Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Dylan Stucki // Photos by Lear Miller
When the original VPP-equipped Intense Cycles Spider debuted in 2003 it was a bred for the cross country racer with speed and weight as top priority. Over the next decade it morphed into a marathon style trail bike with a penchant for pounding out the miles, and eventually a 29-inch option was born. Today the Temecula, California based brand is proud to release their latest in the long line of handcrafted Spider frames. The new Spider 275 maintains an adjustable 115/130mm of rear travel while becoming even more capable with updated geometry, revised suspension pivot placement, Read More »
Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Dylan Stucki // Photos by Lear Miller
When the original VPP-equipped Intense Cycles Spider debuted in 2003 it was a bred for the cross country racer with speed and weight as top priority. Over the next decade it morphed into a marathon style trail bike with a penchant for pounding out the miles, and eventually a 29-inch option was born. Today the Temecula, California based brand is proud to release their latest in the long line of handcrafted Spider frames. The new Spider 275 maintains an adjustable 115/130mm of rear travel while becoming even more capable with updated geometry, revised suspension pivot placement, and 27.5-inch wheels.
After over one year in research and development, Intense was so excited to show us what they had been working on that Jeff Steber himself welded up the brand new frame for our 2015 Test Sessions just days before testing began. The bright orange bike arrived decked out with the latest and greatest components and ready to rip. We took it to the trails of Montaña De Oro and Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo, California to see just what it's capable of.
- Aluminum frame
- 27.5-inch wheels
- 115/130mm (4.5/5.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) front travel
- Tapered headtube
- 67-degree head angle
- 75.5-degree effective seat tube angle
- 337mm (13.25-inch) measured bottom bracket height
- 419mm (16.5-inch) chainstays
- 73mm threaded bottom bracket
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured complete weight (size Large, no pedals): 29-pounds, 7-ounces (13.35kg)
- MSRP $5,999
Like all Intense bikes, it rides on the popular VPP suspension system that they've shared with Santa Cruz for several years. The system is highlighted by two short counter-rotating forged links, angular contact bearings, and replaceable grease zerks for easy maintenance. Travel is adjustable thanks to two shock mounting positions, with the upper shock mounting hole providing the full 130mm of travel. It's designed around a 130mm travel fork.
The Spider 275 is the first Intense with the lower pivot placement up above the bottom bracket, attached to their new "iBox" machined bottom bracket assembly, effectively allowing them to make the rear end shorter. The result is a super compact 419mm (16.5-inch) chainstay length. Surprisingly there's still decent mud clearance, with a hair less than 1cm of room for mud at the tightest point. Riders looking to add a front derailleur will still be able to so with the increasingly popular direct mount attachment, but note that 3X systems are not compatible due to limited clearance. Our test bike sported a 1x11 SRAM drivetrain.
The updated pivot placement also allowed designers to steepen the effective seat angle. It now comes in at 75.5-degrees. This resulted in a relatively short top tube length of 622mm (24.5-inches) in relation to the healthy reach of 467mm (18.4-inches) on our size Large tester.
Aesthetically we think the new pivot placement looks better as well. Intense puts some emphasis on their bikes looking great, so it makes sense to see this move and thought process behind it.
Cable and brake routing on the new bike is the tried and true external variety, making any changes to the cables easier than the internal alternative. The KS LEV Integra dropper post does get the cleaner stealth-style treatment, though the cable doesn't jump into the frame until reaching the seat tube. It has a rubber gasket to help keep water and dirt at bay. Cable routing is fitted to the top of the downtube, keeping them out of harms way from any flying rocks or potential incidents resulting from hacking up a storm on the trail.
The oversize double-butted and hydroformed aluminum frame also sports molded downtube and chainstay protection, a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG 05 mounts, 160mm IS rear brake mount, a water bottle mount inside the front triangle, integrated dropouts, and remarkably low standover. Claimed weight for a size Medium frame is 7.6-pounds, versus just 6-pounds for the previous 26-inch aluminum model.
The bike is available in Pro ($5,999), Expert ($5,650), and Foundation ($2,999) build kits as well as a frame only option ($2,199). We tested the cream of the crop Pro build. Colors include Flo Red and Silver Flake.
On The Trail
We began testing with the Spider 275 on the smooth, flowy trails of Montaña De Oro. These trails are generally straight-forward with the occasional rocky crop, but they do allow for some high speeds and a good bit of berm slapping which the Spider welcomed with open arms. We'd later ride the rock-strewn slopes of Madonna Mountain to really push it into some taxing situations.
Setup was a breeze thanks to the sag indicators on the 200x50mm RockShox Monarch RT3 shock. Set to the recommended 30% sag while seated in the 130mm travel setting it worked well for us, resulting in a balanced, consistent feel with the RockShox Revelation fork. The bar and stem were swapped out for something a little shorter (from 70mm down to 50mm) and wider (750mm up to 800mm) due to personal preference. At 6'3" and 6'5" tall we also pushed the seat back on the rails in order to lengthen the top tube a hair for seated climbs. With a seat tube angle as steep as the Spider's we were still in a great position to get up over the bottom bracket.
As we'd find out in the rougher bits of trail, the Spider 275's updated geometry is pretty well suited to aggressive use, but there is a limit to what it will handle in stride. At 67-degrees, the head angle is now is 2-3 degrees slacker than the previous 26-inch Spider, providing some relief when things get rough while maintaining a quick feel at the bars. The wheelbase, which comes in at 1,178mm (46.4-inches) on the Large, is long enough to give some stability in most situations. Despite these numbers we found it slightly unstable and rough feeling at high speeds with a little chunk thrown in. The short chainstays no doubt had a role in this, while the narrow 2.25-inch Maxxis Ardent tires didn't help.
