Chris Porter's custom Nicolai Ion 16 - super bike

One man's mission to create the ultimate high-speed trail bike

Having spent years modifying unsatisfactory bikes, Mojo Suspension’s Chris Porter decided it was time to take things into his own hands and commissioned German manufacturer Nicolai to build exactly what he wanted.

The result is a frame with totally custom long, slack and low geometry, custom tuned Fox suspension at both ends and components picked and modified for maximum performance, even if that means increased maintenance.

From his early days testing motorcycles to a stint as a mountain bike magazine editor in the mid-90s and his current position as the head honcho at Mojo and the face of Fox suspension in the UK, Chris knows a thing or two about going fast on two wheels. He’s also never too far from saying something controversial – his outspoken views on bike design have made him stand out in the industry as someone who doesn’t mix his words and isn’t afraid to tell you.

With such extensive experience, Chris knows what he wants when it comes to the handling characteristics of whatever it is he’s riding. Having never been completely satisfied with the bikes on offer, he’s always taken it upon himself to get creative and do what he can to increase performance. “I love to mess with a bike’s head angle, bottom bracket height, suspension and the rest,” he says. “I haven’t been running stock angles since 1994/95.”

Chris designed the frame with a super-slack 63 degree head angle. Dropping the BB knocked it down to 62 degrees, but he decided that was just too slack and used a Cane Creek Angleset adjustable headset to get back to the original angle

The quest to find a trail bike with the handling traits he was looking for led Chris to some extremes before he decided to go down the custom route. “There was a point in the late 90s/early 2000s where I’d use downhill bikes as trail bikes, with light wheels and tyres – pretty much what we call ‘enduro’ now, but with a crappy seat angle.” 

While we’re now seeing an increasing number of bikes with long front centres, short stems, slack head angles and other attributes we’d have once only associated with downhill bikes, this development has been too slow for Mr Porter. Taking matters into his own hands, Chris began the process to make his geometry ideas come to life.

He was clear about what he wanted – “if long, slack and low is good, it follows that longer, slacker and lower is even better!” – but getting it right didn’t happen overnight. This is the second custom frame that Chris has commissioned this year from Nicolai. “Tim Williams, our ops manager here at Mojo, rode the first bike and the first time out he was faster than on the [Lapierre] Spicy he’d been working on most of the winter,” says Chris. “The second time out he beat the climb times too! If it worked for Tim at 5ft 11in and I’m 6ft 1in, I knew I was going to need to try something even bigger.” 

With the help of Nicolai, that vision is now a reality. With a staggeringly long wheelbase that measures nearly 1.3m, this bike is all about stability at speed and it bears testament to the extremes to which Chris has gone to get the superbike he’s always wanted. Every angle, every dimension and every opportunity to maximise performance has been pored over, from the low 330mm BB height to improve cornering to the slack 63-degree head angle to maintain control at the high speeds this bike was always intended to reach.

Chris runs the POWA DFender mudguard he designed in collaboration with three-time world DH champ Fabien Barel and his long-time buddy/mechanic Paul Walton. His Fox 36 Float RC2 fork has more compression damping than standard

Chris has even modified the fork seals to minimise stiction, even though that means more maintenance. That’s OK though – he likes to service the lowers after every five to 10 hours of riding anyway, for that box fresh feel! With extra swingarms on their way and angled headsets at his disposal, he can fine-tune the ride feel of this one-of-a-kind bike even further, potentially making it even longer and slacker still.

At 1,295mm, the Nicolai’s wheelbase is all about stability at speed. Going against the trend for short rear ends, Chris’s bike has hugely long 450mm chainstays, with additional 455 and 460mm swingarms on their way to make this lengthy beast even longer

This Nicolai is certainly far removed from the trail bikes you’ll find in the shops, but Chris doesn’t think he’s pushed things too far. “I don’t believe this is radical,” he says. “It has similar handling numbers to a normal DH bike. It’s nothing like a traditional XC bike, but then they’ve been turned into ‘dirt road’ bikes that are better suited to Tarmac!”

Chris has always pushed the boundaries but the custom service offered by Nicolai represented a blank canvas to create something truly unique and bespoke. While this bike challenges our preconceptions with its exaggerated dimensions, it should also make us question whether we’re satisfied with the way our own bikes ride.

Geometry

  • Head angle: 63 degrees
  • Top tube length: 700mm
  • Stem length: 10mm
  • Wheelbase: 1,295mm
  • Chainstay length: 450mm
  • BB height: 330mm
  • Weight: 15.5kg

Want to read more about Chris' bike? We'll be posting the full transcript of our interview with him next week. Keep a lookout for it on the Mountain Biking UK blog page here on BikeRadar.

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