After the Mega 290 Alloy Pro seriously impressed back in the 2021 Enduro Bike of the Year test, followed by the Giga 297 Carbon Elite taking top honours in 2022, Nukeproof it seems, is clearly onto something. The brand’s roll continues in 2023 thanks to the carbon-framed, mixed wheel size (mullet) bike you see here. The 297 setup sees a bump in travel over the Mega 290 Alloy Pro, and for 2023, Nukeproof has really tried to squeeze everything it can out of the spec with some seriously drool-worthy parts. It’s not perfect, though, and given the choice, I’d make some changes. In terms of ride feel, as you’ll soon read, the Mega continues to impress, particularly when the going gets rough, steep or technical. There’s comfort when you need it, but balance too. And let’s not forget it’s a blast to ride. As ever, there’s more to it than that, so read on to find out why the Mega 297 Carbon Elite was one of our top Enduro Bike of the Year contenders.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite frame and suspension details
The Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite features plenty of integrated rubber protection, which helps to keep it running silently. Nukeproof offers the Mega 297 frames in either alloy or the carbon model you see here. Compared to the previous, third-generation carbon Mega, this latest iteration gets both a carbon front and rear triangle (the older model used an alloy rear end). Enduro Max pivot bearings are used throughout to help keep the four-bar linkage running smoothly to deliver the 165mm of rear-wheel travel (that’s 5mm more than you get on the full 29in wheel version). Progression across the full range of the 165mm of travel is approximately 17 per cent, which is lower than the older Mega frame, but will, according to Nukeproof, still work well with an air or coil-sprung shock. At sag in the easiest gear, anti-squat sits at just over 100 per cent, which suggests the Mega 297 should remain fairly stable when pedalling.
It doesn’t take long to wear the finish off the SRAM GX Eagle crank arms. Within that carbon front triangle, there’s enough room to squeeze a sizeable 750ml water bottle, while at the rear, a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger is used to attach the rear derailleur. Nukeproof was quick to adopt the UDH standard ahead of launching the fourth-generation Mega at the tail end of 2020. That means, should the brand decide to spec the new T-Type Eagle Transmission from SRAM, fitting it won’t be an issue. Cables are routed internally and thankfully, to help make maintenance that bit easier, the frames use the ‘tube-in-tube’ design, which should help limit headaches/swearing when you need to carry out maintenance. Along with plenty of rubberised, integrated frame protection to help quieten chain-slap noise, Nukeproof also provides adhesive frame protection kits to keep things looking fresher and scratch-free for longer. Gear mount bosses sit beneath the top tube should you want to attach any spares and keep them off your person or out of your pack.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite geometry
With 165mm of rear-wheel travel on tap and 170mm up-front, the Mega 297 Carbon Elite provides a very forgiving ride. Nukeproof only offers the Mega 297 Carbon Elite in three sizes (small to large), while the Mega 290 (the full 29in-wheel version) comes in five, thanks to the additional extra-large and extra-extra-large options. That means the reach on the Mega 297 spans from 430 on the small to 475mm on the large, so taller riders may be wise to check out the big-wheeler options for the best fit possible. My medium test bike boasts a reach of 455mm. This, by today’s standards, is a good benchmark for a middling-size frame. I measured the head angle to be a slack 63.9 degrees. This kicks out the front wheel to provide a front centre (centre of bottom bracket axle to centre of front wheel axle) of 798mm, while the rear centre (AKA effective chainstay length) is quite compact at 435mm.
SRAM’s DB8 brakes aren’t the punchiest or most powerful. In terms of keeping the Mega 297 efficient on the climbs, Nukeproof steepens the seat tube angles as the frame size grows. I measured my size-medium bike slightly steeper than Nukeproof claims with my saddle set to my preferred position of 77.6 degrees. The steep seat tube angle, coupled with the 592mm effective top tube and 45mm stem, gives the Mega 297 Carbon Elite a roomier seated position than some of its rivals. At 345mm off the floor (and with 10mm drop), the bottom bracket is, on a par with many others out there.
|Seat angle (degrees)||77.5||77.5||78|
|Head angle (degrees)||64||64||64|
|Seat tube (mm)||380||410||440|
|Top tube (mm)||567.71||592.71||610.87|
|Head tube (mm)||100||100||120|
|Fork offset (mm)||42||42||42|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||30.0 / 10.0||30.0 / 10.0||30.0 / 10.0|
|Bottom bracket height (mm)||345||345||345|
|Standover (mm)||721.75 / 725.16||7.20.28 / 724.41||721.3 / 722.92|
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite specification
Nukeproof has chosen to include wireless SRAM GX Eagle AXS gearing on the Elite build for 2023. Nukeproof has tried to elevate the spec of the Mega 297 Carbon Elite for 2023. With that comes a bump in price over the 2022 model, but you do get some nice kit. That includes SRAM’s GX Eagle AXS wireless gearing that comes complete with the wide-range 10-52t cassette – great for those long days clawing your way up steep climbs. A Fox 38 Performance Elite fork up-front offers 170mm of travel and the very tuneable GRIP2 damper (which is arguably of more benefit for heavier or really hard riders).
