With its roots in downhill racing, the Intense name is unanimous with speed. It’s no surprise then that the US brand decided to join the market for e-MTB’s and give other brands a run for their money. With a recent launch date, the Intense Tazer is already impressing consumers with its agile riding ability and showing up all over the legal local trails. Megan Duehring of Shimano sat down with Intense CEO Jeff Steber to talk about the original idea behind the Tazer and why they decided to join the e-MTB market.MD: Thanks for meeting with us Jeff. Let’s start with a question many consumers may be thinking; why did Intense decide to create an e-mountain bike?
JS: I think it initially began for selfish reasons because as I tried e-bikes I really enjoyed them and personally I was really interested in the EV Space and the electrification of two wheels in general. I started riding them as a personal education process but in turn it kind of shifted the style of riding I do and it now revolves more around e-bikes. After I realized that it was a matter of how does that fit into the Intense brand and the brand message we portray. If you look at the Tazer in comparison to that and read results from editors and magazines that are familiar with Intense, especially those in the European crowd, one of their first comments is always that in riding the Tazer they can feel the Intense DNA in the design of the bike and how it rides and performs so I think we were able to keep it on point with the brand while creating something a little unique at the same time.MD: Speaking of Intense DNA, obviously Tazer was one of your original alloy hardtails/full suspension bikes way back when. What inspired you to relaunch this model as a carbon e-bike?
JS: So just to clarify, the Tazer was a hardtail dirt jumper/dual slalom bike but was originally designed for the dual slalom riders which later went to 4 cross and that’s when we also made a full suspension version which we called the Tazer VP. They were both basically race bikes and we ran those in the line for quite a while but eventually it was dropped from the line. The Tazer name was already really cool to me and it fit really well with the e-bike so we just repurposed it and no one had any issues with that. MD: How long was the development of the Tazer from start to finish?
JS: The heart of the development project was a two-year process from benchmarking, to first alloy prototypes all the way to the final production carbon bike. It started even earlier than that when I was investigating e-bikes in general to decide if it made sense with our brand, then test riding market leader products. When word got around that we were thinking about e-bikes a lot of the suppliers were bringing us bikes to try with their systems so I guess you could say it was more like three to four when you take all of the testing into account.MD: This answers another question of whether or not you ride these yourself. It sounds like e-bikes are a big part of your life now.
JS: Absolutely, it’s most of what I do now. For me, the e-bike is a new sense of adventure. It inspires me to go ride and explore and takes me places I normally wouldn’t; that’s how I see it. MD: What about your downhill team? You have some pretty heavy hitters this year; are they as interested in Tazer’s as you are?
JS: Oh ya! In the last year we’ve done a lot of reorganizing and self-reflection and that includes a commitment to our true north which is racing. If we’re going to make a statement like that we’re going to put together a top team to win World Cups. This means investing in all forms of racing - so currently Downhill, Enduro and we’re looking at XC since we make a race ready bike, the Sniper, and also now e-bike racing which is already happening. Aaron Gwin joined the IFR Team this year and right away it was a key thing that we had an e-bike and he actually understands it and uses it for his training process. Out on our World Cup rig we have 3 Tazers that are always in use from the team using them for recovery rides to riding back to accommodations, our team manager using them to run around, or even myself at the races using the Tazer to hit the trails in between gaps of the team racing and training.MD: You said Aaron Gwin uses the Tazer for training and I know he happens to be local. Does he come down and ride with the Intense crew often?
JS: He does, and we’re fortunate to be not only in a hub of a lot of motocross action out here in Southern California but there’s also a lot of really good trail networks that are conducive to riding e-bikes in the area. That’s one of the really attractive things about working with Aaron, we’re like neighbors basically and we’ve already started on R&D projects and to that point, some of those involve e-bike projects and where they go next and the development.MD: You also have big names in the moto industry like Ryan Dungey and Jeff Majkrzak as investors, how does that work with so much motocross influence in the brand?
