Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon review

Does the Mega still retain the same world-beating pedigree in this better value build? One of our Enduro Bike of the Year contenders

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Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £3,700.00 RRP | USD $3,700.00 | EUR €3,700.00 | AUD $5,499.00
Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon full-suspension mountain bike

Our review

The Mega 290 Elite is a serious big hitter and isn’t afraid of flattening anything that’s in its path
Pros: Great kit for the money; plenty of high-speed stability and confidence; easy going, really comfortable ride in rough terrain
Cons: Not a particularly efficient pedaller; rear suspension not as supportive as some
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For 2020, Nukeproof updated its Mega 290 geometry and now offers the frame in either aluminium or carbon (as seen here).

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In case you’re not a fan of enduro racing, the Mega has had its fair share of success in recent years, scooping the Enduro World Series title three consecutive times thanks to Aussie rider Sam Hill. And it was on this updated frame that he managed to secure the 2019 title after a fierce battle that went down to the final stage of the final round.

But just because a bike can win under someone as talented as Hill, doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily work for everyone. While I’ve always got on well with the Mega in the past, they were never quite perfect. So, how does this one compare?

Bike of the Year 2020

The Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.

Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.

Mega 290 Elite Carbon frame and suspension details

As the name of the bike suggests, the bike in question here uses a carbon frame. Well, to be precise, it uses a carbon front triangle while the rear end is made from triple butted, hydroformed aluminium.

Nukeproof claims that this new carbon frame is significantly lighter than the all-aluminium model but doesn’t sacrifice any strength or stiffness despite the weight savings.

Unlike the 650b Mega, there’s no size small option if you go for the 29er version, which ranges from medium through to extra-large.

The suspension layout, in terms of silhouette at least, remains the same and uses a Horst Link which Nukeproof switched the Mega over to back in 2015 (for the 2016 bike).

Although they may look similar, the 2020 bike’s rear end gets upped to 160mm of travel and Nukeproof claims to have improved small bump sensitivity, added more mid-stroke support and upped progressivity too, when compared directly to its predecessor.

Cables are routed internally through the front triangle, but both the gear cable and brake hose run externally along the seatstays out back.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
Neat entry and exit cabling ports help to keep the frame looking clean and tidy and elminate cable rattle and noise
Dan Milner/MBUK

The Mega 290 uses a threaded bottom bracket, which should help reduce workshop time when it comes to maintaining it, as should the use of Enduro pivot bearings which are known for their durability and weatherproofing.

Mega 290 Elite Carbon geometry

The Mega 290’s numbers are certainly contemporary but not extreme. The medium frame I tested boasts a reach of 455mm, which is stretched out enough to offer confidence when out of the saddle and travelling at higher speeds, but doesn’t make the bike feel awkward to manoeuvre in tighter sections of trail.

And that measurement seems to work well with the lengthy 450mm chainstay, which manages to deliver a nice ride position between the wheels.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
While Nukeproof specs a 45mm stem on the Mega 290, I think a 35mm stem would be better
Dan Milner/MBUK

Nukeproof has gone pretty steep for the effective seat angle at 76.7 degrees in a bid to create a comfortable, efficient climbing position for winching back uphill.

It’s a different story at the head angle, though, which is properly slack at 64 degrees and makes it one of the more relaxed bikes in this category. This is designed to work with the short offset, 170mm travel Fox 36 fork.

There’s 30mm of bottom bracket drop between the wheel axles and it sits at just 342mm off the floor, which is pretty low considering the amount of travel on tap here.

Thanks to the stumpy 420mm seat tube, I was more than fine using the 150mm dropper post, even with my short legs (I’m 172cm tall), and, once dropped, the saddle felt totally out of the way and never once caused issues when tackling steeper trails, allowing me to get right off the back of the bike when I needed to.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon full-suspension mountain bike
With 160mm of travel at the rear and 170mm up front, the latest Mega is a real monster truck of a bike.
Dan Milner/MBUK
  • Sizes (* tested): M*, L, XL
  • Seat angle: 76.7 degrees
  • Head angle: 64 degrees
  • Chainstay: 45cm / 17.72in
  • Seat tube length: 42cm / 16.54in
  • Top tube (effective): 60cm / 23.62in
  • Head tube length: 10cm / 3.94in
  • Bottom bracket height: 34.2cm / 13.46in
  • Wheelbase: 1,236mm / 48.66in
  • Stack: 62.05cm / 24.43in
  • Reach: 45.5cm / 17.91in

Mega 290 Elite Carbon specifications

Considering that you get a carbon frame, the kit bolted onto the Mega 290 Elite Carbon is really decent.

And don’t forget, Nukeproof bikes are sold through shops, not direct, so you also get the benefit of all that knowledge and back up.

