by Sean “Griz” McClendon
Originally introduced in late 2009, the 26-inch Intense Cycles 951 went from experiment to success story with its World Cup influenced geometry, lean chassis and active suspension performance. Unlike the grounded feel of the M6, the 951 spent less time on the dirt and more in the air. The common consensus was the 951 was not a World Cup race bike, rather a fun park bike that could be pressed into race duty at National caliber tracks like Port Angeles. Then we saw the 2013 world elite DH race season close with contenders testing and even racing on 27.5-inch wheels, announcing the arrival of Big Wheels for downhill. Intense Read More »
by Sean “Griz” McClendon
Originally introduced in late 2009, the 26-inch Intense Cycles 951 went from experiment to success story with its World Cup influenced geometry, lean chassis and active suspension performance. Unlike the grounded feel of the M6, the 951 spent less time on the dirt and more in the air. The common consensus was the 951 was not a World Cup race bike, rather a fun park bike that could be pressed into race duty at National caliber tracks like Port Angeles. Then we saw the 2013 world elite DH race season close with contenders testing and even racing on 27.5-inch wheels, announcing the arrival of Big Wheels for downhill. Intense Cycles stayed true to their gravity roots by being the first manufacturer to produce a full DH/gravity specific bike with 27.5-inch wheels. Meet their monster truck mode launch platform - the 951 EVO, a reworked, reborn version of the original 951.
I had the privilege to race for Intense on a 951 towards the end of 2009 and for the duration of the 2010 season. Up to the point where I “grizdit” (crashed) at National Champs, I loved the original 951 since it suited my riding style at the time. We built them as light as 37-pounds with heavy damping in the rear shock to counter the progressive shock rate. Then came the occasion where I found my limitations on that set-up after entering a high-speed double with too much zing. I learned the hard way big jumps bite hard if you rush them. Is the 951 EVO better than the original that nearly did me in? Well, every cowboy has to mount the bull that bucked him and I did my best to beat the snot out of this one again. Here’s the long and short of it.
951 EVO Highlights
- 27.5 wheels
- Fixed 8.5-inches travel
- Aluminum frame hand built in the USA
- 62.5-degree head angle
- 13.75-inch bottom bracket height (same as original)
- 17.5-inch chainstays (3mm longer than original)
- Longer top tube (0.5-inch longer than original)
- 48-inch wheelbase (medium)
- Fixed 12x150mm dropouts
- Improved linkages
- Improved suspension performance
- Integrated fork bumpers
- Available sizes: Small, Medium (tested), Large
- 38.7lbs (with air Fox 40 and Envy Carbon wheels)
- MSRP $2,999 Frame/CCDB Shock, $6,399 complete (with DT Swiss wheels not Enve)
First off, the 951 EVO is made for 27.5-inch wheels. Times are changing. The head angle went from 64-degrees back to 62.5, which is officially the slackest bike I’ve ever ridden. Moving away from the original linkage that had two travel settings, rear wheel travel is now set at 8.5-inches attached to a new, stronger linkage. Also, the rear suspension curve is less progressive than the original, which reduces harshness near full compression, but we’ll touch more on this aspect later.
The chainstays were stretched by 3mm to accommodate the larger wheel and in the process the chainstay yoke became a little longer and a lot stronger. Intense also took this opportunity to move away from the G3 dropout system to a non-adjustable 150x12mm dropout.
Every one of these changes in the bike has had a beneficial effect; most notably the chassis is stiffer thanks to the redesigned swingarm and stronger linkages. One of my favorite additions to the bike is the integrated fork bumpers. It’s the little things that add up to a big difference.
On The Trail
Catching the end of summer into fall around SoCal means the shuttle trails are blown out, turns are tricky to link together and Snow Summit is full of holes providing ideal testing conditions for the big wheels. I also caught a little air in Utah and really got to know how the 951 EVO jumps in Pine Valley.
