No one builds bikes as brutally beautiful as Nicolai, and even its hardtails are showpieces of Teutonic techno design to the Nth degree. The ride of the Argon FR is equally uncompromising as the visual impact as well.
With a price more than double that of most frames here, Nicolai needs to stand up to justify it, and the Argon has no difficulty doing that. Even before the first pedal stroke, you can feel that this is an uncompromisingly rigid machine with no trace of any flex when you grab the bars and saddle. The short back end feels even more solid through your shorts, and even rough Tarmac was jolting us as we headed out to the trails.
However, while this jackhammer ride soon gets tiring if you're trying to plug across lumpy, tussocky trails without getting buckaroo'ed out of the saddle, it's not without its advantages. Find a smooth line for getting power down, and this lightweight frame delivers astonishing acceleration that none of the other bikes here could follow.
It's also has incredible feedback clarity, with any changes in trail surface or traction levels instantly communicated through the grips or pedals. Give it something smooth, bermed and groomed and it's in its element too, making the most of the fast rolling and easy leaning Conti tyres and letting us push much harder than we expected.
Like other Nicolai frames we've tried, it's fantastic on really steep terrain, where hanging off the back of the saddle is easy but the steering still stays controllable - not homicidal - under heavy braking.
Whatever we say about the handling, what makes most people buy a Nicolai is the über techno frame detailing. For a start, nobody does huge dinner plate-sized fish scale weld beads like Nicolai. Nobody machines everything as obsessively as it does either, and finishing detail is second to none, right down to the inset 'A' on the hollow box 'shock block' rear wishbone, while the bluntly simple gusset plates reinforce the super thinwalled Ultralite pipes.
As well as being the most expensive and ostentatious frame here, Nicolai dealers Moonglu also seriously blinged our test sample. Everything from colour matched anodized componentry to Goodridge hoses and Nokon Konkavex cables ensured the lightest build up here, while the usefully adjustable Fox TALAS fork is a nice touch. Moonglu will even throw in a very healthy discount on top (compared to a DIY build), which is jolly nice of them.
Essentially everything about the Nicolai is totally uncompromising. The industrial look was loved and loathed by testers in equal measure, and the brutally abusive ride is even more of a divider. Add exaggerated stable front, snap reaction rear geometry for a very distinctive handling character and you've got a truly outstanding bike.
Nicolai's legendary fanatical attention to detail is plain to see in its stunning Argon FR hardtail. Unique geometry and undiluted frame feedback make it an equally dramatic ride.