The Fox 36 Performance fork pumps out 170mm of travel and uses the GRIP damper which, although not as refined or as controlled as the pricier GRIP2 equivalent, remains reasonably comfy and composed when the going gets rough.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
Controlling the 160mm of rear wheel travel is a Fox Performance DPX2 shock.
Dan Milner/MBUK

At the rear, the DPX2 shock is another from Fox’s Performance range and has a three-position compression lever (open, medium and firm) as well as rebound adjustment. You can also tune the spring curve by adding/removing volume spacers.

I’m a big fan of the Shimano SLX 1×12 gearing. It feels far crisper and more accurate than SRAM’s NX Eagle transmission, which is found on a lot of bikes around this price-point, plus it offers a massive gear range thanks to that huge 10-51t cassette.

Braking comes courtesy of Shimano too. Its four-piston SLX brakes are punchy and powerful with a really light lever feel. I did have some bite point wander with the rear brake from time to time, but it was nowhere near as bad as I’ve suffered in the past and it didn’t disrupt ride flow or feel on the trail.

Another highlight worth mentioning is the Michelin Wild Enduro tyres wrapped around the DT Swiss E1900 wheels.

I’ve found the tyres to work well in a multitude of conditions and it’s a plus that they come set up tubeless.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
Sam Hill’s signature lock-on grips are nice and thin but use two lock-on collars, rather than just one, which I prefer
Dan Milner/MBUK

The Nukeproof finishing kit is quality stuff and works well on the trail. My only real niggle is that the Sam Hill grips use two lock-rings to secure them to the bar, which impact on comfort if you sit your hands right at the very ends of the handlebar, like I do.

Mega 290 Elite Carbon ride impressions

With no shortage of technical natural trails in South Wales and some faster bike-park style tracks just down the road, the Mega really got put through it paces during testing.

I subjected it to rough and ready technical trails where it was pummeled over root spreads and rocks, as well as slid down steep, muddy hillsides before the pace was elevated and the loads increased. Riding lap after lap of BikePark Wales, which has no shortage of jumps, berms and rock gardens, really tests a bike’s makeup.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
Nukeproof includes an MRP chainguide to help keep the chain exactly where it needs to be.
Dan Milner/MBUK

Finally, the Mega travelled to Spain for a final few days of testing on some high-speed, dusty, rocky trails, which were located just outside of Madrid. Thanks to the guys at Blacktown Trails, who showed us the very best the location had to offer.

Mega 290 Elite Carbon climbing performance

Hit the first incline and you’ll quickly notice that the Mega isn’t the most efficient climber in this category thanks to the amount of suspension bob generated as you spin the pedals.

It’s easy enough to reach and flick the DPX2’s compression lever, though, which instantly firms the back-end up as well as helps to maintain that relatively steep seat angle.

The Mega sinks into the initial part of its 160mm of travel quite easily, so propping the back-end up with the use of the compression lever certainly helps to make things feel a little more eager when tackling longer, steeper climbs.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
We’re big fans of Shimano’s SLX 1×12 gearing, which can almost rival its pricier XT counterpart in terms of performance.
Dan Milner/MBUK

Thanks to that massive cassette, which is paired with a 30t chainring, I never felt like I was going to run out of gears when climbing and could spin up just about any climb, even when tired.

The effective top-tube on the medium is a shade over 600mm and I felt like it offered me enough room to climb comfortably without feeling too upright or too hunched over.

Mega 290 Elite Carbon descending performance

Nukeproof says that it wanted to create a “monster truck” of a bike, and it seems that it’s delivered.

Drop your heels, lean back and the Mega will eagerly soak up everything you stick in front of it. The rougher the trail, the better.

Suspension balance does require a little effort to find – I ran a little more sag on the fork, which helped to sync the front and rear – but once you’re comfortable, the Mega feels agile and easy to flick about on the trail.

At the rear, there’s a reasonable level of support, but push hard through the pedals in high-load, high-speed turns and you’ll find yourself sitting at the deep end of the shock’s mid-stroke.

Still, you soon adapt to this and can really make the most of the plush rear-end when the going gets rough, sitting back and pummeling through whatever lays ahead.

That plush rear-end does mean it’s not as urgent as some bikes when pumping through lumps and bumps on flatter trails and will require a little more effort on the pedals to keep momentum topped up when the gradient is far from extreme.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
The Fox 36 fork here uses the GRIP damper. While it’s not as refined as the more expensive GRIP2 damper, it can still hold its own when the going gets rough.
Dan Milner/MBUK

Up front, the Fox 36 with its GRIP damper does a decent job of balancing comfort and control. It’s not as composed and doesn’t manage to muster the same levels of traction as the more expensive GRIP2-equipped Fox 36 fork, but it’ll offer enough support when loading the front of the bike and comfort to see you through prolonged rocky sections of trail without feeling too much through your hands.

