|Professional Tweaks, Tips & Reviews By "AJ" Picarello
|I hope you find my Tweaks and Tips section helpful. If there is something you want to know about, send me an email and I will try to add that to one of my upcoming articles.
Nicolai, located in Germany, is a bicycle company like no other. They build exotic bike frames that mix outrageous looks with functionality. Standing alone, the ST frame could be mistaken for a machine gun or something gathered from the 1947 Roswell alien crash site.
You may remember pictures of the Nucleon ST from 2003 Interbike spy photos. It is quite the contraption, invoking wonder and curiosity. Hundreds of brackets, bolts, gussets and a Roloff 14 speed hub centered in the frame. The Nucleon ST is over engineered for sure. Complicated links can scare people away. You should only consider this frame if you enjoy tinkering on your bike. Frame angles and travel adjustments are infinite. With time and patience a rider can fine tune the ST to suite any type of terrain or ride style. Check out the bike in action on the photo and video’s page. I’m also riding it on some of the header pages on the site.
The frame has its quirks, so let me get them out of the way. Number one, Proper spring rate is crucial. The rear shock bolt is very long and will bend on hard bottom outs. Secondly, the frame weight is noticeably heavier than almost every other frame. Add 6 plus pounds to your current bike with the same components. Not too big a worry, but worth mentioning. My Nucleon weighs in at 47lbs. Lastly, the speed hub is not as efficient as a chain drive. You can feel a loss of power while spinning planetary gears inside the hub. Fortunately, the gears you use, 7, 8, & 9 are the most efficient. 14 speeds are unnecessary for most DH tracks, but with the seat raised up, you can actually pedal uphill in a low range gear while your friends push. Despite the negatives, you must give Nicolai props. They are single handedly pushing bicycle technology. No other company is as innovative. The company takes pride in their work with meticulous welds and unbelievable machine work. The abundance of finishes will blow your mind and so will the warranty, five years!
Internal gears are the future. Imagine the benefits of an enclosed gear system. Never another derailleur miss shift. No more rear derailleur or drive train noise even when riding in mud or snow. The dream is now a reality thanks to the ST. A muddy opening day at Plattekill, I never once had to hose the ST. The Speed Hub is low maintenance. Flush out the old fluid and replace with new once every year or two!
An interesting and unexpected advantage of this bike is the ability to shift when coasting. Ever enter a sharp turn in too hard a gear? Traditional bike designs require premeditated gear shifts. Not having to pedal the bike in order to shift is hard to get used to. After about a week, I began to grasp the concept. Simply twist the shifter in the turn, foot off one pedal, it doesn’t matter. You will always be in the right gear. The frame comes with a Roloff Machined three sided twist grip shifter. It’s comfortable and easy to adjust to. You can’t use any other shifters. The hub works off a pull/pull system. Trigger shifter people (myself included) must deal.
If you freak out and feel the need to lighten the Nicolai, you can remove the speed hub and switch back to a traditional derailleur. Some of their World Cup riders did just that. At certain tracks, weight reduction out weighed the benefits of the Speed Hub. I like that Nicolai gives the rider a choice. This bike is very versatile and can be configured to satisfy any rider. The switch is a huge ordeal. The ST utilizes a jack shaft system (that eliminates the need for a DH chain guide and improves ground clearance) with two chains. The entire bike other than the fork would need modification. Switching back to a traditional rear derailleur is costly and an all day affair.
Speaking of versatility, the rider can use almost any shock. Stock STs come with a Romic 9” x 2.75”. I set mine up with a 5 th Element, 8.75” x 2.75”. I set the travel at 9” (the ST has adjustable travel from 7”, 8”, or 9”) and the angles slack and low. At the lowest position with a 7” Boxxer with a tall crown and 26x 2.5 tires, B.B. height was at 14.5”. The 100mm wide B.B. is very wide. My pedals were prone to hitting rocks in tight sections. I would prefer a smaller width, unfortunately, the crank arms need to clear the very wide Speed Hub. I recommend an 8” travel fork. The slack head angle to me wasn’t slack enough. The longer travel fork would not only slacken the head angle, it would raise the B.B. A 450lb spring worked well for my weight (170lbs). Heavy riders need to ride the ST in the 8” position. In 9” mode, the suspension is amazingly plush and very linier. Wheel base is also adjustable. (I set the wheelbase in the longest position).
I set the bike up with a DT Swiss 12mm x 165mm FR rear hub. Nicolai supplies a very clean S.S. rear cog and spacers. Unfortunately, using a freewheel hub in conjunction with the Speed hubs freewheel increases the amount of slop engaging the bike to pedal forwards. I understand Nicolai has a direct drive rear hub option, although the DT Swiss hub gives the rider the option of using a traditional rear derailleur. The slop is unacceptable and impossible to get used to. The direct drive rear hub is a must and actually saves a good amount of weight.
The suspension on this bike is revolutionary! It actually outperforms my BMW Hit Man, the bench mark of all bicycle suspension. The ST is a safe bike to ride. It’s smooth as butter and will never surprise you. The rear suspension will absorb every bump on the trail. You will hardly feel a thing. Slow riders can ride fast. Fast riders become a blur. I don’t know how to explain the benefits of perfect suspension. No bike can even come close to the ST in a rock garden. With a good fork, anyone can ride this bike straight through anything. Another important note, even though I tested the bike with a SPV rear shock, the suspension is lively. Most people complain that SPV, although the technology helps keep the bike low and stable, gives most bikes a dead unresponsive feel. I’m not an engineer, I’m just a rider, and I can tell you that this suspension design does everything right.
With all the weight centered and off the suspension, redirecting the bike path is a cinch. The back is very light and can be lifted with ease. Jumping the ST is a dream. It floats through the air with little or no effort. The frame is perfectly balanced. You will ride all the hard lines day one on the ST. There is no price tag for 100% confidence. Watching other riders fuss with gear problems or chainguide problems, you can’t help to feel superior. Ordinary bikes seem outdated, almost prehistoric compared to the Nicolai.
All Nicolai frames are expensive. The ST frame, (although no longer available, the 2005 bike that replaces the ST is called the TST), shock and hub will set you back over $4000.00. Just getting one can be frustrating. You get put on a list and you wait. Sometimes for half a year. Speaking of which, the frame in review is up for sale as a discounted price since it’s been demoed. I’m asking $3500 for the black anodized beauty, with a choice of the Romic, or the Progressive 5 th Element. It also comes set up with the 100mm ISIS B.B., Race Face north shore cranks, 170mm, (brand new, never used), an Evil Supercharger and 34T DH ring, two PC 99 chains, a Thompson seat post, Chris King Steel Set headset, DT Swiss FR rear hub laced to an Atomic DHR rim in decent shape and a Maxxis 2.5 Minion rear tire. All cables are new, and the bike is completely detailed, not a scratch or dent on it. The 5 year warranty is transferable to a second owner.
For 2005, Nicolai solved all the little issues I complain about in this review with the Nucleon TST. They have developed their own gear box system called “G-box”. The frame comes with the direct drive rear hub and has an innovative quick change rear wheel. The shock bolts are smaller and the shift cables are completely enclosed in a sealed system. The frame looks sharp and expensive. Expect to pay $5000 for the frame alone. DOWN Cycles is a dealer if anyone is interested. I know I am!
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