To get our heads around the new bike and to ensure that our riding perceptions were as accurate as possible for the two-day evaluation, we chose a familiar DH track and invited two talented local riders, not sponsored by Intense, who have extensive experience aboard both the 951 and the M9. We also brought along an M9 for side-by side comparisons
. The M9 was set up with Fox suspension and Maxxis tires, while the 951 Evo rolled on Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires and was suspended by a Manitou Dorado fork and a Cane Creek DB shock. While a scientific apples-to-apples comparison was not possible - two sessions, riding similar bikes on a familiar DH track, provided enough experience to clearly define the differences in both the 951 Evo’s handling and its performance – and they were not so subtle.
The 951 was intended to be Intense's more affordable downhill/freeride chassis and as such, it lacks some of the features of the M9, like adjustable G3 dropouts and multiple options for ride-height and suspension travel. Surprisingly, however, the 951 has become quite popular among racers and is now capturing a substantial portion of the brand's DH sales. The 951 Evo is constructed from heat treated 6000-series aluminum throughout. Every tube is butted, tapered or manipulated in profile and the top tube is the hydroformed and welded feature that has become an Intense signature. All of the main pivot bearings use adjustable angular-contact bearings for an extended service life, and the head tube is a straight 1.5-inch style, so that forks with any combination of tapered or straight steerer tubes can be used. Designer Jeff Steber said that some modifications were done to the 951 Evo’s VPP suspension rates to smooth its feel through the mid-stroke of the shock and also to reduce the rising rate at full compression. The new tune works exceptionally well with the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock.
What is Different?
Remarkably, the Evo's 17.5-inch chainstays are only 0.2 inches (5mm)
longer than the standard 951's to make room for the larger wheels and rear-wheel travel is the same. The rear tire comes awfully close to the saddle at full compression, but that is an occupational hazard which also comes with most 26-inch-wheel DH bikes. Steber extended the top tube length of the 951 one half inch from the M9 - the medium M9 has a 23 inch top tube, while both the 26 and 27.5-inch 951s measure 23.5 inches. The head tube is one half inch shorter, at 4.5 inches, than the M9 and 951, while the bottom brackets are the same height, at 13.75 inches.
Conventional logic holds that a larger-diameter wheel would require a steeper head angle in order to duplicate the steering action of a smaller-diameter wheel, but Intense kicked out the Evo's head angle from the standard 951's 64-degrees, to a much slacker, 62.5 degrees. Standard 951s use a 65-degree seat angle, while the Evo's is 64 - a shift that only the tallest riders for a given size will sense. The 1.5-inch delta between the wheelbases of the M9, the 26-inch 951 and the 951 Evo in the medium size is significant, with an inch of that created by the Evo's slacker head angle and longer top tube. The M9 can be set between 46.5 and 47.5 inches, the 26er 951 wheelbase is 46.5 inches and the 951 Evo measures 48 inches. For your future data bank, Intense published the Evo's frame geometry with a fork crown-to-axle measurement of 23 inches (586mm)
which means it will accept all of the most desirable 200-millimeter DH sliders.Key Components
Availability of premium wheels, tires and forks was the limiting factor for the mid-sized wheels's entrance into the marketplace, and while most brands are well-represented in the trailbike segment, 650B-specific DH components are just coming on line this spring. Fox Racing Shox will have its 2.75-inch 40 ready in May, and reportedly, DH forks from RockShox and X-Fusion will follow shortly after. The default fork for 650B DH bikes at present is the Manitou Dorado, which was on the 951 Evo. The Dorado has no significant clearance issues with 27.5-inch wheels because its reversed stanchions do not require a reinforcement arch. Wheels specific to DH, on the other hand, are still in the pipeline for most big-name brands. Hoops for our test bike were built with Novatec Diablo 275 rims, which are holding up quite well. Tires are not a problem, with almost all brands releasing 650B options of their popular DH patterns this year. The Hans Dampf from Schwalbe proved well suited for the sometimes slick hard-pack found in Southern California, and is becoming a go-to tread for many riders on the World Cup circuit. The rest of the 951 Evo was classic DH kit - powered by a Shimano Saint ensemble and glued to the dirt with a Cane Creek DB shock.
