£499.99 Proper hard­core hard­tail at a killer price

Mountain Biking UK - - WRECKED & RATED -

Di­rect-sell brand Vi­tus use their ‘one step less’ sales ad­van­tage to give the Nu­cleus 29 VR an ex­cel­lent trail-tough, up­gradeready frame and de­cent spec for the money. Don’t ex­pect a smooth ride though, even with 29in wheels.

The frame

Skip­ping the ‘sell­ing from a shop’ stage of the cost chain gives Vi­tus more cash to spend than even the su­per­store brands here, and they’ve dumped most of that on the frame. The tapered head tube makes fu­ture fork up­grades easy, as well as adding stiff­ness. At 67 de­grees, the head an­gle cuts a good bal­ance be­tween sta­bil­ity and not mak­ing the big wheels feel too barge-like on tighter trails. The reach and wheel­base aren’t rad­i­cal but are long com­pared to the stunted ‘be­gin­ner bikes’ that mostly pop­u­late this price point. Again, they tread a rea­son­able line be­tween plough­ing through trou­ble and twitch­ing round stuff. Seat tube re­in­force­ment, cowled 3D dropouts and ISCG mounts un­der­line the Vi­tus’s ap­petite for ag­gres­sive rid­ing.

In­ter­nal rout­ing for a drop­per post means you can up­grade when you have the cash. In the mean­time, there are no bot­tle bosses on the seat tube, so you can slam the stock rigid post. There’s clear­ance for a 2.4in rear tyre – a smart up­grade, given the punchy rather than comfy ride. The 29er bike isn’t avail­able in small sizes, and the 650b ver­sion doesn’t come in XL.

The kit

The Nu­cleus is the only bike here with larger-di­am­e­ter 29in wheels. These are slightly harder to spin up to speed but give an im­me­di­ate rollover ad­van­tage on rough ground. Vi­tus have specced an ag­gres­sive WTB Vig­i­lante front tyre, and the ‘TCS’ rims are tube­less com­pat­i­ble, which is a rough-rid­ing bonus. The Sun­tour fork only has 100mm of travel, but its air spring and ad­justable re­bound make it easy to tune for rider weight/ style. A 180mm front ro­tor boosts the power of the Tek­tro Auriga brakes.

The 2x9 gear­ing isn’t as sim­ple or quiet as a sin­gle-chain­ring and clutch mech set-up but is less prone to chain slap and over­lap­ping ra­tios than 3x9, and Vi­tus have fit­ted a neo­prene chain­stay pro­tec­tor. It’s good to see a 50mm stem and lock-on grips. Be­ing picky, we’d like a bar wider than 740mm on a bike de­signed to be a proper trail tamer.

The ride

Straight away, the Vi­tus shows that it means busi­ness. Even though the Sun­tour fork has a quick-re­lease (QR) rather than screw-through axle, its tapered steerer and 32mm legs make for enough ac­cu­racy to take

ag­gres­sive lines. While it’s cer­tainly not plush, its ad­justa­bil­ity means more riders will be more in con­trol, more of the time, than on a fixed-rate coil spring. You’ll also get the full claimed stroke. While the fork has less travel than the oth­ers here, the Nu­cleus’s big­ger wheels and tyres hit ob­jects at a shal­lower an­gle than smaller wheels, shrink­ing them, in terms of how much mo­men­tum they knock out of the bike. It doesn’t take long for the Nu­cleus to pull ahead on toothy des­cents or tech­ni­cal ter­rain.

The chunky front tyre on its 29mm-wide rim can be pushed a lot harder than the oth­ers here be­fore it loses grip. Buy some tube­less valves and tape up the rims, and you’ll be able to drop the pres­sure lower to in­crease trac­tion even more, re­duc­ing the chance of im­pact punc­tures at the same time. Crit­i­cally, that lower pres­sure will also take some of the wal­lop out of what’s an un­mis­tak­ably stiff frame that can batter you through the feet and hands on rougher trails.

Vi­tus have done their best to calm the 2x9 trans­mis­sion, and the brakes are con­sis­tently re­li­able and ad­e­quately com­mu­nica­tive, although you can ex­pect arm pump to kick in on longer, row­dier des­cents. The fact that you’ll be push­ing that hard down proper trails with­out even think­ing about it is prob­a­bly the clear­est char­ac­ter as­sess­ment of the Nu­cleus VR though. This is a proper trail hard­tail that’s ready to get stuck into se­ri­ous rid­ing at a price where most bikes are just pre­tend­ing.

Well-bal­anced and eas­ily-upgrad­able tough trail bar­gain, if you want to go hard

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