Intense Cycles Factory visit

Feb 15, 2012
by Mike Levy  
 
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Intense Bicycles
  Jeff Steber and Pinkbike's Mike Levy talk about the challenges of manufacturing handmade aluminum bikes in the US.

Intense has a storied past as a brand synonymous with downhill racing, but began life as a part-time project in Jeff Steber's garage back in 1990. Steber's first frame, the Spyder, used a simple Horst Link and MacPherson Strut combination to control its short travel, but it also used sealed bearing pivots - something that nearly no other manufacturer was utilizing at the time. While that may sound like an obvious advantage, it was forward thinking for 1990. That same progressive logic birthed the M1 downhill race bike in 1994, a legendary machine and one of the most sought after bikes of the time.

Fast forward to 2012 and Intense is manufacturing 3800 aluminum frames per year out of their Temecula, California, facility. That number is made all the more impressive when you consider that Sapa, the US's largest frame builder and makers of Turner, Titus and many other brands, recently shut down their bicycle division due to dwindling profits. Intense is thriving and healthy, a fact shown by their recent investment in carbon fiber frames (2000 units per year), but Steber admits that he has to run a lean operation these days. Streamlining the manufacturing process at nearly every point has been a key step to Intense's progression. This includes everything from optimizing work spaces and locations, to sourcing powder coating and anodizing to be done by workshops within only a few minutes drive of where they are welded at Intense. Steber firmly believes that Intense's relatively small size and efficient workflow actually works to their advantage in some regards, "Intense has had to learn to be lean and get the most out of limited resources, focusing on our strengths," Steber explains "We are able to develop products faster as the manufacturing is at hand. This also enables us to react to trends, and create trends quickly.". There is no board of directors, nobody has to be convinced that building up a 29'er DH bike is a good idea, and no focus group tells Steber what colours to use for next year's lineup.

Intense Bicycles
  The main man behind Intense, Jeff Steber, poses with a 2951 prototype that he was setting up in the jig as we arrived. To say that Steber, who was spending his Sunday tacking a prototype together, is a hands-on boss would be an understatement.

Intense's big wheeled 2951 prototype immediately polarized riders when it was released a few seasons back, with many excited about the possibility of a 29" wheeled DH bike from the California builder. The bike also received just as many critical words, though, by many who won't be swayed by the larger wheel's momentum within the industry. The truth of the matter is that the first small batch (there were only two ever in existence) was only ever intended to investigate the feasibility of a 29'er DH bike - rear wheel clearance and geometry questions needed to be answered long before a production run could be considered. DRD X-fusion Intense's JD Swanguen spent quite a bit of time on the original 2951, even racing the bike to some solid results, and was reportedly very happy with it, but the 2951 project was put on hold in order for Intense to pursue other projects.

Skip ahead to the present day and Steber is revisiting the 2951 concept, although he is quick to point out that the bike is still in the early prototyping stages and he is not 100% certain that it will be added to the Intense lineup. Regardless, four or five frames are slated to be built for testing purposes, with Jeff setting up a 2951 frame in the jig during our visit that was only an hour or so away from being tacked together. The latest 2951s will be basically the same as the version that JD rode in the past, with similar geometry and sporting the same 7 - 7.5" of adjustable travel, but it looks as if there is more momentum behind the renewed project than when the first 2951 was shown. Steber also talked about the possibility of an M29 that would be based on their popular M9 downhill race frame, sounding quite convinced that there is a big travel future for 29" wheels, as long as tire development picks up steam, that is.

Intense Bicycles
  Prototype frames and test mules, including a CRC/Nukeproof M9 team frame, hang from wall hooks. Intense's small size and in-house facilities let them investigate concepts quickly, be it an entirely new frame layout, or simply seeing how internal cable routing pans out on a long travel design.
bigquotesI can fab up a proto, weld it, heat treat it and be riding it the next day. In turn for a small company we have been able to be quite prolific with models we offer. We are also able to develop the 'tweener models in between the main bike segments that the big guys do not bother with. - Jeff Steber


Intense Bicycles
  Intense's ability to design and investigate at will, without the constraints that can slow down a larger manufacturer, has led to designs that are synonymous with downhill racing. Key to that success is Intense's willingness to experiment.

Intense Bicycles
  Intense can boast about having some of the world's best ride their frames, be it Palmer and Kovarik under the Intense banner, or legends like Lopes and Tomac who raced the California made frames under cover of their own sponsor's branding in the past.

Intense Bicycles
  Big things are afoot at Intense, with Steber constantly thinking far ahead of the current model year lineup.

While most designers use computer modelling throughout the design process, Steber is a hold out who prefers to combine digital and analog methods. Computers play a large role in bringing an Intense to life, but "full sized drawings allow me to better visualize frame shapes, as well as reverse engineer designs", Steber says. Jeff Steber is a man of many hats, but he is still a designer and mad scientist at heart. Aluminum frames still reign supreme at Intense, but Steber knows that carbon fiber is taking a slice out of the high-end aluminum market, a fact that will challenge the company who hand welds about 3,800 frames in house per year. Steber isn't sitting back and watching it happen, though, you can bet on that. The 5.5 - 6" travel Carbine was their first full carbon frame, but expect the lineup to expand.

Intense Bicycles
  Intense works with SEED Engineering, a German company with an expertise in carbon fiber manufacturing, to bring its carbon fiber frames to life. The first fruit of this collaboration is the Carbine, a 5.5 - 6" travel trail bike. The finished product is manufactured in Asia, although all of its aluminum frame components - both upper and lower VPP links, as well as the G1 dropouts - are made at Intense's Temecula facilites.

Intense Bicycles
  Jeff's personal Carbine often serves as a rolling test bed for ideas that need to be trail tested. In this case it's figuring out the correct positioning of the openings for internal cable routing.

Intense Bicycles
  Following on the heels of the Carbine is the SL version, tipping the scales at just 5lbs. Although featuring slightly less travel, 4.75 - 5.125", it employs the same geometry of its bigger brother. The Carbine SL also makes use of a carbon fiber upper VPP link, an addition that we expect to see on other Intense bikes in the future, including certain aluminum models.

