A few weeks back I stopped in at Lal Bikes' new headquarters on the Sunshine Coast, BC, to catch up with Cedric Eveleigh and shoot photos of this, the only Nicolai Nucleon 16 in North America (so far). Cedric recently went to Germany to drop off drivetrain parts and pick up this pre-production frame Nucleon 16 frame to serve as a test sled. Since then, a few final tweaks have been made, such as adding a port in the dropout for routing the derailleur housing, and Nicolai is building production frames right now.
Lal Bikes' Supre Drive, developed by Cedric, made a huge splash when it was announced in late 2021
. The drivetrain system separates the gear-selection and chain-tensioning components, keeping the derailleur out of harm's way and protecting it from rocks, sticks, or in my case, poor line choice. It is designed for high-pivot bike frames and requires the frame to be built specifically to accommodate the drivetrain's requirements, so despite how promising the design is, it's got a difficult path to mass adoption.
A year and a half later though, it's almost available for purchase. Germany's Nicolai Bicycles, known for their love of unconventional drivetrains, is the first company to bring a Supre-equipped bike to the market with the Nucleon 16 Supre. Read Seb Stott's coverage
of the Nucleon for a deep dive into its geometry and kinematics.
The 2002 Nicolai Nucleon ST (left) and the 2023 Nicolai Nucleon 16 (right). Back during Nicolai's "wild monster bikes" phase they had a bike called the Nucleon with a gearbox and high pivot suspension. Nice to see it resurrected and evolved.
|The pedal kickback is actually lower than many non-high-pivot bikes, even though the anti-squat is really high. Basically, it achieves a level of pedalling efficiency that suspension engineers wish they could achieve, but can't when their design doesn't have an idler pulley. The Kavenz guys also figured this out that it's nice to have really high anti squat and you can do that with an idler without creating excessive pedal kickback.|
It's got nice suspension progression for handling big hits, the suspension stays supple when braking (compared to other single pivot bikes), and the weight is nicely centralized. It's very quiet in terms of chain slap and it pedals very well, both in terms of not bobbing and in terms of drivetrain efficiency. Overall, it's a fun, versatile bike that can be pedalled and still go fast on the downs.—Cedric Eveleigh, Lal Bikes
Cedric stressed that many of the parts, like a Zeb Ultimate and Raceface Era cranks were chosen simply because he feels they're great parts, but others had more specific purposes on the build. They want this bike to be easily tested by others so they opted for an air shock, as well as the easily-reversible SRAM brake levers. The lightweight Schwalbe SuperTrail casings were chosen for quicker rolling, but paired with Cushcores for durability and ride feel. They paired Made-in-Canada We Are One rims with Onyx hubs, partly because of the low vibration sprag clutch in the hub. The quiet hub really highlights how quiet the Supre Drive system is, and was apparently useful for testing things like different seatstay protectors. The hub is quite heavy though, so they're curious to try the new Tairin silent hubs as well.
A note on the weight: the frame has no published weight, so you know it isn't light. BUT, the 39lb figure probably isn't representative of this bike's trail weight either. Using lighter but still sensible components it shouldn't be too hard to lose ~900g (2lb) off this thing, getting it slightly more reasonable. Nicolai also previously stated that the production version of this frame would be losing some weight.
|I first showed the Supre Drive in November 2021 with a frame that I built and with an 11-speed version. I have since developed a 12-speed version (10-51t) on a hardtail bike that Mike Levy test rode at Crankworx Whistler 2022. |
With the help of Alex Ham, who joined me at the beginning of 2023, we made improvements to the drivetrain, including a refined hydraulic damper in the chain tensioner (analogous to the sliding friction clutch in derailleurs, but better), and a derailleur with composite parts that we 3D print on the Sunshine Coast and aluminum links that NS Billet machines in Whistler. We're proud to make the Supre Drive in Canada. We're currently working on a production batch of Supre Drive parts, and we're excited for more people to start riding the Nicolai Nucleon 16 Supre.—Cedric Eveleigh, Lal Bikes
|About the seat, since you probably asked: the way I see it our pipes down there run along the middle, and it's best not to squish them. This seat puts pressure on bones even when I'm leaning forward on steep uphills. I ride without a chamois and wouldn't do that with a regular seat. ISM does a lot of triathlon stuff, but this is their mountain bike model, the PM 2.0. |
Some people say I need this seat for the big balls it takes to challenge the industry, but it can be done with normal sized balls when there's awesome support in the community like we've been getting from people who want a better drivetrain.—Cedric Eveleigh, Lal Bikes
Alex and Cedric were kind enough to show me around their shop. They've got a bunch of 3D printers working away, CNC machines, a lathe, a bike mechanic's area, a design area with workstations, and a well organized assembly area. It's a far cry from the fancy offices and prototype shops of some brands, but it's functional and everything they need to turn ideas into reality.
