With a website that looks more like the official site for the latest techno geek sci-fi blockbuster than a bike builder, Nicolai take every part of their obsessively detailed operation to the Nth degree.
One look at the Nicolai Helius FR is enough to tie anyone with a love of fantastically finished metalwork and raw techno showboating in knots. It's an aesthetic assault that's grabbed our imagination since we first had a flyer stuffed under our windscreen wipers to confirm that the alien-like creations we'd seen at Eurobike had landed in the UK.
The winsome, Ti and skinny steel lovers around us flounced and whinnied at the almost grotesque brutality of them. For me, another boy fascination with cutaway technical drawings, tank giblets and stripped down sub machine guns all came flooding back. Add the most extensive range of custom options and
finishes, including no less than four different camo colour schemes and we'd almost say that Nicolai.net isn't worksafe for those with a techno porn hair trigger...
And that's before you meet the FR in the flesh. All the crystal sharp detail shots from multiple angles, the scrolling options list and the sneaked peeks at the monster travel gravity beasts and the incredible freeride tandem don't do it justice.
We're talking about perfect welds securing drilled, pocketed and cut out gusset plates onto subtly flared head tubes and taper-butted Easton main tubes; triple bolted multi-position shock mount chucks; linkages that give four travel settings from 115-163mm and pivot bores punched straight through the top tube; sharp-edged rectangular stays with embossed lettering along the top edge and six bolted adjustable driveside dropouts for perfect wheel alignment, and fully adjustable IGUS bearings for nipping out any slack that creeps in when you start going crazy. And this is all as standard!
Start ticking the extras boxes and your FR could come with full Rohloff Speedhub mounts, a Maxle or thru axle rear end, One Point Five head tube, built-in anti-chainsuck plate or ISCG tabs on the BB. There's even a complete magnesium and titanium bolt, bushing, linkage plate and dropout kit to save serious weight. Those knowing exactly what they want in size and handling terms can even opt for the full custom process, where 'most things are possible within the constraints of sense and technical feasibility'.
That's before you start to make your individuality public in the paintwork. Lush powder coat or hard anodized finishes, plus different multicolour camo options every year - it's the Jackson Pollocks for anyone with an exhibitionist streak.
In kit terms, you couldn't ask for a better selection than our sumptuous demo bike from Moonglu (01765 601106). Fox TALAS 36 forks match the FR's tight feel and travel adjustability, while brakes, transmission and trim are our fave XC/Freeride crossover kit. Like many shops, Moonglu's complete custom build offers superb value compared to a DIY job (£3250 vs £3800 full retail).
The fact that the ride of the FR is tight, totally balanced, precise and confidence-inspiring is almost an aside to the whole Nicolai package. In terms of show and tell engineering, frame and finishing options and the whole ownership package - right through to Nicolai's own 'Numeric' magazine - a Nicolai has to be on anyone's dream bike shortlist.
The great news is that Nicolai's aren't just an exercise in welding torch obsession, sweaty swarf generation and cyber cosmetics, they're just as outstanding on the trail.
The FR geometry has settled down since the first totally psychotic bike we rode (75-degree seat angle anyone?) but this is still a bike that'll take the trail by the scruff of the neck and make it beg for mercy.
With an inline post, the near 73-degree seat angle ensures the front wheel stays totally nailed on whatever target is in your sights. There's certainly little trace of the slight visual power sway of the stays against the seat tube in the ride either. In fact, the crisp frame feel from the Moto-X gusset head, tight bearings, deep stays and immaculate alignment give a real surgical edge to any move. Even with rounded, easily slid tyres, there's exceptional clarity coming up from the trail, letting you push right to the limit with only the slightest raise in your pulse rate.
The licensed Horst link suspension is impeccably balanced and neutral too, continually ready to engage drive or suck the back wheel onto the ground. The DHX Air shock needs a bit of juggling to stop it overtravelling over mid-sized hits, but the high bottom bracket means at least this isn't an issue in terms of pedalling clearance. In fact, running the shock soft with a touch of pro pedal and a fair dose of end stroke damping was actually a real bonus. It stuck the bike onto the ground for high speed confidence without compromising climbing ability, emphasising the FR's true versatility.
At 8.6lb, the frame is on the heavy side, but it rarely felt significantly weightier than our other test bikes and with full 170mm travel single crown compatibility and a bolt-thru back end, it could be the basis for a proper hellraiser if you want it to be.