Long. Slack. Low. Three magic words that define modern trail bikes – and there’s hardly any bike on the market that epitomises this mantra better than the NICOLAI G1. But why do I need such radical geometry?
Here you’ll find an overview of the editor’s dream bikes.
Well, if you also asked me to use another three words to describe my ideal trail, I’d pick rough, steep and fast. My face literally lights up whenever I hear these words. Here in Stuttgart, where I currently live, most long-travel enduro bikes are total overkill, which is why I prefer to hit my local trails on a lively trail bike. But when the weekend comes around, I’m invariably off to the Alps. Park laps, shuttle runs and high fives are on the menu, Friday through Monday. Exactly with those rowdy weekends in mind, I built my current ‘editor’s bike’: my very first NICOLAI. Since I mostly rely on uplifts to get to the trailhead, weight and all-round characteristics play secondary roles. With my very own dream build, the main focus was on robust and reliable components, grippy tires and a top suspension.
Individualisation – is the G1 versatile after all?
At NICOLAI, the customer is (still) king. Pretty much every bike that leaves the small German factory is individually adapted to the customer’s specifications. Compared with other manufacturers that offer custom bike configurations, NICOLAI takes it one step further. Alongside the colour scheme and spec, you can even specify your own custom geometry for pretty much any bike in the German’s manufacturer portfolio. However, this option does involve an extra charge and means longer waiting times, of course! In my case, a quick glance at the geometry table of the G1-29 was enough to convince me that the numbers for the standard frame, on paper at least, reflect my idea of ‘optimal geometry’. Even then, for fine tuning, I can still adjust the head and seat tube angle, the travel, the bottom bracket height and chainstay length by using what NICOLAI calls ‘Mutators’ – a clever proprietary system of screw-in elements. With the ‘Mutators’ and a special headset, the G1 can also be converted into a 27.5″ rig or even into a mullet bike with a 29″ wheel at the front and a 27.5″ out back.
Fork Manitou Mezzer Pro 180 mm
Shock EXt Storia LOK V3 175 mm
Brakes Trickstuff Maxima 223/203 mm
Drivetrain Shimano XTR 12-Fach
Seatpost ONEUP Components V” Dropper 210 mm
Stem Joystick Binary Stem 50 mm
Handlebar Joystick Analog Carbon 800 mm
Hubs DT Swiss 180
Rims DT Swiss EX511
Tires Schwalbe Magic Mary SG 2.35″
Let the bike do the work – the suspension
As far as rear travel goes, the G1 can be set up with either 162 mm or 175 mm travel, controlled by an EXT STORIA LOK V3 coil-shock. I opted for the plusher 175 mm setting to match my aggressive riding style. NICOLAI and EXT have joined forces and developed the rear-end kinematics of the G1 to match the characteristics of the STORIA shock. But what’s so special about the shock? It features an additional HBC (hydraulic bottom out control) damping circuit, which significantly increases the compression damping through the last few centimetres of travel and prevents the shock from bottoming out. This allows me to use a slightly softer spring, which gives me 30% sag, as well as run less compression damping, which in turn gives me even more traction. For the fork I chose a Manitou Mezzer Pro. Even after a first brief test session in less than ideal condition, I knew that this fork would suit my riding style and preferences very well. I have previously had the opportunity to try the Dorado Air System on a Dorado downhill fork and was incredibly impressed by its performance. Whilet the initial setup is a little more time-consuming than most other forks, the extra effort is totally worth it considering the fork’s outstanding performance on the trail. Arm pump goodbye! Braking bumps and nasty rock gardens leave the Mezzer just as unfazed as huge drops and steep, rotor-burning trail sections.
Except for downhill racers, no one really needs a DH bike these days. Long travel 29ers, like the G1, happily take anything you throw at them.
Welding seams, CNC porn and tools
Crashes, mechanicals and flat tires are part and parcel of our beautiful game. I want to be prepared for emergencies, but don’t want to have to carry a backpack. The OneUP EDC Multitool has been my faithful companion for years and is still my first choice for quick trailside repairs. In addition, I always carry a spare gear cable with me, which I attach directly onto the tool. While I only use tires with heavy enduro- or even downhill casings, flat tires are sometimes still unavoidable. For those unpleasant moments, I carry a Sahmurai S.W.O.R.D tubeless repair kit in my bar ends. Top tip: you can wrap a spare tire plug in the spiral ribs of the Sahmurai tool to carry more without any hassle. To protect my brake lines from unwanted impacts, I use an ACROS BlockLock headset, which restricts the turning angle of the handlebars and protects the hose from damage. In order to ride without a backpack, I attach all other spares directly onto my bike. Unfortunately, the G1 doesn’t offer a mounting option for a bottle cage, which means I have to carry a soft water pouch in my trousers – a pity. This minor shortcoming aside, the NICOLAI features elegantly finished welds, sealed bearings and plenty of gorgeous CNC elements. The workmanship of the aluminium frame is top notch, with the exception of the chainstay protector, which is clearly too short. I’ve already solved this problem by covering the chainstay with a massive chunk of Slapper Tape.