Even so, the bike was a lot of fun to ride when the trails got twisty or involved any quick direction changes. It has a nimble yet planted personality that makes it predictable and inspires confidence when smacking through consecutive corners. The front end is also easy to pick up and throw around, leaving you with a bike that asks to be played with rather than pointing it straight through the rough.
Here it is in action under Intense Pro riders Luca Cometti and Bernat Guardia:
The rear suspension provided a comfortable ride on a range of terrain, doing a good job of smoothing out small bumps while also handling bigger hits and g-outs well without a harsh bottom-out. It did get a little hung up on square edges, especially while climbing, which is something we've experienced on other VPP bikes in the past - a result of the design relying on chain tension to aid with the exceptional pedal platform.
Even with the shock wide open the bike is spritely on climbs, quick to accelerate when stomping on the pedals, and encourages you to get out of the saddle often. It's a shame that it toys with your feet when under strain through chunky square edges, because otherwise it's dialed in the pedaling department. Is the pedal feedback something to be concerned with? That really depends on your priorities. For us the bike's playful attitude in the twisty stuff and smooth acceleration outweighed the pedal feedback we experienced.
Heel clearance when pedaling isn't great. Our testers' ankles clipped the seat stays on both sides on several occasions. Sometimes while climbing, others while descending as the suspension was moving through its travel. The rear derailleur housing guide on the outside of the seat stay also causes more contact than necessary.
Coming in at 29.4-pounds for a size Large, the Spider 275 Pro is no lightweight by today's standards, but its energetic attitude helps with its perceived weight on the trail. Nevertheless, it leaves you wondering, "What if?" Surely there will be a fantastic plastic version of the bike in the future, and given our experience with the aluminum version it will take off like an absolute rocket.
Intense built the Spider 275 Pro with predominantly SRAM gear with exception to the brakes, where they opted for Shimano's proven XT offering. It's clear that the build attempts to balance all-out performance with low component weights and speed. The only parts we felt the need to immediately change were the bar and stem, but the stock cockpit options weren't too far from our ideal setup.
Up front the 130mm travel RockShox Revelation RCT3 fork with 32mm stanchions did a decent job once tuned to our liking. Our final air pressures were close to recommended, while the compression damping required a little adjusting with both the low and high speed set to about 1/4 of the way in from open. For the type of riding that the Spider is intended for this fork will be fine for most, but the bike begs to be ridden harder, making us wonder what a slightly longer travel fork with a more robust 34mm stanchion would offer (think 140mm Pike or similar). The Revelation gets the job done, though isn't anything to shout about.
The narrow 2.25-inch Maxxis Ardent tires offered great rolling speed on fast trails and would be a decent choice for racing cross-country, but when it comes to general trail riding we would like to see a little more tread up front and perhaps a larger version of the Ardent on the rear. Something with more bite would allow you to really get over the front end when pushing into corners and across off-camber terrain.
The wheel department is taken care of by Stan's No Tubes Arch EX wheels, a fitting set of hoops for the bike's intended purpose, though a bit on the soft side. Aside from upgrading the front tire, a wheelset change could help the bike become more planted at speed. The stock wheels have a good amount of flex and a very narrow rim that's just 21mm internally. The rear wheel showed signs of abuse after just a few rides.
Brake performance was as expected from Shimano's XT line with great modulation, consistent power, and enough bite to get you out of most situations. The bike comes with 180/160mm rotors.
In a similar fashion, SRAM's X01 drivetrain did its job well with light, accurate shifts and smooth operation. The Spider was setup without a chainguide and we had no issues with dropped chains, but there are ISCG tabs should one be of preference. The included chainstay guard is a little on the short side and the bike is missing any seat stay protection, allowing the chain to make a slight amount of noise when it contacts the frame.
Long Term Durability
Our initial impressions bode well for the Spider 275. Beyond the wheels showing their softer side relatively quickly, we don't seen any potential issues that could result in a shorter lifespan for the bike so long as it is ridden as a playful short travel trail bike. The components are all solid and should last a good amount of time if looked after appropriately.
The new lower link placement up above the bottom bracket helps keep it further out of harms way than the previous VPP design, and should hold up better in muddy and loose terrain. New serviceable pivot points feature collet bolts. Pivot/bearing service is suggested every 2,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first. Intense backs the frame with a three year warranty.
What's The Bottom Line?
As a short travel trail bike the new Intense Spider 275 Pro is a lot of fun to ride. Its agility and snappy acceleration make it enjoyable to rip around and the components help make it a no nonsense ride. If the trails you frequent involve predominantly high-speed, rocky terrain, then consider the experience we had with some slight instability in the rough. If you're looking for something playful for those twisty trails, the Spider 275 checks all the right boxes. The continued evolution of the Spider is towards an increasingly capable ride, and this latest generation has shed its spandex-clad XC ways for better all-around trail manners.
Visit www.intensecycles.com for more info. The bike will be available in March 2015.
About The Reviewers
Dylan Stucki - When he's not busy popping no-handed wheelies or shot-gunning beers you're likely to find Dylan comfortably inside the top ten at Big Mountain Enduro races. Since he's a big guy and charges hard he breaks a lot of stuff. He's naturally a perceptive and particular rider who picks up on even the smallest details.
AJ Barlas - In 15 years on the bike AJ has developed a smooth and fluid style. Hailing from Squamish, BC, his preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes.
About Test Sessions
Three years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2015's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in San Luis Obispo, California. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Foothill Cyclery. Tester gear provided by Five Ten, Race Face, Easton, Troy Lee Designs, Club Ride, Kali, Royal, Smith, Pearl Izumi, and Source.