips of very fine grit sandpaper and put them down the length of the moveable part of the boom inside the main frame. Now it is absolutely rock solid and hasn’t moved at all. Reading online, it appears to be a common issue and solutions such as sandpaper, old bits of inner tube and so forth have proved successful.

Chain line

If you spend more than a few seconds online searching for M5 threads you will know that the CHR chain line is a hot topic. Specifically, the standard chain line has the return chain ‘dropped’ so that it hangs down alongside the front tyre and fork. This dramatically compromises how far you can turn the front wheel before it hits the chain. In practice, when you are moving at any speed at all it’s not really an issue, as you lean into the turns rather than turn the wheel, but at low speed it makes it almost impossible to do tight turns, particularly to the right hand side. I did try out the dropped chain on David’s personal CHR at LBB, and one attempt at turning round in a cul de sac told me straight away that I wouldn’t be able to ride the bike in this configuration. I have too many steep hills with tight turns to navigate, so I asked David to raise the return chain.

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Raised return idler

The chain line I now have has an idler attached above the front fork (M5 provide a bolt hole here for exactly this purpose), and the stock ‘idler for the power chain and short tube section for the return chain’ assembly has been replaced with a double idler under the seat. This raises the return chain high enough that the steering is completely unimpeded by the chain and the double idler under the seat works very nicely. A chain tube is supplied by M5 for the power chain to stop it eating into the fork.

This particular fork is quite tall and has a lot of clearance for wider tyres, but this also means that you can’t run the chain direct to the idlers in a standard over/under setup without it grazing the fork. I see pictures of other CHRs using an over/under idler and no chain tubes, but there’s a little bit of bending required on mine to get the chain onto the idler under the seat when on the 34T chainring, and pedalling under power pulls the tube tight against the fork.

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Double idler under seat

I had hoped to possibly lose the chain tube and run a similar setup, but I don’t think it’s possible with this fork. Similarly, running a dropped chain might require moving the idler out a bit further or adding a small section of tube to the return chain, as I think there would still be contact between the chain and the fork. The fork does seem a little on the large side, given the bike’s purpose and the fact that the biggest tyre you will be able to run on the back will be 25C, possibly 28C if you have a really wide rim. You could put a huge tyre on the front as it stands. The size of this fork also pushes the whole front of the bike higher by a couple of inches which has implications for forward vision. I feel its days are numbered, I’m already looking around for something that is shorter and narrower so I can get better forward vision and run a more direct chain line.

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Really big front fork!

Seat

The seat is carbon fibre, and I went with a large one as I am quite tall. It has a high gloss finish and is very nice to look at. Like the Pelso seat, it is quite narrow and is designed so that it doesn’t interfere with the legs when riding at quite laid back angles. I like narrow seats so this one is pretty comfortable for me. I went with a Ventisit pad, although it is thinner than the ones on my Nazcas. I like it – it is still very comfortable and is almost half the weight of the pad on my Fuego. You might be able to lose a little more with a ‘camping mat’ type closed cell foam pad, but it wouldn’t be much and then you lose the ventilation and sweat removal benefits of the Ventisit material.

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Nice shiny seat

The seat is attached to the frame by 2 bolts at the front and rear. There are fixings between the frame and seat, and rubber spacers are used to minimise the transfer of road vibration to the rider’s back. You need to trim the spacers to the correct angle to match the seat before you install the seat. The rear seat pillar comes in three sizes – I have the middle one on, which puts the seat at around 20 degrees. I also have the lowest pillar which I rode very briefly but found it compromised forward vision too much and I took it off again after just one test ride. I think this is mainly a knock on effect of having such a tall fork on the front.

The seat pillar bolts onto the frame and is easily changed. Changing pillar size moves the bolt contact points on the seat slightly, but the pillar moves back and forward enough that I managed to get it to fit without drilling new holes.

Going from the middle to the lowest pillar had the advantage (for me) of pulling the front of the seat further back by about a centimetre, which I liked. My thighs were brushing the frame a bit before, but on the lower pillar it happened much less. For those with shorter legs, this will be the opposite of what they want so you might need to re-drill the seat to get the boom out far enough (see Fit below).
As usual, I have an ICE VTX neck rest on the seat. This is my standard set up on all my bikes.

