#85 DEAN LUCAS’S INTENSE M29
Team-only race rig from the MTB equivalent of Ferrari
With the likes of Shaun Palmer and Sam Hill having ridden for them, Intense Cycles have a prestigious history when it comes to downhill racing. Recently, the brand seemed to have faded from the limelight a bit. But not any more. This year has seen them back on the World Cup podium, and this is the bike that’s put them there – a team-only, 29in-wheeled machine, which is one of only four in existence.
For Intense, 29er downhill bikes aren’t a new thing. Founder Jeff Steber began experimenting with big wheels back in 2009, when he developed the 2951, a modified version of their flagship DH bike, the 951. Limited availability of 29er parts meant Jeff had to shelve the project, but after hearing last year that the industry was moving back towards 29in wheels, he decided it was time to start prototyping again.
The first version of this new bike rolled out in October 2016, in time for off-season testing with team riders Dean Lucas and Jack Moir. “I made identical 29in and 27.5in prototypes with the new suspension configuration and we kitted them out identically, so the only variable would be wheel size,” Jeff tells us. “During our team camp in January we did multiple timed runs on various tracks and the average times were consistently faster on the 29er.”
Jeff clearly saw the potential of the big wheels, but he wasn’t the only one. Santa Cruz Bicycles had been working behind the scenes on a V10 29er, and it caused quite a stir when they unveiled it at this year’s opening World Cup round in Lourdes, France. It wasn’t until the next round in Fort William that the Intense team rolled out aboard the big wheels, but they came out guns blazing and Jack Moir’s second place finish showed that this bike meant business.
No hack job
Unlike other brands who’ve scrambled to jump on the 29er bandwagon by modifying 650b bikes, Intense have designed the M29 from the ground up. For this task, Jeff commandeered the services of Spanish bike designer Cesar Rojo (the man behind the Mondraker Summum). “We’ve worked
together on a number of projects and he’s a big believer in 29in wheels for downhill,” says Jeff. “So he’s been helping me with suspension configuration and geometry.”
The M29 frame still centres around a virtual pivot point suspension design, but the platform has been tweaked to accommodate the bigger wheels, achieve the desired geometry and add stiffness around the pivots. “We did this by designing a new lower link, which pivots on large bearings around the BB,” explains Jeff. “The shock is mounted very low to drop the centre of gravity and it runs through a tunnel in the frame, giving 200mm of travel.”
Geometry numbers are still to be finalised – the team have been experimenting with different head angles and fork offsets, hoping to find the best handling balance. Pictured here is Dean’s Fort William race bike, but at round six in Canada he raced a revised version to second place. Team mechanic Chappy Fiene told us that he and Dean will fiddle with bike set-up quite a bit to suit different tracks, from swapping stem spacers to experimenting with different spoke tensions and lacing patterns on his ENVE M90 carbon wheels.
With riders on some other teams opting to switch back to 650b bikes after the Leogang World Cup, we asked Jeff why he thought this was the case. “It’s mainly that the riders just haven’t had time to get comfortable on a new bike, and some brands need to develop their bikes more specifically to suit 29in wheels. We know 29ers offer performance benefits, but there’s definitely a learning curve. In preseason training I had the boys focus on the strengths and not even consider the weaknesses, and they’ve adapted really well. I reckon we’ll see a lot more teams on big wheels for 2018 though, after they’ve done some serious testing in the off season.”
The big thing we want to know is, will Intense be making this bike available to the public? “Not right now,” says Jeff. “The focus of this bike is World Cup racing at the highest level and although we’re planning a carbon version, it’ll still be a prototype.” Oh well, looks like we’ll have to make do with the Intense M16 for now – but that’s not exactly a bad second choice!
Words Photos Ed Thomsett Steve Behr