Nicolai Nucleon 16
Wheel Size: 29’’ or 29’’ front / 27.5’’ rear compatible
Travel: 165 or 178 mm rear / 160 to 180 mm front
- Frame only: €3,099 ($3,108 at time of publishing)
- Complete bikes from €7,499 ($7,521 at time of publishing)
When Cedric Eveleigh launched LAL Bikes and his Supre Drive concept last year, he mentioned that he was working with a bike company to develop a production model that features the Supre Drive. Nicolai was not that company, but they’re still the first ones to drop a Supre Drive bike, the all-new Nucleon 16.
We spoke with Cedric about the Supre Drive back in Ep.94 of Bikes & Big Ideas, which you should definitely check out for the full backstory, but to quickly recap: the Supre Drive is essentially a reinvention of the derailleur drivetrain, which splits the two functions of a rear derailleur — shifting gears and maintaining chain tension — into separate pieces, with the goal of improving reliability and suspension performance.
The Supre Drive uses a standard Shimano 12-speed cassette, shifter, and chain, but uses a proprietary derailleur with a single pulley which is tucked inside the swingarm of the frame out of harm’s way, and handles gear shifting duties exclusively. A second pulley wraps around the back side of the chainring and moves on a spring-loaded arm to handle chain tension. The layout requires a frame that’s designed around the Supre Drive system and necessitates a high-pivot layout to accommodate the tensioner arm. The Nucleon 16 is the first production model to break cover.
The resulting frame layout is wild. In something of a departure from Nicolai, the Nucleon 16 is a high single-pivot layout with a linkage driving the shock. A rocker link cradled just above and forward of the bottom bracket actuates the lower end of the shock, and is pulled by a drag link connected to the swingarm. Despite looking like it might be tied into the linkage, the upper shock mount is fixed to the front triangle, but it features a flip-chip to toggle between a full 29er and mixed wheel configuration. The rear portion of the swingarm including the brake mount (direct mount for a 203 mm rotor), Supre Drive derailleur mount, and dropout bolts on and appears to be used to adjust the chainstay length, by swapping in different length dropout pieces.
The main idler pulley for the chain (which features 22 teeth — far more than most high-pivot bikes) is attached to the swingarm, and the tensioner pulley (the one directly above the chainring) pivots on an arm concentric to the bottom bracket shell to maintain chain tension across the range of gears and as the suspension compresses. A spring with a speed-sensitive oil damper is housed inside the downtube and controls the tension arm via a cable that emerges from the downtube just in front of the bottom bracket.
Elsewhere, things are a bit more normal. As per usual for Nicolai, the frame is made in Germany from aluminum. The Nucleon 16 uses a 157mm Super Boost rear end and a T47 bottom bracket shell — not the most common standards, but standards nonetheless. A ZS44/ZS56 headset and 30.9 mm seatpost are used, cable routing is fully internal, and an integrate bash guard for the chainring is also included; the Supre Drive layout makes a conventional upper guide unnecessary.
The Nucleon 16 can be configured with with either 165 or 178 mm of rear-wheel travel by running either a 60 or 65 mm stroke shock (in a standard 230 mm eye-to-eye configuration), and Nicolai says that forks from 160 to 180 mm travel are compatible.
The Nucleon 16’s leverage curve is nearly straight and quite progressive, going from about 3.3:1 to a little over 2.2:1 at bottom out. The axle path is substantially rearward, hitting about 11 mm of rearward travel around the 105 mm vertical travel mark, before coming back forward by roughly 3 mm. Nicolai helpfully publishes anti-squat and pedal-kickback numbers across the entire gear range, and anti-squat is super high (over 150% at sag) in the very highest gears, but drops off to more like 110% by the lowest one; despite that, there’s almost no pedal kickback in the highest gears, but a significant amount in the lower ones. And despite the high-single-pivot layout, anti-rise is fairly moderate, starting just under 100% and falling to well under 80% by bottom out.
[And if all of that suspension talk didn’t make much sense, check out the Suspension Kinematics section of our recently updated Mountain Bike Buyer’s Guide.]
Fit & Geometry
Nicolai offers the Nucleon G16 in five sizes, labeled Small through XXL, and as per usual for Nicolai, they run quite large; reach on the Small frame comes in at 465 mm, and the XXL is a gargantuan 555 mm. Each successive frame size jumps 20 to 25 mm, with the Medium and Large frames clocking in at 490 and 515 mm, respectively. All four sizes get a 64° headtube angle, which is surprisingly not that wild for Nicolai, but the seat tube angles are notably steep, ranging from 78.2° to 78.8° (effective), getting slightly steeper in the bigger sizes. Chainstay lengths range from 445 for the Small and Medium through 459 mm on the XXL, with the Large and XL frames splitting the difference at 452 mm — all quite long, especially given the high pivot layout.
The geometry numbers listed above are all for the full 29’’ configuration; going to a mixed wheel setup steepens all the angles by a little over half a degree, adds a few millimeters to the reach, and trims the chainstay length by 4 mm in a given size.
Nicolai has long been known for their Geometron project, including the G16 and G1 that we’ve reviewed in the past, and a lot of the hallmarks of the Geometron bikes are here — most notably the extremely long reach, steep seat tube, and long chainstays — but the headtube angle is somewhat more moderate than those G-series bikes. Overall though, the Nucleon 16 still looks like a quite aggressive Enduro bike on paper, especially given the very large sizing.
Nicolai says that bikes will be available in December 2022, with pricing starting at €3,099 for a frame only, or €7,499 for complete bikes. Spec details aren’t yet available, but we’ll update once they are.
Some Questions / Things We’re Curious About
1) The Supre Drive seems like an incredibly promising development for mountain bike drivetrains, with the potential to improve reliability, reduce the likelihood of derailleur damage, mitigate chain slap and drops, and is even claimed to be more efficient than a standard high-pivot layout. But does it deliver?
2) What about the rest of the Nucleon 16? It looks promising on paper, but with so much wild stuff going on, how does the bike ride?
3) And what other Supre Drive bikes are in the pipeline?
Bottom Line (For Now)
We’ve been really excited about the LAL Bikes Supre Drive since it was first unveiled last year, and the Nicolai Nucleon 16 — the first production bike to feature it — looks extremely promising, too. We’re hoping to be able to line one up to review soon, so stay tuned.