At 172cm / 5ft 8in, the 455mm reach worked well for me and, coupled with the lengthy back-end, never feels too long or awkward when navigating tighter sections of trail. And things remain stable and surefooted when the speed picks up or the trail steepens.

When it comes to cornering, I felt well-positioned between the Mega’s wheels and, despite the long chainstays, never struggled with manouvering the bike between tight, linked turns or lofting the front wheel up and over obstacles when I needed to.

There’s no lack of liveliness to proceedings, though it lacks the pop and dynamism of the Cube Stereo 170 SL 29.

There were a couple of times when riding fast, relatively steep trails that I felt a little more weight bias off the front, but I think reducing the stem length from 45mm to 35mm would help counteract this without any detrimental effects on handling.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
Shimano’s four-piston SLX brakes are punchy and powerful. After issues in the past with Shimano brakes having a wandering bite point, I was pleased that these stoppers felt more consistent.
Dan Milner/MBUK

Where the Mega really holds its own against the best bikes out there is when things get rough and rowdy. Here, there’s no shortage of confidence, and that’s not just down to the bike’s geometry and suspension.

I’m a big fan of the Michelin Wild Enduro tyre combo and have found it to deliver predictable grip on a multitude of surfaces.

The tyres are certainly best suited to the sloppy UK conditions that I did most of my testing on, though. Here they offer a decent level of bite into softer ground and really dig in under braking – something that makes a big difference on steeper, slippery trails.

It wasn’t just the tyres, though. The broad bar and solid stem help to create an accurate feel too, but it’s the Shimano brakes that need praise.

The four-piston SLX brakes have a very light touch at the lever, yet the grab, punch and power when the pads do clamp the disc are really impressive. Controlling that power takes a little time to get used to, but coupled with the traction-rich tyres meant coming to a stop was never an issue.

We’ve had some serious wandering bite point issues with a number of Shimano brakes over the last couple of years, but the brakes bolted onto this particular bike were pretty much problem-free, despite a little bit of lever pump felt through the rear brake on extended descents.

Nukeproof Mega 290 Elite Carbon
Point the Mega 290 Elite Carbon at the really rough stuff and it’ll lap it up without hesitation.
Dan Milner/MBUK

As an overall package, the Mega 290 Elite Carbon is a seriously great bit of kit that’ll take full-on downhills in its stride, all while ensuring to add fun to proceedings.

It’s certainly not the most efficient pedaller out there and definitely excels at higher speeds and on steeper gradients.

Considering the price, the kit is well-considered and works really well for the bike’s intentions. If you’re happy to lean back and hold on as the trails gets rough and rowdy, the latest Mega big-wheeler is well worth considering.

Mega 290 Elite Carbon bottom line

The new Mega 290 Elite Carbon shares more similarities with a full-on downhill bike than a more traditional long-travel trail bike, yet it’ll still happily handle long days on the hill.

It’s definitely a bike that’s not afraid to be hammered rather than finessed through rock gardens or root spreads, and retains enough nimbleness to be thrown around with relative ease.

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This particular build is well thought out and won’t need altering should you want to head straight from the shop to the race venue.

With thanks to…

BikeRadar would like to thank 661, IXS, Leatt, Garmin, Facom and BlackTown Trails for their support during our Bike of the Year test.

Product Specifications

Product

Price AUD $5499.00EUR €3700.00GBP £3700.00USD $3700.00
Weight 14.9kg (M)
Brand Nukeproof

Features

Available sizes M, L, XL
Headset Nukeproof Warhead
Tyres Michelin Wild Enduro MAGI-X TS TLR 29x2.4in (fr) and Michelin Wild Enduro GUM-X TS TLR 29x2.4in (r)
Stem Nukeproof Neutron AM, 45mm
Shifter Shimano SLX
Seatpost Brand X Ascend internal, 150mm
Saddle Nukeproof Horizon SL
Rear shock Fox Performance DPX2
Rear derailleur Shimano SLX 1x12
Handlebar Nukeproof Horizon, 780mm
Bottom bracket Shimano Hollowtech II
Grips/Tape Nukeproof Sam Hill
Frame UD Carbon front triangle, alloy rear back end with 160mm travel
Fork Fox 36 Performance GRIP with 170mm of travel
Cranks Shimano SLX with MRP SXG chain guide
Chain Shimano
Cassette Shimano SLX 12-speed
Brakes Shimano SLX BR-M7120 (200mm/180mm rotors)
Wheels DT Swiss E1900 Spline