I thought it would be nice to do a 1 year review of my time on the M5 CHR. I bought the bike last summer, and in the past year I’ve done over 2000 miles on it, the bike having spent most of the winter months in the garage as I rode the more appropriate ICE Sprint trike through the crud of the winter farm roads from around November to March. I’ve been riding the CHR pretty solidly since then, and have continued to tweak the bike closer to my idea of perfection. It’s getting there!
First, some more comments on my recent fettling activities.
As detailed on my M5 Updates page, I have flipped back and forth between the fixed tiller that came with the bike, and the Nazca folding tiller that makes low speed handling and junctions a lot easier to manage. I’ve stuck with the folding tiller in the end. It is slightly bulkier and restricts forward vision a little more, but it really makes a huge difference to the low speed handling, starting and stopping. You can roll to a stop, put your feet down just before the bike stops moving and use the forward motion to stand up whilst folding the tiller up out the way at the same time. Much more elegant and speedier than doing the limbo under the fixed tiller! The other main benefit is at junctions where the side view is obscured – you can sit up and look forward a lot easier instead of having to edge slowly into the junction whilst still lying back. Much safer when you can sit up, and also speedier.
I have been spending a lot of time working on my legs with the Alexander Technique in the last year or so, and with the help of my teacher, I’ve now reduced the number of varus wedges I need in each shoe – I’m slowly straightening out over time! I’ve also finally ditched the pedal extenders and so far it’s not having any bad effect on my knees as it used to do. I have yet to attempt Talla without the pedal extenders which will be more challenging with the increased heel strike and my inset heels, so that’s my next thing to test. Last year I crashed on my first attempt trying this….. Taking off the pedal extenders appears, to my unscientific observations over the past month, to have increased my average speed by about 1-1.5 mph. That was a welcome surprise, but that just goes to show you that you should really test things properly! I guess you get more shielding of the front wheel spokes and less frontal area. So heel / wheel overlap can be seen as something to be desired, as opposed to an inconvenience to be avoided!
I have been riding with the Angletech Aeropod Lowracer bag for a few months now. I really like this bag – it is very well made, and provides enough space to get in all your tools, tubes, a pump, some spare food and 3-4 litres of drinks. I have managed to get 2 2 litre Camelbak bladders crammed in just to test this out. It does require a bit of mangling the bladders into a crumpled shape to make them fit, but with 4 litres of hydration you can do some pretty decent rides without needing to stop. The bag does tend to sag a bit when you load it up with weight, and if you’re not careful it can rub on the back wheel, which very quickly rips through the thin material covering the reinforced wheel arch. I recommend you protect this area with something before you do the same damage I have done!
With the seat on the most reclined setting, you cannot use this bag without a wedge to raise it up off the wheel. I made one out of polystyrene wall insulation material, covered it in gaffer tape and used sticky velcro patches on the wedge and bag to stick them together (you don’t want the wedge falling down into the space between the wheel and frame at high speed!). The wedge sits between the bag and the back of the seat, and lifts the bag up off the wheel by a few inches. This has worked very well.
It’s difficult to know if the bag helps aero performance, but it certainly hasn’t slowed me down in any way.
I’m still running with the raised return chain. Functionality still wins out over any drag increases for me. If I only ever rode this bike in events I might drop it, but I use it for a lot more than that so I want something a bit more utilitarian. The only thing about the raised return chain is that you occasionally brush your right leg on the idler, which slowly wears away any MAMIL leg wear you might be sporting.
Comments on the Bike
I think the bike is now pretty dialed in to my needs. I don’t think there’s a whole lot more I can do to make it faster or more comfortable – perhaps if I could acquire a set of Bram’s special paddle brake levers I could make the bars a bit more aero, but they’re not made any more. Otherwise the bike rides like greased lightning already. You know it’s a fast bike when you’re spinning out a 50-11 combo on a -0.5% slope.
With more time on the bike, it has become my favourite by quite some margin. The ride position on the lowest seat pillar is very comfortable, and with the tiller right in front of your face you get excellent up-close visibility of your Garmin, ease of button pushes and so on. With a little Decathlon bag hanging off the tiller, I have easy access to enough food for a few hours’ ride. Once you get over the initial difficulty in handling the bike and get used to it, the ride position is very relaxing – it’s easily the most comfortable ride position of all my bikes including the trike. You feel very much ‘inside’ the bike as opposed to on top of it, as on a stick bike for example.
Heel strike is still something to watch out for on tight bends and slow steep hill climbs – you do need to keep focused when you’re grunting up 15% inclines at 5 mph otherwise its easy to catch your foot on the wheel and take a tumble.