Bars and Tiller

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The distinctive M5 narrow bars

The tiller stem on the M5 is really light, and is adjustable for length via two bolts. It is not adjustable in terms of angle, so you want to make sure you know what angle you want before you order. There are four different angles to choose from. The bars themselves are very small. In fact, they are so small that just getting shifters and brake levers onto them with enough space for your hands is a struggle. They have quite a curve to them, so you have some room to play with in terms of adjusting the hand positioning. I’ve already discussed the issues I had with the trigger shifters – but with the TT bar end shifters installed, everything becomes a bit easier to manage. There is much more space for your hands and you can put the brakes at a better position when there’s no trigger shifters getting in the way. I think M5 recommend twist grip shifters and I do agree that these are probably the best solution. I would have gone that way myself, but I couldn’t find any twist shifters that were compatible with Force22 components, in which I was heavily invested due to my power meter choice. Perhaps with a JTek Shiftmate you could make something work, but I didn’t know about them when I was putting the bike together!

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M5 fixed tiller

The bars are made so small to put your arms in a much more aerodynamic position, with the bulk of your arm in the same dirty air that your body is pushing through (and also more of your arm and hand behind your legs). This bike is all about going as fast as possible, so big comfortable wide bars are just not the thing. They do take a bit of getting used to but I really like them. The brakes stick out into the wind a bit. This is one of the reasons I fancied the paddle thumb brakes. I was also looking at Warren Beauchamp’s thumb brake mod on his NoCom and thought about trying something similar, although I am not that handy at fabricating fixings. It’s something I’m still thinking about.

The TT shifters I have installed are fantastic – being return to centre, they don’t end up at strange angles where they might catch on your legs or cause discomfort for the hands. The blade shape also means they will contribute negligible drag to the aero profile. There is one potential problem though – in the event of a crash, the shifters are possibly going to take the brunt of the force if I spill to the side, so they may be quite easy to damage. My thighs are slightly further outward than the end of the blades, so they might be ok – time will tell. I went for the cheaper ones rather than the posh carbon versions, having discovered on the Cruzbike that carbon brake levers are quickly sanded away to nothing when you’re sliding down a road on your side at 20 mph. I discovered a set of these shifters on the Planet X site for almost half price missing the original box. Bargain! They are bigger than you might first imagine, but work very nicely.

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Sram R2C bar end shifters

In order to tighten the shifters onto the bar ends, you need to split the shifter into two parts and take the blade part off to access an Allen bolt inside the housing. This means you want to figure out the angle of rotation to have the shifters at on the bars before you put everything together. It is technically possible to take the blade off when the cables are connected if you’re careful, but I ended up kinking the cable trying to get it back on so you’re better off doing it before you cable them up.

Once you have them on, you can then adjust the position of the blades (in the same plane of rotation that you use when shifting) through a wide range with an external Allen bolt. This allows you to find a position that works for you. Getting this right took a bit of trial and error for me – I couldn’t find a position that was natural for both up and down shifts using the whole hand to grip the shifter, so I’ve gone with a position that allows easy downshifts with my hands in the same position I normally use holding the bars, and then to upshift I use my thumb and index finger. It works pretty well. John’s M5 had Paul’s Thumbies and bar end shifters on top of the bars, but I found the shifters hitting my legs in some positions. I like the R2C bar end position better.

Fit

This is a bike that is designed for relatively tall people. At 6’2″ with a 46″ inch XSeam and 165mm cranks, I fit the bike comfortably with a fair bit of clearance between the cranks and wheels, but even I have the seat notched at the front to allow it to slide a bit further forward. The boom can’t be pulled in that far before you start getting hard interference between the wheel and the cranks, so if you have short legs this might not be the best bike for you. On BROL there are accounts of riders as short as 5’9″ fitting the bike so it can be done, but the bike is ideally suited to someone around my size or taller. The shorter you are, the more compromises you have to make.

