When you pit an affordable mountain bike against a professional racing model, you can?t really call it a shootout. It would be like putting odds on Woody Allen in a title bout against Evander Hollyfield. There are, however, compelling reasons that we chose to compare the performance of the cost-is-no-object Intense M1 with an affordable downhill racing machine from our friends at Iron Horse. For one thing, the complete Iron Horse can be purchased for slightly more than the sticker price of the Intense’s frame only.

There’s a great deal of time and effort involved in piecing together a custom machine like the M-1. You must choose every component and each system must be compatible. The fork and shock damping and spring rates must be balanced; the crankset, chain guide, bottom bracket and cogset must operate with your chosen shifting bits. There’s no telling how many different hubs, axle diameters and disc brake combinations there are available. Unless you are a serious downhill racer, you?d probably be better off purchasing a complete bike off the shelf?which is where Iron Horse enters the picture.

Darn few bike companies offer complete downhill racing bikes. Paradoxically, the ones who sponsor heavyweight pro teams are the worst offenders. Because of this anomaly, downhillers have had to cobble up downhill bikes from cross-country machines, or purchase an expensive chassis from a custom-frame builder. No wonder downhill racing has been slow to catch on.
Iron Horse decided to produce a turn-key sport-racing machine that carried a relatively affordable $3500 price tag. Sure, the SGS DH isn?t cheap, but it’s about two grand less than a competitive pro bike like the Intense M-1. The SGS DH won?t deliver the performance of the Intense, but all you have to do is flash some cash at your Iron Horse dealer and you could be racing downhill a couple of hours later. If you need to win World Cups, buy the M-1. If you want to have a lot of fun racing downhill and don?t have a trust fund to cash in, the Iron Horse is the fast lane to the fun factor.

MBA readers should be well informed on the history of the Intense M-1. It has won friends and influenced rivals on the downhill pro circuit for over five years. Now, this monocoque superbike has been totally revamped?packed full of the knowledge and experience that Intense has gleaned from the traveling circus we often refer to as the pro downhill circuit.
Not surprisingly, the newest M-1 is a simpler, faster and better-handling chassis than its predecessors. Ours was set up exactly as the ones the top Intense team members receive. In fact, it is a back-up machine that will be pressed into service the moment we return it?if we actually do return it.

The latest M-1 front section is strengthened and streamlined. The entire upper section is a one-piece monocoque fabrication, welded to a single tubular downtube. The swingarm is beefier and now sports a Horst link dropout that frees up the suspension from any braking forces. Easton stickers on the rear suspension hint that Intense is shaving weight off their flagship descender to increase its pedaling performance?it rides and feels lighter than any true downhiller we?ve tested to date.
The rear suspension is the four-bar linkage that Intense pioneered in the downhill scene. The compression strut is more rigid, as is the one-piece machined swing link. The entire linkage has been reconfigured to operate with a three-inch-stroke shock. Ours was a Fox Vanilla RC model. The reason for the longer stroke is to force a greater volume of fluid through the shock piston, thus making the damping circuit more sensitive to valving. While previous M-1s had a plethora of adjustments, the latest version has only three shock mounting positions?and there is no provision for wheelbase adjustments. Suspension travel is eight inches in the rear and seven inches are available from its team-issue Manitou X-Vert-C, MRD fork.

