If you crave ultimate performance, and personal service from a local shop, the Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite is the bike to get
Editor’s Choice 2020
From the first rocky rides at the launch in the Dolomites to slamming loamy turns in the leafy hills of Surrey, our reaction to the Nukeproof Reactor has been overwhelmingly positive. And as the winner of our prestigious Trail Bike of the Year award (shop-bought category), the Reactor has walked the trail-bike-walk every step of the way.
It talks the talk too. Available with 27.5in or 29in wheels, with bespoke frame designs for each, there’s a Reactor of every style of trail rider. Want the thrill of raw speed? Then it’s the 29er every time. If, however, you want a capable trail bike that you can chuck around more readily, then the 27.5in Reactor should be your first choice. It’s also the first choice for shorter riders, as it’s the only option available in size small.
Travel is matched to wheel size, so the 29er Reactors run 140mm forks with 130mm out back, while the 27.5in versons get 10mm more at both ends. There also a choice of carbon or aluminium frame constructions so Nukeproof has all budgets covered too.
So Nukeproof has come out swinging, with the kind of swagger Conor McGregor is famous for. It’s got all the best people in its corner too. The Maxxis Assegai/Minion DHR II tyre combo running rings around everything else, while the 12-speed Shimano drivetrain offers light fast shifting every time. Factor in the svelt chassis and supple suspension that never chokes or feels like it’s grappling with the terrain, and it’s easy to see why the Reactor is such a dominant force in the trail bike arena.
Nukeproof is a brand built on racing. It even has a bike named after the iconic Megavalanche mass-start event on Alpe d’Huez. And with Sam Hill leading its rider roster, the Mega has had unprecedented success at the highest level of enduro racing.
But having such a clearly defined focus can often lead to blinkered vision. Nukeproof’s glaring blind spot? The distinct lack of a dedicated full-suspension trail bike. Well, the blinkers are now truly off, the new Reactor filling that void, and then some.
Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite review
Launching 12 models, the Reactor range is evenly split between 27.5in and 29in wheels, with dedicated frames for each platform. Travel is divided too, the 27.5in frames getting 140mm travel, the 29ers pumping out 10mm less. Standard fork travel is 10mm more than the rear; the exceptions being the RS models that gets 20mm more firepower up front.
The Nukeproof Reactor 290c Elite tested here is the entry-level full carbon 29er, so it’s got 130mm married to a 140mm Fox 36 suspension fork. It comes in three sizes where the size L sports a generous 480mm reach, which makes it the longest bike on test. Like all of the bikes in the Reactor range, the geometry is adjustable via the flip- chips that connect the one-piece carbon seatstay assembly to the alloy swinglink. The chips can be flipped without having to remove any hardware, where dropping it into the low setting shaves 5mm off the BB height, reducing it to a ground-hugging 327mm. Doing so also knocks the head angle back from 66.4° to 65.9°.
It’s the unique approach to the rear suspension that really sets the Reactor apart, where even the alloy models get the carbon seatstay assembly to minimise the weight of the swingarm and the make the rear suspension more reactive. Nukeproof has also tweaked the leverage curve, making it less regressive than the Mega in the beginning stroke, and more progressive once your get past the sag point. The end result is 130mm of supple suspension for maximum traction, but it doesn’t wallow under power or bottom too easily. Sounds like the Holy Grail, right? Well, we were sceptical too, then we rode it and quickly discovered that it does exactly what it says on the tin.
In fact, it’s a really good pairing with the basic Grip damper on the 140mm Fox 36 fork. There’s not much in the way of low-speed control, so the Fox fork is super-sensitive, just like the rear end. As a result, you need to run the spring pressure in the fork a little higher to gain support and this really seems to balance the progression rate for the rear suspension. That’s not to say the Reactor wouldn’t be even better with higher-spec suspension components, but it certainly isn’t dependent on them.
Nukeproof’s Horizon 800mm handlebar and 45mm Neutron stem offer a noticeably precise, direct steering response. Shifting with the 12-speed SLX drivetrain is equally accurate, but like on the Radon, once the chain gets dirty it starts to sound graunchy when grinding up climbs in the 51t cog. Power delivery is second to none with the two-piece hollow-forged SLX cranks, and we can’t tell you how relieved we are that Shimano didn’t switch to the spline system that it introduced on XTR. We were also really lucky with the SLX disc brakes on the Reactor, as they didn’t present with the bite-point migration issue that has plagued so many of Shimano’s new brakes.
With the best tyres, best wheels, best sizing and geometry, it would be easy to assume that the Nukeproof Reactor was always going to excel in this test. But even the best specced bikes come up short, and it was actually the superbly balanced suspension and accurate handling that gave the Reactor 290c Elite its winning advantage. In fact the rear suspension is so good it makes the DPX2 feel more like a coil shock.
What’s new for 2021?
Last year, the flagship RS models got 10mm longer travel forks, this year there’s more continuity across the entire range so regardless of price all models have the same travel. Bar the switch from a Maxxis Minion DHR II rear tyre to a Dissector the specification of the Reactor 29c Elite remains unchanged. As does the price.
In the Reactor 290c Elite, Nukeproof has delivered a 29er trail bike that easily meets the demands of modern trail riding. It has a buttery smooth suspension response, where its reactive 130mm travel never feels too soft or lacks the support needed for hard charging. And charging hard is what this bike actively encourages. The full carbon frame makes for a precision instrument that can be used to slice through any trail, but the Reactor is not so stiff as to make it a double-edged sword. Balance is the key, and Nukeproof has delivered on all fronts.