|Of course, the extra speed could be chalked up to exuberance and New Bike Syndrome, but as the testing progressed, it became apparent that, while the 951 may not feel much faster, it is really moving.|
From the outset, the 951 Evo pedals easier than the M9 over any surface. All three of us commented immediately on that point - and the Evo's balance feels quite good from the get-go, so there is need for a familiarization period before sending the bike. Two runs down Ted's and the difference in speed was evidenced by the fact that our first rider was over-jumping everything. Of course, the extra speed could be chalked up to exuberance and New Bike Syndrome, but as the testing progressed, it became apparent that, while the 951 may not feel much faster, it is really moving. The enlarged wheel-size, in conjunction with the 951's revised suspension and steering geometry, create a wonderfully smooth ride that erases much of the sense of speed and urgency that comes from a bike when it is banging down rocky terrain.
Corners came up suddenly on the Evo, and there we discovered the second major difference between the M9 and the 951. Turning the Evo requires a more pronounced lean angle, which corresponds to results we have garnered from testing AM 29ers in this same zone. The additional lean is nowhere near that of a 29er and it becomes natural after a couple of shuttles. Once learned, the 951 reveals another trick in the turns that may be inherent to its wheel-size. Where the M9 tends to break traction with an edgy feel, the Evo lets loose in a more controlled manner that encourages feet-up drifting. The differences in the two bike's tires may play a large role in this, but the feel was that the 951 rider was more in the bike than on it when pushing hard through a corner. We speculate that some of the added stability is due to the bottom bracket being lower in relation to the axles than the 26-inch-wheel M9.
Of course, there is the question of whether or not slightly larger wheels add significantly to the 951 Evo's speed in the rough. The answer is yes, they do roll faster, but the truth is that an eager rider on a good day could get the M9 down the rocks as fast as the Evo. In fact, the third test rider of the team (un-named, due to conflicting sponsors)
was not completely convinced that he could put in a faster time down the most technical parts of the trail on larger wheels. Medium-amplitude features, like rock gardens and chatter bumps, are built into the trails at Ted's to put suspensions to the test and all were in agreement that the 951 zoomed through them as if they were part of an XC circuit. Perhaps the greater advantage of the 650B platform is that it takes the edge off the terrain and thus requires less concentration to ride the course. This in turn, makes it easier to focus well ahead on key features and to hold a more accurate line. First impressions:
|Riding is not racing and the defining tests of the mid-sized wheel's potential will begin in the start-houses of the first World Cups this Spring. That said, we expected the benefits of the 650B wheels to be minimal and difficult to discern, but such was not the case. The Intense 951 Evo is one of the easiest downhill bikes I've ever ridden and that sentiment was reflected by far more capable riders. It pedals easily and you don't have to pedal as much because it carries its speed so well. We expected the Evo to feel sluggish in its steering, but beyond the extra lean angle, it is at least as nimble as the M9. In theory, the 951 has a lot going for it in the positive column and almost no negatives. Unfortunately, those seeking hard numbers will have to wait for the racing season to heat up. Our efforts to ride the two bikes on the widest range of terrain available did not provide the consistency required to publish relevant Strava comparisons (Planned for the long-term test.)|
Before you get all hot on a new 650B DH bike, however, be reminded that some key ingredients - like a proper selection of DH forks and wheels - are still on the horizon. It would be prudent for first-adopters to confirm the existence of those critical components before slapping down the credit card on a frame and shock. (Intense will stock complete build kits to ensure Evo customers are covered.) All things considered, though, the 951 Evo could provide a very rare opportunity for a privateer racer to buy a measurable advantage over the bikes that most riders, including super-funded corporate teams, will be campaigning on this season. A couple or three seconds isn't going to change the life of a weekend shuttler, but that is exactly the advantage that an up-and-coming racer needs to move up the rankings and get noticed. My advice? If you own a fresh DH bike - keep it. If you are in the market for a new race bike, I'd put my money on the 951 Evo - or something darn close to it. - RC