Industrial look meets innovative tech: the new NUCLEON 16 Supre features NICOLAI’s typical no-frills styling and finest aluminium craftsmanship. It also relies on the new Lal Bikes Supre Drive drivetrain, which decouples the shifting mechanism from the tensioner. We put this exciting combination to the test to see how it performs on the trails.
What happens when two tinkerers from different continents join forces? NICOLAI x Supre Drive! While it might sound a bit like the title for a disappointing new Transformers movie, it is in fact a super exciting enduro bike.
NICOLAI have made a name for themselves amongst those who love an industrial look and CNC machined parts. The iconic brand manufacture exceptional aluminium bikes and they’re made entirely in Germany. Based in Lower Saxony, the small company was founded in 1995 and now employs over 30 people. Every step of production, from the development to the manufacture and assembly of the finished bikes is carried out in-house at their headquarters near Hanover.
As such, the new NUCLEON 16 Supre also rolls off their production line at the company headquarters in Mehle. Long time fans might have seen this name in the portfolio before. Even then, it was a high-pivot bike paired with an unusual drivetrain – just like the all-new NUCLEON 16 Supre with the Supre Drive drivetrain. Supre Drive is a different take on a derailleur based mechanism, promising to combine the advantages of a derailleur with the reliability of a gearbox, and the NUCLEON 16 is the first production bike on the market featuring this system. We’ll go into the details of this drivetrain further down below. If you want, you can also buy the NUCLEON with a conventional drivetrain. The bike is available with 165 mm or 175 mm travel at the rear, and you can pair that with a 160, 170 or 180 mm travel fork up front. Our 170/165 mm travel test bike costs € 9,692 and weighs in at a whopping 18.4 kg. Autobots, transform and roll out!
The new 2023 NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 in detail
Without question, the NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 Supre is an eye-catcher. Apart from the striking drivetrain and rear-end concept, which you can hardly take your eyes off of, the conspicuous Arctic Blue paint job also does its part. The seat and chainstays don’t converge as usual, terminating in a small compartment, housing both the Supre Drive derailleur and the brake calliper, thereby keeping them well-protected. On the drive side, the chain runs along the top and bottom of the seat stay (not the chainstay), both sides of which are covered in a partially screwed-on, partially glued-on protector. There’s a plastic guard bolted to the idler pulley of the high pivot rear end too, which keeps the chain in place while also preventing your pants from getting caught in the sprocket. Apart from the beefy rear end, the NUCLEON makes a burly impression as a whole: the square tubing of the aluminium frame stands in stark contrast to current carbon frames with their curvy lines. Despite the incredibly robust look, the NICOLAI frame looks very exclusive and – typical for the brand – slightly raw and industrial. Sanded down welds? Nope! The welding is part of NICOLAI’s philosophy and image, serving as an expression of their craftsmanship.
All cables are routed externally on the frame – NICOLAI tried routing the cables through the headset on the prototypes, but they ditched that idea for the production models in favour of easily accessible external routing. The seat post clamp is integrated into the frame on the NUCLEON, though not hidden, forming part of the beefy welded-on aluminium gusset instead. It works brilliantly. There is room for a water bottle inside the front triangle, despite the low top tube – frame sizes S and M, can accommodate a small 450 ml bottle, whereas the larger frames should have enough space for a normal 600 ml version. NICOLAI said they would glue a plastic bracket to the down tube for the bottle cage, but it wasn’t yet available on our test bike. Initially, the bracket will only be available for Fidlock bottles, but they’ve got plans to make another bracket for standard bottles cages too. NICOLAI decided that the frame already has more than enough bits bolted onto it, so they decided to forgo a tool mount, meaning you’ll need a backpack or hip pack for your tools and spares on longer rides, which is a pity.
The Supre Drive of the new NICOLAI NUCLEON 16
At first glance, you’ll immediately notice that the derailleur on the NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 looks very different from what you’re used to. Instead of hanging off the bottom of the chainstay, the Supre Drive is tucked in between the seat and chainstay of the rear end and is positioned significantly further forward. Never heard of Supre Drive? Not to worry, we’ll fill you in: Lal Bikes are a small Canadian company founded by Cedric Eveleigh, with the vision of combining the advantages of derailleur and gearbox drivetrains. They promise the efficiency, light weight and performance of a derailleur, with the reliability of a gearbox. To this end, Cedric developed his own derailleur, which he manufactures in small quantities in Canada. The thing that sets it apart is that the shifting process – i.e. positioning the chain on the desired sprocket on the cassette – is separated from the tensioning and damping of the chain. Conventional rear derailleurs take on all three tasks simultaneously. As a result, the derailleur can be significantly smaller, and placed in front of the cassette. That gives you significantly more ground clearance at the rear, and the derailleur is way less exposed. Moreover, the unsprung mass is lower due to the more compact mechanism – 300 g less than the X0 Transmission, according to Supre Drive.