Intense Bicycles
  Intense recently invested in Haas CNC machines, changing over their entire production floor to the US made machinery. While it was a costly decision, Steber believes that it will pay off in the longrun thanks to their higher quality design and cheaper to maintain reputation. The Haas units being made in the US also played a role in his choice, echoing Steber's belief in supporting American made products.


Intense Bicycles
  Intense doesn't just manufacture their own aluminum frames, but all of the required parts and hardware as well. This includes suspension links, dropouts, and even the thru-axles found on the back of the M9. While Steber could have easily sourced off the shelf frame hardware, not an uncommon route for builders to take, he insisted that Intense machine their own pivot bolts as well. This ensures that all frame components are within grasp and available at all times, be it for a small run of frames or quality control purposes.

Intense Bicycles
  It's easy to forget about the effort put into your hand made frame when it arrives at your local shop, shiny and looking its best. Nearly finished upper VPP links sit next to raw stock that hasn't yet been fed into the massive Hass machine, reminding us of where it all begins.


Intense Bicycles
  Syntace compatible G3 dropouts in a near completed state. Intense runs two shifts during per day the week, although that can sometimes be bumped up to three to meet high demand, with the machines constantly churning out frame parts that only require anodizing before being installed. As you'd expect, there is quite a bit of aluminum swarf (shavings and metal clippings), all of which Intense recycles.

Intense Bicycles
  The M9's head tube is split, allowing riders to loosen the clamping bolt and easily swap out to different angle adjusting headset cups. This convenience means that the head tube must be machined from thicker walled and larger diameter stock than a standard 1 1/8th head tube would require.

Intense Bicycles
  Because Intense machines all of their own parts they are able to not only catalog and keep track of exactly what's on hand, but also do small production runs when a limited number of pieces are needed. A massive wall of frame parts, everything from head tubes to chainstay yoke assemblies and pivot bolts, awaits their final destination on somebody's pride and joy.


Intense Bicycles
  Ribs of the M9 downhill bike, consisting of the forward shock mount location and upper VPP pivot mount, await the next step of their life after a quick stop at the drill press.

Intense Bicycles
  Efficiency is crucial. Every frame model, as well as every frame size, has its own assembly jig that saves valuable manufacturing minutes. This means that time isn't spent resetting jigs when production rolls over to a different frame model, allowing the welder to simply transition to the next scheduled frame quickly.

Intense Bicycles
  Each welder used to have his own tanks, just as you'd find in many facilites, but the traditional layout meant that tanks needed to be changed too often, disrupting production rhythms. This had to change. Steber proudly showed us the new layout that pumps in argon gas to each welding station from one central massive tank, a much more effective system when it comes to cost and production times.

Intense Bicycles
  All eight aluminum frames in the Intense catalog are manufactured by only a few select welders before making their way to the massive heat treating machine, a step that Steber brought in-house after the company that was doing it previously couldn't consistently meet the quality that he was looking for. The heat treating machine takes up a huge amount of floor space in an already cramped building (Intense has been in the same facilites since 2001), but it is an important point in the manufacturing process that Steber wants to be able to control.

Intense Bicycles
  Painted frames, a green Tazer hardtail on the left and an M9 on the right, await inspection before being boxed and sent off to lucky owners around the world.
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151 Comments

  • + 78
 im glad pb do these cause you get to look behind the scenes on how bikes are built and the place they are made Smile
also that carbine is beautiful Razz
  • + 20
 Intense shouldn't be allowed to build such a sexy bike like that, think of all us singles ! =p
  • + 3
 My 951 frame cracked on my 4th ride on it, I lost my faith in intense. Great article and that carbine looks sexy!
  • + 24
 I am a mechanic by trade and all things break sometimes. my 951, m6, and m9 have been flawless.
  • + 16
 Anyone here feels like wanna drill their frame to do internal cabling? hehehe
  • + 23
 but when you are paying £2000 for a frame it shouldn't crack at all! you wouldn't buy a car again if it broke down on it 4th drive or a microwave on its 4th use would you? its no different with bikes, companies like intense should focus on making frames last with as little maintenance as possible. I want a frame to last for a decade not a season
  • + 7
 ah yes but I think what suzukidave is saying is that things occasionally break, no matter how well made etc things go wrong. As long as companies help you out and replace it there shouldn't be an problem.
  • + 18
 Intense have a history of bad QC, dodgy welds and misaligned rear ends causing extreme bearing wear or worse. I worked in a shop that was a dealer and there were a lot of problems. It's nice to have a look inside their facilities and I agree that some of their bikes are sexy... but if you are charging a premium price then it should at least be up to the job. Things break, but when things from a particular company break very often then you take notice.
  • + 16
 @SuzukiDave

Apparently your wallet is flawless too
  • + 12
 never worked for a dealer selling Intense but worked in a high-end shop specialising in custom bike builds

we'd get a number of customers buying Intense frame (specifically I'm thinking of the Slopestyle) from other dealers (IDB / LBS or internet i.e. CRC) and bringing them in for building


none of the 5 Intense SS frames I built into complete bikes had acceptable frame alignment Frown



all of these 5 owners suffered with ongoing, premature bearing and axle wear, rear hub, drivetrain and disc brake wear issues, 3 of these customers had enough and had to have their frames replaced for other brands (all made in Taiwan) by the retailer that sold the frames to them

glad I didn't sell those frames to the customers...

the article is great, and its also great to see Intense manufacturing in the USA where many have given up, but personally?