New rollover possibilities matched with the slackest head angle I’ve ever experienced opened lines through chunk I would not consider on smaller wheels. The steeper the trail gets, the better the bike feels. Overall the feel of the bike is different, mainly due to the big wheels, which was to be expected. Flat corners felt surprisingly better than anticipated, however the bike felt best when pointed down the hill. The new feel is very different at first, then becomes fun as you get used to it. It took a few hours to re-acquire that second-nature sensation as well as develop a new eye for what terrain is possible to use. The new bike provides less pop than the precursor but fluidly gets off the ground and ploughs chunk like a trophy truck - all in all, a very reasonable compromise. Playful in new ways almost not comparable to the original, the 951 EVO is a lot more stable.
Griz drops into where the trail ends and Chute de Griz begins. An encouraging voicemail pumps up the jam. Credit: Kris Cram
This machine requires committed “attack” technique from the rider. There is an adjustment period that comes with adapting to the larger wheels in long travel and slack geometry guise because the riding fundamentals engage new demands from the body. The larger wheels raise the axle height yet the unaffected bottom bracket height effectively drops your feet even lower into the bike. I quickly felt comfortable with all riding fundamentals except for jumping, and I noticed it was critical to keep my weight low, booty popped and neck stretched out toward the front axle. Think tiger style. Those of you that like to ride over the front of your bike will feel at home inside the 951 EVO. Hanging off the back only complicates things here.
Changing lines is a new world of opportunities. If the situation conspires against you and you get off line, the bigger wheels tend to offer a larger margin for error. Holding tight, off-camber lines felt superior to doing the same on 26-inch wheels. I hate to say it.
Jumping took a few weeks to figure out as the larger wheels fly with a distinct gyro effect and demand faster entrance speed than a 26 for a similar effect. Given what happened the last time I came in too hot to a jump on a 951, it was scary to adjust to this new entrance speed. Maverick post jetwash type scary. Once acclimatized, the EVO flies like an eagle.
Cornering with the EVO demands commitment from the rider. You need to lead with the head while smoothly displacing body weight to carry momentum. Regularly pressing into the front wheel for traction and flow is the trick. With more rubber on the ground, breaking loose becomes more of a sound effect than a balancing act thanks to the larger contact patch. It feels like the bike is on rails.
At 38.7-pounds and with bigger wheels, acceleration is undeniably slower, but once you’re up to pace it takes less to crank up the intensity with next level stability at speed. This is the nature of the larger wheels – they’re a little slower off the start but they sure do get along with momentum.
Pedaling efficiency remains impressive, and you can basically pedal over anything provided your pedals clear. When you stand up and sprint, the bike settles into the travel providing a firm platform to put the ponies down on. If there happens to be bumps in the way of your sprint, suspension remains active which combined with big wheel rollover ability means your cadence is hardly interrupted.
This is what we wanted to feel back in 2010. Those of us that rode the original 951 may recall the rear suspension packing up in chatter with a random spike - especially in the 8-inch travel setting. With a set 8.5-inches of travel and a more linear suspension curve, the 951 EVO gobbles rocks steadily without overly compromising the boost-a-bility we know and love on the original 951. Handling chunk, hucks-to-chunk and hucks-to-flat is significantly improved from the original 951. You can now go off and ride the cabbage all you want. In the bike park, I also noticed drastically less hand fatigue from the really bumpy-ass runs.
Bottom outs did happen but I hardly noticed them. The Cane Creek Double Barrel matched with the Fox 40 really does a great job of offering support in g-outs, absorbing big hits and riding high in the travel when it’s rough. With the Dorado up front, the bike would wallow under intense forces and felt tall in the corners. Hanging up on square edges was never an issue.
Intense chose the right shock for the job with the Cane Creek Double Barrel. At 180-pounds (geared up) with a 550-pound spring, here are the shock settings I worked into from wide open: High Speed Compression: 4-full turns in, Low Speed Compression: 25-clicks (big jump setting) and 18-clicks (trail setting), High Speed Rebound: 2.5 full turns, Low Speed Rebound 18-clicks. For reference, Cane Creek's base settings are listed below. Accessing the shock for tuning with the Cane Creek specific tool is convenient and easy to do under the top tube.
