Nukeproof Mega 290 Pro  2016 Mountain Bike Review

Nukeproof Mega 290 Pro 2016

Reviews / Enduro Bikes

Nukeproof 80,743

At A Glance

Developed originally for its namesake race, the Mega was one of the very earliest bikes to combine exceptional downhill performance with pedal-ability, commonly now known as enduro bikes. This year the Mega has received an overhaul and has come out the other side looking like a decidedly different beast, not least due to the offering of a 29er version.

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This new version shares many of the original traits, but the re-designed frame has a few more curves and looks sleeker and lighter in stature. Shunning many of the modern 'standards' and buzz words (it has no pressfit bottom bracket, no boost hubs, and no plus sized options), the Mega is banking on performance, not hype. The 29er comes with 150mm of travel and a 66 degree head angle with a 150mm fork, making this one of the slackest big wheelers on the market.

Chainstays are longer than current fashion dictates at 450mm and with a long wheelbase, and sizing up to XL, this is a big machine. As a pre-production model, my test bike had a slightly altered specification, but Pike forks and a Monarch rear shock handle the bounce and a SRAM drivetrain keeps it simple out back. Wheels will be SRAM versions but I had a set of Mavic Crossmax XLs and the ever-reliable and robust Schwalbe Super Gravity tyres. With these angles and kit spec, this is a far cry from the lycra clad beginnings of the 29er.

On The Trail

My first encounter with the Mega was on a windswept Welsh hillside being attacked by various forms of precipitation. Huddled in a small wooden shelter, the back of a large nondescript van was opened before us to reveal pretty much every new Mega in the country. This van was the demo fleet for Nukeproof and included every spec and every size of Mega, including my steed for the day, the Mega 290. We were gathered at Revolution Bike Park in Wales to get involved in some testing with the Chain Reaction team as they made decisions on which Mega to use for the EWS this year. For me, I had decided that the 290 was where I would start given I'm a lanky type with a curiosity for 29-inch wheels.

Hopping into the back of a well used Land Rover we headed up for the first run of the day and to see what the trails would bring. Revolution is known as a pretty serious place; unforgiving downhill trails with a mix of slippery rocks and roots, as well as plenty of massive jumps and gaps. This is not your usual environment for a 29er. Full of commitment, we set off down a mixture of jumps, drops and super steep gradients, I was perhaps expecting things to feel a little awkward on the big wheels in this type of terrain, but from the off, the 290 seemed to want to look after me.

New bikes, new trails and high speed is usually a risky combination, but I felt at home. The slightly long chainstays gave me some rear wheel kick over the first few jumps, but soon I'd adjusted and found the balance spot. The increased rear centre keep things really stable, but makes the Mega slightly reluctant to spend long on it's back wheel. Although long manuals on the fire road were hard to achieve, it never felt difficult keeping the front up when needed on the trail.

Once the Mega and I got more acquainted, the gradients were pushed back further and I started to feel a little vulnerable at the front end. A few measurements and I realised I needed a higher bar height. The Mega has a short head tube, and on the XL I needed some higher rise bars to get behind on the steeps. Switching these made a world of difference and brought the front end height back in line with my standard 650b enduro bike I ride regularly.

The suspension was easy to dial in and the combination of Pike and Monarch always do a great job, this coupled with the big wheels ploughed through anything I could find. My day continued in a similar style until the lack of light forced us to quit, at which point a realised I hadn't tried the 650b bike all day! I did feel a bit like I had missed an opportunity, but I had just done ten runs on a 290 and forgotten entirely about wheel size. The only reminders came in the form of a buzz of my backside on the rear wheel while trying to keep the bike low over jumps.

Once home I had the chance to further test the bike on my local trails, and even ride it uphill. With an eleven speed drivetrain, there are plenty of gears to choose from, but my horribly steep local climbs felt a bit tough with a 32t front ring and Super Gravity tyres. Keep the wheels moving and rocks and steps seem to move out of your way, but sometimes momentum was hard won with heavy tyres and a stiff gear.

Keeping moving is what big wheels are all about, once up to speed, the stability and balance is superb, even tight trails in the trees work well as long as forward momentum is kept up. Sprinting off the start line is hard, and if too much speed is scrubbed in corners, you can be left feeling like you've stalled slightly. Trail centre riding on the Mega was a blast, but carting this much travel around a smooth trail with big wheels can feel hard work. The bike really needs something steep and rough to get its teeth into in order to feel at home.

With bikes of this calibre, I have become used to 35mm stems, and while a 50mm stem isn't long, I would be more than happy putting a couple of cm into the top tube and trimming the stem. As mentioned, I had to fit a higher rise bar, but this also highlighted my preference for wide bars of 780 to 800mm and the Mega is specced with 760, but that is definitely a personal tweak. Referring to the actual specification that customers will get when they buy a Mega, the Nobby Nic rear tyre may well struggle with the demands this bike could put on it, but other than that it looks ready to hit the trail hard. As a package, if this was a 650b bike it might get the 'Mini DH Bike' label, but the term mini doesn't quite fit for a 29er...

Overall

This isn't just a 29er; this is simply a big bike, the time for pigeon-holing bikes due to wheel diameter are coming to a close and this is the most capable big wheeler I have ever ridden. It will be too much bike for some, especially those looking for what we have become to expect from big wheels, yet for tall riders who want to ride hard, then this is the bike for you.

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This review was in Issue 40 of IMB.

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By Ewen Turner
Ewen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.

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