Down Time: Moderate travel and militant geometry, made even more interesting by an alloy frame that rides light, responsive and a bit laterally flexy. The Nukeproof Mega 290 Pro doesn't swallow high-speed hits as well as bigger big-wheeled bikes, but it encourages you to get off the ground and avoid them altogether.
The Upside: With an ahead-of-its-time 75.5-degree seat angle and appropriately long reach, the Mega 290 knows it's got to earn its turns. But despite its mid-pack 150-millimeters of travel, we still relied on its climb switch for the steeps.
Dollar for Dollar: Most U.S. buyers will be getting the Mega 290 mail-order, and it's a questionable value compared to other consumer-direct bikes. But it's got a smart spec, offers a unique experience, and will turn heads at the traihead.
This is a weird bike. Not because it's aluminum. Not because it's imported. Not even because its name once belonged to a Midwest mid-nineties carbon and titanium component manufacturer. It's weird because it combines forgiving geometry with unforgiving suspension … and it actually kinda works.
The Nukeproof Mega 290 was destined to be out-plushed at this Bible Summer Camp. Its 150-millimeters of rear travel is progressive in a way that made it feel closer to 130 until you hit something hard enough. Normally, this is where we add that it's "lively & poppy," but there's more to it than that. The alloy frame and thin-profile tubes gave the Mega 290 some lateral flex. It made it feel not just lively, but uniquely alive, especially compared to sometimes dead-feeling burly carbon bikes. You could wind it into and out of turns and off of big or small jumps. Plus, it's not heavy, and it's spec'd with some thin-by-today's-standards 2.3-inch tires. They served its nature as a slasher well, but some more generous rubbers would have made it more enduro-ready. All of its liveliness and poppyness came at some cost to its capability at high speeds.
What saved it was its geometry. For being the oldest bike in the bunch, its numbers are remarkably modern. That's no surprise for a bike from the UK, where it seems design frontiers keep on expanding. The Mega 290 has the lowest bottom bracket of the bikes we brought to Mammoth, it's moderately slack and lengthy up front, and it's even lengthier out back. Its 450-millimeter chainstays meant that, though the rough stuff bounced us a bit, it never bounced us off our line. It had the same calming effect on the frame's flex, which can make a shorter bike neurotic and unpredictable. All this combined to make the Mega 290 descend with as much confidence as you could hope for for a bike that's so much more interested in slashing than floating.
Its interest in climbing also takes a bit of a back seat. It performs comparably to most other aggressive 29ers, but given the Mega's moderate and progressive travel, we got our hopes up that it would pretty much climb by itself. On our dreaded steep climbs, we needed the platform lever as much as squishier offerings, though it handled shallow inclines and pedaly flats admirably, staying active all the while. The 75.5-degree seat angle is welcomed by today's standards, and years ahead of its time when the Mega 290 was conceived.
This particular mega 290 was conceived with a pretty smart spec. Mavic's XA Elites are still some of the best alloy wheels available, and the 170-millimeter Reverb is something missing on even newer bikes. The e-bike specific Guide brakes run on Code calipers, a smart way to get more power for less cash. You'll pay some import duties if you buy it online, as most Americans will, but it's a unique value for around $3,500.
And more than that, it's just simply unique. Not just in its ride qualities, but in its name and its history. If you like bikes that have a story to tell, the Mega 290 Pro will spin you some yarns.
Q&A with Rob Sherratt, Global Marketing Manager, Nukeproof
How would someone in the U.S. buy a Nukeproof?
Nukeproof has a handful of IBD's in the U.S. Chain Reaction Cycles is also able to supply bikes and provide customer support for U.S. based customers via their website.
For those buying a Nukeproof through Chain Reaction, will the bike have been fully adjusted and test-ridden in the way today's consumer-direct brands deliver their bikes, or do you recommend the bikes be tuned by an experienced mechanic after being assembled?
If riders are buying via an online retailer we ask all our bikes go through a pre-delivery inspection and be ready to ride. For tuning bikes, today's bikes are super tunable with new suspension from Rockshox and Fox. Suspension manufacturers supply some really good info on how to get a solid base settings on frames, but some riders will want to dial in the ride to their personal style and riding conditions. How comfortable and happy riders are to do this is up to them, but a good suspension tuner can really help if you're unsure on compression, rebound and pressures.
All the geometry numbers on the Mega 290 are very modern, especially for a bike released nearly a year ago. Except for one number, that is. What's the motivation for the long chainstays? Is it a preference among designers? Something about the trails where the Mega 290 was conceived? Something about what the bike was intended for?
The aim isn't to start with designing a bike to numbers, we will always start with the performance and quality of the ride. We've never really aimed at having "modern" geometry, just the numbers that our riders feel work for the conditions that the bikes are supposed to be used for. The Mega was designed for the Megavalanche—so it made sense to our numbers. There are a lot of considerations that effect chainstay length on a 29er, such as the rider, the extra space needed for the wheel and the performance of the bike. Whist the numbers may not be considered as "modern" we feel the figures we have offer a well-handling, stable and confidence-inspiring ride.
Most brands treat aluminum as being exclusively for the entry-level. They're often only in the lineup to reach a price point, and they usually spec price-point components. Yari forks, 11-speed drivetrains, budget-brand dropper posts, etc. These are not low-quality components by any means, but they offer a different experience than the components you chose for both the 29-inch and 27.5-inch Mega Pro. What's Nukeproof's reasoning for offering higher-level alloy builds?
Ultimately it's down to performance (and resources), we could produce a carbon 290 frame tomorrow, but it's cheating customers unless the frame offers a performance advantage over an alloy sibling.
Our Mega 275c is the result of a development and race program with Sam Hill and looking at what is ultimately best to help Sam perform in the Enduro World Series. We still make aluminum frames in 27.5 & 29, both of which still offer amazing performance (we won 2 EWS in 2016 and podiumed a number of times last year on Aluminum frames—proving that the performance of an aluminum frame is not an issue). Its potentially easy to make molds for a Mega 290 tomorrow, but we want to produce the best frames for our customers and athletes and we need time to test and prove the performance benefits.