JS: A little bit of it was the proximity and my interest in motocross when I started Intense, but being in the Inland Empire there’s a lot of moto tracks and a lot of racers living and training here. I knew a lot of these guys and they were into riding bikes for cross training and a lot of teams were riding the Intense bikes when we first began. We’ve kind of gone full circle and that’s happened again. We work with a lot of the motocross teams out there and sponsor riders as ambassadors for Intense both on pedal bikes and on pedal-assist bikes. We brought these guys into the fold a little sooner with the Tazer because they already understood it and actually for them it’s more access to doing the riding they love especially dual sport guys who like adventure riding, and for training and exploring. Recently there’s been a lot of interest from the moto industry in the bike space since you’re seeing brands like Yamaha and Husqvarna comes out with e-bike motors and batteries and for us it’s a natural progression to have relationships in both industries.MD: That leads to my next question; since there are so many other motor and battery makers out there, what made Intense decide to choose the Shimano STEPS system?
JS: We’ve had a long beneficial working relationship with Shimano for years and years so I understand the company and the level of quality products they develop. Right away I knew if Shimano was going to get into e-bikes they were going to do it really well. Going back a couple years to that bench marking process there was early Shimano STEPS e8000 product that we tested and it was a clear choice from the packaging, to reliability, to the global support program for Shimano already in place, authorized Shimano Service Center retailers already in place, and performance reliability. The size of the SHIMANO STEPS motor and the relationship of how the motor was configured to the crank spindle center worked within the perimeters so we could continue to use our suspension designs and not have to compromise on geometry or anything. A lot of the other systems were very large and it forced you to have really long chain stays and forced you to get out of the geometry numbers that were going to make the bike perform at its best also. Being a couple years in now, the reliability has really proven itself for me personally. On my personal bike, which I put a lot of miles on, I’m still running the first sample without an issue and it’s been installed on multiple prototypes along the way without a single glitch.MD: One thing Intense does differently is having a 29” front wheel and 27.5” rear wheel. How did you decide to choose that configuration for the Tazer?
JS: I’m glad you asked that because it’s one of the things that makes the Tazer handle better and unique in different ways. It started out when we were testing e-bikes; most were 27.5+ and our first Tazer prototypes were the same. When I actually started letting other people ride it their feedback would be, “maybe we should put a smaller tire on it because at the uphill flow and while going through techy stuff a little faster and at a quicker pace it makes steering a little vague and your kind of pin balling off of things.” Along with that tire pressure is kind of critical and it adds this other level of uncontrolled suspension to the bike. There were a lot of things we didn’t like about the plus tire at a performance level, but at the same time we did love the traction of a 2.8 on the rear for climbing the crazy steep stuff, so one day I just decided to throw a 29-inch wheel from one of our M29’s on the front and took it out for a spin and it made a world of difference. It allowed for much more precision while steering, the rollover was better, the bike handled better in corners and it really just eliminated all the bad stuff we didn’t like before. We now call this configuration staggered or ‘279’ and honestly even if this bike didn’t have a motor it’s one of our best handling and riding performing Enduro style bikes and everyone has said that to me right away.MD: Alright, let’s close with a big one. In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception people have about e-bikes?
JS: There is a resistance to change; it’s something new and until you actually try it you don’t understand what it is. I think a lot of people have this idea that an e-MTB is more like a motorcycle which is entirely untrue; it doesn’t have enough power to do anything a moto can. I think the biggest part is that people actually have to get on one and try it. Everyone will use these bikes in different ways, from people looking to explore more, to individuals with disabilities, to our DH team using this for recovery rides. It’s all perception and how you adapt to it in your mind but the biggest barrier is just getting out and trying it and realizing there isn’t a ton of torque with these things like a dirt bike. AND, we are talking pedal-assist bikes, there is no throttle for these Class 1 e-bikes (which is what the Tazer is). I encourage everyone to go out and try one before deciding where you stand.