Inside: Intense Cycles' California frame factory

Making local manufacturing work

Intense Cycles is somewhat of a rarity in the cycling world these days in that it's a mountain bike-only company. Despite the growth potential, founder Jeff Steber has thus far managed to resist the financial lure of expanding into road and 'cross. Even more rare, however, is that Intense still does all of its aluminum frame manufacturing in Temecula, California, a town of 100,000 between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Steber is staunchly committed to keeping his operations in Temecula – not just for the sake of the three dozen or so employees that rely on him for their livelihood but also for business reasons. Whereas once the company's production times were on the order of several months, its new just-in-time manufacturing practices mean that a frame order can be fulfilled in as little as a week, Steber said.

"What can we do to make this more efficient so that it makes sense and is profitable here?" is a question Steber asks.

Alloy frames begin life at the Intense factory as raw aluminum billet and tubing. Some pieces are formed off-site (just minutes away) into sheets that will eventually be welded into monocoque-type frame sections, but much of the rest stays in-house where it's fed into a small army of CNC machines.

Aluminum frames start out life as raw aluminum billet and tubing: aluminum frames start out life as raw aluminum billet and tubing

Intense has about 15 CNC machines at the moment, including lathes for turning cylindrical parts and custom hardware to multi-axis, turntable-type mills for crafting more complex parts. According to Intense, those machines are currently running on 20-hour schedules, too, churning out bits long after workers have gone home for the day.

Intense even uses us-sourced cnc machines, in this from haas automation in oxnard, california: intense even uses us-sourced cnc machines, in this from haas automation in oxnard, california

Practical considerations mean that Intense's more recent carbon fiber frames are manufactured in Asia. Even so, it's only the molded carbon fiber front and rear triangles themselves that are built off-site. Other pieces such as suspension linkages and hardware (most of which are shared with alloy frame counterparts) are still made in-house in California, and they're assembled there, too.

Intense's molded carbon fiber front and rear triangles are made in Asia, but the suspension linkages and hardware (most of which are shared with alloy frame counterparts) are made in-house in California, where the bikes are assembled.

In keeping with Steber's 'keep it local' philosophy, even his CNC machines are sourced from nearby suppliers; Haas Automation manufactures the giant beasts just a few miles away in Oxnard, California. The proximity also makes for faster and cheaper repairs when needed, Steber said.

More cnc-machined parts - in this case, chain stay yokes and bottom bracket shells: more cnc-machined parts - in this case, chain stay yokes and bottom bracket shells

Once the individual frame pieces are finished, all of the associated bits are mounted into jigs for welding. Those jigs are specific for frame models and sizes and the company has retained fixtures for every production bike it has ever created – meaning that, in theory, it could recreate the venerable M1 downhill bike that first put the company on the map nearly 20 years ago.

Rick the welder', doing what he does best: rick the welder', doing what he does best

Once the frames are welded, it's off to heat treatment, alignment, and quality control.

Intense once farmed out its heat treating but now does it all in-house: intense once farmed out its heat treating but now does it all in-house

Steber said that powdercoating and anodizing were once farmed out to facilities in Santa Ana, California, about an hour away (given reasonable traffic, which is no guarantee in SoCal). However, even that was too far, Steber said, sucking up precious resources in terms of driving time and fuel costs. These days, frames are sent just a few minutes down the road and total turnaround time for paint is three to five days.

Freshly heat treated frames en route to powdercoating - which is done just minutes away: freshly heat treated frames en route to powdercoating - which is done just minutes away

Intense's relatively modest volume help make these 'keep it local' practices viable. According to new company CFO Eelco Niermeijer, Intense still only ships 15-20 bikes and frames out the door each day – and that includes the composite frames that are molded elsewhere.

Carbon frames are molded in china (with the exception of the hard eddie hardtail, which is made in taiwan). even so, the frames arrive as separate front and rear triangles only. linkages and other fittings are still mostly manufactured in temecula: carbon frames are molded in china (with the exception of the hard eddie hardtail, which is made in taiwan). even so, the frames arrive as separate front and rear triangles only. linkages and other fittings are still mostly manufactured in temecula

Even so, those numbers represent a staggering 40 percent increase in revenue last year – and with that has come a big boost in available cash. As tempting as it might be, Steber hasn't gone out and bought himself a fleet of fancy cars but instead has decided to reinvest the money – plus funds from a recent small business loan – into a "reinvention of our company and our line."

Yes, folks, bright colors are apparently still en vogue: yes, folks, bright colors are apparently still en vogue

Included in that plan is the hiring of several key figures, which in addition to the new CFO include Andrew Herrick – formerly of Crankbrothers – as the new CEO.

Steber promises a rash of new products moving forward, including a carbon downhill bike (that will likely be designed around 27.5in wheels). Intense will officially unveil the first fruit of that labor on March 17. We're unfortunately sworn to secrecy until then but from the looks of things, Intense fans will like where the company is headed.

The bike that put intense cycles on the map: the bike that put intense cycles on the map

James Huang

Technical Editor, US
James started as a roadie in 1990 with his high school team but switched to dirt in 1994 and has enjoyed both ever since. Anything that comes through his hands is bound to be taken apart, and those hands still sometimes smell like fork oil even though he retired from shop life in 2007. He prefers manual over automatic, fizzy over still, and the right way over the easy way.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA

Related Articles

Back to top