I've never buy one having first hand see the poor QR on what is an extremely expensive boutique frame, it reminds me of Ellsworth in that respect
  • + 5
 I can only speak from my experience. I own a suzuki, kawasaki motorcycle franchise and have seen every mechanical failure possible with new and old equipment alike. Broken frames on MX bikes and sport bikes, blown apart triple clamps, broken rear shocks, shattered cranks, cases etc. ALL BRANDS.....Ktm, suzuki, honda, kawasaki, yamaha. My point being, nothing is indestructable. My first Intense was a 2002 m1, which a good friend of mine still owns. Then M6, 951, m9, Uzzi, in that order. I weigh 190 lbs and race cat 1 DH, as of yet I have had no issues with durability or alignment. My other Bike was a Santa Cruz Nomad, also a great bike. Going through my m9 right now and all seems good to go for coming year.
  • + 1
 Its a great article, no doubt, but i have owned an m6 intense, and it was, probably the worst frame i ever owned. the bolts were shit soft, bearings went bust, previous owner and me and the one after (!!!) had to change one of the links because of damage-crack. The ride was horrible, i've tryed to like it, i realy did... made a beautifull paintjob on it, mixed with great parts, rode it but it was rubbish. The claimed 251mm travel was at max 200, and im over 230pounds, never even could get near the bottom out, and had different springs, steel and titanium on it too, i thought its gonna be one of my best ever frames... but no. But Intense, they look just SEX, i can give them this, one of the best looking bikes ever produced! No disrespect, but facts.
  • + 1
 to all of you every bike frame cracks,i've test them,since 1976 its luck if they last,but intense stands by there bike and they fix your problem .Made in the USA,o if your frame does not crack you are not ride it like balls out,i still have the bads bike out the M1,i will will be on it here and there just like on old sunday car,and yes i did crack it but i had it welded,but i like the bike ,so if you do not like to ride hard bye a HUFFY,but if you ride hard buy MADE IN the USA,keep hetting Jeff s.
  • + 6
 1
@hamsteadbandit, I've heard of that plague of badly aligned rear triangles from the early SSes that were shipped to Britain. It seems like you guys got stuck with a bad batch, and that has unfortunately solidified a lot of opinions about Intense in general. Since that bad run, I believe Intense have brought all processes in-house and have improved their QC (and all their products) as a result. I've never seen this alignment issue with the SS or any other Intense frame I've worked on, so am suggesting that your experience is pretty specific to a particular manufacturing run, and not indicative of Intense as a company.
I've noticed a similar prejudice against Intense here in BC, riders tend to believe that they aren't strong enough to withstand the abuse of our tracks, and are really made for the flowier and much easier California riding style. My experience with Intense, as a professional mechanic as well as an owner of both the SS and SS2, is that they've behaved flawlessly and have developed zero problems. The SS was a great all-mountain bike, and the SS2 has proven to be an awesome do-everything go everywhere rocket, even more versatile (and built stronger) than the first version. Like any bike, they have their quirks - The coarse thread on the pivot bolts, for example, like to loosen up and should be checked every ride. I don't get Intense's insistence on using these bolts, all it would take is a change in thread pitch and the problem would be solved. In fact, why not make the mechanics really happy and use common chainring bolts like SC? My other complaint is the misnaming of the SS - anyone who rides slopestyle would never use one of these, so there's buyer confusion about intended use. Also not keen on sharing monograms with the Nazi Schutzstaffel, believe it or not. Are you listening, Jeff?
  • + 8
 2
I don't blame anyone for being gun-shy due to negative experience, or hearing about other people's experience- I wouldn't touch an Evil frame, for example, after hearing the horror stories from almost everyone who bought a Revolt and subsequently had to (attempt to) deal with the Evil empire. (For everyone who wants a ride like the Revolt that works properly and is backed by an excellent company with a proper warranty department, buy the DeVinci Wilson.)

Unlike Evil, whose Taiwan-made frames fetched a big boutique price and seemed to inexplicably fall apart during their intended use, Intense have kept their prices reasonable and competitive (at least here in North America they are on par with any other equivalent frameset made in the far east), done all their alu manufacturing at home, put out excellent product, and built an excellent reputation, in spite of some setbacks. Intense have remained committed to building frames in-house. The day that commitment changes is the day I look for another bike, which is what initially tuned me in to Intense - when Santa Cruz admitted that their frames were being made in Taiwan. I believe that Intense are going to continue to improve, and, unlike almost every other frame company, they will maintain their conviction that an excellent product can still be made in North America.
  • + 1
 Well said that man. I too hope they continue to improve and stick to their 'guns' as it were by keeping things American. But for now I've heard too many negative reports over here, like the Evil, that I wouldn't fancy one anytime soon. They do make impressively sexy and fast looking race bikes though.
  • + 2
 @suzukidave
I agree that all things may break sometimes but it cracked on a pretty smooth single track. Also, when you're paying thousands of dollars for a bike you expect it to be well made. It did not crack from abuse, but rather from being poorly manufactured as it cracked on a weld.
  • + 4
 All of you are kind of missing a vital point here.

EVERYTHING breaks. There is no such thing as indestructable in the Bicycle world.

@airbornmtnbiker- Just take this in, it's how my frame broke - You can crack a frame by it twisting awkwardly under load, you can snap a frame that started with just a rock chip, there are so many possibilities. The first being that cracking probably comes from the frame being under load, and flexing the wrong way. No one I've met has had any issues with their 951's or M9's, and they aren't all wicked smooth either. When I ride the 951's they feel sturdy. It's all about how the frame flexes, and that can be caused by anything. No one can control the amount of flex in a frame outside of a controlled area, and there's no arguing that.

Think outside the box, logic just might slap you in the face.
  • + 4
 They warrantied my M3 front triangle twice and the rear 4 times. I lived in Whistler and shredded that thing hard and often for a long time. Intense hooked me up and kept me riding well past the expiration date of that bike and I will never forget it - those guys rock. That being said, honestly, I've seen too many shady looking welds on Intense frames over the years and I hope that is a thing of the past.
  • + 3
 @Bmxerch
I understand the concept that everything breaks when exposed to forces beyond those to which is was designed to operate; all of us here do, or should do, given our penchant for throwing ourselves down mountains as fast as we dare/can....and that is a point I believe you may be missing unless you are someone who has owned an Intense frame that exhibits some of the less fortunate tendencies that seem to apply to the brand more so than others

What do I mean?. There is a distinct difference in my mindset when I throw myself down the least demanding bike park trails here in Japan depending upon which bike I am on; in my case a Transition Bliindside or an Intense Uzzi VP.

That mindset shifts from "as fast as I can" when on the Blindside to "as fast as I dare" on the Uzzi for fear of when the next shoulder bolt may pop itself out; rear flex, chain suck and unceremonious dumping out the front door anyone? Bicycle, MX or 4WD off roader, the ride/driver needs complete, I will say that again, complete confidence in the product into whose hands to a certain extent they are laying their life into.

