Nicolai Ion Tailor Made - Dirt

Mountain Biking Magazine


Trail and Enduro Bikes

Nicolai Ion Tailor Made

It's still a big bike, but it's the right size big bike. So don’t be scared.

Nicolai have been producing their 160mm Ion all-mountain bike for many years and during that time we have ridden it in many configurations including the stock frame and tailor made versions whereby riders have specified their own geometry. Eighteen months ago we offered up our own take on geometry to Nicolai and they duly crafted a beautiful bike for us. This is where we’re at with the bike.

SHAPE AND PURPOSE – With a ground guzzling 170mm Fox 36 up front and 160mm of rear travel this custom Ion has pretty clear intentions. Unlike many long travel enduro/all-mountain style bikes this one has a long front centre which allows for a different climb and descend characteristic over many bikes of this travel. In a nutshell its rapid in both directions.

Yet its nothing massively futuristic in its geometry. The numbers below compare the Ion to some other standard production offerings:-

The numbers on our Ion tailor made bike have been brought together as a result of some of the strong points from other bikes that we’ve tested. Tailor made to run a 35mm or shorter stem there are several bikes that take the same route that it can be compared with. The 160mm Mondraker Dune is probably one of the best known of the bikes that follow the longer front centre method but as you can see there are others.

The reach for example (a reasonable but not definitive idea on size) is identical to a large Whyte 160, the wheelbase longer than the vast majority of production 160mm bikes but close to the extra large Dune. The chainstay has been grown by a few millimetres to accommodate, or rather to aid the front-rear balance of the bike and so is slightly longer than the XL Dune. Head angle is a degree slacker than a YT Capra whilst bottom bracket is taken from the low Orbea Rallon – 338mm as on the Basque made beauty. Overall the bike is that little bit longer, lower and slacker than most but we’ve not gone crazy, just attempted to get a correct size fit for my shape and size as a six foot rider.

LIMITS TO SIZE – Now many would consider this bike massive. And maybe because of this and bikes like the Dune and Mojo Geometron there has been a perception that these are futuristic monster size bicycles. This is incorrect. True they might well be the largest size mountainbikes but as bicycles go they are no more than average when you look at road equivalents, this is contrary to what many are suggesting that the lack of mountainbike sizing is because of companies following the same geometry as that of road.

The road market is far more switched on to rider size and fit and many of the component angles change depending on frame size. More than this there is a bigger spread of sizes in road frames for rider size and height. Many bikes can be purchased in upto seven sizes plus custom options and frame fitting as a pretty standard fare. However the size range differences of the bike comes in contrasting places as you can see below.

The table shows the range of certain aspects of frame geometry from the smallest to largest bikes between particular bikes. It compares an average size road bike –  the Trek Domane – to what’s commonly talked about as a monster mountainbike.

Geometry Range between road and mountainbike (smallest- largest)

                                             Reach            Wheelbase    Top tube  Standover

Trek Domane (7 sizes)         18mm             48mm             74mm             120mm

Mojo Geometron(3 sizes)     35mm             45mm             42mm             68mm

What the chart shows is that the difference in reach between 7 sizes of Trek Domane from small to extra large or frame size 50-62 in real terms – is a tiny 18mm. However the top tube length has a greater range than the three sizes of Geometron (one of the largest off road bikes we could find) and a standover range almost double that of the Geometron. Interestingly the reach range numbers on the Geometron are in fact quite small, in fact you could almost twist a handlebar to attain a similar range.  But look at the numbers of each particular bike.


Moving to this particular bike on review, the actual seated position on our tailor made Ion, which you could argue is the time you spend most of on an enduro bike, is 670mm, close to a XL Dune and longer than even the longest Geometron a close comparison to this bike. But when you add in the stem length our Ion is actually comparative to a large Trek Domane. (Remember that the road length will be much longer if measured to the shifter hoods).


But we know road bikes grow mostly in height rather than length. What’s much more interesting is that the size of many of the road bikes are very close in the bar to bottom bracket dimension as this Nicolai. This is a coincidence rather than one I have gone out to emulate. Whilst the actual reach numbers on say a size 56 Domane (about medium) is quite different to the Ion (495mm plays 377mm) the bottom bracket to handlebar measurement – the position that a rider stands in – is almost identical. In fact from the bottom bracket to where the bar exits the stem is 33” on both the Nicolai and size 56 Domane. The climbing position on the Trek is 37” and from the BB to outside of the 800mm Nicolai bar is 36.5”. These are very close numbers. In other words, whichever way you look at it, as a bicycle the Ion is pretty average.

But all that has happened with some of the longer mountainbikes is a few inches have been added to the front end to be able to use shorter stems as standard.