There’s not a hint of cross-country in the M-1’s frame numbers. Its head angle is a super-slack 66 degrees and its seat tube is raked back to artificially lengthen the cockpit as the seatpost is extended. The 12.5-inch-high bottom bracket is low for a long-travel downhill machine. Our top tube measured a generous 23.5 inches and the M-1’s chainstays are 17.5 inches long. The M-1 frame and shock weigh 9.25 pounds, and our complete bike weighed 39 pounds.
The M-1 chassis will handle 26- or 24-inch wheels and three-inch tires. Its rear suspension delivers eight inches of wheel travel with the custom-made three-inch stroke Fox RC shock. You can buy an
M-1 chassis with shock for $2750 in small, medium and large sizes. Colors are red, yellow, black, natural ball burnished, and Yamaha blue.
Who gets their hands on Shimano Deore XT downhill disc brakes these days? A lot of pro downhillers haven?t even seen a real set, but the M-1 has ?em. The huge 8.5-inch rotors were mounted on Ringle hubs, spoked to John Tomac replica Sun rims?and of course, the tires were 2.7-inch Intense DH-50s. The M-1’s fork is the best you can get from Manitou’s MRD racing program. The X-Vert C has carbon fiber sliders and lightweight aluminum stanchions. The seven-inch stroke dual-crown fork weighs a bit more than five pounds. Like the Intense team bikes, the drivetrain is all Shimano XTR with an SRP roller chain guide on the crankset. The standout items in the cockpit are an SDG Grand Prix saddle mounted to an Easton EA-50 seatpost, and an Easton alloy ?Monkey Bar? clamped to an Azonic stem.

The new M-1 is a magnitude better than the previous version. We criticized three generations of Intense downhill designs because you needed to set the bikes up for every corner?which wasted precious time. The new M-1 will do anything you want almost as quickly as you can dream it up. It has a long wheelbase and a slack head angle, yet it pedals with relative ease. We mentioned that the previous M-1 was slow in tight, twisty sections, but the latest version can slice and dice like an angry sheep dog. Intense managed to erase all the bad manners from last year’s superbike and, in so doing, completely reinvented the M-1’s personality.
Where we first noticed the M-1’s revised handling was under braking. Here, the new Horst Link swingarm configuration keeps the back wheel gripping and glued to the ground?even over chatter bumps. You can drag the rear brake and it will still continue to carve around a corner. Shimano’s Deore XT-DH disc brakes are predictable?far from the grabby prototypes MBA first tested?and there’s more stopping power on tap than anyone will ever need.
In the suspension department, you?d be hard-pressed to find a more balanced machine. The new long-travel Fox shock and Intense’s low-leverage rear suspension linkage work well together. They almost eliminate the low-level chatter that keeps your tires from biting the ground. The longer wheelbase keeps you centered over the bike?and encourages the fork and shock to work together. We have been slow to warm up to Manitou’s X-Vert downhill fork, but the MRD-carbon fiber unit on our test bike was well suited to the M-1’s handling package. We squeezed out every inch of its travel without a thud.
We were hard-pressed to find fault with the new M-1’s performance, but we would be slacking if we didn?t report that its low bottom bracket caused us to bottom out the crankset and pedals a number of times. Top pros like the lowrider setup because it makes the bike more stable down steep, rocky chutes. It also causes you to roll over chatter bumps slightly faster. Socking the pedal when you least expect it isn?t a confidence booster, though?especially in a fast corner. It takes some getting used to.
Other than that, if you have a generous sponsor, or a great big chunk of cash handy, you couldn?t find a better, easier-to-ride gravity chassis than the latest Intense M-1. This is a tool to win downhills from a company that knows all about winning. Yeah, it’s that good. Want more info? Call Intense at: (909) 678-4576.

Iron Horse has had a pro downhill team since before Toby Henderson grew his first gray hair. The turn of the century, however, marks the first time that this factory has produced a viable gravity racer for the masses. MBA readers might remember the first Iron Horse downhill model we tested in late ?98. It was a warmed-over free rider, and one of the worst-handling bikes we?ve ever shuttled to the top of a downhill course. This month’s test bike, the SGS-DH, is Iron Horse’s first true downhill chassis?and it is a thousand times better than that first effort.

