The Nukeproof Reactor was the latest bike to come from the Nukeproof stable and Pete had a chat with their R&D team about it’s development.
Pete caught up with Nukeproof’s in-house team, Dale McMullan head of R&D and Steve Jamison, Nukeproof’s brand manager to see how a bike like the Nukeproof Reactor comes into being.
How did the Reactor project come about?
Steve: The Nukeproof Reactor project came around from a need to fill the gap that was left after the Mega TR was discontinued back in 2015. The Mega TR was the trail version of the Mega enduro bike. It was a brilliant little bike but because it was still called a Mega, people never really understood it. The return of the Reactor meant that we could start from scratch and design the ultimate aggressive trail bike for 2020.
Why did you go with something totally new? Would it not have been easier to adapt an existing design like other brands do?
Dale : Yes, it would be easy to take a Mega, fit a shorter shock and call it a trail bike, but we wanted to start from scratch, design with no compromises and apply everything we have learnt on our journey so far.
Dale : We have a good team of bikers within Nukeproof so we get lots of in-house feedback. Externally, we also have the CRC-Mavic team and those guys have lots of specific requirements and requests. The end product is often a mix of the two.
So how do you even start a project like the Reactor?
Dale : We start with a crystal ball to try to see the future! We usually start with a design brief and get everyone to agree on specific things like wheel sizes, travel, intended use etc. This gives us a great starting point from which to build upon. There is nothing worse than being told half way through a design that something needs to change.
Can we talk about the overall design of the bike?
Steve : Yeah, we wanted to try to make the ultimate aggressive trail bike. It had to perform on trail centre type terrain, but we also didn’t want it to be limited to it. We all love steep, natural tech trails, so the bike needed to excel in this environment too.
Does a flip chip make designing the bike harder or easier?
Dale : Harder in that we now have 2 sets of geo and we need to be sure the low setting isn’t too low and the high setting isn’t too high. Having 2 settings does help to tailor the bike to the riders riding style preference.
Steve : There seems to be a bravado around having 2 settings usually. Lots of riders jump straight to the lowest slackest setting to ensure their peers don’t think they are rad enough. This is why we decided upon the trail and rail naming convention for the Nukeproof Reactor. Trail is obviously for trail riding where you will spend a significant amount of time climbing and descending. Rail mode is for days when you can get a lift to the top and make the most of the descents.
You’ve included a few options for wheel and frame size. How do you pin that down and say “yep, people will like this”?
Steve : I think it is very hard to cater for everyone without ending up with a daunting number of options. We think that wheels size choice comes down to personal preference and your riding style. I think it really depends how you have fun on a bike. If you value manoeuvrability and playing around on the bike then 27.5” would be the obvious choice. Whereas if you prefer raw speed then a 29” bike would be the faster option, provided you have the range to fit it.
So how does the process go once you’ve got a design nailed?
Dale : We start with the geo and linkage points, this process can take a long time, trying to work in the best kinematics to meet our requirement’s and each size can be tricky. Then Enrique (Our Concept designer) makes a number of concept sketches working around the points and geo. The next stage is 3D design and carbon surface modelling. This takes a super longgggggg time and needs repeated for each size and wheel option.
How many prototypes did you have before you got to the final design?
Dale : We always print off an RP sample of the carbon model to check fitment, clearances and surfaces. It’s not always easy to see issues on a screen; a 0.1mm gap can look like loads on screen. Then we make some alloy prototypes followed by some Carbon for ride testing then when we are happy with the test and stiffness and durability tests we will go straight to production.
Beyond prototyping, what sort of testing did you do?
Dale : We always simulate component fitment in 3D, we have all the 3D components on file for this task, this saves lots of heartache at prototype stage. We also do FEA testing during the design process to identify and remove any potential weak points, we also do mechanical testing with the factory. ISO and additional max load and impact tests to ensure our bikes are up to the job.
With ride testing, we try to involve as many of our staff and athletes as possible to get as much saddle time as possible on the frames under all sorts of conditions. To get the athletes feedback Steve initially rode with the team in Canada to get some first impressions on the frame. We then send Sam and Nigel away with prototype samples to test on home trails for a more long-term input. We also had a fleet for staff to test in a multitude of trails, bike parks and trail centres all over the UK and Europe.
Crucially, we also carry out suspension testing with SRAM and Fox to select and tune the suspension. We test a multiple of shocks and tunes for the correct feel and help choose specifications for each model.
At what point did you know it was ready to go and get into production? What happened at that point?
Dale : After all sizes of carbon and alloy have passed ride and mechanical testing only then can we proceed to the production stage. Our factory produces “pilot runs” which check the production process for each model and we need to check, sign off each model to ensure that they are up to the standard our riders would expect.
Steve : Whilst Dale and the R&D team are getting to the frame to being production ready, I will be busy working out specifications for each model in the range. Each model will have a specific spec or price point to meet so we need to test these products too. As we are working up to 18 months in the future, we need to try and forecast what may be the builds that people will want.
There is also a small matter of choosing paints, colours and finishes which is always a hot topic.
What had you learned from designing previous Nukeproof models that helped make this one more straightforward?
Dale : Every day is a school day. We always try to evolve, learning from mistakes and building on what works from project to project.
Dale : No disasters just lessons.
Dale : Seeing the RP carbon sample, first test ride and getting to see a video of Sam Hill drifting the prototype sample in Australia.
Steve : Receiving the first sample frames is always a good day, plus the first ride- finding out that all the R&D and theory actually works. With the Nukeproof Reactor it’s also been amazing to see the initial reaction from our media, riders & customers to the new bike. We’re looking forward to seeing them out on the trails very soon.