It appears that there are a significant number of people, and of whom I am one, who find that they cannot be as confident as they would like in their bike when they own an Intense... and that is something that it is Jeff's responsibility to sort out. If you, as the CEO, choose to design, prototype and make everything in house then you have the responisbility to do it well, and to fix any issues. By that I do not mean a great returns and warranty policy; I mean solve the ISSUE. There is enough evidence to show that pivot bolts work loose on intense frames more than is desirable; fix it Jeff.
  • + 5
 This is an interesting discussion!

I always refer back to the Keith Bontrager rule of:

1. Strong
2. Cheap
3. Light

You can pick only 2 of the above!
  • + 3
 thats not right.. we are talking here about a frame thats exspensive light.. and should be strong..
demo's didn't and still dont break.. ? and with that said.. the older glory's were pretty tough.. heavy but reliable.. now with the new glory i have seen them broken and bend on all places here on PB..
i do believe if your buying a bike frame of over 2000-2500 euro's it should last you even with heavy riding a year or 2 at least !
  • + 2
 @orientdave I totally understand what your saying.

But I mean, you can only blame so much on Jeff. Sure it's his design, but does he make every frame they sell ? Noooope.

If they have that insane amount of problems they should look into flex testing and probably get better loc-tite on the pivot bolts. My pivot bolts came loose on my 4X bike but that's something easily fixable because I'm that tedious. Put a stronger loc-tite on and they haven't come loose again.

If people don't mind doing maintinence on their bike after every ride (clean it, once over) than Intense would be fine.

They also do know when they screw up and send you new stuff, don't they ?
  • + 4
 @bmxerch
Absolutely, I am the same as you by the looks of it since I do all my own work (except fork bushing and wheel rebuilds but I am working on the skills!!) . I and my riding buddy here are pretty meticulous when it comes to maintaining our rides and I strongly believe people should empower themselves to learn the skills needed; it helps you to become a better rider I think.

I got hold of mine through CRC and they covered replacement bolts through their warranty so all is well and good from the perspective of companies meeting the claims made against warranties; that is what warranties are there for, to cover the retailer/manufacturer when a bad batch comes through. However what I have an issue with is being faced with the feeling that you cannot be 100% sure that your bike will not suddenly have lost a bolt, or sheared a linkage due to slight complications/oversights/errors (which can affect any company, but doesn't seem to as often with others) in the design or manufacturing process.

And for the first time in my time riding bikes, I have that feeling with my Uzzi. Not good, period. Must do better Intense. Not being able to go on an day long ride without the feeling of "even though I have removed, cleaned, degreased, dried, prepped, loctited and correctly torqued all my pivot and linkage bolts, will I come home again with one less that I went out with" sucks.

Since Jeff wants to keep his finger on the pulse, and be the face of the company, I hope that means riders can contact him and let him know.
  • + 3
 To agree with mpathic, the pivot bolts need more attention than i think they should. New from the factory i would have to retorque them every run. I removed and put red loctite on them and drilled the ends and safety wired them. since then i have had no issues. I need to do the same to my Uzzi, because i have to tighten them frequently. I am very mechanical, so it doesnt bother me, but somebody that isnt I could see this being a big issue. I love the fact it is Made in the USA. I sold my Santa Cruz because they switched to Asia. If Intense goes that route I will switch to Devinci (Canada is close enough)...
  • + 1
 good comments from suzukidave, its always worth hearing more "real world" information

the sad thing with both Intense and Devinci is that "trends" or "market pressure" will lead them down the Carbon Fibre route

with both Intense (Carbine) and Devinci (Wilson Swingarm and hardtail models) venturing into CF it might only be a matter of time before domestic, aluminium frame production is wound down in both instances Frown


also seen this with Ellsworth (another of the last few made domestically in USA) starting to venture into CF and with a Taiwanese produced completed bike "Glimpse" a sign of things to come...)
  • + 1
 I'm afraid your correct. I would pay more for a domestically produced carbon frame, but I know a lot of people can't or won't pay more. Its a shame. Way of the world.
  • + 1
 Exactly, more attention than is required than on any other frame I have known.
  • + 1
 By that I mean the pivot and linkages.. Please sort it out Intense before someone who isn't as meticulous has a serious incident.
  • + 2
 Owning a bike, though, does require being responsible... The pivot bolts are easily fixed...
  • + 2
 Nice thread of comments. I really enjoyed reading them. Since everyone seems to be pretty professional I figured I throw a comment out about domestic versus foreign products. And that's mainly.. I see alot of people talking about wishing products to stay stateside (assuming this is probably to keep jobs and boost the economy), and how bikes produced in asian factories are of lower quality, but in my mind I wonder if that's really the truth.

First as consumers it's obvious that we've driven the markets overseas. Of course there's alot of talk about supporting local, but the constant demand of not only a quality product but of a quality warranty along with the demand for as cheap of a product as possible has required companies to need to cut costs at some point. Now there are many ways for a company to cut costs, but generally the two largest factors in a products costs are a) the quality of that product and b) the work force. Since they obviously don't want to cut the quality of the product they're forced to find a cheaper workforce. Hence outsourcing.

