We’re getting used to increasingly slack, downhill-bike-style head angles on long travel trail/enduro/all-mountain bikes or whatever you choose to call them. However, even by current standards, the new Nukeproof is a shock at first sit for a production bike rather than a headset tweaked or custom framed freak.
Nukeproof lists the head angle as 65 degrees on its website but we measured it at 64. In contrast, the seat tube angle is super steep as it starts up from the bottom bracket vertically before relaxing back to a still very sharp 75.5 degrees for the upper section. For the record, that’s two degrees slacker in the steering and two degrees steeper in the seat than last year’s Mega AM.
That means even with a 22mm longer 460mm reach measurement (the horizontal distance from BB to headset centre), the Nukeproof’s Warhead bars feel like they’re dropped right back into your lap when you’re sat in the saddle. Add a front wheel that’s stretched out in front almost like you’re pushing a wheelbarrow and it feels properly radical compared to benchmark category bikes such as the Canyon Strive and Santa Cruz Nomad.
Unsurprisingly working out how to suck enough air into your lungs and placing the distant front wheel accurately takes a while on the trail. Production bikes will gain 200g of wheel weight through a switch from SRAM Roam 40 wheels to wider and stronger SRAM Rail 40 wheels but at 13.66kg it’ll still be a reasonable weight for its category even compared to carbon frame bikes.
This means it’s not unduly taxing to accelerate or gain altitude on if you’re on a self-propelled uplift or just joining descents on a big day out as part of an official enduro or just your own exploro mission. The steep seat angle means there’s also enough weight on the chunky Magic Mary front tyre end to coax it round typical trail centre switchback climbs or sketchy backwoods singletrack steeps.
Going down – very quickly
Nukeproof hasn’t stretched and slacked out its frame to get to the top fast though, it’s done it so you can go absolutely mental on the way down. Drop the saddle out of the way with the RockShox Reverb post and you’ll naturally re-centre on the long 1220mm wheelbase and 790mm front axle to BB (front centre).
The easy sag of the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 shock with its large volume air can naturally tips the bike backwards into its travel too, slackening the already lazy steering even further. That gives the Mega incredibly assured front stability and even if you do deliberately load up the front wheel and push hard enough to unhook the triple compound Schwalbe Muddy Mary Trailstar front tyre there always seems time to calmly collect the slide through the stiff Warhead 50mm stem and get it cutting into the corner again.
The top-line RCT3 damper in the RockShox Pike fork is noticeably smoother and more connected in potentially ragged edge situations than the RC damper versions you’ll still find on some bikes at this price. The change to wider rims will increase low pressure tyre security, stability and grip even further.
There’s ample feedback sensitivity in the smoothly squeezed action of the SRAM Guide RS brakes too, although we’d prefer a 200mm front rotor to the 180mm fitted on a bike capable of going so fast on proper big mountain terrain. A few more millimetres’ width than the supplied 760mm bar wouldn’t go amiss to really make the most of the tyre stretching, limit pushing potential of the front end of the Mega.
The chainguide fitted on our sample won’t be on production bikes either, although there are ISCG frame mounts if you want to add your own.
Shock to the system
The real work in progress with the Mega though is the rear shock. After initial test feedback that it was blowing through its travel too quickly, Nukeproof changed the shock spec.
The softer starting, larger negative spring DebonAir air can has been swapped for a standard Xtra Volume can and the compression damping has been tightened up from a light to medium resistance. We still found it blew through the travel easily though and we had to rely on the ‘Pedal’ mode low-speed, compression-increasing side switch for pedalling and cornering stability rather than a mushy, power and precision sapping feel.
However, popping open the shock and adding two or three Bottomless Ring volume reducers to the air chamber only takes a couple of minutes and makes a really big difference. It means you’re not a slave to the side lever on climbs but most importantly, given the Mega’s priorities, it keeps it riding higher in its travel hooking berms.
Because the back wheel isn’t farting away from you under load you can push harder through both wheels, fully exploiting the DH geometry and stiff frame of the Nukeproof. While you’ll feel a bit more of the big lumps when you’re going full gas, there’s more platform to pump and pop with and it’s not shy of using the full stroke to suck up slams and sustain speed when it has to.
If you’re really after maximum speed rather than maximum agility from the Mega platform the 290 Pro uses an identical spec and similarly slack-steering, steep-seat-angle geometry, just with from upsized 29in wheels and tyres.
It really impressed us with its ability to hold its line and momentum when we trialled it on the most rowdy trails of South Wales and in the Maritime Alps of southern France – and was only held back by that soggy shock tune, which is now well on the way to being sorted.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.