Nukeproof’s hard-hitting, full-suspension Mega trail bike, named after the insane, mass-start Megavalanche event that plunges racers side by side down the treacherous slopes of Alpe d’Huez, has been a brand staple since it first went on sale in 2011.
Since then, it’s seen its fair share of success, gaining a reputation for being solidly constructed and generally better suited to the downs than the ups. For 2016, the Mega’s silhouette has become far more refined and boasts a series of big changes – including a divide in wheelsize – that should make a significant difference on the hill and, no doubt, reopen the resonating wheelsize debate some thought had been laid to rest.
Horst for the course
In true bike-launch fashion, we were introduced to the new Mega with a backdrop of the sun setting over the beautiful mountains surrounding the quiet Italian town of Dolceaqua.
Distracting scenery or not, one quick glance at the latest offering is all it takes to notice some rather significant changes over its predecessor. Feast your eyes upon the chainstay and you’ll notice it now sports a pivot not too far from the rear axle. That’s right, the Nukeproof Mega has made the move to a Horst Link suspension setup for next year.
“For anyone that’s familiar with the original Mega, you’ll realise it’s a single-pivot, four-bar linkage-driven shock. The big change for the new Mega is that we’ve moved to the Horst Link”, Ali Beckett, one of the engineers behind the new Mega, confirmed to BikeRadar.
“We wanted to adjust the geometry,” he added. “We wanted to get a slightly shorter chainstay, and in turn then grew the front centre to keep the wheelbase where we wanted it.
“We wanted to try and improve the suspension feel. We wanted it to be more active, not only under braking, but at all times. This suspension layout allows us to do that.”
Without doubt the most obvious change though, is where the rear shock mounts to the front triangle. Previously, the upper shock mount of the Mega was anchored to the underside of the top tube. This time around, it’s been moved and now attaches to the top of the down tube.
“Not only has this made the suspension more linear – a feeling we felt we needed to go towards – it’s actually allowed us to add a lot of compliance into the frame,” Beckett said.
If you thought elements of the new Mega looked familiar though, you’d be right. With no need to beef the top tube up to the same extent as the previous Mega, Nukeproof was able to use the same item as featured on its latest Pulse downhill bike.
“This is a well-engineered tube, not only the shape but the butting. It’s butted in three different places and that helps us add in the compliance we wanted on the front triangle”, said Beckett.
As we mentioned earlier, the previous version of the Mega was more renowned for its ability to descend than for any featherweight climbing credentials.
That’s no bad thing – if it’s what you’re looking for – but these days, the all-round capability bar set for this type of trail/enduro/all-mountain (or whatever else you might find fit to term them) bike is ridiculously high.
Nukeproof was well aware of this, and so was keen to trim some of the Mega’s excess wherever possible. About 1lb (0.5kg) has been shed, according to Beckett, compared with the last bike, meaning the frame weight is now 2.8kg without a shock.
So how did Nukeproof start this weight loss regime for the Mega?
The designers turned to the same method used on the Pulse – trying to get 10 percent of the weight out of every single part, whether that’s the seat tube brace or a little yoke. “On some components, you’ll get 20, 30 or 40 percent of the weight out of them, just because we know a lot more about engineering than we did last year, or the year before,” Beckett said.
Quizzed on how Nukeproof achieved the significant reduction in frame weight, Beckett explained that there was a lot more (tube) volume in the old frame. Taking away some of that has enabled Nukeproof to keep similar butting, but on all tubes it has less volume.
That isn’t where the story of weight saving ends though. The hardware is now fully alloy, as opposed to the steel bolts and alloy inserts on the last frame, which helped take another chunk of heft out.
Even with the amount of single-ring, 1×10 and 1×11 transmission options out there, Nukeproof has ensured there’s provision for a front derailleur. Whether this will change in the future is still uncertain.
Bye bye Mega TR, hello Mega 29
The Mega range was previously split in two – the AM and the shorter-travel TR. Nukeproof has now decided to can the TR, focusing on the longer-travel bike instead, claiming weights between the two were so close that it made little sense to scrimp on travel and go for the TR when the choice arose.
Nukeproof still offers a divide in the Mega lineup though – this time the choice is on 29in or 27.5in wheel size. While travel only differs by 10mm (the Mega 275 lineup sports 160mm of travel front and rear, the Mega 290 bikes 150mm at either end), Nukeproof certainly hasn’t set out to deliver a traditional 29er.
