Nicolai’s radical enduro machine takes geometry and transmissions to the limit and beyond

Product Overview

Nicolai Ion GPI

Weight:
Weight:

Pros:

  • Finally a frame that fits large humans; hugely capable geometry; suspension that’s much improved by the reduction in unsprung weight; virtually maintenance-free drivetrain.

Cons:

  • Can’t shift under load; can’t shift and brake at the same time; significant weight penalty over a regular drivetrain; expensive.

Product:

Nicolai Ion GPI (2016) review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£4,598.00 (frameset)

Need to know

  • 155mm-travel enduro bike using Mojo Geometron geometry
  • Slack head angle and huge wheelbase
  • Pinion gearbox with 12 or 18 gears
  • Gates carbon belt drive is smooth, quiet and maintenance-free

The whole trend for longer, lower, slacker bikes is becoming a bit of a cliché these days, with seemingly every brand on the market proclaiming their new bike is pushing the envelope of geometry.

Nicolai Ion GPI riding

None of them, with the exception of Mondraker, really come close to the radical layout of Mojo’s Geometron — a custom Nicolai Ion, built to the specifications of Mojo’s eccentric owner, that’s now on sale to the public. But even such a ground-breaking machine appears conservative next to the gearbox version — a Nicolai Ion with Geometron geometry, Pinion gearbox and Gates
belt drive.

Fox Float X2 gives 155mm of travel

Fox Float X2 gives 155mm of travel

Like its chain-equipped relative, the aluminium Ion GPI gets a 63.5° head angle, 340mm bottom bracket height and steep 77° seat angle. It’s also available in three boundary-pushing sizes, dubbed Long, Longer and Longest. But from here the two bikes begin to diverge, with the Mojo bike getting a traditional drivetrain, and the Ion GPI a complex Pinion gearbox connected to a maintenance-free belt drive.

Spotlight on… Pinion P1 gearbox

Pinion’s P1 gearbox offers 12 ratios, operated by a twist grip shifter on the bar, and for an extra €100 you can upgrade to an 18-speed version. Not that we think you need to, though, as the range of gears is easily wide enough as it is. The transmission is impressively smooth and silent despite the complex system of cogs and shafts, and we couldn’t detect any extra drag.

Mojo Ion GPI gearbox news story

But you can’t shift under load, so you have to back off the pedals on downshifts, which means you lose a lot of momentum, and the function of the twist shifter is completely outdated compared to modern thumb-operated designs. The gearbox itself also adds a big chunk of weight, which helps the suspension — by reducing the unsprung weight — but hinders the bike’s versatility.

Be warned though, the gearbox doesn’t come without a penalty; this is a 39lb bike. Fortunately we had a steep hill, several downhill tracks and the services of an uplift for our test ride, and in these circumstances the Ion GPI felt great. We actually feared it might take a while to get used to the sheer size of the Ion GPI, but within a few turns we felt comfortable, and our confidence grew with every minute in the saddle.

With a wheelbase this big, stability is never going to be a problem

With a wheelbase this big, stability is never going to be a problem

It was exceptionally stable, and although the extreme geometry requires a bit more muscle to initiate turns, the wide bars offer additional leverage, and once leant over, it feels like nothing can knock you off line. That sense of composure continued over bumps, into holes and across cambers.
With weight centred between the axles, any loss of grip seems to happen in slow motion, allowing loads of time to make subtle corrections and adjustments to your weight distribution.

Gates belt drive is durable and reliable

Gates belt drive is durable and reliable

Losing all that unsprung weight from the rear hub has totally unshackled the suspension too. There’s an unflinching steadiness to the main frame that’s in stark contrast to the liberty and sensitivity of the rear suspension. Over the course of the day it became clear that this is a bike yearning to be hurled down the roughest, steepest, fastest tracks around.

For uplifts, alpine trips, and even those rides that consist of long, steady fire-road climbs and wild downhill plunges through the trees, the Ion GPI would be an absolute weapon.

Nicolai Ion GPI grip shift

Grip shifter is outdated technology

But the Pinion gearbox pushes the weight of the bike beyond most current downhill bikes, and although we didn’t get a chance to try it around the nearby singletrack at Cwmcarn, we have no doubt that dragging it around the shallow gradients of a trail centre loop would be hard work.

Horses for courses, then, and kudos to Nicolai and Mojo for thinking outside the box and having the guts to experiment with design and technology but, for now, we feel the tried and tested combination of a chain and derailleur remains the better drivetrain solution.

Nicolai Ion GPI packshot

Details

Frame:Custom aluminium, 155mm travel
Shock:Fox Float X2
Fork:Fox 36 Float RC2, 160mm travel
Wheels:Hope Tech Enduro wheels, Schwalbe Magic Mary 2.35in tyres
Drivetrain:Pinion P1.12 gearbox, shifter and cranks, Gates belt drive and sprockets
Brakes:Hope Race Evo E4, 203/183mm
Components:Truvativ Boobar, Hope stem, RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost
Weight:18kg (39.7lb)
Sizes:Long, longer, longest
Size ridden:Longer
Rider height:5ft 10in
Head angle:63.5° (slackest setting
Seat angle:77°
BB height:340mm
Chainstay:440mm
Front centre:845mm
Wheelbase:1,285mm
Top tube:640mm
Reach:502mm
Contact:nicolai.net
  • Wong Fei Hung

    Are you sure it comes in P.18?