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Seat notched to allow more forward movement

Moving forward with a notched seat means your thighs may catch on the frame a little as well, so getting a comfortable fit can be tricky unless you are a skinny legged bean pole. Also note that with the return chain raised, you might find your leg brushing the return chain idler. Mine has been built on a suspended bracket that lowers the idler by a couple of inches, and so my leg clears the idler on each pedal stroke. If it was bolted directly to the frame it might be a little more difficult to avoid. My legs tend to bow inwards more than most people however, so it might just be me. I have weird legs. I am aware of some people on Raptobikes modifying the pedal stroke to clear the large front idler and ending up with ‘Raptobite’, so I’d rather mod the bike to get the idler out the way of my legs and let my legs pedal the way they naturally want to.

The internet is awash with forum posts on fitting issues and chain line management options – this should tell you that this bike has design compromises that favour speed over pretty much everything else, and unless you are tall enough and don’t have thighs like Conan, you might find it less than ideal to ride. You can use shorter cranks which gives more clearance to the wheel and allows you to push the boom out a little further (with the caveat of possible thigh / frame contact if you move the seat further forward). You could also put a 650 or 26″ wheel on the front if you’re running a disc brake which gives more options which is what John’s bike had, but I think a test ride is sensible before you commit to buying one.

Mirrors

Because the bars are so narrow, mirrors like the Zefal Spy don’t really work as all you can see is your shoulder. You need to get a mirror with a longer stem so you can push it out wider. I have also tried a helmet mirror which is better than the Spys, but gives a smaller field of view and requires more eye contortion to see. I’m thinking of experimenting with a mirror on the back of my glove, as you do feel that a big mirror sticking out of the side is counterproductive to the whole point of this bike, which is blasting past everybody else in a super-aero blaze of high speed glory.

Lighting

There is a mount point on the front of the boom for lights and accessories. I use a Nazca light mount which is nice and versatile. I have a Cateye Volt 1200 on there during all my training rides which is plenty bright enough to alert oncoming motorists.

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Nazca light mount with attached Cateye mount

Cabling

The rear cables travel through the frame via two small entry holes below the steerer tube. This is a nice neat solution and keeps them out the way.

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Cables travel through frame to the rear

The front derailleur cable travels underneath the boom and then goes into a small hole through the front of the boom to meet the front derailleur above. The front brake cable just travels down the side of the stem and fork.

Note that pressure from the cables rubbing on the boom appears to quickly leave marks on the finish – see the finish comments below.

Mudguards

You can get a carbon rear mudguard from M5 that also doubles as a rack support for their tail bag. I have also seen a CHR with a standard rear mudguard, but I haven’t seen any with a front mudguard on. In any case, it feels wrong to put mudguards on this bike, so I’m not investigating it any further.

Luggage

I tried the radical aero narrow bag on my M5 in the LBB shop, but it rubs on the back wheel. If you’re willing to do some bodging then you can make it fit at 20 degrees or higher, but it’s not ideal. At 18 degrees it’s a very poor choice, there’s just not enough clearance. I can’t see how you would fit panniers, but banana bags would work OK if you get ones that don’t need a rack for support and don’t get in the way of the chain line. So far, I have been riding with the Fastback double century bags which are big enough for multi hour events but not for anything much longer. I also feel they add a little bit of drag. I find myself lamenting the lack of availability of bags that work for very reclined recumbents. The only other one I have seen is the Angletech Aeropod LR which looks pretty good but is quite expensive. I have one on order and will update this review when I’ve had time to ride with it.

Finish

After 2 months riding, I had an area on each side of the boom where the paint was flaking off. The right side was worse than the left and I ended up pulling away the loose paint and touching it up with some black spray paint and some careful masking (I did it in a triangle shape to fit in with the ‘random triangles’ paint job the bike comes with). The paint feels a little rough at the front of the bike. The back end feels much smoother and better finished. It’s a shame, as it lets down what is otherwise a fantastic bike. There are also some marks left from cables rubbing on the paint surface, which seems very fragile and easily damaged. I’m not talking about a lot of use here either – this started manifesting after only a couple of hundred miles.

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Touching up paint damage

I am a bit miffed that this has happened on what is almost a new bike, and not a cheap one at that! Compare this to the quality of the paint on my 2 Nazcas and the ICE Sprint trike – on these bikes, the paint has proven extremely durable and all three bikes are taken through the worst of the Scottish weather on rough roads with plenty of loose material regularly.