Riding super steep hills would definitely be a lot easier with a triple up front and/or a wider cassette at the back, as it would remove the need to ride at VO2 max power levels which is still needed on the 34-32 combo on anything above 15% unless you’re able to ride hard at 50 RPM, which I find quite sore on the knees. I can’t yet bring myself to commit to a new derailleur, cassette and potentially shifters, as I quite like the setup I’ve got. I just have to accept that I have the occasional mashing spree to do when I’m out and about in the Borders.
Speaking of the shifters, I have had a heck of a time getting the gears working properly. I seemed to be tweaking the indexing after nearly every ride, and I saw a slow deterioration in shifting accuracy. I didn’t know if it was the derailleur (it’s taken 2 bashes on falls to the right), the R2C bar end shifters, or something else. I was actually getting close to writing off Sram and going back to Shimano, which has always worked flawlessly on my other bikes. Well, I forgot to consider the shifting cable. It is long, and has to go through the frame, a couple of bends and so forth. I replaced it out of desperation despite it being fairly new, and suddenly everything magically started working again. Must have been some crud in the cable or something. My shifting is now crisp and clean, and my faith in Sram has been restored. The R2C shifters really are fantastic, great ergonomics and only require a light touch to shift up. Love it!
It’s always a pleasure to take the CHR out for a ride. The handling is exemplary, and the long wheelbase makes high speed descents very assured and confidence inspiring. I can almost coast the bike no handed, not quite there yet but I can see that it is possible. The videos on YouTube of Bram Moens riding the CHR with his hands behind his head are still way off for me but I can see that such stunts are definitely achievable with practice. Not that I want to be able to do this mind you, and I probably never would, but it’s nice to be able to ride with minimal hand input as it encourages a more relaxed posture and is more energy efficient over long distances. When I first started riding the CHR I was a little unused to the uncompromising response to mistakes and its other handling characteristics, and being ‘keen’ to get the bike broken in, I was straight up the 20% Talla climb on my second or third outing which resulted in a low speed crash. This did nothing to alleviate the slight feeling of intimidation I originally had in relation to the bike. There’s no doubt that it is harder to ride than most other recumbents I’ve tried, barring the Cruzbike V20. A year later that is all ancient history – it took me a while to completely relax into the CHR, but once you’re there the bike is very solid yet responsive without being flighty or twitchy. The weight distribution plays a large part in this I think – you’re right slap bang in the middle between the wheels so the handling is secure and predictable.
It really is a joy to thrash the CHR around the hills in the Borders, both up and down. It climbs great, being a really solid platform with very little frame flex that I can feel – there’s no noticeable deflection of the boom when pedaling hard for example – and it just screams down hills at silly speeds. I sometimes wish I had gone for a 52-36 chainset rather than a 50-34 just to really leverage the descent potential, but to be honest a 34-32 is already hard enough getting up the steep stuff, so a 36 would make one or two of the steeper hills a real knee crunching experience. Maybe I should have gone with a triple, but I also really like the Power2Max crank spider power meter, it has worked beautifully from the day I bought it and it won’t fit on a non compact double chainset. So I’m stuck with the 50-34 for now. It’s a testament to the bike’s speed that I regularly spin out on 50-11, even on modest slopes. I’d love to take it down something longer some day. Maybe Mont Ventoux? 🙂
On flatter territory you can cruise at a pretty high speed for not a lot of effort. One of the great things about this bike is the way it holds speed well at lower power levels – you don’t need to be putting out 250W to be getting a decent speed. It’s a very efficient way to get from place to place. I’m not sure why that is the case – superb aero properties and solid, efficient power transfer is my best guess.
The new Condor Pioggia fork I added has so far proved itself to be a great companion to the M5 frame. It has improved forward vision and lowered the whole front of the bike by about 3cm. I put some black tape around the fork leg where the power chain tube passes, as it was tending to shake around a lot when pedaling hard, causing damage to the finish. Not the most aesthetically pleasing job but it works well enough for me.
So one year on, and I have really fallen in love with this bike. It has its challenges, particularly if you’re running a fixed tiller and/or dropped chain, but once you have some decent hours under your belt, it’s just a whole lot of fun to ride, and faster than anything else I’ve ridden. I’m still genuinely excited every time I roll the bike out of the garage at the idea of the ride to come. My riding time is one of the most precious components of my otherwise busy life, and it’s always a guaranteed quality experience on the M5 CHR. Thumbs up!