For my cockpit I paired a Joystick Analog carbon bar with a Binary stem, both for functional and aesthetic reasons. Unfortunately, despite the dappled ‘friction’ finish of the stem clamp area, I found that the handlebar tended to twist in the steam clamp. After liberal application of carbon assembly paste and tightening the stem bolts to the maximum torque of 8 Nm, the problem was solved. Despite their somewhat fiddly installation, I swear by Renthal’s soft-compound push-on grips. Since these don’t rely on a bolted clamp or hard plastic shell, they provide better damping characteristics than lock-on grips. I use hairspray to help stick the grips to the bars and a thin length of wire to prevent them from twisting. There’s one particularly shiny component I haven’t mentioned yet. The beautifully machined Trickstuff MAXIMA brakes, that are currently the most expensive mountain bike stoppers on the market. For a whopping € 1,100 you’ll get yourself an insane amount of braking power and great modulation. Unfortunately, after a small crash, we had some trouble getting the slim seal of the reservoir to work properly again. It took a firm hand, the right sequence of steps and exact torque on each of the three small screws to get us out of this mess.
If you want to ride fast, you’ll need to stop even faster: Trickstuff ‘s MAXIMA brakes are the most aggressive brakes I’ve ever used.
Grip is not just about suspension
The right choice of tires and wheels is decisive when it comes to absorbing vibrations and generating traction. If you’re familiar with my riding style, you’ll know that a carbon rim wouldn’t last five minutes on my bike. Instead, I opted for DT Swiss’ EX 511 aluminium rims. While these have already gone through some rough times, scuffed and dented from several close encounters with sharp rocks, they’re still going strong. I’ve paired the rims with DT Swiss 180 hubs, which help me save weight but are still incredibly robust considering their slim shape. The wheelset is fitted with a pair of Schwalbe’s Magic Mary tires with Super Gravity casing. These allow me to open the gas on almost every trail and in pretty much all conditions while taking advantage of the outstanding puncture resistance and good grip.
Hard to get, impossible not to love!
A 12-speed Shimano XTR drivetrain provides the ideal gear range for my dream build NICOLAI. I’ve used the same groupset on several eMTB builds before and I have always been surprised by the superb performance and precision of the XTR groupset, even when riding under full load with maximum motor support, both up- and downhill. And yet, there’s one minor issue: XTR cranks are currently almost impossible to find. That’s why I’m running a super light E*thirteen TRSr carbon crankset. While Shimano advises against this combination, the setup worked very well for me! Having said that, I still want to test a complete Shimano XTR groupset (cranks included) on my G1.
Stay alert, The G1 is fast!
“It’s not even that long.” That’s what I usually get, when someone sits on my G1. The steep seat angle and high front end, which I raised by using a number of spacers and a riser bar, ensure a comfortable riding position. Sure, it’s not like sitting on a chopper, but the bike feels pleasantly balanced on climbs and you’re nicely integrated between the front and rear wheel. This means that even on very steep climbs, the front wheel doesn’t threaten to lift off the trail and the bike actively encourages you to pedal. The super-sensitive chassis smoothes out even the smallest bumps and ensures tons of traction on the rear wheel, even on sketchy wet trails. However, the descending focus of the G1 makes itself noticed on the way up. With a total weight of 17.03 kg, the G1 isn’t exactly agile, nor is it playful or lively from a standstill. The NICOLAI climbs best on relaxed fire roads, where it makes its way up the hill quickly and in relaxed fashion.
Once you turn its nose downhill, the NICOLAI G1 really comes to life. The bottom bracket is so low that you feel perfectly integrated between the big wheels – which actually feel like they’re metres apart. While everyone has had at least a handful of dreaded OTB moments during their mountain biking life, the NICOLAI doesn’t even know what the acronym means. The G1 may be extremely long, but the rear and front end are balanced and harmonise well. This feeling inspires tons of confidence and provides excellent grip in wide corners on both wheels! And if you happen to get a little too excited and come into a corner too hot, the rear wheel will break out first and drift in a controlled manner. It also leaves you with enough time to have no problems getting back in control. When riding on rough terrain, you need to stay aware of the low bottom bracket (32 mm BB drop) to avoid smashing into rocks and roots with your cranks. And yet, the G1 screams for rough, fast trails. “Hold on tight and pull through,” it whispers into your ear. Both the shock and the fork deal with small irregularities and huge knocks without feeling spongy or undefined. The active and supportive chassis encourages spontaneous line changes and invites you to pop off ledges and obstacles – it’s airtime baby! The NICOLAI easily reaches critical speed – the speed that can transform a small mistake into a massive bang if you’re not careful! If you want to take full advantage of the G1’s rowdy character, you really need to keep focused and look far ahead, because obstacles will fly towards you a lot quicker than expected. Finally, if you’re thinking that such a long bike must feel sluggish and is only suited for bike park laps, you’re totally wrong. Certainly the NICOLAI gets a bit bored on flowy, conservative trails, but it absolutely loves sketchy, technical terrain with tight turns and switchbacks.
When it comes to riding characteristics, my NICOLAI G1 is the incarnation of my wildest dreams. It only truly comes to life when I edge outside my comfort zone but that helps me explore my limits with enough margin to push myself beyond them. Despite the extreme geometry, it performs incredibly well on narrow and twisty trails. It is the life-sized reproduction of the rowdy troublemaker I always imagined in my head.
- Great freedom of movement
- Top workmanship
- Adjustable geometry and choice of different wheel sizes
- Tools always ready to hand
- Top suspension
- No mounts for a bottle cage
- Tool required to remove the front- and rear-axle
- Stock chainstay protector doesn’t prevent loud chain slap
This article is from ENDURO issue #040
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Words: Photos: Robin Schmitt, Benjamin Topf