There’s a tensioning and damping unit in the down tube that keeps the chain taut via a pulley just above the chainring. The hydraulic damper is designed to prevent the chain from slapping around, promising to offer the same damping across all gears since it’s speed-dependent. In other words, the chain tension should remain consistent, regardless of whether you’re in the smallest or biggest gear. To accommodate the Supre Drive drivetrain, however, the bike must have a high-pivot rear end with an idler pulley, otherwise the chain tensioner can’t be fitted. In an attempt to keep the added resistance of the pulleys to a minimum, they’ve used large sprockets, allowing the chain to make a larger radius. Fortunately, the massive 22 t idler pulley suits the NUCLEON’s brawny look. Apart from the rear derailleur, the Supre Drive relies on conventional Shimano components: both the cassette and shifter come from the XT groupset, thus offering 12 gears with a 510% range.
Accordingly, the shifting feel is very similar to a Shimano XT drivetrain. However, you must push noticeably harder with your thumb to shift, which is probably due to the tensioner in the down tube, keeping the chain somewhat tauter than a traditional derailleur. In addition, while the drivetrain lets you shift down several gears at once, you can only shift up one gear at a time. Ultimately, the Supre Drive remains pleasantly inconspicuous on the trail. The biggest advantages it offers over a traditional drivetrain are that it’s less exposed and has a higher chain tension, promising to deliver on what the manufacturer claims.
The in-house configurator for the NICOLAI NUCLEON 16
NICOLAI’s comprehensive online configurator lets you spec almost every component of the NUCLEON 16 according to your preferences and budget. First, you are given the choice of whether you want a conventional drivetrain or the special Supre Drive model. The look of the rear end differs accordingly, but the pivot points and rocker arms remain in the same place. Should you opt for a conventional rear derailleur, you have the option of ordering the NUCLEON as a mullet bike with mixed wheel sizes, but the Supre Drive is exclusively available as a full 29er setup. Before choosing the components, you must first pick from a wide range of colours for the paint job. There’s no standard paint job, the frames can be left raw, powder-coated, or anodised, whereby you can always choose the colour of the front triangle and rear end separately. In the following step called “Extra Love”, you can also select a contrasting colour for the hardware, including things like rocker arms, tie rods, bearing covers, and cable guides. If you prefer keeping things simple and discreet, you can always choose raw or black anodized, which doesn’t come at an extra charge. And at NICOLAI, raw means raw: no clear coat, just untreated, raw aluminium.
With the suspension, you can choose from FOX or more exotic brands like EXT and Intend. Frames are available from € 3,499, while complete bikes start at € 7,499, and you can collect the bike from the factory or have it shipped to anywhere within Germany for € 80, plus € 70 for their custom BIKEBOX made of wood. International shipping is calculated at checkout on a case-by-case basis.
The components of the new NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 on test
Our NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 test bike came fitted with FOX suspension. It consists of a 38 Performance Elite fork, making for a discreet look with its black stanchions. It’s in no way inferior to the flagship Factory model in terms of performance, relying on the same GRIP2 damper. Matching that on the rear is the DHX 2 Factory shock. You can adjust the low- and high-speed rebound and compression damping on both, and the shock has a climb switch too. The rear suspension of the Nucleon has been specially developed to harmonise with a coil shock, though it should also work with high-volume air models. The BIKEYOKE Divine dropper post offers 185 mm drop – a suitably long dropper for a bike with such a generous reach.
The MAGURA MT 5 brakes aren’t available in the configurator: if you want MAGURA brakes, you’ll be limited to the high-end MT 7. Both offer more than enough braking power with a 220 and a 200 mm rotor at the front and rear respectively. The cockpit is supplied by ACROS, consisting of a 40 mm stem and a 780 mm handlebar, made of aluminium, of course. The aluminium Hope Fortus 30 SC wheels rely on the extra-wide Superboost axle standard. It’s a necessary evil for the Supre Drive drivetrain. The NUCLEON rolls on the appropriate front and rear versions of Continental’s Kryptotal tires. Both feature the Enduro casing and soft rubber compound – fitting for an enduro bike.
NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 Supre
Fork FOX 38 Performance Elite 170 mm
Rear Shock FOX DHX2 Factory 165 mm
Seatpost BIKEYOKE Divine 185 mm
Brakes MAGURA MT5 220/200 mm
Drivetrain Supre Drive 1x12
Stem ACROS Gothic 40 mm
Handlebar ACROS Gothic Alu 780 mm
Wheelset Hope Fortus 30 SC 29"
Tires Continental Kryptotal FR, Enduro, Soft/Continental Kryptotal RE, Enduro, Soft 2.4"/2.4"
Size S M L XL XXL
Supre Drive drivetrain
The geometry of the 2023 NICOLAI NUCLEON 16
The NICOLAI NUCLEON is available in five frame sizes from S to XXL. As expected from NICOLAI, all sizes have a very long reach: the size M already measures 485 mm, and it grows to a whopping 555 mm on the XXL frame. As such, the NUCLEON is particularly interesting for very tall riders who struggle finding a trail bike that fits. On the other hand, NICOLAI’s standard sizes tend to leave smaller riders empty-handed – they would have to resort to the custom geometry option for an extra € 750. To keep the handling balanced and as uniform as possible across all sizes, the chainstays grow with the frame, resulting in a total of three chainstay lengths for the five frame sizes. Thanks to the short seat tube, measuring 440 mm in size M, you can make full use of the long dropper post and have ample freedom of movement on the descents.
|Seat tube||420 mm||440 mm||460 mm||480 mm||500 mm|
|Top tube||595 mm||620 mm||644 mm||669 mm||688 mm|
|Head tube||120 mm||130 mm||140 mm||150 mm||160 mm|
|Chainstay||445 mm||445 mm||452 mm||452 mm||459 mm|
|Wheelbase||1.250 mm||1.279 mm||1.308 mm||1.338 mm||1.362 mm|
|Reach||460 mm||485 mm||510 mm||535 mm||555 mm|
|Stack||637 mm||646 mm||655 mm||664 mm||673 mm|
What is the 2023 NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 capable of on the trail?
Our first impression when handling the NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 was that it’s very heavy! Tipping the scales at 18.4 kg in size M, it’s certainly no lightweight. With a rider weight of around 76 kg, we had a 450 coil fitted, which put the sag at 27%. Nevertheless, the suspension feels quite soft when bouncing around on the bike in the parking lot. Riding the NUCLEON towards the trailhead, the riding position feels centred and comfortably upright. The rear suspension bobs slightly when pedalling uphill and it’s worth flipping the lever to firm up the shock on long service road climbs.
Following gravity’s call, you’ll feel very secure aboard the bike and, together with the plush rear end, the NUCLEON instils you with plenty of confidence. The rear suspension responds sensitively off the top and effectively filters out small bumps. Nevertheless, the bike offers sufficient reserves and we never bottomed out unpleasantly, no matter how big the hits. You’ll just want to shift the saddle a little further to the front since we found that it contacted the rear tire on bigger impacts. The NICOLAI is slightly lacking in support on more flowing trails, making you work harder than necessary when trying to generate speed by pumping the bike through berms or compressions. It still offers a decent amount of pop on the jumps, however, though this is less from the suspension’s support than it is from the rebound. That means you must time things a little differently and preload the suspension a lot sooner before the jump to boost off the lip. There’s no spontaneous popping off little kickers in the trail. In general, the bike seems underwhelmed by moderate trails, and you can feel that it longs for roots and rock gardens to plough through. That’s the kind of terrain in which the NUCLEON shines! It offers a high level of composure and the high-pivot suspension makes it feel like you’re literally floating over obstacles. Due to the rearward axle path and growing wheelbase as the suspension compresses, however, you must shift your weight back and forth to maintain your balance on the bike. When things get tight, the long, heavy Nicolai feels a bit sluggish on the trail and requires a lot of input from the rider. It generates plenty of grip through open, unsupported corners and you don’t have to actively shift your weight forward to keep the front wheel tracking.
Who is the new NICOLAI NUCLEON 16 for?
The NICOLAI NUCLEON is a bike for lovers of aluminium and tech geeks. It stands out from the crowd with its brawny looks and offers a variety of customisation options. With the all-new Supre Drive drivetrain, it also features some of the latest tech. It’s aimed at all single track and bikepark rippers who want an indestructible looking bike and haven’t got time for flow trails.
Our conclusion on the new NICOLAI NUCLEON 16
Despite its unusual design, the NUCLEON 16 Supre is a NICOLAI through and through: lots of aluminium, big welds, and an industrial look. Thanks to the extensive configurator, you can spec the components and colour of the frame as desired. It’s the first production bike featuring the new Supre Drive drivetrain, and it looks bomb-proof. The downside, however, is its hefty weight and somewhat sluggish handling. In return, you’ll be rewarded with lots of composure and confidence when things get rough.
- extensive online configurator
- new Supre Drive
- very composed
- somewhat sluggish handling
For more information, visit nicolai-bicycles.com.
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Words: Simon Kohler Photos: Simon Kohler