We sling a leg over Intense’s M29 Elite 29er downhill bike, Orange’s Stage 6 Factory enduro machine and Boardman’s MTR 8.9 budget-friendly full-susser
£5,499.99 World Cup-proven 29er race weapon
When 29in wheels began appearing on the downhill scene, they were met with no small amount of scepticism. But one man who believed in their potential from the start was Je Steber. The Intense Cycles bossman built his first prototype DH 29er (the 2951) way back in 2009, but it’s taken nine years for an evolution of that bike to make it into production, in the form of the new M29.
The frame Several iterations of alloy prototype have been raced and tested at World Cup level to get to the production bike we see here. Moulded in full carbon, it’s one slick bit of kit, with smooth, flowing lines that accommodate the big wheels while maintaining a low standover height. Steber enlisted the help of Cesar Rojo (UNNO, Mondraker Summum) to help dial in the kinematics of the twin-link suspension system. The rear shock is housed neatly in the belly of the bike and the upper link blends seamlessly into the seat tube.
In terms of sizing, the M29 isn’t vast, with a reach of 450mm on the large size we tested. But, paired with lengthy 456mm chainstays and 29in wheels, this felt about right for our 6ft main tester. On 29er DH bikes, the combination of big wheels and longtravel fork means stack height can be an issue. By using a short 90mm head tube, Intense have kept this down to 610mm on the large M29. You can always add spacers or fit a higher bar to suit your preferences.
The kit Intense have opted for a mixture of coil and air suspension – RockShox’s new BoXXer World Cup fork with ‘DebonAir’ spring and a Deluxe RC coil at the rear. We were seriously impressed by the suppleness of both of these units, particularly the new BoXXer, which represents a serious step up in performance from the old model. The rear shock isn’t highly tunable, with single compression and rebound damping dials, but that does mean it’s simple to set up, although its buried position makes it fiddly to change the rebound on the fly.
The M29 Elite isn’t dripping in the carbon kit we’re used to seeing on Intense bikes, but the equipment all performs very well. We haven’t yet subjected the bike to the rigours of the Alps, but have hammered it
down some pretty burly South Wales tracks, and we’ve no complaints about the toughness of the DT Swiss wheels or the power of the four-piston Shimano XT brakes. The SRAM/Truvativ/e*thirteen drivetrain combo is a tried-and-tested favourite, while the Maxxis Minion tyres provide predictable all-round grip.
The ride With production 29er downhill bikes being a relatively new phenomenon, we don’t have a breadth of similar machines to draw comparisons with, and having only had limited time aboard the M29, we’ll refrain from jumping to too many conclusions. But this bike feels exceptionally good where you’d expect it to be – on fast, rough terrain, where the twin-link rear end and coil shock swallow up everything in your path and transmit little feedback through the pedals. This does mean that on smoother, more ‘bike park’ style tracks, it can feel like your e orts to pump and pop are being soaked up.
In corners where you can set up wide and lean in early, the geometry, wheel size and suspension all come together to make it feel like there’s endless amounts of grip. The flipside to this is that when the trail steepens and tightens and you’re forced to ride more reactively, it’s easy to push the front wheel wide and understeer. This was no doubt not helped by our hard suspension set-up though. The large M29 comes with a 500lb coil spring, which we found too firm for our weight. Without time to experiment with spring rates, we had to compensate by running the fork harder and the handlebar higher than we would usually.
A minor issue like this isn’t enough to hide the obvious potential that this bike has to be ridden very, very quickly though. It’s definitely built for big, fast World Cup courses, not tight, awkward UK tracks, but there’s a good reason why the Intense Factory Racing team – Jack Moir, Dean Lucas and Charlie Harrison – have made it onto the podium so often in the last couple of seasons, beyond the talent of the riders. ED THOMSETT www.saddleback.co.uk
The downhill MTB equivalent of a Ferrari, both in looks and ride
With its big wheels and 200mm of plush travel, the M29 is happy taking on the roughest of tracks
Intense stick with their proven twin-link suspension design, tuned with help from Cesar Rojo