Testing began with a Manitou Dorado, a 0.5-degree Cane Creek Angleset that relaxed the head angle to 62-degrees and Sun Ringle Rims. Set up this way the bike was very twitchy. There is simply nothing in SoCal that caters to such an aggressive set up. When we swapped over to the Fox 40 and a zero stack headset, moving the bike from side to side improved and the wiggle was replaced with rigidity and deflection became rare. Riding the Fox 40 and Enve carbon wheels further improved stiffness and confirmed that the chassis is stiffer, with better linkages and a stout swingarm. The Fox 40 and Cane Creek Double Barrel complement the 951 EVO very well. There will also be more competitive fork options soon, so if this build doesn’t stoke you out 100% Intense offers a frame-only option which comes with the CCDB. From there the sky is the limit.
Intense offers a near identical build kit to theone we rode, except for the Enve wheels which are replaced by a DT Swiss option. We found the Shimano Zee brakes, drivetrain and cranks offer top of the line performance at a fair price. Shifting is crisp, the cranks are short and stiff and stopping power is abundant with nice modulation. The bee's knees! Noise pollution is also significantly reduced thanks to the clutch-equipped Zee derailleur. During testing, I swapped out the Gravity bars and stem for a lower, more narrow profile to fit my ape index with a longer stem. Sounds like a backward step in the evolution chart, right? Well, anything past 780mm bars and I reach the end of my rope trying to lay the bike over for a turn. Simple ergonomics, bro. In total, retail pricing on the complete bike is at the “you get what you pay for” level.
Things That Could Be Improved
Be sure to thoroughly protect your chainstays as well as your downtube. Although chain clatter is reduced thanks to the deraileur, our test bike was a little bare on the driveside chainstay causing some noise. Aside from that, in essence everything that needed to be improved on the 951 has been addressed in the 951 EVO. The new swingarm has fixed dropouts, a beefier chainstay yoke designed to accommodate the larger wheel and a stronger gusset at the seatstays resulting in a crisp, rigid feel. A fair trade for G3 dropout adjustability.
Long Term Durability
With the limited ride time provided, this is difficult to accurately forecast. The original 951 would typically fail at the swingarm and the root of this problem has been addressed. When the bike came to me it had a few dents in the swingarm, but I never felt a lack of confidence while riding the 951 EVO. The chassis is undeniably stiffer and the only piece of the bike that needs to be replaced at present is the rubber fork bumper.
What’s The Bottom Line?
With its big wheels, new balance points, improved handling, rigid chassis and cost-effective build kit, the 951 EVO is an awesome park bike and a factory amateur race bike. The new geometry and big wheels will inspire you to ride like a World Cup downhiller, but this isn’t exactly a World Cup race bike. If you’re trying to tear up the regional scene, by all means the 951 EVO can hurt some feelings. Non-competitive bike park enthusiasts looking for a stable, confidence-inspiring machine ought to consider a test ride. The steeper the trail gets, the better the geometry feels. The deeper the holes get, the more the bigger wheels reward you with energy-efficient momentum. Jumping requires different timing and more energy to move the bike around in the air, which eventually becomes familiar and feels comfortable in flight. Personally, I love the geometry and the fluid movements it takes to make the 951 EVO work. Made in the USA means you get what you pay for. All of the employees at Intense have shoes, are American and sometimes get pizza for lunch on the house.
For more details, visit www.intensecycles.com.
About The Reviewer
Sean "Griz" McClendon is back, ladies and gentlemen. Following a major crash during the 2010 USA National Championship Pro downhill race, he put in the hours and fought his way back to health and the fun that is two wheels. Griz has ridden for a number of the USA's top teams throughout his racing career, testing prototype frames and components along the way. Motivated by the mantra "whips don't lie," you'll often find him perfecting his high-flying sideways aerial maneuvers while living the #pinelife. Check out www.grizlives.com for some of his home-grown inspiration.