The Fox 38 Performance Elite fork worked really well, though we kept nearly all the damping dials turned fully open. At the rear, a Fox Float X2 Performance shock handles the 165mm of rear-wheel travel, though it isn’t as adjustable as the Factory version. The dials are limited to low-speed compression and low-speed rebound damping (along with spring pressure and volume, which can also be tweaked). The cheaper parts of the Mega 297 Carbon Elite spec come in the form of the Brand-X Ascend dropper post (with 150mm used on the medium frame) and SRAM DB8 brakes. Thankfully, there’s been no corner cutting when it comes to the Maxxis tyres, and it’s always a pleasure to see rubber fit for purpose.
While the Fox X2 Performance has less tuning potential compared to the Fox 38 fork, it’s still easy enough to get dialled in and running smoothly. In this case, we get Maxxis Assegai MaxxGrip DD 29×2.5in and Maxxis Minion DHR II MaxxTerra DD 27.5×2.4in tyres. Nukeproof provides a host of the other kit, including its own alloy Horizon bar and stem. What’s nice here is it has stuck with the more forgiving 31.8mm bar diameter, rather than switching to the stiffer 35mm standard. It also provides the saddle, wheels and grips, all of which are quality bits of kit.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite ride impressions
The Nukeproof doesn’t feel afraid of being pushed hard into turns. I rode the Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite on a wide variety of trails around the South West of England and South Wales. These varied in speed, gradient and terrain, including some man-made tracks littered with high-speed impacts, rock gardens and big jumps. There were also steeper, natural, technical trails where the roots and rocks were plentiful but speeds a little lower – along with everything in between.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite setup
There’s a lot of tuning opportunity available with the GRIP2 damper, though in our experience, adding damping to the stock tune will mainly benefit heavier or really hard riders. This year’s Enduro Bike of the Year test has really shone a light on inconsistencies among certain products that appear on a number of bikes. The Fox 38 Performance Elite fork seen here was the best of the few I had in this test. The same fork on other bikes felt slow and sluggish when rebounding, but I had no such issues with this particular example. That said, I did run both rebound and the high-speed compression damping adjusters fully open. I added some low-speed compression damping (10 clicks from closed), along with three volume spacers to get them feeling as I wanted. Spring pressure was pretty low at 65psi, but it left them feeling supple yet still supportive enough when loaded. At the rear, I ran 30 per cent sag with 155psi and the two volume spacers that come as standard. Although the rebound adjust stayed fully open, I ran 19 clicks (from closed) of low-speed compression damping.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite climbing performance
On the climbs, we really appreciated the shock’s low-speed compression lever, which helps to firm the back end up and boost efficiency. The Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite doesn’t feel the most eager bike when pointed uphill – but then there aren’t many enduro bikes that do. This is partly down to the tough, sticky Maxxis tyres, but also, as you wind the power on and start inching your way up the climb, it sinks deeper into its travel, slackening that steep effective seat tube angle and making it feel a little less efficient than other bikes. On long, steep road climbs, I often toggled the low-speed compression lever on the X2 shock to firm things up. I like the fact that this doesn’t lock the shock out. Instead, it provides a firmer platform and props you up in the travel a little more, which in turn helps to keep you sitting more upright and comfortably. Tackle something technical, and even with the shock firmed up, it can still move enough to help keep the rear tyre tracking the trail and provide the much needed grip when things get properly steep.
Despite the asking price of the bike, the Brand-X remote feels a little cheap and heavy to use. Transitioning between descents and climbs, I noticed the Brand-X Ascend dropper post remote needed a bit more oomph to get it to move enough for the post to actuate compared to others, especially at this price. There was a bit of side-to-side play, too, but in terms of overall function, there are no major complaints to be made. It’s nice that Nukeproof increases the amount of drop as frame sizes get larger, giving ample saddle-to-backside clearance when you get stuck into properly steep trails.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite descending performance
There’s enough support to really enable you to load the suspension through the turns and pop out of the exit at speed. Thanks to the great frame shape, the Mega 297 Carbon Elite does a wonderful job of straddling the line between agility and stability. On lesser gradients, despite how sensitive and eager both the fork and shock seem to get moving, there’s still ample support built in, enabling you to weight and load the Mega with confidence and accuracy as you slink from turn to turn or boost off over gaps with blatant disregard. Although it might not feel quite as enthusiastic as the very best mountain bikes, it’s certainly keen to be chucked around when the opportunity presents itself.