The Cruzbike paint job was also excellent although it did crack a little around the holes where the headrest tubes enter the frame.

This is the only real minus I have observed on the CHR. This is a premium price bike, but the paint quality is a little bit below par in my opinion. It is disappointing but I will live with it.

Riding

I’ll talk about the more challenging aspects of the CHR’s handling first.

The CHR requires a bit of respect in the early days. The heel strike, given the proximity of the pedals to the front wheel, is significant. You learn quickly that if you start wavering around on steep hills, you can very easily end up on the tarmac if your foot hits the wheel. The fixed tiller makes balance much more difficult in low speed situations such as steep switchbacks and junctions, and again for the uninitiated you can easily lose balance and fall if you’re not paying attention. Not being able to sit up properly at junctions may be a bigger challenge than you might think if you’ve never had to ride a bike pinned into a very reclined seat – everything is harder: balance, looking round, small compensating movements to keep the bike upright and so forth. Getting in and out of the bike requires some mild contortion. Remember to put the brake on before you try!

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Using pedal extenders to increase heel / wheel clearance

I fell off a few times in the first few weeks, exclusively due to lack of attention at low speed, and I made some changes for the Tour o the Borders to reduce my stress levels – I added pedal extenders to give me more wheel clearance, and put the Nazca folding tiller stem on to allow me to sit up in tricky situations. This was mainly so that I didn’t embarrass myself and the recumbent community in front of hundreds of roadies climbing the 20% Talla Wall. I made it through that event without mishap, and have now put the fixed tiller back on to lose a bit of weight and gain a bit more aero advantage. The pedal extenders I think I will keep for the time being, although I know you can get a bit more aero advantage by bringing your legs in closer. I’m not ready for that yet, and my inset feet struggle to clear the cranks without pedal extenders and reduce the already tight space between the wheel and my heel. I don’t however have the fear riding this bike at speed like I did on the Cruzbike, but you do need to respect it a lot more than, say, the Fuego, which is much easier to handle and ride in low speed and climbing situations.

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I really do recommend a raised return chain!

If you ride with a dropped chain, that also makes things much harder at slow speed, but I have the return chain raised, which means that heel strike as opposed to chain/tyre interference is the primary thing to watch out for. It is much easier to deal with, and the bike is perfectly manoeuvrable with the chain raised, provided you keep your feet out the way of the front wheel. I can’t imagine riding the bike with a dropped chain in the Borders, although I know David at LBB does so on his without problem.

The ride position takes a bit of getting used to – the small bars mean that your arms are more pulled in towards the centre, and so steering inputs need to be a little subtler compared to a wider bar tiller setup. You are quite pinned into the bike by the fixed tiller, and the high bottom bracket makes you feel like you are definitely on a reclined, performance recumbent. It feels a little more extreme than the Cruzbike V20 even though the seat is at roughly the same angle (talking about the middle seat pillar here), mainly because the bottom bracket is so much higher.

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I made the move from SPD to Keo recently – slightly harder to engage / disengage but pressure is spread more widely on the sole

However, I find the ride position very comfortable indeed, and I don’t get hot foot on the CHR any worse than I do on my other bikes with much lower BBs. My experience with hot foot has shown that for me, it is usually the result of a poor fit and I can’t find any correlation to BB height at all. When I spent some time getting my feet and knees comfortable using Varus wedges, my hot foot problem more or less disappeared. Before that, I had it on every recumbent regardless of position. Using Look Keo pedals as opposed to Shimano SPD has also helped. Perhaps I need to buy some stiffer carbon soled shoes.

Moving off, particularly on an incline, requires you to not mess around as you are lying back so far and balance is not great until you get moving. Push hard and get moving quickly. Lifting the top of your back off the seat helps immensely with balance until you’re above 5 mph.

All of these initial issues will of course diminish the more you ride the bike, until you eventually you don’t even think about them anymore.

Now for the good bits.

