When 29in wheels began appearing on the downhill scene, they were met with no small amount of scepticism. But one man who believed in their potential from the start was Jeff Steber.
The Intense Cycles bossman built his first prototype DH 29er (the 2951) way back in 2009, but it’s taken nine years for an evolution of that bike to make it into production, in the form of the new M29.
Intense M29 Elite specifications
- Frame: Unidirectional carbon fibre monocoque, 208mm (8.2in) travel
- Fork: RockShox BoXXer World Cup DebonAir, 200mm (7.9in) travel
- Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RC
- Drivetrain: SRAM X01 DH with SRAM GX shifter
- Cranks: Truvativ Descendant DH cranks and e*thirteen LG1+ chain guide (1x7)
- Wheelset: DT Swiss FR 1950 wheels
- Tyres: Maxxis Minion DHF 3C Maxx Grip 29x2.5in (front) and Minion DHR II 3C Maxx Grip 29x2.4in (rear)
- Brakes: Shimano Deore XT M8020, 203mm rotors
- Bar: Intense, 800mm
- Stem: Renthal Integra, 45mm
- Seatpost: Intense rigid
- Saddle: Fabric Radius Elite
- Weight: 16.74kg (36.9lb), large size without pedals
Intense M29 Elite frame
Several iterations of alloy prototype have been raced and tested at World Cup level to get to the production bike we see here. Moulded in full carbon, it’s one slick bit of kit, with smooth, flowing lines that accommodate the big wheels while maintaining a low standover height.
Steber enlisted the help of Cesar Rojo (UNNO, Mondraker Summum) to help dial in the kinematics of the twin-link suspension system. The rear shock is housed neatly in the belly of the bike and the upper link blends seamlessly into the seat tube.
In terms of sizing, the M29 isn’t vast, with a reach of 450mm on the large size I tested. But, paired with lengthy 456mm chainstays and 29in wheels, this felt about right for my 6ft height.
On 29er DH bikes, the combination of big wheels and long-travel fork means stack height can be an issue. By using a short 90mm head tube, Intense has kept this down to 610mm on the large M29. You can always add spacers or fit a higher bar to suit your preferences.
Intense M29 Elite kit
Intense has opted for a mixture of coil and air suspension — RockShox’s new BoXXer World Cup fork with ‘DebonAir’ spring and a Deluxe RC coil at the rear. I was seriously impressed by the suppleness of both of these units, particularly the new BoXXer, which represents a serious step up in performance from the old model.
The rear shock isn’t highly tunable, with single compression and rebound damping dials, but that does mean it’s simple to set up, although its buried position makes it fiddly to change the rebound on the fly.
The M29 Elite isn’t dripping in the carbon kit we’re used to seeing on Intense bikes, but the equipment all performs very well. I haven’t yet subjected the bike to the rigours of the Alps, but have hammered it down some pretty burly South Wales tracks, and I’ve no complaints about the toughness of the DT Swiss wheels or the power of the four-piston Shimano XT brakes.
Intense M29 Elite ride impressions
With production 29er downhill bikes being a relatively new phenomenon, I don’t have a breadth of similar machines to draw comparisons with, and having only had limited time aboard the M29, I’ll refrain from jumping to too many conclusions. But this bike feels exceptionally good where you’d expect it to be — on fast, rough terrain, where the twin-link rear end and coil shock swallow up everything in your path and transmit little feedback through the pedals.
This does mean that on smoother, more ‘bike park’ style tracks, it can feel like your efforts to pump and pop are being soaked up.
In corners where you can set up wide and lean in early, the geometry, wheel size and suspension all come together to make it feel like there’s endless amounts of grip.
The flipside to this is that when the trail steepens and tightens and you’re forced to ride more reactively, it’s easy to push the front wheel wide and understeer. This was no doubt not helped by my hard suspension set-up though.
The large M29 comes with a 500lb coil spring, which I found too firm for my weight. Without time to experiment with spring rates, I had to compensate by running the fork harder and the handlebar higher than I would usually.
A minor issue like this isn’t enough to hide the obvious potential that this bike has to be ridden very, very quickly though. It’s definitely built for big, fast World Cup courses, not tight, awkward UK tracks, but there’s a good reason why the Intense Factory Racing team — Jack Moir, Dean Lucas and Charlie Harrison — have made it onto the podium so often in the last couple of seasons, beyond the talent of the riders.
Intense M29 Elite early verdict
The downhill MTB equivalent of a Ferrari, both in looks and ride.