On Any Sunday
The Intense M9 FRO
Intense’s M series bikes have been at the forefront of downhill racing
since the iconic M1 was introduced in 1994. Though the bikes have been through
many incarnations, Intense has always stayed true to their design theory: build
bikes for the fastest racers; listen to their input, and the bikes will be
better for it. It’s a formula for success. Their gravity bikes have been used
for countless World Cup races over the years.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The FRO in the name means “For Racing Only.” This is a downhill race
bike for riders addicted to speeding over hairy, steep downhill racecourses. If
your dream race run consists of steep pitches, chutes, rocks, roots, and drops,
look no further. This is what the M9 is all about. If a trail bike is the sport
utility vehicle of the bicycle world, this bike is the trophy-truck.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
True to Intense’s heritage, the M9 is aluminum through and through. It’s
machined and welded right here in the good old U.S. of A. The frame is
hydroformed T-6 aluminum. It features a VPP Generation 2 suspension design that
is held together with machined aluminum links, cartridge bearings, and
beautifully machined custom hard- ware. The M9 also uses a 12x150-millimeter
axle, 1.5-inch head tube, 83-millimeter bottom bracket, and ISCG-05 mounts.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
The M9 FRO is sold as a frame and shock. Ours was built with a mix of
components that you’d expect to find on a race-ready rig. The list includes
Shimano, RockShox, Truvativ, SRAM, Kenda and Fox components. That’s a lot of
fast company. The Troy Lee Designs signature-edition grips by ODI have a unique
feature—molded in scales designed to keep your hands from slipping off. They're
not for the barehanded rider, as they can be harsh, but on a hard landing,
these grips can be the difference between riding out and crashing.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Moving out: This bike has many options to precisely tune suspension and geometry. It
is not a set-it-and-forget-it compromise. This bike caters to the downhill
racer who likes to tinker. It is to your advantage to become familiar with the
bike’s adjustments, because it is a never-ending job. Once accustomed to them,
these adjustments allow you to dial the bike’s feel to the task at hand.
Tuning the beast: The shock mount has multiple positions that adjust shock rate and
travel. We spent most of the test time in the nine-inch travel mode. The
8.5-inch setting gives a more responsive feel, and the 9.5-inch mode gives more
bump compliance, but the middle setting felt just right for our testing (at
Northstar-at-Tahoe’s downhill race courses). The G3 adjustable dropouts have
three positions for fine-tuning chainstay length and wheelbase. We spent the bulk
of the test at 17.75-inches. Every M9 comes stock with the Cane Creek AngleSet,
which the bike seems to be designed around. The pinch-bolt-style head tube
greatly simplifies the head angle adjustment and allows up to 1.5 degrees of
Descending: In a word, fantastic. The M9 is most confidence inspiring on technical
terrain. The suspension and geometry have a perfectly balanced feel that are
the result of years of input from World Cup athletes and suspension design
Cornering: The M9’s cornering manners are affected by the adjustments, especially
at the dropouts. We tended to stick to the lower and longer chainstay setup,
which keeps the bike more stable. If maneuverability is a concern, the shorter
chainstay setting is for you. Either way, this bike’s cornering prowess is best
experienced when pointed down a steep pitch or railing a berm. At slower
speeds, the M9 can be a bit of a handful. Tight switchbacks are not this bike’s
strong suit with the setup we used. However, adjustments can remedy this.
Plowing through: The M9 comes alive when pointed down technical terrain. Rock piles are
no match for the ground-leveling suspension. The stable geometry is most at
home on a steep slope—a trait that’s prized by World Cup and privateer racers
alike. The M9 tends to be more forgiving of poor line choices than other
downhill chassis. When the trail throws more at you than you expect, just hold
on and trust it.
Pedaling: The compression adjustments on the Fox RC4 shock provide a solid pedaling
platform. Still, the M9 can be daunting on flat or slightly uphill sections.
For courses that include several pedal-powered sections, we swapped the stock
tires for a single ply, 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion DHF and light- weight tubes.
This reduced rotating weight and made the bike much more nimble.
Braking: The VPP Generation 2 suspension design does its job minimizing brake
jack. The bike remains very active, even when you grab a fist full of rear
brake over stutter bumps. The Saint 4-piston brakes are always up to the
challenge, delivering loads of fade-free power without a hint of noise.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Our 29.5-inch BooBar handlebar was the smaller of two offered widths.
We’d opt for the 31.5-inch version (which could be cut if necessary). The Kenda
Nevegal tires rolled well but came up short in cornering bite. Watch which
tires are working for the fast guys in your area and slap them on. The
pinch-bolt-style head tube makes changing the head- set cups easier. While
making an adjustment still involves removing the fork, this setup makes the
Cane Creek AngleSet a much more usable system that the rider is more likely to
experiment with. Just be sure the bearings and gimbals are perfectly aligned or
the headset will come loose and make noise. One of the linkage bolts came loose
after a few runs. After re-torquing it, we didn’t have the issue again.
The “For Racing Only” label could be changed to “For Racing on Sunday.”
The rest of the week this bike loves to go fast downhill and would be just as
happy in the hands of a skilled park rider. The M9 can either be tuned to stick
to the ground to shave seconds off split times or livened up to be the ultimate
big-mountain toy. The suspension devours rough terrain, whether on or off the
racecourse. If your riding style includes plowing roots, rocks, and chutes on
steep terrain, this bike will be happy as your trusty steed.
Reprinted from our March 2012 issue. Like us on Facebook