In late August we received the Intense Spider 29 frame, and built it up with our 29erOnline build kit, a blend of SLX/X9, Thomson, Specialized tires and, new this year, Roval wheels, just in time to whisk it away to the Adirondacks in New York State. Little did I know, it would be hard for me to get more time on it as it would become the most universally loved bike we have tested at 29erOnline. Testers kept coming up with reasons to keep it longer and longer! When asked the mandatory “weaknesses” question of our interview, everyone, from trail riders to marathon cross country riders, men and women, seemed to fumble around and search pretty hard to come up with anything negative to say. Over the course of our review, we rode all types of terrain; long, loose rock gardens, fast, bermed out roller coaster trails, tight, slow-speed single track, long climbs, quick, steep climbs, rocky, rooty east coast single track and we rode in all types of conditions; from rain storms to sloppy muddy horse torn trails and rock gardens to dry hardpack. Through it all, the frame just kept ticking along.
As a reminder, this is a full suspension bike with travel that adjusts between 4 and 4.7 inches in the rear. We received it as a frame-only rather than complete bike. Check here for our complete introduction to the bike. Now, let’s get to the truly important stuff - here is the break down of how it rides.
Handling: The Intense is nimble. Compared to 29er race bikes, it is on par. The difference, however, is that it has more travel and offers more comfort. It felt very balanced at slow speed and reacted well to snapping the pedals to navigate tight terrain. This bike can be put where you want it with less effort then similar style bikes.
Intense uses the VPP suspension licensed from Santa Cruz Bikes. For this particular bike Intense seems to have tuned the VPP linkage in conjunction with the rear Fox RPL shock to pedal very efficiently and level small bumps well at the price of mid sized hits. The Spider 29 seems to absorb mid sized hits but you can still feel what you hit. Our testers loved this connection with the terrain. If you are looking for a gooshy travel, trail leveling bike, Intense’s Tracer 29 is the better choice.
Climbing: There were no complaints about climbing. Every tester (4 men and 3 women total) that climbed on the bike commented on how well the Intense pedaled. It did not matter if the bike was in 4 inch mode or 4.7 inch (120mm) travel mode, the Intense kept its wheels planted, and digging into roots and rocks without sagging into its travel. It walks the fine line between plush and crisp perfectly. The Intense does not have a steep head tube angle, but it never felt slack either. Its geometry seems to have nailed the balance between twitchy and loose. If you look at the numbers on paper, you could easily see the mid travel (for a 29er) 6 pound, 15 oz frame, and tall - by today’s standards - bottom bracket, and assume it would not stay glued down on climbs. Get that out of your head, it climbs with the best of them.
Descending: It is a solid descender. I wouldn’t say descending is its strongest suit but at the same time, it never gave me reason to dislike it. It is easy enough to stay in control of and it seems stable. Admittedly, the bike isn’t my style for descending, as I prefer a slacker front end with a very plush, active rear end. I was the only one out of 7 people who rode the bike that felt anything negative about its ability to descend. The testers were very happy with its agility overall, and that applies to descending as well. The bike is easy to control with enough cushion to absorb mistakes, or to allow you to pick the fastest lines, rather than the smoothest. My impressions are based on the the bike set in 4.7 inch mode front and rear (120 mm). I spent very little time with it in 4 inch mode. For more on 4 inch mode, see Video 1, Jamie’s interview, where he covers this set-up a bit. I felt it pedaled so well in the longer travel mode, I never saw the need for the 4 inch mode. To me, the 4 inch mode felt a little harsher than I like.
Strengths: The Intense doesn’t do anything badly. I believe it has the ability to transform itself to fit the needs of the bulk of trail user types. With the right set up, it could be a rugged trail bike. With a light weight kit, it could easily be a marathon racing bike. Or, pick a happy medium, and have a bike that can do it all. I believe its real strength is its ability to ride nearly any terrain comfortably.
Weaknesses. For the marathon racers, it is a little bit heavy. I would say around 1/2 a pound too heavy in the frame. The Intense is a happy medium bike. The price of this middle of the road approach is that it doesn’t do any one thing perfectly. It is a little heavy to be a true racer, and a little light and tight to be a true, as the industry calls it, All Mountain bike. Is that really a weakness? Not according to the test crew. I would say that the biggest real problem we had was chain suck issues. However, Jamie and I were the only ones who had this problem. The bike still pedaled, but the chain would rub the chain stay yoke as a product of is weaving it's way between the chain rings and the top of the yoke. I would say that on a 2x10 set up it wouldn't be a problem. The other thing would be to keep your drive train clean. This is a luxury we really don't have in the southeast during the winter time.
Another point that I didn’t like, but, again, the testers didn’t care about, is that the lever on the RPL shock would occasionally bounce out of position and end up in the lock-out mode. The Fox RP23 would be a much better choice. The RPL has a rebound control, a lock-out actuated by a lever on the shock, and a platform actuated by the same lever as the lockout. In truth even the most finicky pedal bob zealots didn’t ever touch the Propedal option. This bike is a set it and forget it bike that really seems to cater to the rider who wants the best machine possible. As such, deserves a high end Kashima coated shock, not a finicky shock like the Fox RPL.
Things of note: We were asked about rear tire clearance, specifically, if a 2.4 inch tire would work. The answer; it fits but, I wouldn't do it. There is very little room between the yoke and the tire tread. For reference, the tire we used for this test was a Specialized Purgatory 2.4. With clearance this tight, any amount of mud would be a problem. Why isn’t this listed as a weakness? For our purpose, we find a 2.25 to be enough. However, it would be nice if there was more clearance for the guys that want to run a 140mm fork, use it as a all-mountain bike and have tires best suited to that purpose.
So, if you want comfort and efficiency but you also want to have a sports car type suspension, the Spider 29 is the bike for you. Add in great handling, and a do it all personality and you get a bike so appealing that I may have to break into some body's garage so that I can return it to Intense!