About 2 weeks ago, Jeff Steber, the man behind Intense Cycles, released photos of a prototype 29-inch-wheeled downhill bike. Using the same machined parts and pieces from the stock 951, the bike was dubbed the 2951. The public reaction to this bike is either love/hate, so Vital MTB met Jeff at the Intense factory to find out why he decided to make the bike. The conclusion? Why not?
Jeff Steber discusses the 2951 as Andrew VanZuyen rips it in Pine Valley, California
Using traditional downhill geometry as a benchmark, the 2951 uses a Manitou Dorado, reduced to 7-inches, low-stack headset and no-rise bars to keep the bar height in the realm of a "normal" downhill bike. Test riding, which is already underway, will reveal if this is where the geometry will stay. The most limiting factor, according to Steber, in the continued development will be tire choice. If there is no real tire option, he believes it will be hard to get a professional rider to campaign the bike. Intense test rider, Andrew VanZuyen (featured in the video above) just raced Fontana yesterday and experienced 3 flat tires, including one in the race run. "We need some tires," he says. Regardless, Jeff does not see tires as an insurmountable obstacle at this point and believes that riders will feel the theoretical benefits of the larger wheels will show themselves as true in the field.
Steber notes Alex Morgan's 29er DH bike attempt a few years ago and then says, "I liken it to Doug Henry riding the YZ400f motocross bike a few years ago. It took one guy to prove it. Everyone focused on the negatives, yet the next year, half the field was trying them out and look at motocross racing today. I don't know if the 2951 will have that same success, but you never know. Why not try it? If it doesn't pan out, at least we can probably learn something from the experiment."
Reaction from those who have ridden the bike is surprisingly positive. Andrew VanZuyen (featured in the video above) thinks the 29-inch wheel design will catch on. "It rolls over everything. Now, I actually find myself looking for bigger things to run over. There's still a lot to figure out, the bike requires a different riding style, but I'm pretty surprised by the possibilities."
My initial response to riding the bike was also surprise. Having hopped on the bike briefly, I was quite surprised by how responsive it felt. It felt a lot more nimble and maneuverable than I figured it would. The talk of having the bottom bracket lower than the axle height seems to hold something. There is a feeling of being "in" the bike and though it takes a bit more thought to lean the bike over, it seems manageable. Standover was no different than a regular DH bike and since I have stubs for legs, this was a concern. Will "ass buzzing" be a factor in technical terrain or big jump bottom-outs? Time will tell, I suppose.
The 2951 is not slated for production. It's just an experiment. I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes when I saw the first photos of the 2951 and I still find myself feeling uncertain at the aesthetics of the wheel size. Having thrown a leg over it and witnessed the bike in action, however, my mind is more open to the idea of the bike. Maybe it's old age getting the better of me, but like Jeff says, why not? I'm sure we'll see more of this big-wheeled beast in the future. -spomer
Geometry of the prototype "medium"