Secondly, Based upon what I've read here it would seem that bikes made stateside have more hurdles to overcome in maintaining the quality of their bikes. The fact that the big three (Trek, Giant, and Specialized) are all producing the majority of their upper-end products in Asia would seem to indicate that the best facilities for bicycle manufacturing are in Asia. And for boutique companies like Intense to keep their products on par with some of the more name-brand bikes they're having to take more efforts to police the production line. This is evident in the fact that he's having to bring everything in house. Something that will increase his costs in the long run, and because he's spending more time/money/energy on policing the line it means he'll have less of those resources for reinvesting back into his company, all in order to create a product that's on-par with a what's being manufactured in asia.
  • + 1
 Unfortunately it's money that makes the world go round, and the way it looks to me, I would say that eventually trying to keep a bike companies entire production line in North America will become nothing more than a novelty. Sad, but in the long run maybe helpful in bringing underdeveloped countries into a developed state. I mean, in the 1800s England had it's industrial revolution, and then eventually outsourced that industry out to the Americas. After WWII Germany, was able to recover from having entire cities leveled to being an industrial powerhouse within twenty years thanks to the Marshall Plan. Which consisted mainly of alot of American companies outsourcing American resources to German factories. Companies such as BMW, and Mercedes Benz became standards for quality due to this outsourcing. So as sad as it is to see alot of companies going over seas, and to see alot of American money being invested in foreign countries, in the long run I don't really see any other option that will allow the sport to grow. Just some thoughts I had. Welcome to hear what people think, and why, but I would like to ask if you do respond to try and avoid any knee-jerk reactions to yell and call people stupid.
  • + 2
 @Marifox87
First, may I join you in saying this thread is a pleasure to read and take part in for the reasons you mentioned.
Secondly I have to say I agree with your synopsis of the current state of the industry; there is of course a desire to buy what the Japanese here call "kokusan" or to you and me produced at home goods. This has manifested itself more as a "we refuse to buy foreign goods" approach in many areas and the result is shelves full of Japanese made products over non. Would it therefore take consumers refusal to buy non-local brands to maintain local production?
  • + 1
 It is definitely a possibility, but most likely not the only factor in what allows Japanese consumers to keep purchasing Japanese products. One factor that could make it possible for this, is what I assume are Japans high amounts of products sold outside their borders. Unlike American products which tend to stay in America. Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese products can be found the world over, and in many areas such as computers, cars, and in my opinion bikes, they're producing the best in the industry. In short, it's my hypothesis that Japans consumers can afford to be picky about what they buy because their economy is constantly selling products to other nations. This in turn brings revenue into the country. With this extra revenue the businesses don' have to cut costs to keep the lights on, and consumers are able to afford the higher prices because they have more money in their pockets.(Inflation would also be greater here as well).
  • + 1
 Unfortunately the problem is much bigger than the bike industry itself. Even if there was a sudden spike in North American cyclists demanding products made on their continent and even insisted on paying the increased prices, I doubt it would be a large enough incentive to shift the market entirely. Smaller companies that only sell in North American markets would certainly shift to in house products, but the international companies would probably continue producing their products in their asian factories. This is because 1) It's not cost effective to shut down and build a factory 2) Their prices need to remain competitive in the European, and Asian markets as well. And because the international companies would do that, their prices would remain significantly less than their American/Canadian counterparts. For a few years they may see a drop in American sales due to consumer demand, but eventually the fact that the product quality of the international companies are still world class, and that they are available at a reduction in price, will eventually draw newer cyclists with less money to invest in the sport back to their product. This in turn brings us back to the original dilemma of smaller companies then being forced to look for cheaper alternatives to stay competitive. It's a vicious cycle.

So like it or not unless the U.S. and Canada wish to return back to an industrial economy, that will maximize the use of its natural resources, in order to maximize their products sold overseas, the idea of buying "American" will most likely be a novelty as any American made products will not be superior to anything made in the current Asian factories.
  • + 0
 I think for the USA this boat has sailed already, but I believe if Canada wanted to they could. They have an immense amount of natural resources, and land to support an industrial economy, and from what I've seen of their business practices so far seem to have the common sense to use them without destroying everything. Only downside is there'd be more urban sprawl and less wilderness. Me personally. I'd rather have my bike shipped from Japan/Taiwan/Where ever and ride my local mountain, than have my bike made down the street and then fly to another country to ride.
  • + 0
 Also that's only in relation to what I would call "Frame building companies". For component companies there is ample evidence that it's not only possible but beneficial to create products in house. I'm not 100% but aren't Diety and Race Face both still manufacturing on North American soil?
  • + 1
 @Marlfox87

Diety have always had the majority (if not entirety) of their products make off-shore in Taiwan, I have certaintly seen some of their "products" with different 'brand names' on the parts (what we in the bike industry call "catalogue" product - pick some parts, have a brand name printed on the parts, make some small tweaks if needed)

Race Face's cheaper product lines like their "Evolve" range were, I believe, made by FSA in Taiwan (only their premium ranges like Atlas and Diablous were made in B.C.)
  • + 1
 to expand upon the discussion of "domestic vs. off-shore" manufacturing I can add my own experiences both as the co-owner of an early suspension company here in the UK, and years spent selling bike brands like Cannondale, Specialized, Giant, Trek, Devinci, Banshee, Ellsworth, Santa Cruz, Raleigh, Dawes, Claud Butler, Marin, KHS, Ridgeback, Genesis, Gary Fisher, Klein, GT, Jamis, etc.

with my own company "Bombproof" I literally could not get any aluminium alloy suspension frames produced here in the UK - after several frustrating years of false promises and shonky pre-production sample, we ended up in Australia with CaTi bikesports (Ozziroo, Quintana Roo, Living Extreme, etc.)
  • + 1
 with selling many bikes and frames from the many brands I mentioned (and some I didn't mention) in mountain bike, road bike, hybrid bike and BMX I have found the quality control depends on the "plant" (factory) rather than the location, and this comes down to costs (profits)

more QC costs more and reduces initial profits, although better QC protects brand reputation in the long-term and also improves long term profits

however, many companies are not looking at the long term, but the year-to-year figures
  • + 2
 I have seen shockingly bad domestically made frames, and shockingly bad off-shore made frames (off shore can included Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc. generally with TW at the top of the hierarchy for good QC)

in terms of typical day to day QC, the big brands like Specialized and Trek have it right because they have their own people in the off-shore factories who are very strict about QC, and they have the direct resources to sort out any problems "in-country" (where the bike is sold), so it rarely impacts the consumer to any great degree - which protects the brand reputation

the bigger brands also have the best engineering, design and production resources to minimise problems, some of the smaller brands are literally one guy with an engineering degree working from a laptop computer out of his flat in Europe or North America, and liasing with a contact in the TW factory, the first he knows of problems is when the brand's dealer (bike shop) email him to tell him the headset cups fall out of the head tubes or the frame is out of alignment!