Hung up near the mechanic's area is the first bike frame Cedric ever built, with the first prototype Supre Drive on it. This gives an idea of the chainline of a downhill version of the Supre Drive. He currently doesn't have the bandwidth for a DH version but would be open to licensing the tech if others want to give it a shot.
They've got a huge hill to climb, but I'm a big fan of what Lal is trying to do and looking forward to seeing their progress. And yes, before you ask, we have a long-term test Nucleon in the works.
Thoughts? Is their system viable for mass adoption? Are the frame-side requirements too big a hurdle? Is the Nucleon's 39lb weight too much to swallow? Is a private military contractor's Predator drone on the way to the Sunshine Coast as we speak?
I thought you made sensible bikes and therefore no shitty headset cable routing
Such smart innovations drivetrain wise, build wise (longevity) just to f*ck it up with cables through the headset. Does the Nicolai crowd really like this?
Say No to cable tourism!
I could image that it is possible to order a "normal" cable routing, because you can also order full custom geo etc.
Look at www.nicolai-bicycles.com/Nucleon-16-Landing
Headset routing was probably a pre production frame
I never heard anyone complain about how annoying it was to remove the shock on a few previous model year Rocky Mountains. Stop parroting opinions, actually work on this stuff and see how it it; it's very easy.
But hey, this is just a dude who gets paid to work on this stuff. Surely the armchair mechanics are right on this one.
Armchair mechanics are right
@brianpark: Yeah I love me some Rocky. I'll stand by the fact I'm fine with owning a bike that may be a bit harder to work on if it is legitimately better. There's a lot more to a bike than routing style.
All in all. I actually own one of those Sparks and find it a breeze to work on. I love that the DT has a giant hole in it, as it allows me to easily and quickly access cables going through. The shock can get pulled off in a minute, I literally had one in my stand ten minutes ago to take the shock off.
Please, people, work on this stuff before having strong opinions on it. It's a weird hypocritical standard that we're pushing. You're all ignoring mechanical design issues daily, while shitting on something designed well. Come onnnnnn.
The bearing is covered, just like a normal bearing, and normal headsets are not even remotely water-tight. It will not corrode at an accelerated rate, and water permeation is not normally what causes headset wear, as they do have a retaining seal.
Also, interesting you found the Santa Cruz Blur such a pain to route the cables, did it not have internal sleeves? My Nomad has internal sleeves and it was honestly the easiest cable routing I have ever done, even more so than fully external.
I'd much rather just have the cables go in some pedestrian way, like through ports in the head tube. The cable tourism is just for looks, and presents such a tiny advantage and only in terms of aero. The aero advantage that is instantly negated by having someone who isn't built like Tom Pidcock in the saddle.
@silvanoe: You'll have to explain how someone adding in relevant experience is entitlement, as I don't follow.
me ? zero times in 140 000 kilometers
I replace the headset around every two years. Riding in the winter mud surely takes its toll on bearings.
I don't understand why you have to personally attack me. Spend the money the way you like but stop being a dick just because others want user friendly solutions.
To those sounding off. I'm not stating this is my favourite system, nor is it the best. I'm saying you ignore worse issues for 99% of things you encounter, as you don't know better or just don't work on that part of the bike. Meanwhile, this rotten mush of a horse is still getting beaten on every article that's even somewhat adjacent to the topic. This is way too much energy for what amounts to essentially a non-issue, especially as you don't need to buy a bike with this system. Can we please start laying it to rest?
I totally get what this design is trying to achieve and it seems pretty cool, especially since you were thinking out of the (gear)box. I probably will never own due to cost and seems a bit too complex for my liking, but since Nicolai is supporting it I believe it has a shot at carving its own space in the drivetrain market and that early adopters will have at least some peace of mind since Nicolai is know for good long term support.
Quote of the year!
Am I the only one who's getting a Terminator 2 vibe from this bike? I mean that as a huge complement.
3lb of chain - check
3 pulleys - check
6 pivots - check
HS cable routing - check
BIG BALLS saddle - check
a labyrinth of welds - check
Nikolai, where is the Rockled suspension fork ?
If you are one of those people that don't break dérailleurs (famous last words) is there a reason you'd want this system? It's a lot of chain.
I miss it.
However, with the various idlers it does make me wonder how it compares in terms of efficiency to a pinion gearbox?
Sign me up for three of them.
Sure is purdy, though.
I seem to hear the commercials of cars ... the latest innovation in the car market ... and then there are always 4 wheels and a steering wheel.
those are the welds of someone that clearly lied on their resume.