The Horizon V2 wheels from Nukeproof are some of the only wheels on test that didn’t suffer any damage, despite the rocky trails we subjected the bike to. It may be down to that compact rear end and smaller back wheel, but the Mega 297 feels easy to get cranked right over and onto the tyre’s shoulder tread. The proportions of the bike and its surefooted nature enable you to sit on it poised, ready to correct a drift or deal with any trail obstacles in your path with small, intuitive inputs. This is also a plus when the going gets steep. While it doesn’t feel like the lowest-slung enduro bike out there, the calmness from the suspension as the wheels flutter smoothly up and over bumps more than makes up for this. There’s enough stability to attack trails that may have other bikes bouncing around all over the place. As the pace picks up, it’s clear that the forgiving ride is a real plus for poor line choice or when riding trails blind. Similarly, it’ll deal with heavy landings without wincing, too.
Not all plain sailing
We upped the rotors to 220mm in order to boost power, which helped, although the feel remained a little lacklustre. However, some of the Mega 297’s confidence is eroded due to the rather binary feel of the SRAM DB8 brakes. With the 200mm standard brake rotors, power is reasonable and the bite decent, but they’re easily overshadowed by cheap Shimano equivalents that offer a lighter, punchier feel and better control. The bike, is however, decent under braking, with more than enough traction from the Maxxis rubber when you slam on the anchors. While this helps, it’s still a little disappointing to see a bike at this price and with this intent come with these brakes. I’d rather trade in the pricey drivetrain for some better stoppers if I could.
Grip master general
Nukeproof’s tyre choice is superb. The DoubleDown Maxxis rubber helps add predictability and a damped feel to proceedings. Where I found the Mega 297 Carbon Elite to shine brightest was on challenging, technical rough trails. In conjunction with that sensitive, very active suspension, the broad Maxxis tyres in their tough DoubleDown casing, help to provide a damped, very predictable feel. They skate across loose, stoney surfaces where grip is at a premium. Hammer into jagged embedded rock jank at speed and you’ll be surprised just how much you can get away with.
Hitting scary lines feels easier on the Mega 297 Carbon Elite. However, be warned, after hammering the incredibly rough, rocky trails of Dolceacqua, Italy for a few days, the linkage rocker pivot came loose on a couple of occasions, so be sure to keep a close eye on this. Aside from that, the Mega 297 Carbon Elite impressed in almost every scenario I put it in. It never failed to have my back when things started to get out of hand or sketchy.
How does the Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite compare?
The YT Capra 29 Core 4 is an easy bike to ride fast, straight from the off. Compared to the direct-sale YT Capra 29 Core 4, the Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite feels just as intuitive and straightforward to jump on and ride as fast as you possibly can. This is possibly down to the fact that both bikes offer very similar reach figures and angles, along with both bikes sporting Fox suspension at the front and rear. However, it should be noted that the YT comes with the fancier top-end Factory versions of the 38 fork and X2 shock. Understandably, the YT is the pricier of the two bikes. I’d say the YT is a little more rounded in performance, though. Like the Mega, it too needs a flick of the shock’s switch to firm it up on the climbs, but on mellower flow trails, thanks in part to the bigger 29in rear wheel, the Capra feels as though the speed comes more easily. It’s a different story on rougher, steeper tracks, where the Mega feels as if it offers more depth to its travel (both bikes have 165mm at the rear and a 170mm fork up-front). There’s more swagger when hammering into the unknown on the Mega and more backside clearance, too, due to YT speccing a short, 125mm-travel dropper post on the medium Capra.
Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite bottom line
The supple suspension, good geometry and impressive tyres really enable the Mega 297 Carbon Elite to shine on loose, rocky terrain. Overall, there’s a serious amount to like about the Nukeproof Mega 297 Carbon Elite. The geometry feels as though it strikes the right balance between outright speed and nimbleness. The smooth suspension manages to swallow bumps with relative ease, but still provides enough support to ensure you can whip the Mega 297 around when you want to. Sure, the brakes are a little lacklustre, but switching to bigger rotors helps this. A bit. Just keep an eye on those linkage bolts. When all is said and done, the Mega 297 Carbon Elite is a great bit of kit that takes just about everything in its stride, all the while ensuring fun is front and centre.