the smaller brands can really struggle with QC issues because they won't have the resources to quickly deal with the issue, and consumers can be given the "run around" with all kinds of B.S. or kept waiting months for replacement parts, especially if the smaller brand is using a small volume manufacturer off-shore where the consumer will have to wait for the next "batch" production in the factory to get their new chainstay or rocker
  • + 2
 to sum up my feelings about these issues, I have to give major credit to Devinci Bikes of Quebec, Canada who have managed to produce very high quality bikes domestically in their own plant, which is a rarity in these days of sending all production off-shore.

of the 3 boutique brands I used to sell at one of my last shops (we also sold Specialized which was pretty much trouble free apart from the odd problem with snapping spokes on Rockhoppers, or the old Demo 9 frames cracking), Devinci had the lowest return rate for warranty by a huge margin

another brand we sold had a return rate ranging from 60-70% between several seasons, with all the warranty issues relating to piss-poor QC in the off-shore factory (as well as sub standard design engineering), with the brand's management in complete denial about the issue and making all kinds of excuses including the old red herring about "the wrong kind of mud in the UK"

currently, as a workshop manager for the UK's leading 'quality cycle retailer' selling a wide variety of brands, I have to deal with warranty claims on a day to day basis, not from customers, but from my mechanic's bringing poor QC issues to my attention

we are talking about bikes arrives (boxed) with buckled wheels, cracked spoke drillings on rims, misaligned frames, faulty caliper brakes, damaged components (damaged during assembly), stripped threads on components, etc.

this is before the bike even gets into the hands of a paying consumer! the QC is getting worse as many companies seek to offset increasing production costs by reducing component quality and QC
  • + 1
 Aston Martins are know die after a few hours of driving and Ferraris are know to burst into flames when driven hard. Yet there's a 3-4 year wait to get an Aston or Ferrari. Nothing is indestructible!
  • + 1
 @Bikethrasher
And your point is....because i am not sure what you mean......?
Is it that you think it is OK for manufacturers to provide goods to the consumer at unacceptable levels of QC?
Is it that you think the population are blinded by the image branding to such an extent that they willingly buy inferior quality overpriced branded goods?
Is it that you think people who receive sub-standard frames and components should shut-up whinging and just accept it as "part and parcel of the deal"?
Is it something else?

I look forward to hearing from you.
  • + 1
 orientdave, I don't think it is ok for manufactures to produce goods at unacceptable levels of QC. If you watched the video and listened. Jeff admitted that there was an issue with the quality of heat treating of their frames that another company was treating for them. To resolve this Jeff invested in the heat treating equipment so it can be done in-house. The pivot bolts were a challenge as well. Santa Cruz had issues on their frames that used the same VPP suspension, but used different bolts. It's clearly no secret that Intense has had issues over the years, but with all their aluminium work now being done in house and their carbon being done in Asia. Hopefully they can put these issues behind them. I hope Jeff is sincere and the issues are being resolved.

I find is it quite funny that you don't think people buy things just because of what brand it is. People in your country spend Billions of dollars a year on Over priced Brand name Products that are all fasion and very little function. People buy Image Branding to the Extreme. There are womens Handbags that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars just because of the brand. A $20 dollar Timex keeps time just as accurately as a $5 thousand dollar Rolex but for some reason Rolex isn't going out of business. Are European and American cars better than Japanese cars? I personally don't think so, but the Euros and the Americans sell a Lot of cars even though the Quality and reliability is Questionable. Even funnier and closer to your home. Why does a Lexus 460 SUV sell for $20 grand more than a Toyota Land Cruiser even though they are the same SUV except for the badges?
No I don't beleive people should stop Complaining about products that fail doing its intended task. If we don't complain they may never Know there is a Problem.
I do hope all the complanits here about Intense hit home and they make the product we all know they can.


Hope I answered your questions.
  • + 1
 Hi Bikethrasher,

I couldn't agree with you more that QC should never be considered superfluous, and especially that Intense are sincere in their attempts to deal with known issues; after all we are spending quite significant amounts of cash on their goods and products.

I'm afraid you have misinterpreted my comment to mean I don't think people buy things because of what brand it is; as you say the population of this country is one of the most prone (in my experience) to fall into the trap of believing that branded goods are somehow superior. There are scandalous prices associated with some products here purely because they are a brand and I am acutely aware that there are significant sections of the population that will willingly pay many times the price for a branded good over a non.

I was wondering whether your comment was suggesting you think people are blinded by brands and thus pay more than they should... I think that maybe they do in many cases. Would anyone here on PB put Intense into that category? Would you Bikethrasher?

I believe maybe that here in Japan it could be argued that Intense and some other bike manufacturers goods are criminally expensive. To some extent that may be down to the monopoly held by certain importers / wholesalers over the brand such that there is zero competition on pricing. In the case of Intense, the importer is called Funfancy and they keep a log of every bike serial no. sold. They also refuse to sell anyone replacement parts unless the bike has been imported to Japan through them. They have a stranglehold on the market and can promote the brand as they wish since no-one else can get access.

I know of the NS Bikes importer here who attempts quite openly to suggest to the riders that other brands are overpriced; criminally overpriced and who sells bikes at price points which makes a good quality machine accessible. If only some of the other importers could follow their lead....
  • + 21
 Love seeing where my bike was born, nice article!
  • + 3
 great look at the process. glad i just got a 951
  • + 2
 Another new 951 owner here, and I most certainly am impressed with the bike and how it got made.
  • + 1
 now I'm really stoked to ride it, just another month or two of snow to wait through!
  • + 1
 i couldnt imagine having to hand weld for a big company like that Eek
  • + 1
 just wants you buy these beauties
  • + 1
 Random, I know but my brother makes those CNC machines. they are really cool and take a lot of work to make but there made in the USA and all that good stuff. Some of them are so accurate they cant sell them to some countries. They made a smart move going to Haas, now I waish I could get my hands on one of those machines (or a 951)!!
  • + 1
 thats what warranties are for; shit happens
  • + 12
 Awesome article. I really enjoy reading about where and how the frames and components we love to ride are made.
  • + 12
 What a hero, way to keep it American made Jeff
  • + 9
 Why does everyone think they are so expensive? All bikes are expensive these days.

