INTENSE 951 SERIES XC AND TRAIL
Boutique-bike-brand performance at a big-box-store price
Imagine our surprise when we were shopping on Costco’s website for a new computer monitor and an Intense mountain bike popped up! No joke. That was our introduction to the new 951 Series of bikes from Intense. There was no press release, media campaign or fanfare. The bikes just appeared. And, we knew the moment we saw them that we had to test one. The 951 Series consists of two bikes—a Trail and XC version. There is only one build and one color. Intense even has these bikes on a separate website from its main line of bikes. They can be found at Intense951.com. These models are available through Intense dealers, consumer-direct through Intense and, yes, online at Costco. Since both bikes are marketed as and based on Intense models, we are reviewing them together. The question in our minds while staring at that Costco web page was, “Has Intense compromised its integrity as a high-end performance and race-focused brand with these value-driven models?”
According to Intense, underneath the paint, both carbon frames on the 951 Series bikes are identical to the equivalent models currently in the Intense line. The 120mm-travel 951 XC has the same frame as the Intense Sniper T. It’s a lightweight, XC-focused design based on the 100mm Sniper XC but with a little more travel and slightly slacker 66.4-degree head and 72.8-degree seat angles.
Based on the Intense Primer 29, the 951 Trail has the exact same 140mm-travel frame and a more relaxed head angle than the XC version at 65.7 degrees. Its seat angle is actually steeper than the XC’s, coming in at 75 degrees, but longer-travel bikes need them since they have more suspension sag. The XC version has fixed geometry, while the Trail features a Flip Chip located in the upper-chainstay pivot. Swapping the chips is as easy as unbolting the lower shock bolt, pulling the shock out of the way, removing the shock spacers and rotating the orientation of the chips 180 degrees. It only takes a few minutes and is easily done while on the trail. The chip slackens the head and seat angle by 0.6 degrees, drops the bottom bracket by 7mm, and shortens the reach by 6mm.
Both frames feature internal cable routing and generous chain-slap protection on the stays and even behind the seat tube, keeping any debris that gets wedged in there from scratching things up. One key difference is in the frames’ hardware. Intense models feature lightweight aluminum and titanium fasteners, while the 951 Series uses a mix of steel, titanium and aluminum, according to our magnet.
Build spec can make or break value-oriented bikes like the 951 Series. Both of these bikes feature SRAM NX Eagle 1X12 drivetrains, TRP Slate T4 hydraulic disc brakes and Intense house-brand Recon cockpits, including dropper posts. Fox Rhythm forks are outfitted on both with the Trail seeing a burlier 36 and the XC getting a lighter 34. Performance level shocks follow suit with a fade-resistant and more adjustable remote reservoir DPX2 on the Trail and lighter DPS on the XC. Lighter and narrower WTB ST i27 rims and Kenda Regolith 29-inch x 2.20 tires give the XC a little extra speed, while the Trail gets more grip from wider WTB ST i30 rims and 2.4-inch tires. The wheels are shipped with tubes installed but taped up for tubeless and come with valve stems and sealant.
Picking parts for high-end builds is relatively easy. It’s the value-spec bikes that are tough to spec because there is always compromise. Intense needs to give its product manager a raise, because he or she really nailed it on both of these bikes. Yes, there are still some compromises, mostly in terms of weight and long-term durability, but very few of the compromises affect the overall experience on the bike.
Both bikes rely on a counter-rotating, dual-link suspension design dubbed JS Tuned suspension. This system is an evolution of VPP’s design that Intense used to license before the patent expired. The feel of JS Tuned is quite different from the VPP predecessors. It’s far more free and active while pedaling and braking. Each model in the Intense line sees a slightly different tune and kinematics to match the intent of the bike. The 951 XC’s 120mm of travel is tuned in favor of pedaling efficiency, while the Trail version has 140mm of gravity-focused travel that’s more optimized for descending and all-around use.
SUSPENSION: 150mm (front) 140mm (rear)
TIRE SIZE: 29″
The weight is very respectable considering the cost of both of these bikes. They are excellent climbers that defy that weight going uphill. Part of this equation is the very fast-rolling Kenda Regolith tires. They have a low knob height, ramped knob profile and firm compound that offer little in the way of rolling resistance. The 951 XC with its 2.2-inch tires and shorter, firmer suspension travel is clearly the faster of the two, but the Trail version isn’t far behind. The JS Tuned suspension on both bikes offers a firm, efficient feel while pedaling in and out of the saddle. There is no bob or movement, so we never felt compelled to use the firming switches on either bike’s shock, even on trail-connecting roads. We did, however, utilize the fork-firming switch on both bikes while climbing smooth roads for a little extra efficiency while out of the saddle.
