PINKBIKE FIELD TEST REVIEW
Nicolai Nucleon 16
Words by Mike Kazimer; photography by Tom Richards
The Nicolai Nucleon is one of the wildest looking bikes in this year's Enduro Field Test, and that's saying something considering it's up against the Pole Onni and Unno Burn. If there was ever a bike that looking like it was supposed to be part of a bigger machine, this is the one.
The amount of CNC work and welding that goes into creating one aluminum frame is impressive, and then there's the Lal Supre drivetrain, which tucks the derailleur safely between the seatstay and chainstay. The Nucleon is also available with a more conventional drivetrain, but the terrain in and out of the Whistler Bike Park seemed like the ideal place to test this novel creation.
Nicolai offer the Nucleon in a variety of different configurations – 29” or mixed wheels, 165 or 178mm of travel, powder coated or anodized frame finishes, and in five different frame sizes.
Nucleon 16 Details
• Travel: 165mm / 170mm fork
• Mixed wheels
• 64° head angle
• 78.4° seat angle
• 434mm chainstays
• Reach: 490 (M)
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 39.8 lb / 18 kg
• Price: $11,100 USD as tested / $4,300 for frame and drivetrain
• More info: lalbikes.com/supre-bikes/nicolai-nucleon-16
Our size medium test bike (Yes, medium - I accidentally said it was a large in the above video. Sorry.) arrived with a mixed-wheel setup with 165mm of travel and a 170mm fork. That setup gives it a long reach of 490mm, 445mm chainstays, and a 64-degree head angle.
The components on our test bike were selected by Cedric Eveleigh, the creator of the Lal drivetrain, which is how it ended up with the ISM PM 2.0 saddle. That part pick alone caused no shortage of lift line comments – it's not a seat that you see on a mountain bike every day. The other components were a bit more typical, and included a RockShox Zeb fork, Fox DHX coil shock, WeAreOne carbon wheels laced to Onyx hubs, TRP DH-Evo brakes, and Race Face Era cranks.
Figuring out the exact price for this build is a little tricky, but if you were to pay full retail for every part it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $11,100 USD. For riders that want to build up their own bike from scratch, the frame and drivetrain can be purchased from Lal for approximately $4,300 USD. Climbing
Weighing at nearly 40 pounds, the Nicolai Nucleon is a hefty amalgamation of aluminum tubing, and it doesn't exactly fly up the hill. The weight is one factor in its sluggish climbing performance, and the Onyx hub doesn't really help things either. That hub does have instant engagement, but in the easiest couple gear (where you'll likely be quite often on the Nicolai) the hub has more of a spongy feel due to the way the sprag clutch mechanism functions.
'Precise' isn't a term I'd use for the Nicolai, climbing or descending; it's happiest mowing down whatever is in its path, rather than performing more delicate maneuvers. There's not shortage of traction, though, and as long as you can maintain momentum, and don't need to make any sudden tight turns, it'll suck up just about anything in its way.
The Nucleon may be a lethargic climber, but the seated climbing position is
comfortable – the steep seat angle and tall stack create a very upright position that helps to moderate the bike's overall length. The suspension remains fairly calm when seated, but it does start dipping into its travel during out-of-the-saddle efforts. The idler and derailleur pulley both stayed fairly quiet, as long as the chain had been lubed recently. Compared to the Trek Slash, the sound of Nicolai's drivetrain / idler setup isn't nearly as noticeable while climbing.
Overall, this is a bike that's best suited to rides that involve a logging road grind to the top followed by a rowdy descent, rather than something you'd want to take on an all-day, meandering epic. Descending
The Nucleon is incredibly quiet, a refreshing change from some of the clattery contraptions out there. There's zero hub noise, chain slap, or cable rattle, which meant there weren't any noises to take away from the Nucleon's incredible ability to mow over anything in its way. The general sentiment was that it felt like the most high pivot of the high pivot bikes – its strong suit is making menacing, jagged rocks feel like little pebbles in the trail.
The downside to all that chunder-smoothing goodness is that it can be a challenge to get the Nucleon off the ground, especially at slower speeds. It did well in the bike park, where there's no shortage of bigger jumps and wide open trails, but it was more of a handful when picking apart tighter, jankier trails. Generating speed by pumping the terrain can be tricky too; it feels like it wants to hunker down and sprawl out rather than spring forward like the Ibis HD6 or Unno Burn.
Even with some geometry numbers that appear fairly extreme on paper, the Nucleon does feel well-balanced. It's a big bike, but it didn't feel overly difficult to manage, at least on the terrain it was designed for. One part of the frame design that stuck out (literally) was the seatstay – some testers mentioned occasionally hitting their heels and ankles on that wider part of the frame.Technical ReportLal Supre Drive:
The Lal drivetrain isn't like anything else out there, and it's great to see a small upstart company come up with a unique solution to the decades-old problem of derailleurs that dangle beneath a frame. The fact that it requires a high-pivot suspension design along with a damper hidden in the downtube are two points that'll hinder widespread acceptance, but even the fact that you can actually purchase a bike with this drivetrain is impressive.
As for the actual shifting performance, it reminded me of a regular Shimano drivetrain, likely due in part to the use of a Shimano shifter. It works well, but it's not mind-blowingly fast, or able to shift under load any better than a standard drivetrain would be.
Realistically, I see the ideal candidate for the Super Drive as being the same type of person who would be considering the Nucleon, someone whose trails look more like scree fields, and who wants a bike that'll smooth everything out while also finishing each ride with an intact drivetrain. The fact that spare parts aren't as easy to obtain as they would be with a SRAM or Shimano drivertrain is something to keep in mind - while the derailleur should theoretically be less prone to damage, if something does happen it'll be a little trickier to find a replacement part. ISM PM 2.0 saddle: The PM 2.0
is designed for moutain biking, even if it looks like something you'd expect to see on a triathlon bike, and it also happens to resemble Zoidberg from Futurama. There's plenty of padding, and it is comfortable, although there's a fair bit of flex at the back, where the seat isn't supported by the rails. I'm not going to rush out to put it on my personal bike, but it exists out there in the world for riders who struggle with more traditionally shaped seats.Cable routing:
The Nucleon can be set up with thru-headset cable routing, or 3D-printed, stick-on cable guides can be used, as was the case on our test bike. I'll take external routing over thru-headset routing any day, but it would have been nice to see dedicated guides – several of the stick-on ones came unglued, and seemed like an oversight considering the attention to detail that goes into the rest of the frame's construction.