Every year or so I put together a bike that will serve as a rolling laboratory for long-term component testing, a bike that'll get used and abused while I try out everything from forks to grips, and all parts in between. My personal ride tends to be on the burlier side of things, which matches the style of trails I prefer and helps explain why my current build is based on an aluminum Nukeproof Mega 290 frame.
It's not the lightest or even the most exotic option, but it's proven to be a tough and reliable machine, which is exactly what I was looking for. If I were based somewhere with mellower trails and more rolling terrain, I'd certainly be on something a little less hefty, and with less travel, but since I'm lucky enough to have plenty of steep, technical trails at my doorstep, a bike like this makes plenty of sense.
Kazimer's Nukeproof Mega 290
• Intended use: monster trucking, hucking, product testing
• Wheel size: 29"
• Rear wheel travel: 150mm
• Fork: 170mm Marzocchi Z1, 44mm offset
• Archer Components D1x shifter / SRAM Eagle drivetrain
• Maxxis DHF 2.5'' / Goodyear Newton 2.6'' tires
• Weight: 30-something pounds
SKS' Anywhere Mounts allow me to fit a water bottle and cage inside the front triangle.
When choosing which bikes to get in for testing, I don't discriminate too much when it comes to wheel size – as long as it has two wheels, a chain, and no motor, I'm happy trying out just about anything. However, when it came time to pick my own bike there was no question – 29” wheels for me, please.
I first tested the Nukeproof Mega 290 back in 2016 and ended up impressed with just how fast and stable it was. For 2018, the Mega was updated with a longer reach, a 12 x 148mm rear end, and metric shock spacing. Basically, all of the little issues that kept me from purchasing the previous model were corrected. I'm still hoping for a carbon version to come out sometime in the future, but at least with the alloy frame, I don't need to worry about much if my bike takes a tumble through the woods without me. There's also the fact that all of the housing is externally routed, which makes it easier on me when it's time to switch out parts.
There is still one niggling detail about the Mega 290 frame that hasn't been fixed – the only place to hold a water bottle is on the underside of the downtube, right in the line of fire for the mud kicked up by the front wheel. Luckily, I was able to come up with a solution with the help of SKS' Anywhere Mounts. There's just enough room on my large-sized frame to mount a cage in front of the shock, and then squeeze in a regular water bottle. It's not pretty, but I'd rather have a setup like this versus catching giardia or needing to wear a backpack on every ride.
For now, Archer Components' D1x wireless shifting device is mounted up to SRAM's X01 Eagle derailleur.
Is that a TV remote strapped to the drive side chainstay? And where's the rest of the rear derailleur cable? Valid questions, but the answer is simple - that's Archer Components' D1x wireless electronic shifter you're looking at. They're a small upstart company out of California that has created one of the first wireless electronic shifting units to hit the mountain bike market.
The device allows you to program how much the derailleur moves between each gear, which makes it possible to mix-and-match cassettes and derailleurs to your heart's content. Want to run a Shimano XTR derailleur with a SRAM Eagle cassette? Go for it – with Archer's app you can set the derailleur to move the correct distance between each cog. The device is powered by two rechargeable AA batteries in the rear unit, one rechargeable AAA in the handlebar mounted remote, and you can check the battery levels via Archer's setup app.
Is it better? Well, I wouldn't go that far. Granted, I'm a bit of a Luddite when it comes to electronics and mountain bikes, and it's tough to beat the simplicity of the old tried-and-true fully cable-actuated drivetrain, but what Archer has created is different, and interesting, which is why I'll be posting up a full review in the near future.
Batteries aside, the rest of my drivetrain consists of SRAM's X01 Eagle gruppo, with a 34-tooth ring up front and a 10-50-tooth cassette out back. I'm still surprised by how many people scoff at having that wide of a gear range. I use the 50-tooth cog all the time, and for anyone that says it's unnecessary, I have a few rides in my neck of the woods for you to try.
The new Marzocchi Z1 is air-sprung, and uses Fox's FIT GRIP damper to control the rebound and compression.
The Mega 290 frame has 150mm of rear travel, and it comes with a RockShox Super Deluxe RC3 shock. I've kept that in place, at least for the time being, although I'm sure I'll end up testing a few other options this season. I wouldn't mind getting a coil shock on there before the Whistler Bike Park opens, but for now, the Super Deluxe hasn't given me any reason to complain. I'm running 177 psi for 30% sag, and have one “Gnar” volume spacer (which equates to 2.5 standard spacers) installed for a little extra ramp up. Plus, who doesn't want more gnar in their life?
Up front is where things get a little different. I've started to put the miles in on the new Marzocchi Z1 (you can read more about it here
), in this case the 170mm model with 44mm of offset. With a 160mm fork, the Nukeproof's head angle sits at 66-degrees, and it measures roughly 65.5-degrees with the 170mm fork. Going with the reduced offset was done for the sake of experimentation, and also because I didn't want to increase the Nukeproof's wheelbase any further – with 450mm chainstays and a 470mm reach it's already a pretty long bike.
