16/10/2009 | 7 comments
Intense. The company, the name and the bikes have a passionate and loyal band of followers. Worldwide the origins of such fervent bike love stems from such bikes as the literally ground braking M1, a bike made and raced by legends. Palmer and Tomac got it off the ground, Sam Hill and Chris Kovarik well and truly took it into space.
Variations to the proven design came and went, as did the M3, the first to feature the VPP design. The bikes continued to be mouth wateringly different – loose, low slung, colourful characters. Kovarik bolstered the aggressive image with the occasional full–on attack – he slammed Mt St Anne in classic fashion a couple of years ago. Today Intense downhill bikes are but an element in a bigger picture for the Temecula company with their impressive range of off–road bikes.
Visually the M6 is the essence of racing, its elegant lines shout power, speed and stealth. At just over three grand, and with over nine inches of travel, this M6 is one of the most expensive and longest travel bicycles. With that in mind we attempted to give the Californian cruise missile a traditional British welcome party as it landed. Unfortunately Fort William was shut and Innerleithen was iced up. But instead of hanging out with some shandy sipping southerners we gave it the full Welsh treatment. After breakfast (a cup of tea and a fag) the Intense was introduced to a diet very different to what the likes of Kovarik, Camellini and co had been feeding it for most of the season. The M6 is an acknowledged ruler of the big, fast open terrain that underpins the World Cup and Alpine tracks, those are the places eaten up with all the conviction you’d expect of a bike that boasts so many inches, but how would it cope with something more ordinary?
Short of any better ideas this particularly highly–strung Intense, a Kovarik spare, began ‘09 as it finished ‘08, in amongst mud and root. Purring into action the Intense makes light work of the soil shy root system so dominant in our conifer woods, after all that’s what they set out to achieve when designing this bike. Able to pedal over roots whilst still maintaining an active suspension is something the M6 does well, although getting up to speed and cornering on a gentle slope on a bike equipped with 3C Maxxis Minions and what appeared to be rearward weight bias (Kovarik rides this way,) proved more tricky.
All that changed as ahead the ground fell away. In places where lesser bikes get a working over, often never to recover, a hardtail graveyard, banked and rocked, viciously compressing and blown out – downhill – is the place where this thoroughbred normally breathes. And again through an extended series of braking bumps, over root and onward carving out and ripping away more and more. This is M6 country. Brakeless the Intense holds its line when everything around it is falling apart. It is just SO comfortable in difficult places at speed. It silently goes about its business of covering ground, the rider isolated from impacts.
Partly this could be down to the new Manitou Dorado up front and Cane Creek shock on the back. The first point of contact is incredibly supple; a damper that leads without question and deals with the second hit. Not entirely convinced that the mixing of two very different forms of damper is the best way, but the first sector of the travel deals with the minor irritation of root and the final part of the enormous travel never seems over bothered about what kind of force it is being subjected to. It can find grip and is still controllable when pushed hard.
It was the middle part of travel that I felt could be a little smoother, but there was nowhere left to go on the adjusters. At fifty to sixty percent there are definitely smoother bikes mid–stroke than this particular M6, this would be something I’d work on because like the M3, the M6 is a complex bike to set–up and deserves time well–spent. This might not be something that bothers the majority of M6 pilots, because the chassis rocks in the big stuff handing out confidence and dealing with control. It’s inspiring. I couldn’t help but think how the Manitou Revox would perform.
As the track slowed into tight terrain our M6 became slightly unwieldy, this was now the place for a strong fast rider who could power their way out of the situation. The M6 likes a beating and it was essential to keep the M6 in the powerband and never drop the revs. This was particularly the case in flatter corners, almost too comfortable but without much feeling, and lacked the snap out of them. A control bike that we had whilst doing the testing highlighted this fact. This bike features a 10.5” x 3.5” shock but apparently Camellini ran a shorter shock to make the bike livelier. Later in the week we swapped the bars, dropping the front to 41.5” handlebar height. It was a remarkable change to the amount of weight on the front tyre; the M6 now seemed a lot sharper and more balanced.
There was also a slight issue with sizing on the M6, but a quick call to Intense cleared that up immediately. Our test bike, a Kovarik spare, works out at 46.5” wheelbase, 17.75” chainstay and a 64 to 64.5 degree head angle depending on fork set–up. This works out as a large on the Intense website when in fact the bigger bike wheels in at 47.5”
wheelbase, a perfect size for the six foot plus rider.
The silence of this bike impresses, visually it leads the way forward, it is a bike that will undoubtedly give confidence and inspire the majority of riders. The challenge for the buyer is very much to maintain as stable a chassis as possible with the amount of travel on offer.
Such a long travel bike definitely lacks the snap available out of corners on some shorter travel downhill race bikes. The M6 is a comfortable bike that only becomes a fast bike in the right terrain with the right rider on board. In other words, a lot of people will love the soft fleecy ride of this bike and yet it you will only truly get the most of out of it with the right racer behind the bar in some flat–out big hairy terrain. It’s a serious amount of bicycle that only really lives when it’s put in the right environment.
I’m not sure how many people will view handmade Californian to be significantly more value than handmade Taiwanese – I mean it’s not as if you’re buying a family cow, and a weld is a weld after all – but each bike that leaves Intense has its own special character. It might be the price however that determines a lot of people’s decisions. This particular example with Cane Creek and Ti spring retails at £3254, only marginally cheaper than the Foes DH Mono with Curnutt fork. You’re looking at full build heading in for seven grand! As for the performance in the UK, again there is certainly a certain doughy pleasure in all the travel, but I just never felt totally connected during life in British woods. For those who travel further afield it could well have your name on it. I enjoyed it but had more fun on the Intense 6.5” bike, another silent inspiration, a bike that could be moved around and carved, it was better suited on the corners, but out of its depth in the rawness of rock. I cant help but think that a lot of UK racers wanting to get the most out of the tracks they ride in this country might be better off going for the new Socom or a lighter, shorter travel M6. Now that Kovarik, Camellini and Lehikoinen have seasoned the M6 you just know that Jeff Steber will be rolling out something very special again in ‘09. Can’t wait