Innovation through racing has always been our way at Intense: the natural progression of developing products using the highest level of the sport. Ideas proven on the race track trickle down through the product line and define the heart and soul of our brand. Racing, we believe, is our true north. It’s where our company was born and our brand was built. By using the world’s best riders under the fiercest conditions, we are able to develop world-class products and achieve reliability and consistency – ultimately maximising performance on the race course.
Just like racing, R&D can be unpredictable. Often times it goes that the products reaching the production floor aren’t the same ones we set out to create. Case in point – the M29. We started playing around with designing a 29er trail bike in 2009 and went down the rabbit hole, ending up with a project we called the ‘2951’, which was basically a bigger-wheeled 951 (long-time followers may remember the 951 as a light-duty DH bike intended mostly for park use). It was actually pretty simple to take the 951 platform and just fabricate one up using the larger wheel size. Remember at this point, 27.5 wasn’t even on our minds so this was a very big jump.
We solved the fork issue by using a reduced travel (180mm) Manitou Dorado upside-down fork, which worked pretty well. We found the biggest 29 trail tyres available at the time and built up some massive, sturdy wheels. Everyone who rode it walked away amazed at the possibilities. In our minds, the project was a big success.
We only built a couple – they got raced at some of the US GRT series but it didn’t make any sense to go to production with the bike as there wasn’t much in the way of forks, and there were no DH-specific tyres or wheels that would support such a bike. So we moved on – but the project always stayed on my mind.
Not to say that 27.5 is dead, or even dying… but our job – or responsibility – to our sport, and to our riders, is to continue to push the envelope and come out with cool, new stuff
It was decided that Intense Factory Racing veterans Jack Moir and Dean Lucas would be the riders to champion the 29 DH project and, if all went well, would race the prototypes during the 2017 World Cup season – a bit of a risky proposition to say the least. Jack and Dean would be asked to race a completely new, unproven design and new wheel size at the very highest level of competition on one-off prototypes (including forks, wheels and tyres). This is not something for the faint of heart, and it’s part of the reason we chose them for the task.
This wasn’t just a massive undertaking for them, however. Chappy and I, as well as the rest of the R&D team behind the scenes – Chris Knutson, Chad Peterson and Cesar Rojo – spent endless hours crunching the numbers, 3D-modelling, making one-off CNC parts and trying to make timelines. Every change meant that new prototypes would need to be fabricated as well as some spare parts. This was a bit nerve-wracking at times.
The project also went well-beyond our internal effort as we were working with key sponsors also vested in the 29 DH adventure. RockShox was supplying the prototype 29 DH fork and new metric Super Deluxe WC Coil shocks; ENVE, prototype carbon DH wheelsets; and Maxxis, World Cup-proven treads in 29 DH- specific configurations.
We timed all this perfectly for our Intense Factory Racing team camp during January 2017 here in Temecula, California. Cesar came over for a week and we did several solid test days doing multiple timed runs with the same rider and switching bikes, averaging times. We tested at different style tracks to see if any advantages with terrain would favour one size over the other. I had built identical test bikes; setups were the same for each rider on the two bikes so they could seamlessly transition between the two – the only difference was wheel size.
The test proved the 29er to be consistently superior averages were generally three to five seconds faster. It was very clear, and everyone was on board. Time to throw some gasoline on the fire!
THE REAL TEST
We wanted to start the season off at Lourdes, France, but some of the key components for the race bikes were not quite ready in time. After some debate, it was decided that leg two of the World Cup at Fort William, Scotland, would be the debut of the M29 prototype. It’s no secret that, as tracks go, Fort Bill is pretty ideal for a 29er and a few other teams showed up with modified 27.5 prototypes, so was a good break-out event for the new rig.
One of our big concerns was spare parts. We wondered if we would have enough of the one-off tyres and carbon wheelsets to keep to riders rolling through a long week of training and racing on a hellish track. Again, our sponsors came through – ENVE with a fresh batch of carbon rims and Maxxis with fresh rubber. We were good to go.
The rest is history. Things could not have gone better with Jack Moir taking second place in elite on an alloy prototype 29er, Greg Minnaar of SC Syndicate taking the top step also on a 29 and three 29ers in the top 10 – so not too bad of a first showing. We knew we had something special with Jack and the new bike – and he secured the number three plate for the series at that point. It was a huge moment for the Intense Factory Racing programme and everyone who had worked so hard to get there. A podium for the rider is a win for the whole team and also the brand.