Mountain Biking UK - - SUPER BIKE - Price N/A (pro­to­type). The In­tense M16C Pro, its 650b-wheeled equiv­a­lent, costs £7,500 Con­tact www.sad­dle­back.co.uk Also try Trek Ses­sion 29 Car­bon, £4,350 (frame), www.trek­bikes.com

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





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