As expected, the XC version is faster and easier to climb on due to its slightly more efficient suspension, narrower tires and lower weight. This is not a full-on cross-country race machine but a more versatile platform that bridges the gap to trail bikes nicely. Its snappy, quick and responsive acceleration makes tough climbs fun. For a bike in its travel range, the Trail model climbs very well. We had no problem doing big 3000-plus-foot climbs on it.
Both bikes put the rider in a good climbing position, but those who prefer a steeper seat angle (or were used to bikes with one) felt they could be a degree or two steeper. The Trail model feels good in the high setting, but its seat angle gets noticeably slack for some riders in the low setting. Its head angle and bottom-bracket height are aggressive enough in the high setting that we left it there everywhere except in the bike park.
Downhills are where these bikes really shine, and it was all smiles every time the trail pointed down. The 951 Trail is the real star of the show in this category and punches above its weight class whenever gravity is involved. Even in its standard high setting, the Trail is confident and sure-footed on all but the steepest and roughest enduro trails, and even then, it fakes it pretty well. A stiff and predictable carbon chassis combined with suspension that’s eager to take big hits had us riding this bike hard. The Performance-level Fox 36 fork offers a superb feel and plushness, giving up little to its Kashima-coated Factory big brother. It trades a touch of control and adjustability for plushness and simplicity, exactly what a bike in this price range needs. The TRP brakes were also a standout, offering great power and very good modulation without noise or fade, even in the steeps. The key to getting the most out of the TRP brakes is making sure that the levers are set far enough inward that your index finger is squeezing the lever right at the end. This gets the most leverage, power and best feel from these brakes.
Although it has an XC designation, the shorter-travel 951 is also a blast on the downhills. We regularly took it “beyond category” and never gave it a second thought. Yes, push it too hard and you will run out of travel, but it does very well considering its intent. Geometry holds it back a little when the going gets very steep, but you have to push it pretty far out of its category to exceed comfort levels.
MODS AND UPGRADES
Surprisingly, there was little we wanted to change on these bikes. The first thing we wanted to do was trim the Trail’s 780mm-wide handlebars down to our preferred size. Most riders like something in the 770–760mm range. The 951 XC starts with 760mm-wide bars, so no need to trim them. Starting wide is always the right thing for a brand to do, because it is possible to make a wide bar shorter. The other way around? Not so much. Kenda’s Regolith tires roll fast and grip admirably on hard terrain, but get them in the softer or wet terrain and confidence suffers. So, consider changing the front tires out for something a little more aggressive if your trails call for it. That’s it. That’s all you really need to do. Aggressive and/or heavy riders might want to upgrade to a 200mm front rotor on the Trail, but most will find the braking power more than adequate.
If one really wanted to spice up these bikes, a new wheelset and lighter cassette would add some performance and make for a great package. That’s the advantage of starting out with a high-value carbon frame and excellent suspension. Upgrade potential is high on these two bikes.
Intense made a lot of smart choices with these bikes. From the parts spec to the paint and graphics package, there is a lot to like. The price is very competitive, too, especially after seeing what they sell for through Costco. Throughout our testing, we never felt held back or longed to be on another bike. They gave us everything we needed to have a great experience out on the trail. And, that’s not something we can say for all value-spec’d bikes we’ve tested. With all the different avenues available to purchase one of these bikes, the hardest part is picking the one that’s right for you. If you’re more of an all-around rider who might want to dabble in cross-country racing but mostly rides for fun, the 951 XC is a safe bet. It’s an eager climber, yet still incredibly fun on the descents. If you like to really charge the downhills and want a do-it-all bike, the Trail version is your huckleberry. It’s versatile enough for everything from a backcountry epic to laps in a bike park. Or, why limit yourself to just one? For not a whole lot more than the cost of an Intense pro-level build, you can own both of these 951 Series bikes.
SUSPENSION: 120mm (front) 120mm (rear)
TIRE SIZE: 29″