When I first got the Mega 290,was I did try it with a -1.5-degree angle set, which slackened the head angle to 64.5-degrees. For me, that made the bike feel more sluggish than I wanted – it was great on the fast straightaways, but it felt too choppered out on mellower terrain for me to keep it on for more than a few rides. Going slacker isn't always the solution, but it is fun trying out different geometry configurations.
Wheels / Tires
That's right, Goodyear is entering the world of mountain bike tires.
Yes, I have a mismatched wheelset and mismatched tires in the photos, but that's just how it goes sometimes. In this case, my focus was on trying out the new tires that Goodyear had sent over (you can read all the details on that new rubber here
). I'd already ridden the bike a handful of times with them installed front and rear, but for this ride, I decided to see how a 2.5” Minion DHF worked when paired with the 2.6" Newton in the back. The Newton's width is nearly identical to the 2.5" Minion, so the two tires worked well together. I usually prefer to run a 2.5" tire up front, and then something a little narrower, in the 2.4'' - 2.3" realm, in the rear.
My local trails tend to have more roots than rocks, and they're usually wet, or at least semi-damp. Those conditions allow me to run relatively low pressures – I'll typically go with 20-21 psi up front, and 22-23 in the back when I'm using rims that measure around 30mm wide internally. The soft conditions and lack of super-sharp rocks mean that I don't need to use full-DH rubber, à la Paul Aston – if anything, I'll run a single ply tire up front, and then something with a Double-Down style casing in the rear for a little extra protection.
One of the carbon wheels on my bike is from Bontrager, the Line 30 Pro, and the other is a Race Face Next R. The two wheelsets have held up very well, surviving nearly a year of trail smashing without any issues. I do like how a good carbon wheelset rides, but by no means do I think that carbon wheels are the answer for everyone. For one thing, there are some wheelsets out there that are ridiculously overpriced – I have yet to ride a set of carbon wheels that would even get me to consider coughing up $2,500 or $3,000 for them. Bontrager's Line 30 wheels are a step in the right direction, and while they're not cheap, they're also in the realm of what a high-end alloy wheelset would cost.
If I were building up my own wheels, I'd likely snag a set of nice DT Swiss aluminum rims, lace them to DT Swiss or Hope hubs with 32-holes, three-cross pattern, and call it good.
ODI Elite Pro grips.
Race Face's Turbine R stem and Next R handlebar.
Other Bits and PiecesGrips:
ODI's Elite Pro grips are my go-to these days, and even though the set on the Nukeproof are worn smooth from all the hours I've spent grabbing onto them, I'll probably keep rocking them until the plastic underneath really starts showing through. Bar / Stem:
I'm running Race Face's Next R carbon handlebar, trimmed down to 780mm, paired with a 40mm stem. I ran these parts on a different bike all last summer with zero issues, so they made their way onto the Nukeproof. Kona Wah Wah II Aluminum Pedals:
I regularly switch back and forth between clipless and flat pedals, but this bike almost always has flat pedals on it, since I prefer flats for the really technical stuff. As far as pedal shape, I like a wide, concave platform, one that's not too thick, but that also doesn't have any weird lumps or bulges underfoot. Kona's new Wah Wah pedals tick those boxes, and are available with either a plastic or aluminum platform. I had good luck with the plastic ones
, so now it's time to see if that luck holds with the alloy version.
Kona's new alloy Wah Wah II pedals.
There aren't any tubes in the tires, but a Backcountry Research Motherload strap attaches one to the frame.
SRAM Code Brakes: A big bike should have powerful stoppers to match, and SRAM's Code make the grade. Metallic pads and a 203mm rotor up front provide plenty of bite to help keep things under control.
Backcountry Research Mutherload strap: I rarely flat (knock on wood), but if I do there's a spare tube strapped securely to the downtube with Backcountry Research's simple-but-effective Mutherload strap.
WTB Koda saddle.
KA Engineering's aftermarket aluminum pulley wheels.
WTB Koda seat: Steeper seat tubes angles mean that your saddle is a little more forward, even when the dropper post is all the way down. That's part of the reason I've been running the Koda saddle – it's a little shorter, which means the nose is less likely to get hung up on my shorts. It's also extremely comfortable, the main reason it's earned a spot on this bike.
Gold pulley wheels: Ok, I'll admit it – I'm sort of a sucker for shiny anodized parts, likely due to the fact that I started mountain biking in the 90s, right around the peak of the anodize-everything movement. These aluminum pulley wheels are made in Ukraine by KA Engineering – they also make chainrings in just about every color imaginable. A winter of riding through the slop has worn some of the anodizing off the teeth, but otherwise they're still spinning smoothly.