In part five of our Backyard Bike Check series, MBUK’s art editor James ‘Jimmer’ Blackwell gives us a look at his mean, green Nukeproof Reactor 290 Expert trail bike.
Nukeproof Reactor 290 Expert, 130mm travel, medium size, £3,100
Although the Reactor 29er begs to be pushed hard, it’s also shown its versatility during these crazy times. Over the past few months, my bike has morphed from a fun-time trail thrasher to an XC mile muncher. We’ve all been through the grinder with this pandemic, and getting out into the hills has paid dividends for my mental health. It’s fair to say this bike has been my saviour.
The Expert model comes with a 140mm-travel RockShox Pike Select fork. A RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ RT shock controls the 130mm of rear wheel travel. Anybody who knows me or follows my long-term reports knows that I’m not that technically-minded when it comes to set-up. I know when things feel right but am not afraid to ask for help getting there – sorry Rob! Luckily, all I’ve had to do on the Reactor is play with the air pressures and rebound a bit to get things balanced. I use the lockout a ton for climbing, but when the bike’s let loose on the descents, the suspension feels supple and planted. It’s been pretty much a case of ‘tune and forget’. For a 130mm/140mm bike, this thing is RAD. It feels a LOT more aggressive than you’d expect of a shorter-travel machine. I love the look of it too, with its hydroformed aluminium tubeset – it’s gained many admirers out on the trails.
Nukeproof supplied the bike with its WTB Speed Terra wheels set up tubeless and ready to roll. I was tempted to fit some faster rubber for summer XC duties, but decided to stick with the original tyres because they’re so good. Up front is a Maxxis Assegai 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ TR 29×2.5in WT. If it’s good enough for that Greg Minnaar bloke, then it’s wasted on, er, I mean good enough, for me! It’s proven to be a bloody good all-conditions tyre with tons of confidence-inspiring grip. Out back there’s a firm MBUK fave, the Maxxis Minion DHR II, in its 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ TR 29×2.4in WT guise. I like the weight-to-toughness balance of the EXO+ casing and have had no problems with the tubeless set-up. It almost seems silly humping a spare tube around, but then you never know…
SRAM’s NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain has proven its worth around the hills of Bath. I live at the bottom of all of the trails, so the 11-50t cassette has been a godsend. It’s also a thing of wonder to my friends still on 11-speed! The whole drivetrain is pretty burly. It’s taken its fair share of abuse and, apart from having to retighten the rear mech, I’ve had no issues. My trusty Crankbrothers Mallet DH pedals have been on every bike I’ve had since I got them at the 2016 Fort William World Cup. They’re a special Steve Peat limited edition and only 1,000 were ever made. They look pretty beat-up, but still work well and have never needed an overhaul, which is pretty amazing.
The Reactor comes with a host of Nukeproof own-brand kit. Luckily, it’s all bloody good. The 45mm Neutron stem originally held an alloy Horizon bar but I’ve swapped it for the V2 carbon version, in a 780mm width, creating a really comfy cockpit. I was going to go into full weight-saving mode, but then realised I was going to struggle to shave too many grams, so the bar’s been my only upgrade. I like the nine-degree backsweep and five-degree upsweep, and went for the 25mm rise. At each end, Sam Hill’s signature adorns the Nukeproof grips. Grips are such a personal choice that I usually change the ones that come on new bikes pretty quickly, but these are staying firmly in place! The Brand-X Ascend seatpost is pretty good too. It’s a little slow to return, but the internal cable routing looks neat, I’ve had no reliability issues and its 150mm drop gets the saddle out of the way nicely.
If you have poor brakes and rubbish tyres, you’re pretty much going to hate your bike. Luckily, both are great on the Reactor. The power and modulation from the SRAM Guide RE brakes is amazing, and from the first ride they increased my confidence to push hard, knowing they had my back. They’re specced on a lot of heavy e-MTBs, so you know they’re powerful.
I ran the Crud XL Fender all winter and spring. Its looks divide opinion but it offers some of the best protection on the market. That said, it’s massive, which is its USP, but means it’s overkill for summer riding. I’ve swapped it out for a Mudhugger FRX, which doesn’t offer as much protection, but then it is summer.
Lockdown was a good time to work out how to fix as much kit as possible to my bike without it looking shit (I don’t do frame-mounted pumps, I’m afraid!). I was running a Topeak Ninja Cage X1AJ with integrated tyre levers, which allowed a little position adjustment, meaning I could just (and I mean just) fit in a 750ml bottle. Using the brand’s Ninja universal bracket, I first fitted a Ninja Toolbox T20 multi-tool below the cage and then swapped it for a Ninja Free StrapPack for a tube, on the basis that a spare 29er tube is more annoying and bulky to carry than a small multi-tool. I don’t wear a pack for shorter rides; instead, anything I can’t get on my bike goes on my body, using one of Morvélo’s awesome dual baselayer-jerseys.
Wanting to push things even further, I found the B-RAD system by Wolf Tooth. With one of the B-RAD slotted mounts bolted into my bottle bosses, I’ve managed to shift the cage (now a side-entry Topeak SK) way down and fit a T16 tool below it plus a Wolf Tooth strap for a 29er tube above it. The tolerances are tight, but it all fits, and looks pretty good too.
For the latest on all our staff bikes, check out the long-term rides section in MBUK every month.