Can a 29’er cut it at the Mega Avalanche? Let’s find out …

Racing a 29’er at the Megavalanche:  A big-wheel, big-mountain experiment.

Words by Ben Plenge at MTB Strength Factory

Apart from fat bikes, not many things get mountain bikers going like the wheel size debate.  

When you talk 29ers, everybody has an opinion, some based on experience, some based on assumption and some that are just made up!  It is fair to say that in the UK the most common 29‘ers out on the trails tend to be a lightweight and racy hardtails or short travel full-sus trail bikes, neither of which are going to be much use when racing the monster that is the Megavalanche.  


This feature is all about real world testing! Here’s Ben trackside at the Mega, with his Mega.

We wanted to see if a modern, long travel 29er with a tough build and aggressive angles could cut it at one of the most demanding mountain bike races in the world.

In case you don’t know, the ‘Mega,’ as it is known, is a mass start downhill race starting at the top of a black ski run at the summit of Alpe d’ Huez.  You then race elbow to elbow against about 250 other riders all the way down to the bottom of the valley, some 2600m below.  For the fastest racers this takes 45 minutes to an hour and for the stragglers at the back it can take several hours of pain and effort.  Many more don’t make it to the finish due to mechanicals or injury.  If you want a taste of what it is all about then check out this video of a full run from 2015 with some gnarly overtaking moves and crashes!

Orbea Leaderboard 2023

That seems pretty tough doesn’t it?  Well first you actually have to make it to the race in one piece, surviving days of practice on the mountain as well as a shorter but still mass start qualifier race on the Friday.  Plenty of people head out to race the Mega and either their bike or body breaks before race day, meaning they don’t get to ride.

It is fair to say that the Mega is a huge test of a bike and rider.  Will a modern, long travel 29’er be up to the job? That’s exactly what we want to find out…

Our big wheeled test bike – the new Nukeproof Mega 290.

There was an obvious choice when we discussed which bike to try and get for this feature.  The Nukeproof Mega 290.  Nukeproof’s Mega line of bikes is named after the race itself and the 26 and 27.5 inch wheeled bikes have proven themselves on this mountain again and again.  The whole brand was re-born after a conversation at the top of Alpe d’Huez where a couple of mates agreed to make the ultimate bike for the Megavalanche.

The first bikes were designed to be tough, reliable, confident in steep and technical terrain and they needed to pedal well too.  Since the early models, the theme has continued and this year a 29er was added to the range for the first time, offering 150mm of travel and modern geometry.

Ben from MTB Strength Factory is our chosen pilot for this wagon-wheel adventure and he will be heading out to the Alps a week before the race to get plenty of riding in.  Ben is going to be keeping us up to date with how the bike is getting on and his thoughts about the reality of racing a long travel 29er at the Megavalanche.

Stay tuned for more as Ben counts down to race day – good luck mate!