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Downhill Bikes

Intense M16C Bike Test

The Godfathers of downhill bikes with their latest carbon offering

The names and the race wins associated with Intense are just some of the details that contribute to what is an incredibly charismatic bike brand. But as much as Sam Hill and the Chris Kovarik demolition of Fort William by 14 seconds in 2002 count for a lot it is the design and graphic, the changes on the hoof that make the brand kind of different.

Words: Steve Jones          Photos: Ben Winder          Rider: Ieuan Williams

This famous Californian brand took over relatively new ground when it launched the 27.5” wheeled 951 downhill bike several years ago and it goes looking for new territory with their new flagship downhill bike, the ground guzzling 9.5” M16, one of the longest travel downhill bikes on the market.

Suspension/Chassis

Take it in alloy or carbon and any one of its four sizes the M16C is an incredible looking bike.  Great lines, fantastic internal cable routing and a re-assuring thud. Owner Jeff Steber has now got his own take on virtual pivot point suspension and its called JS – Tuned suspension. There’s a fair amount of progression to the system and the bike cuts a quick head of steam on the pedal.

Up front the RockShox BoXXer World Cup is a reliable old friend, not quite the standard of the current Fox 40 but still good enough and certainly good enough to win World Cup races. Out back we had the adjustable 215-240mm bike fitted with a Vivid R2C which topped out in the same way as most of them seem to do but also tried it with a Cane Creek Double Barrel.

It’s a beautifully crafted frame with some great details including detail such as a 12x157mm rear axle, integrated rear fender, sensible grease ports, carbon fibre upper link. But more than this it has menace about it.

 

Components

At close to seven thousand pounds quality componentry comes as a given and there’s no weakness. First up a big bike deserves big stoppers and they don’t come much more powerful than the Shimano Saint brakes, and even though they play second fiddle to Sram’s Guide they are an incredibly trusted and reliable brake. For the gears we have Sram X01DH, the best in the business, simple as, plus the Renthal bar and stem combination. Stans No Tubes Rapid 30 wheelset feature DT hubs and spokes and finished off with a dash of Thomson and E13. It’s all top shelf kit.

Feeling

The M16 has some excellent traits in its good looking chassis, most of all the lively ride and progressive characteristic that enables you to move the bike from one point on the track to the to the next instantaneously. Hitting jumps the bike offers good lift, however driving into rougher terrain there’s considerable clatter from the rear end.

When we first rode the bike in the unforgiving rocks of north Wales last autumn the 9.5” of travel was more than welcome on the head-on full rock hits that litter the bike park in Blaunau Ffestiniog. Sit back into the swingarm and the M16 will take an ordnance of rock in its stride. It’s definitely good to have that little bit more.

Getting to know the bike a little bit better in different environments has highlighted some not so good traits of the M16. Because of the high bottom bracket, the rider’s centre of gravity has a big impact on the steering. This high weight distribution leads the fork to wander on occasion, coming out of g-outs and landings, corners too, and causes the steering to become light and flop a touch. But more than this when entering corners with fork compressed and rear lifting out of sag the balance is a tough one to adjust to on times.

Counterweighting front and rear tyres on the M16C during a run requires practice, and it doesn’t take long, but it’s only when you compare to lower, longer size large bikes that it hits home that the geometry is slightly out on this bike. There’s so many more well balanced bikes on the market. On the days of testing we had a Giant Glory to use as comparison. The inch lower bottom bracket on the Glory (and taking into account less travel) highlighted the better rider position when the bike is at full extension (out of sag) entering corners and extending back from compressions. Cornering and steering on this bike lack the precision expected. The short front end doesn’t help matters.

Limitations

Apart from the steering issues the bike is also too small. This adds to the problem. A large is nowhere near big enough for a six foot rider and we had 5’ 10” riders complaining of the knee tight cockpit. The geometry numbers indeed reveal that it is one of the smallest size large bikes on the market. The bike also feels slightly wooden as a package in terms of chassis flex/stiffness compared to bikes such as the Giant Glory or Specialized Demo. The numbers are not middle of the road as many suggest but weighted more towards the smaller end of the scale, certainly in size large – an average size bike nowadays.

It will also be compared to the Santa Cruz V10, which has better forks, cranks, brakes and geometry, and lighter by a pound, although a few hundred pounds more, seems like a better deal when comparing the two.

Verdict

It’s a straight line bruiser, there’s no doubt that the huge amount of travel allows you to sit in and charge as we found during our first few outings. But races are won in corners and the M16 lacks poise here. A starting point on the M16 might be the introduction of a lower setting and run the 215mm travel. We’re currently in the middle of making adjustments to the M16 and have cut the damper and travel down to just over 190mm, but are still working to achieve a good head angle/bottom bracket compromise. But this requires machining and offsets. Apart from that, and on the plus side the M16 has real good pace to it and at 33lb for a size large its one of the lightest downhill bikes.

As one of the most expensive downhill bikes on the market and with one of the longest histories we expected the M16C to deliver. But we are left with mixed feelings, it’s still a very good bike that hovers around our top ten but there’s a big step up to bikes in our top five. And it’s when you get into the finer details, that testing has revealed several out there that have got most of the numbers bang on.

Pro Build: £6899

Frame: £3199

www.intensecycles.com

WWW.EXTRAUK.CO.UK

M16 with shorter shock, just over 190mm travel

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