Fastest Bike: M5 Recumbent
There’s nothing laid-back about this two-wheel recumbent
This segment is part of the IEEE Spectrum series “Fastest on Earth.”
Susan Hassler: You might think the world’s fastest bike is the kind of sleek carbon-fiber road machine that wins pro bike races like the Tour de France. In fact, it’s a two-wheeled recumbent bike called the M5. Despite its world-record pedigree, it’s a bike anyone can ride, as Harry Goldstein found out for himself.
[sounds of activity at Centraal Station, Amsterdam, with musicians and trains coming in]
Harry Goldstein: I’m at Amsterdam’s Centraal Train Station on my way to Middelburg to see the world’s fastest bicycle, the M5 recumbent designed by world-record holder Bram Moens. I’m surrounded by hundreds of Dutch bikes, most of them black, heavy, and made of steel, none of which could ever hit the 56 miles an hour that Moens can sustain on his bike. The carbon-fiber M5 racer looks like [a] big black missile when it’s enclosed in the aerodynamic capsule, called a fairing, which Moens also designed and built.
[symphony of the bells, with various bicycle bells]
Harry Goldstein: It’s a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Middelburg. Moens greets me at his shop with a demitasse of hot espresso, eager to show his bikes.
Moens and his friends are hanging out here on a Saturday morning to talk about and ride his unique bikes. We’re surrounded by various models of the M5, including low racers and high racers that have set records for the longest distance achieved in an hour, the fastest 100 kilometers, and the fastest 1000 kilometers.
Bram Moens: Normally you should expect that world hour record bike can only be used on the track or whatever, but the funny thing about this is that you can also use it as a commuter bike or shopping bike or whatever, vacation.
Harry Goldstein: And the body of this bike is…?
Bram Moens: Yeah, that’s full carbon fiber, and this is, for me, it was the first bike in carbon which was made directly out of the computer without making any one-to-one scale models. A friend of mine, Wout, has calculated for some three months to end up with a frame which was lighter and still stronger than the first ones.
[sounds from Moens’s bicycle shop]
Harry Goldstein: Several of Moens’s component designs contribute to efficiency and speed: the box shapes of the carbon frame, the ultralight side-pull brakes, the cone-shaped aluminum wheel hubs, the comfortable, ergonomic seat, the original mold of which came from a sand casting of Moens’s back. And then there’s the fairing, the aerodynamic shell that fits over bike and rider and slices through the air to help Moens hit world-record speeds.
Bram Moens: Yeah. Yeah, it’s like once when I was riding in a Dutch town, there was a middle-aged lady [who] said, “Where are your wings?” You know, because it looks like an airplane, right? Yeah, with a little cockpit on top.
[talking before the bike ride]
Harry Goldstein: Time for me to ride. I’m not used to pedaling a recumbent, so Moens suggests I test out one of the less-advanced M5s. It takes some getting used to, even for an experienced cyclist like me. Normally, I swing my legs over my seat, click into my pedals and sit upright, bending down over the handlebars. Settling onto the M5, I lean back and raise up my feet to engage the pedals directly in front of me. I don’t have to reach far for the handlebars, which jut from between my legs and are about chest high. I’m a little tentative starting out, so Moens demonstrates an athletic running start that I’m pretty sure I could never duplicate.
[sounds of breathing, wind, sound of movement on bike]
Harry Goldstein: Oh, man. That is so—that is so pro. That’s such a pro move. God, look at that. You’re a man in control of that machine. I’m going to take this beyond you guys, and I’m going to have moments with this. I’m going to go down here. All right. Me and you, M5.
Harry Goldstein: After a couple of false starts and klutzy spills, I steer the M5 over a small bridge spanning a canal, turn left, and head for a church spire in the distance.
Harry Goldstein: All right. The canal is above me, and this is a dike. One of the famous Dutch dikes.
Harry Goldstein: The road winds through farm land, and the bike and I glide along.
Harry Goldstein: Looks like there’s a little bit of a curve coming up. Well, took that curve pretty easy. That wasn’t bad. It’s just a very small, tight turning radius.
Harry Goldstein: After about 5 miles, I turn around and make my way back to Moens’s shop.
Harry Goldstein: I’m definitely picking up some speed on a very slight downslope, and it is slightly disconcerting, ’cause you’re going much faster than you think you should be. It’s just a very strange position for me to be in.
Harry Goldstein: A special machine that, if Bram Moens has his way, you’ll see zipping through the streets in your town soon. I’m Harry Goldstein.