When Nukeproof launched the Mega 290 late in 2015 I remember thinking they’d really turned a corner with their frame design, but also being a bit surprised they hadn’t gone for a shorter travel frame.
I’d only ridden mid-travel and short-travel 29ers at the time, and they worked so well that I actually felt a bit aggrieved that Nukeproof hadn’t come up with a new future bike option for me.
Fast forward a couple of years and it seems the Northern Ireland-based brand (owned by Chain Reaction Cycles) were ahead of the game – as long-travel 29ers are now the hottest category in MTB.
Last spring I was demo-ing a few bikes, looking for a mid-travel 29er trail bike. The favourite was the Trek Fuel EX, but on the same demo day at Wheelbase in Staveley I also took the Mega 290 out for a spin – mainly to see how a bike with such ridiculously long chainstays (455mm) actually rode.
I didn’t want a long-travel 29er (I was happy with the Radon Swoop as my “big bike”) but the stability and all-round capability of the Mega was something of a revelation, it felt like cheating compared to the Fuel EX or Slash that I rode on the same trails.
I came away with more questions than answers about what bike I wanted, but I know myself well enough to recognise there and then that a seed had been planted.
In the last couple of years I’d really got on board with having longer reach on a frame (I like 460mm and I’m 5ft 7in), but now I was realising that you could go even quicker and feel even more stable if the rear of the bike was extended to balance the longer front.
So when a very reasonably priced new Mega 290 frame and fork package came up on eBay about six months later I didn’t hang about.
There was some disappointment in that the seller (a bike shop in Denmark) had wrongly listed the size and actually sent me a medium instead of a large – but he did the right thing and split another bike to sort me out the correct size frame. It seemed churlish to moan that it was the lairy yellow-and-red version.
I initially built it up with a 160mm Pike, Crossmax XL wheels, Sram GX 11speed transmission and Guide RS brakes – using the Monarch Plus shock that came with it.
Other spec details include a 35mm stem, 785mm bar, 125mm Reverb and Trail Boss/Magic Mary tyre combo.
And first impressions were not at all bad. It climbed acceptably, carried speed fairly well and the shape of the frame was very confidence inspiring. I found myself throwing it into corners with more abandon both despite and because of that massive wheelbase. It just felt “harder to fall off of” than other bikes.
It didn’t have quite the same “monster truck” feel as the demo bike I’d ridden, but that had been specced with a Lyrik rather than a Pike.
One thing I’d been nervous about is that a couple of reviews of the bike pointed towards a questionable leverage curve on the suspension, but I’d not noticed any such problems with the demo bike so I had been happy to proceed.
I did find it lacked a bit of urgency in its pedalling, just having a bit of a leaden feel compared to some bikes. And I certainly wasn’t too impressed with the Monarch Plus, which I found to have a very wooden feel and struggled to get the grip I wanted from.
It meant that riding long, bumpy and steep trails like the ones at the Golfie in Innerleithen was a tiring experience.
Fortunately I was able to snag a Fox Float X2 with climb switch for an amazing price when Mojo sold their stock off, and I eventually tracked down one of the last non-boost Lyriks in the UK.
These upgrades made a huge difference to the feel of the bike. The X2 not only gave a smoother, less fatiguing ride but also tracked the ground much better – allowing me to feel what the bike was doing and stay in control.
The Lyrik was a similarly big step-up from the Pike, despite being 10mm shorter in travel, because the extra heft of the chassis gave the front of the bike the authority that the frame required. The fork was no longer a limiting factor.
I didn’t do a “first impressions” piece on this bike, because the set-up process seems to have taken longer than usual and I wanted to be fair to it.
Other changes I’ve made are getting a more knobbly rear tyre (WTB Vigilante tough), switching the brakes to Shimano Zee (XT shifter & mech to follow) and upping the front rotor to a 203mm one.
This is another big improvement and it’s nice to know I can haul on the anchors when the Mega builds up too much of a head of steam.
And it does like to go fast. I think I equalled my quickest ever run down Castle Crag on the Borrowdale Bash despite slowing down for walkers, and the cheeky Frith Wood variant on the same ride felt much calmer than on previous visits.
Calmness is a key attribute of the Mega actually. The long wheelbase just seems to slow everything down a bit, so I feel I have more time to react when the bike begins to lose traction or there’s an unexpected trail feature.
I still have some tinkering to do. I have accepted that it’ll never be a “perky” bike – but I intend to pop more spacers in the shock to see if that helps. Winding on more compression damping did improve the pedalling, but I could feel more kickback through the pedals.
I’d also be interested to try it with a Cane Creek DB Inline Coil shock – which I think could add a bit more fluidity to the suspension action as well as helping with the climbing. I also plan to fit a Luftkappe or similar in the Lyrik when I fit a 160mm air shaft, to get a bit more plushness up front. I do like a linear suspension action and ideally I’d have a 29er version of my old Marz 55 RC3 ti fork.
I don’t usually come back to my bike reviews, but I expect I will be updating this one later this year – so watch this space.
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