Remember also that whilst reach is a reasonably good indicator it frequently doesn’t tell the whole picture for so many other factors affect how a bike feels, rides, and affects riders fatigue. This can be bottom bracket, chainstay length, sag, suspension character, anti rise and squat, chainstay growth or bar width to name only a few. Plus, moving the bar can increase shape by up to one frame size too.


SUSPENSION/CHASSIS – The Ion has featured several damper units over the last eighteen months but none have worked so well as the 170mm Fox 36 fork up front. Its simply the perfect companion for the Ion’s aggressive angles which revel in hitting downhill runs. The bike currently has a 170mm Lyric fitted but simply doesn’t come close to the performance of the 36.

On the rear we have ridden the bike with the old Fox Float X and the new Float X2. Recently we rode the Geometron with the new Mojo link which is an improvement over the one seen on this bike. However trying to get fizz and pop out of the bike is a feature of both and is a crucial element to get the bike moving. The new Float X2 is currently being run on zero rebound damping to try and get some life into the bike so its an issue we still need to resolve.

When new the Ion had very bad stiction on the chassis when we  removed the rear damper. This is down to the rubber seals in the linkage areas which slows the bike down terribly. Some people remove the seals to ‘loosen’ the bike up but this clearly introduces a reliability issue into the frame.

COMPONETRY – The Nicolai has been graced with a case of XTR great and XTR bad over the past eighteen months. The brakes were removed early doors and replaced with Sram Guide Ultimates. As much as we have been impressed with XTR over the years the latest offerings simply lacked the power needed on a 160mm bike. Too much flex in the lever, not enough bite.  Thankfully it stopped there because the XTR gearing has been exceptional and the XTR cranks clean, crisp and such a great engagement.

FEELING – Feeling pretty happy with the shape of this bike that’s what. Being low it carves through corners with ages of time to spot the terrain, it holds a line well and is simply a dream in terms of poise. You can really drive the front of the Ion hard in corners and this is partly the result of that super low 338mm bottom bracket but it does require care at times. The length and the head angle obviously have a part to play too.

Many might think the long Nicolai is a difficult bike to climb but the reality is a bike that has the front wheel to be glued to the floor and the space enables a rider to move around on the sharper climbs. In this respect its an exceptionally adept enduro machine where the days are a long mix of climbs and descents.

It’s a bike that absolutely purrs through most terrain up to medium size, however after that, when the downhill stages become slightly more beaten up the bike becomes more like an annoying dog barking at a gate. The rear suspension simply doesn’t deliver the best 160mm travel. It wasn’t amazing with the old Fox damper and is no better with the new Float X2. Having ridden the newer Mojo Nicolai bikes with different linkage it’s a slightly improved system and a recommended upgrade from what we have here.

LIMITATIONS – Whilst it’s a myth that longer bikes don’t go around tighter corners as fast common sense will tell you there is a limit to wheelbase at which point a bike will become slower. On some other custom Nicolai bikes that we’ve ridden over the last few years its simply difficult to weight correctly. However this bike and even the longest Geometron don’t have such an issue, the cornering is precise. That said for those not used to the ways of the longer bike it still requires patience and understanding.

On fast, dry, downhill terrain as mentioned this bike excels, maybe not in damping but definitely in terms of shape. But when it gets wet, slower and less steep the business of counterweighting front and rear tyres takes a split second more than on a more conventional size bike. With a bike that is constantly moving around on slick mud terrain when the front end brakes away its more important to counter it quicker.

These bikes are different to normal and many will not necessarily find them much fun to ride at first. Pumping the terrain becomes a different art using different shapes. You can get used to the larger bikes but they are very much uphill climbers and downhill killers – sometimes you just want to muck about at which point the long, slack bikes don’t want to party quite like a slightly shorter bike. They simply take a lot of manoeuvring into the detail the ground offers, pick and go, nosing in, isn’t as instantaneous as shorter bikes. But the key thing is they are fast, so you need to make a choice.


VERDICT – Shape wise, I’m more than happy, performance wise it has some way to go. The new Float X2 damper had to be ridden with the rebound dials wound off to get as much life out of the bike as possible. The new Mojo Nicolai link is an improvement and the X2 fitted to the particular bike we rode wasn’t so restricted on the dials, that said it was still a shade off how a 160mm bike should be performing.

As we’ve seen the top tube numbers are comparable to some of the biggest road bikes when the stem is taken into account and the shape is comparable to many other production 160mm bikes such as the Whyte 160 and Mondraker Dune. Its just that little bit longer on the wheelbase and slacker. It shows that its not such a case of the Nicolai being massive as other brands being too short on sizing.

Its still a big bike but its the right size big bike. So don’t be scared.

Ion tailor made €2399 plus damper

For more information on the Nicolai Geometron contact


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