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Just another opportunity to take in that lovely frame design

Once you’re moving down the road, you can relax into the comfortable seat and really enjoy the ride. On flat and rolling terrain, the bike just screams along. On the hills, it is a very rigid frame and I have out climbed all my other bikes on the CHR by a decent margin, except the Specialized Tarmac DF which is faster on the steeper climbs. I just seem to be able to put out a slightly higher wattage on the CHR and I don’t feel speed getting bled off anywhere, either by frame flex or poor road surfaces. It’s about the same weight as my Cruzbike was, so I was surprised at how fast I climbed hills. When you’re riding rollers you find yourself cresting at a significantly higher speed than other bikes – you just seem to hold that high speed for longer. It is a phenomenally fast bike to ride.

Once you get the bike up to speed, it is a stunning ride experience. The long wheelbase means that there is none of the twitchiness you feel on shorter wheelbase bents or low racers with a smaller front wheel. The weight balance feels pretty much 50-50 and so the front steering is not skittish or too light, it’s just perfect. The CHR steers very predictably once you’re used to the setup – it’s different from other tiller bikes I’ve ridden but not any more or less difficult to control, just different.

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Tour o the Borders recon ride

It also feels super stable descending at high speed. I’ve had it up to 50 mph on a few occasions but mainly I’m restricted by the narrow twisty roads I ride, and it would definitely go much faster given the right conditions. It is extremely comfortable to ride, once you’re used to the tiny bars. Although the frame is very stiff, it still absorbs a lot of the road buzz. Forward vision is pretty good at 20 degrees despite the reclined seat and high BB. There is a small amount of obstruction caused by the front derailleur post.

My experience to date suggests that the M5 is close to the Cruzbike in terms of performance, perhaps a little faster. I can climb faster on it, as more watts seem to make it to the rear wheel despite the ability to pull on the bars on the Cruzbike, which I found very effective for mashing over rollers but really tiring on longer climbs. In general, with a 20 degree seat I think I am around 0.25 – 0.5 MPH faster on the CHR in real world mixed terrain for approximately similar wattage.

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Taking KOMs is a lot easier on a bike like the CHR!

I have more data between the CHR and the Fuego, which puts me about 1.5-2 MPH faster on the CHR over real world, hilly terrain. This is based on the exact same workout protocol over the same 3 hour training ride which I have done multiple times on both and includes over 2000 feet of ascent which adversely disadvantages the much heavier Fuego. This was less of a difference than I expected, but I have also come to realize that the super aero Fuego gets comparatively faster compared to other bikes when you start putting out more power, and I have definitely become stronger over the past year. At lower wattages I think the difference would be greater. This is a page about the M5, but if Nazca made a carbon Fuego……

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Quick break at the top of Paddy Slacks

When you’re climbing very steep hills, your number one priority on the CHR is to keep the bike tracking straight, lest the heel strike gods visit their wrath upon you. I have ridden the bike up a 20% hill on a 34-32 combo but my concentration was very much focused on keeping above 4 MPH and keeping in a straight line. Everything else was off the charts – power and heart rate to the top and cadence to the bottom. That’s about as extreme as I can go on this platform, and most of my hills only get to around 15% which is fine on the compact double set up at the power levels I can put out. The heavier Fuego with open cockpit bars and an MTB triple setup feels very tame on the steep climbs after riding the CHR, even though you do go slower due to the extra weight. It’s just so much easier to spin and your feet don’t hit the small front wheel. You can sit at 3 MPH on the Fuego and be fairly comfortable even on steep ascents. I imagine the CHR would also be easier with a triple on the steep stuff, although to be honest below 4 MPH and you’re getting to the point where balance is the limiting factor due to the fixed tiller pinning you into the bike, so I’m sticking with the compact double.

Last point – the drivetrain on this bike is not the quietest, and the box shaped carbon frame seems to amplify it. There’s quite a bit of noise from the two (non-standard I might add) idlers under the seat. Having deviated from the standard setup, I do not know if it is louder or not.