Tracer 2 MSRP $4500
SB66 racex9 MSRP $4500
Slash 8 MSRP $4730
Reign 0 MSRP $4200

And only one of those is made in the USA.
  • + 11
 Huge respect for Intense and Jeff's attitude to business. Integrity + innovation.
  • + 8
 I have a 951 from first batch. to this day is straight as an arrow. I easily rack up 150+ days a year. the bike has performed and held up above and beyond my expectations. even after denting it on the second week(my fault). Although there is no disputing that many people have had problems. I can only speculate that many of these problems develop from improper transport, care, or from using the wrong bike for the job.

Example: throwing a $3000 race oriented frame with thin wall aluminum over your tailgate and racing up your local shuttle every day(often dirt roads). then complaining when you case a jump and crack the down tube right where it rests on your tail gate...Hmmm. you cant have a frame built for a decade of use, and be a weight wennie. pick one or the other.

I love my 951 and will likely replace with another Intense when the time comes.
  • + 1
 This guy speaks the truth!
  • + 7
 Great stuff PB! Awesome article. I am just designing my own frame and these pics with billets got me thinking about some "solutions" - damn! It takes material to make this head tube.

Local manufacturing FTW, All the best to Intense for keeping production at home! SC -> boooo!
  • + 6
 I am now having palpitations, hopefully from excitement lol. Absolutely awesome insight in to one of the most well known bike brands EVER..Just the pictures alone can cause a state of giddyness. Love the behind the scenes write ups...Well done pink bike..
  • + 7
 This company is so amazing!
  • + 6
 Interesting change to all Haas machines.
  • + 3
 I actually just got a tour of intense also last week, it gave me so much more respect for that company and their bikes everyone that worked their was very welcoming and nice!
  • + 1
 awesome article... good to know some more about the brand i always heard since i starded DH 1995. Back in the days i had UZZI DH, M3, 951... i also had Sintesi, Giant, Univega, Cannondale, Mondraker, Scott, Kona, Trek... Some cranked, others not. I had some good experiences, so many stories, so much fun with all off them, but nothing can be compared with INTENSE. Thanks for u guys that work in Intense, and specially to Chad that support all my costumers and Jeff Steber by having drawn bikes so sexy and effective bikes.
  • + 2
 Great inside look at Intense's facility!
I'd gladly fork out $$ for an Uzzi and Carbine SL but they don't make frame sizes for taller riders! Not every tall rider wants a 29er.
  • + 2
 Great article and insight into a medium sized frame builder. However being a small boutique builder myself I would never weld a frame up with the large tube clearences of those showen in the jigs.
  • + 1
 A couple of months ago, I was at a gas station with my Raw UZZI hooked on my NSR4 rack and a guy came over and said that is a cool bike rack (northshoreracks.com) then he looked at the UZZI and said, "I am a welder by trade and I wish I could weld like that … that thing really is a work of art"!!!
www.pinkbike.com/photo/7456378
  • + 1
 A better way of getting hold of spares in the UK would be a start, especially considering the amount of Intense bikes you see around the trails.
I cannot for love nor money get hold of a set of pivot bolts for my 6.6!
Sort out your customer aftercare/service and then think about where the "internal routes" on your carbon frames need to be.
  • + 2
 Tried Chain Reaction online? Outrageous price (not Chain reactions fault BTW) but here's the link: www.chainreactioncycles.com/Models.aspx?ModelID=55030

My solution to missing bolts has been to go to the local fastener dealer and get a slightly longer allen-head bolt that matches the thread. I've found that the longer bolts stay in without issue (though still make sure to loctite them)...also they cost like 50 cents apiece instead of 30 bucks!
  • + 1
 unfortunately its the lower link pivot bolts that I need, the ones about 80mm long, and they need to have a certain amount of the shaft unthreaded, and probably about 5mm of thread on the end! I am also thinking of upgrading it to the newer version of the box link, which is apparently stiffer, so might just have to bite the bullet and stump up the cash!!!
  • + 4
 I freaking love these behind the scenes articles!!!! We need MORE of these!!!!
  • + 2
 I have had my tracer 2 since march last year and waited 7 month for it, oh boy im so glad i did, its like christmas everyday for me and puts a smile on my face like a cheshire cat every ride, thank you intense!!
  • + 5
 That was awesome! Thank you Pinkbike!
  • + 2
 So stoked to own one! Made in USA is great. Hopefully Jeff will be able to figure out a way to make the carbon frames here in America.
  • + 1
 pinkbike, thanks for this article! makes me appreciate stuff made here in north america. though a bit expensive, has something more going on. i hope you guys make more of these articles be it in north america or elsewhere.
  • + 0
 Had an Intense Spider. Seat tube cracked while riding on flat with a few little bumps. Emailed Intense to see if a) they could fix it and b) if not, did they have a front triangle/used/demoed/blemished frame that I could BUY. Suffice it to say I never go a response. Not even a polite "Im sorry but no". You would think after spending a fortune on these notoriously failure-proned frames they would at least have the decency to reply, but apparently they do not. FRIENDS DONT LET FRIENDS BUY FROM INTENSE!!!
  • + 2
 I love my Intense, but my hoodie was made in China with a "Made in America" patch on the hood. The complexity of bikes is second to that of a hoodie :-)
  • + 1
 love my 951 .Ok i have a q factor problem and after two years it needs new bearings BUT my bike is for sure more fun a better handling better in the air and generly better than all the other dh fr bikes in my area
  • + 2
 their aluminum bikes are dead sexy - the welding is amazing. It's too bad they couldn't keep the carbon in-house as well, rather than sending it overseas.
  • + 2
 So now I know the work taken in to making my M9...way to go guys, you have turned me to Intense, I just bought an SS too...keep them coming!
  • + 2
 My m3 rear end was so out of line it took two of us to put it back together after a bearing change. My friends Socom was the same.
  • + 2
 Thanks Intense for making the best bikes in the world. i just got my M9 and first ride was insane!! made very little changes to settings, it feels perfect!
  • + 3
 now go watch the video with guy martin and the orange factory!! what a difference!
  • + 3
 thats just ace, really makes you think about all the work that has been put in to your ride!
  • + 2
 I didn't think it was possible to love Intense bikes more than i already do...then i read this! Smile we're not worthy, we're not worthy! lol
  • + 4
 Well, this article can cause some heart attacks!!!!!!
  • + 5
 sick!!! Thumps Up
  • + 0
 I never realized how cool of a company they are.