The SGS frame cuts a profile that looks like factory racing machines of the recent past. The well-constructed, 7005 aluminum chassis has enough adjustable features to keep an amateur racer happy: two shock positions; an inch-long rear axle slot to change the wheelbase; and its Fox RC shock and RockShox Boxxer fork have external compression and rebound clickers. The suspension is the widely accepted four-bar linkage with Specialized-registered Horst link dropouts. There are seven inches of wheel travel on both ends.
Iron Horse designed the SGS with enough beef to handle anything on the racing circuit. Its two-piece welded top tube is ovalized and it supports the tubular seat mast and upper shock mount tabs. A giant-sized downtube insures that the Iron Horse’s chassis will be torsionally rigid, and gussets in key places should significantly extend its useful life.

In case you were wondering, Iron Horse offers the SGS in three sizes: the small has a 21.25-inch top tube; our medium has a 22-inch top tube; and the large version’s top tube measures 23 inches. The SGS has a 68- to 69-degree head angle (a couple of degrees steeper than contemporary gravity racers) and its 13.5-inch tall bottom bracket is the industry standard. The complete bike weighed in at 41 pounds. You can buy the complete SGS for $3500?pricey, but still cheap by downhill standards.


You won?t be short-shifted by the selection of parts on the SGS. Its RockShox Boxxer fork is the seven-inch stroke 2001 item, and its Fox Vanilla RC shock is the one to beat. The SGS rolls on Sun/Ringle Big Mammoth wheels with thru/axle hubs and Maxxis 60 DH tires, and it stops with Hayes hydraulic disc brakes (6.5-inch rear rotor, 8-inch front rotor). The drivetrain is as good as it gets: a Shimano XTR rear derailleur and Deore XT trigger shifter; an AC welded chromoly crankset and machined aluminum chain guide; and trick Shimano DX platform pedals. The cockpit is conservatively appointed with an Azonic riser handlebar; an AC machined alloy stem and a conventional cross-country saddle. Our bike was equipped with a THE front fender.

Out of the box, the Iron Horse was a tepid performer. Its spring rates were too stiff?both the RockShox Boxxer and its Fox Vanilla RC shock needed a 25- to 50-pound reduction in spring rate to deliver the kind of suppleness that wins races. In addition, the SGS had too steep of a head and seat angle. We felt like we were crowding the front of the cockpit and, although the bike steered precisely, when you pointed it down a steep chute the Iron Horse needed a lot of rider input to keep it on line.
To be sure, you need to dial in a downhill bike before you can pass judgment on its performance. To this end, we switched the shock location to kick the head angle out from 69 to 68 degrees and soften its initial spring rate. We didn?t have softer fork springs lying around, but we did remove the spring preload spacers from the Boxxer, which improved its low speed and cornering performance. After our tuning session, there was a dramatic improvement in all aspects of the SGS’s handling.
You?ll like the Iron Horse’s singletrack performance. Its steering is quick and its edgy Maxxis tires carve around tight corners well. It likes quick, dual-slalom-like transitions from one corner to another, but lacks enough high-speed stability to inspire confidence on wide-open sections.
If you have to accelerate, the Iron Horse is an average pedaler as downhill bikes go. The front of the bike is tall and the handlebar that Iron Horse chose makes it feel more so. Azonic makes a lower-rise bar that would improve the SGS’s feel under power. On the brighter side, the tallish cockpit makes vertical drop-ins far less intimidating?a real plus on contemporary race courses.
Serious racers will need to fine-tune the Iron Horse’s suspension to be competitive, and that still wouldn?t be enough of an improvement to match the pro-level performance of a Foes or an Intense. However, Pro-performance isn?t what the SGS is all about. Iron Horse developed the SGS as an affordable, turn-key racing bike for the weekend warrior who is competing for fun?not financial reward.
If that sounds like you, the SGS has all the good parts. It stops on a dime, corners well in all but the fastest situations, and stays upright when you get airborne. Its suspension won?t level everything in your path, but it will take care of most of it?enough to keep you on line through the ugly stuff. In short, the Iron Horse is a reliable sport-racer you can purchase for the price of a pro bike’s frame and fork.


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