Such minor annoyances can be forgiven though, when you’re able to blast past riders on descents so fast that they swear in fright 🙂

Conclusion

It’s still relatively early days for me on this bike. I’ve ridden it enough to know that it is fast, great fun to ride and does everything I need it to do. It is undoubtedly super aero and transfers power extremely well, and for sure it can be made faster if you like to tweak and have the money to invest in lighter, more aero wheels and so forth. I don’t have enough data to say definitively if it is faster than the Cruzbike, although in pure aero terms my hunch is that it is a little more slippy through the air for me. I am quite a big guy at 6’2” although I have lost a fair bit of weight in the last year, and am now around 75KG. When you see the mind boggling power and speed data from Larry Oslund on his V20, you can see that if you put in enough research and testing, any super reclined recumbent can reach pretty incredible low drag coefficients. I’m sure the M5 is exactly the same in this regard. I did feel that the Cruzbike was optimally sized for somebody a bit smaller than me however. The M5 is probably the better choice for the taller people among us. Since I have sold the Cruzbike it is now impossible to do meaningful comparisons so I’m going on memory and gut instinct mostly.

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The maiden voyage – cycling home from Laid Back Bikes on my new M5 (photo by Laid Back Bikes)

I remember reading an excellent post from John Schlitter on BROL pointing out that the fastest times on bike Sebring ultra-endurance events have been set by CHRs, Bacchetta CA2s, Schlitter Encores and Cruzbike V20s. Sometimes being one with the bike is more important than which one is technically the fastest, and certainly I think I am faster on the CHR because I am so much more comfortable on it than I was on the MBB platform. Conversely, you can watch Jason Perez on YouTube taking his V20 up to 60mph on insane descents, so it really is a case of finding the ride that works for you and developing the skills and confidence to handle it well.

So am I absolutely one with the bike? Not quite yet, although I am getting there. I still get a little bit of stress at low speed on steep hills and at busy junctions, but I know that will pass with time. The Fuego has become like an extension of my body when I ride it now, but I still have a way to go with the M5 before I get to that point.

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Climbing Witcheyknowe during the Tour o the Borders (photo by official event photographer)

In final summary, what I really wanted was a very fast bike that I could actually live with long term, a bike for riding in events at the pointy end of the pack. A bike that people will look at and say ‘wow’, and then reconsider their opinion of recumbents as slow and heavy when they see the kind of speeds this bike is capable of achieving and sustaining.

That is ultimately what the M5 Carbon High Racer is all about for me. If it was my only bike and I needed it for commuting, and I was wedded to the idea of twin large wheels, I might think about something a little less extreme, such as the Pelso Brevet, Metabike, Schlitter Encore or Nazca Gaucho.

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Cresting the 20% Talla Wall during the Tour o the Boders – a bit of a struggle on a 34-32 recumbent 🙂 (Photo by official event photographer)

I think this bike’s place is out on the open road, riding hard and fast, and that is when it rewards you with an exhilarating speed and ride experience that I haven’t found on any other recumbent I’ve tried to date. Its combination of high speed and superb, stable handling is just fantastic.

It’s a slightly wild, untamed beast and is very addictive to ride. When the road stretches out in front of you, get the grin on, lay down the power and leave everybody else in the dust!

You can demo a CHR at Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh.

3 thoughts on “M5 Carbon High Racer

  1. Great review of a great bike
    Love the photos -even at rest she looks like a thoroughbred just biting at the bit and rearing to gallop off
    I was wondering about a couple of things:
    Did you notice much difference with and without the tailbox?
    Do you think having a 26 inch front wheel rather than a 700 affects performance?
    (certainly civilises the beast a bit but perhaps with an aesthetic penalty)

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    1. Hi John,

      it’s difficult to know about the tailbox, as I wasn’t used to the bike when I tried yours. I do remember that I went frighteningly fast down windydoors (to the point I was braking a fair bit and still came close to my fastest ever descent!) so I think definitely you get a speed boost on a descent with your tail box.

      People talk a lot about rolling resistance going up on smaller wheels but I don’t think it’s much between a 26inch and 700C – I’m betting it would be difficult to measure in real world terrain. I know M5 sell the M Racer with 26 inch wheels as an option. I don’t think it makes much difference. My fuego has a 26 inch and a 20 inch wheel and it’s not that much slower than the CHR!

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  2. I have similar impressions – incremental speed boost from box above 20 mph and considerable above 30 mph
    I have tried 451 wheel on front as well and have not really detected much if any difference speed wise , but bike becomes more stable at very slow climbing speeds with smaller wheel – less pedal steer and of course any chain interference vanishes
    Begs the question of why use 2x 700 wheels ?
    One less spare tube to carry I suppose

    Like

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