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Downhill Bikes

Prototype Intense 29 DH

New era and architecture for downhill pioneers

You could always rely on them to turn up at the party slightly unkempt, bent out of shape and full of attitude. Intense was a brand of edgy, ahead of the game designs, ones that many turned to in search of World Cup downhill glory, and on which countless riders achieved success.

On the race track they’d shoot to kill, be it Shaun Palmer in Cairns, Sam Hill in Kaprun or the unforgettable vision of Chris Kovarik coming out of the mist of Aonach Mor on a different time table. Going from four bar to ‘virtual’ along with Santa Cruz bikes just past the turn of the century was a milestone in design, and the V10 was its ugly sister for many years. But they led parallel lives for a short while yet is has been the more northerly brand that has had the most success at racing for the past decade.

Still, during this time it has been Intense who have been ahead of the game with many innovative bikes, the Tracer 29, Slopestyle and 951, full metal, full aggro, fully out of sync with the rest of the industry but beautifully up to date. Whilst its northerly neighbour was picking up wins with vintage racers, the dirty overalls and the odd greasy fingerprint were still not too far away from Intense. Champagne in the north, tea and biscuits down south. Or at least that has been the perception, and although the key point is that hardware from both brands isn’t that different, the innovation for the last decade still weighs in favour of the southerners. Or indeed if paint is your thing then it could be argued Intense have stolen the march with their latest bikes.

But following the crowd and going plastic has done little for Intense just yet, even though carbon gave the V10 a badly needed facelift, but like many Californian brands dressing to kill has been the only way to try draw attention away from heavy European artillery. Solid design and superb pricing versus a lovely paintjob and a ton of cash, take your pick. You cannot fool everyone with foundation.

Once underpinned by success, a hand made frame and challenging geometry, Intense have simply rolled over and conformed both cosmetically and structurally. This is a shame. Today the website proudly displays a brace of downhill bikes on their homepage, they look every part like podium models but what Intense needs is the gritty wry smile and mud spattered face of a winner.

A bit like Jack Moir.

So this is a story not of the past but of the…well of the past and current….but behind the façade and into the future. See, in the search for speed one person has never been far from the action. DO NOT FOR ONE MINUTE FORGET that the current brawl for attention and pace at World Cup downhill was one started by Jeff Steber many, many years ago. Today’s cobbled together 29” bikes is largely one of imitation and what everyone else is doing rather than being rooted in well-founded research.

It’s true that Trek have been ever present, and were central to the development of the Fox 40 in 29” version, a key component of the V10’s piloted by Vergier and Shaw in Lourdes and its also likely there will be more disclosure on future Session bikes soon. But this is a story began by Jeff Steber when he built the 2951 back in 2009. That’s eight years for the industry to wake up.

For Intense this bike marks a very important moment in time. New design, the return of the inimitable Intense Racing pits, the introduction of a clever Spaniard in Cesar Rojo, this could well be the bike that pulls them out of the shadow cast by their patent sharing neighbours. This is all new, ground up stuff, this is no makeshift bike, this is all new architecture, pivot locations and aesthetics.

Jeff takes up the story….
“As you know this is a dedicated 29 project for us and not just a bandied modified M16, so some of the architecture of the frame is chosen to accommodate 29” wheels better into the geometry /wheelpath we are looking for. The concentric to BB lower pivot allows us to keep chain stay length and clearance in better check that set up on M16 275 with link behind BB at same tine we still are able to get a nice initial rearward wheel path for good bump compliance. Also with the tunnel shock design and fully triangulated rear makes for really strong flex free structures. We will learn a lot racing these alloy photo’s and I have purposely kept them in works raw finish in case I need to make alterations or need to weld.”

“We are making no claims of a carbon version in the works as you know as we feel there is still some things to learn through racing and testing. This is a focused prototyping process and will most likely go through some changes during the race season.”

“Finally the dedicated 29 DH forks with proper offsets has improved the trail numbers and in combo with the head angle it does not handle like a big bike at all. We looked at a lot of different suspension configurations this time around as we had an opportunity for a clean slate. In the end what works best for us an a pure race focused bike is the best balance of all the key factors effecting Kinematics & Geometry.

Wheel path: We wanted to keep it manageable where we had a nice rearward trajectory but without need for extra gadgets or wheelbase that grows exponentially and alters geometry as on High pivot systems.

Kinematics: Basically linear with nice supple beginning, solid support at sag and good bottom out resistance and good tunability at the damper.

Architecture: Fully triangulated front and rear to keep these independently stiff. The tunnel configuration on front allows really solid connection of BB, Headtube, Seat tube and supports all pivots well. Large Concentric pivots around BB for main linkage makes for extremely stiff setup and allows more room at chain stay yoke for better clearance and geometry.

Travel: We ended up at 180 to 200mm travel so far as we feel the 29” wheels ability to maintain momentum and roll over and through obsticles negates the need for more travel. Keeping the travel reasonable also keeps the geometry in check and not moving around so much during the course of a race run.


During our team camp and back to back testing with identical 275 against 29’ wheels when averaged over groups of 12 runs each our racers where consistently able to do better times on the 29. They felt they could push harder and closer to the edge on the the 29 again and again, more consistently over varied terrain and tracks similar of World Cup racing these days. Against the clock this is what is going to make a difference.

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