“This bike has been evolved from our desire – you know – how can we make the Mega better? How can we make it faster? How can we make it corner better, grip better? This is not a 29er with a steep head angle… it sort of needs to be ridden to be believed and understood,” was Beckett’s enthusiastic sales pitch.
When asked if it had widened the back end of the bike to 148mm (the new Boost standard, which accommodates wider hub flanges and therefore a stiffer wheel), Nukeproof told us it had stuck with 12x142mm spacing for now. Widening the rear end may, however, be a change we’ll see later down the line on the 29er at least.
When it comes to sales, Nukeproof has been realistic with its expectations, knowing that not everyone is sold on the concept of the aggressive 29er, and anticipating it will shift more of the smaller-wheeled Mega 275’s, initially at least. Still, we can’t wait to throw a leg over one on our local trails.
The numbers that count
Both the 650b and 29in wheeled Megas are relatively slack with 65 and 66-degree head angles respectively. In a bid to help things on the way back up, both bikes get the same, steep, 75.5-degree seat tube angle too.
While the Mega 275 gets short 435mm chainstays, its 29in-wheeled counterpart has longer (longer even than the Specialized’s highly acclaimed, previous generation Stumpjumper FSR) 450mm chainstays. If you compare both bikes in a size medium, the Mega 275 comes in 10mm shorter in the wheelbase, measuring in at 1187mm, with the Mega 290 stretched out to (you guessed it) 1197mm.
Again, using the size medium as the example, both the Mega 275 and 290 have identical reach figures (in this case, the reach is 435mm). Aside from geometry, it’s worth knowing that the Mega 275 has 160mm (6.3in) of travel front and rear, while the Mega 290 has 150mm (5.9in) front and rear. Importantly, Nukeproof offers both the Mega 275 and 290 in four sizes, ranging from small to extra-large.
Who are they for and what do they cost?
There’s no two ways about it, the Mega is a bike that’s more than capable of taking a real pasting in the Alps one week, and hammering out trail centre laps the next. The specs are well considered, and prices very reasonable too.
The cheapest Mega 275, dubbed the ‘Race’ (there’s no equivalent to the Race in the 29er line up), will set you back £2,000 / $3,200 (all Aus prices are TBC), and comes with a Manitou Mattoc Comp fork and Shimano M617 double crankset.
At the other end of the pricing scale sit the ‘Team’ bikes, which sell for £3,800 / $6,000, in both wheel sizes. These get SRAM’s Guide RCS brakes and Rail 50 wheelset, SRAM’s X01 transmission and an e*thirteen TRS+ upper chain guide. There’s also the Pro, for £3,200 / $5,100, and the Comp at £2,600 / $4,150 – again, available in both wheel sizes.
I spent two days pummelling the Mega 275 Pro (the mid-spec, mid-price bike in the line-up) in the mountains around Dolceaqua. At 13.8kg (30.5lbs) with pedals, climbing on the Mega was a relatively pain-free affair, and the 2016 bike certainly felt more sprightly when pointed upwards than its predecessor.
Many will appreciate the 150mm of travel that comes courtesy of the RockShox Reverb Stealth post, but my short legs were just about on the stretched limit. A shorter drop option might be nice for some. I spent some time altering the amount of sag I was running in the rear shock, settling on just under 35 percent.
This did mean that on really long drags a quick flick of the low speed compression lever was required to stabilise pedalling somewhat. But when descending, I felt far more balanced on the bike and got the initial sensitivity needed to keep the treads biting on the loose surface, while still having enough support when pushing the bike hard through turns.
When the trail got rough, the Mega 275 didn’t shirk its responsibilities
Interestingly, the Mega 275’s RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 rear shock comes with a light compression and light rebound tune and no volume bands inside to make it more progressive. I found this tune to work really well, especially after taking the time to try a few different sag settings early on.
Though I was pleased the Mega 275 Pro was pleasant enough on the climbs, I was beyond grateful that Nukeproof has managed to retain the Mega’s credentials on the harsh stuff. The supple, balanced suspension helps with confidence on demanding tracks and the lively ride makes for a playful ride that is, in simple terms, bloody good fun on the trail.
I never once winced when throwing the Mega into ugly rock sections and thought nothing of slinging it sideways hard into turns.
Were there any weak spots? I’d change out the Schwalbe Nobby Nic with its PaceStar compound straight away. On damp rock or root, it’s nervous at best and well worth trading in if you can. The SRAM Roam 40 wheels seemed okay in the smaller wheelsize, but other journos were finding them a touch twangy in the bigger 29in format.
We’ll have a full first ride very soon, so stay tuned for more on the Mega.