That said, i think they need to start welding their frames straight, my friends M6 was so crooked he eventually cracked the link, and i rode with a guy last weekend whose M9 and 951 were/are both crooked
  • + 2
 where were they crooked at?
  • + 3
 The rear triangle
  • + 3
 sounds like the ' stream lining ' in affect Razz
  • + 0
 My Uzzi is straight as an arrow!

www.pinkbike.com/photo/7456378
  • + 2
 My T29 & M9 are both straight as can be...as is every other Intense frame I've seen. I see at least two or three new Intense frames per week and haven't seen a crooked one yet. Some have welds that are less perfect than others so you can tell if it was welded by a veteran or a rookie but I highly doubt that any are leaving the factory crooked. They have crazy good QC... and customer service too for that matter, if any of those frames you mention actually were crooked, Intense would've made it right with a phone call.
  • + 6
 " They have crazy good QC" - When I got my M3 frame, half the welds were missing from the back end. It looked straight at least! Must have left the factory on a Friday afternoon! And I've found in the 4 times I've had to deal with Intense's "customer service" it's been mind blowingly bad every time. Have I just been REALLY unlucky here?
  • + 2
 Yeah, I'd guess you were... either that or myself and the dozen or so other people I know who all ride Intense, and the dozens of other Intense frames I've seen rolling through the shop, and the dozens of others I've seen at local riding spots & races have all been really lucky. And there's not really any point to comparing a frame that's not even been made in over four years to the current state of the company in any case.
  • + 5
 I have heard the crooked frame story more than once come through a local shop. Not just thousandths out of alignment, more like quarter of an inch or more. Took really long time and a lot of phone calls and no bike showed up, so it was sent back and the customer went with a different frame cause they were fed up. I have heard both sides of QC and cust service being good and bad. That being said...everything in house here at home is a beautiful thing.
  • + 4
 BBLB:

With the 951, intense just kept ignoring him, and his local dealer wouldnt do shit. He had to threaten to drive the 5 hours to SoCal and show up at their door with the frame in hand before they would give him a RA to send it in.

With the M9, same deal.

And with the M6, the two sides of the swingarm are noticeably not parallel where they meet with the top link. (so it stresses the link, which eventually caused it to crack.)
  • + 4
 Yeah, that's def shitty service... I guess they just make sure to take care of us local boys since it's only a 15 minute drive for us to show up on their door with frame in hand, lol.
  • + 5
 theyve put nothing but 100% effort behind anything ive needed for my M9. cant say anything bad about them
  • + 2
 Those HAAS CNC machines are sexy to an engineer. But that is a Mill, not a drill press.
  • + 2
 love my Intense!! just got my M9 last week Smile
  • + 1
 Any more info on the syntace compatible G3 dropouts? I have been hoping they'd come out with some for a while.
  • + 1
 They're available now... call Intense or call your local dealer.
  • + 1
 you spelled HAAS wrong in the article. This really bugged me since my processes prof flipped on me for spelling it HASS
  • + 1
 whoa, Acid trip, it was spelt correctly after all
  • + 2
 ONE OF THE BEST BIKE MANUFACTURING COMPANIES EVER!
  • + 2
 Intense bikes are just sick.
  • + 3
 I LUV MY TAZAR HT =]
  • + 2
 sweet. except for that dudes crackhead beanie
  • + 2
 Carbon M9!!! Bring it!!! That Carbine is sooo nice looking. Me likey.
  • + 2
 Intense have always been my fave bike.
  • + 1
 "All eight aluminum frames in the Intense catalog"

I'm british and what is aluminum?
  • + 1
 I'm not Scottish and who is Ken that you're all going on about?!
  • + 1
 thats why i ride an intense!! Smile
  • + 1
 I just find it sooooooooooooo mesmerising!
  • + 1
 great writeup! but wheres the pic of the argon setup??
  • + 1
 Still lovin' my 951!
Waiting to see the new carbon M9c. Wink
  • + 1
 Aluminum rig, seriously ?
  • + 0
 I don't think I could fork out the cash with such a weak warranty behind it. Would like to have one otherwise... Frown
  • + 1
 i'm with matt. Tracksuit? WTF?
  • + 1
 I loved all my Intense bikes, and I can't wait to buy another one!!!!
  • + 1
 Those Uzzi's look so damn sexy, maybe that's why the rear end is so flexy!
  • + 1
 Got to Love Intense! I would give both my testicles to work there!!
  • + 1
 my god, has anyone been to their website lately? it's f*cking atrocious.
  • + 2
 Awesome article
  • + 2
 Proud to be an owner!
  • + 1
 love my 951 and spider 29!
  • + 1
 oof, i think it's time to update my frame
  • + 1
 miinnngggeeee!!!!!!
  • + 0
 Whoa.... Sweet tracksuit...!
  • + 0
 Was hoping they would do a 2012 Uzzi release...
  • + 1
 I am a dealer, I have seen them .
  • + 1
 Oh what! Any clue on distribution? I have mine back ordered and have heard all different dates ranging from now to late April....
  • + 1
 Patience, its sick, our shop is right down the street .
  • + 1
 Good to hear. Going to be a tough month or so waiting for that thing...
  • + 0
 A 650b DH bike makes more sense to me.
  • + 0
 i agree
  • - 1
 I have an INTENSE TRACER VP and it is the dopest bike I have ever owned ! USA !
  • + 0
 I LOVE MY 951 with G3 dropouts AND MY TAZER ht !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • + 1
 God I miss my M1
  • - 2
 Awesome welds in the frame and crappy welds on the swingarm make an Intense bike break on the trails,... and that is not just my experience!
  • - 1
 Tazer??? Why tazer??, they are made in Taiwan.
  • + 0
 Truly amazing Americans!
  • - 3
 There like the US equivilant of orange mountain bikes.
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