Words: Mike Rose

Every so often social media (and in this case Instagram) throws up something so cool and special that it makes all the hours of endless (and sometimes mindless) scrolling all worth while. I’d been following Justin Sullivan for some time, we had crossed paths in the past and I already knew that he had a rather ‘unhealthy’ addiction to old retro mountain bikes.

To be honest I had often looked upon retro collectors as being somewhat… how can I put it... slightly weird and living in the past… but I couldn’t help it, I was slowly morphing into one myself. I mean, who could resist a late ‘90s INTENSE M1 in red with a polished aluminium back end? eBay can become an addiction, and it quickly did for me… but that’s another story.

Justin’s Instagram account is pretty tight, mainly documenting his work with his employee Specialized, but every so often he’ll drop some photos into his stories, something a little different. This time around it was a slightly odd looking INTENSE. It was obvious that it was old, and that it was an early version of the infamous M1. The M1 was the bike that put INTENSE on the map, it is just a classic in every way, especially the monocoque front end. This frame had a similar looking front end… well the ‘front end’ of the front end, but from the seattube backwards it was different. I knew about the first version of the M1 that Kathy Sessler had ridden back in 1994, that was Gen 1, but where the bike that Kathy rode had a straight and complete seattube, this one of Justin’s… well it wasn’t there. I needed to know more.

Hi Justin, first you have to tell us about your love affair with INTENSE and where it all began?
When did I fall in love with INTENSE? Well I grew up learning to ride and falling in love with mountain biking in the 1990’s. If you are a kid that grew up riding back then you would have heard of Shaun Palmer, Randy Lawrence and Mike Metzger (above). These three guys with their MX inspired kit, tattoos, crazy personas and riding some of the wildest looking bikes the industry had ever seen... yeah, that’s when and why I fell in love with INTENSE.

INTENSE does seem to have somewhat of a fanatical following. Why do you think that is?
Palmer in my opinion put INTENSE on the map. Well he put them on my map, as I’m sure he did for many kids my age back then. They had it all – small, unique, focused on racing, MX inspired look and feel… they were counter culture. They were for sure one of the cooler brands back then.

What is your story when it comes to mountain bikes?
Well my story is a long one, but I’ll give you the condensed version. I'm from South Africa and I grew up riding in the ‘90s and absolutely loved DH racing, so much so that I moved to the UK and tried to pursue a racing career, but unfortunately I just didn’t make the cut. Fast forward through working in bike shops for many years to the present day and I’m now a professional film maker and photographer within the bike industry.

Can you tell us a bit about your collection?
I’m strictly a ‘90s collector. The golden age of MTB if you will. I only collect downhill race bikes, as that is where my love and passion stemmed from.

So what do we have here, this looks a little bit special?
Yeah, to my knowledge it’s a Gen 2 INTENSE M1, circa 1994-1995. Which apparently has a bit of history.

How did it come to be in your possession?
So believe it or not this frame was gifted to me by an awesome German guy by the name of Patrik who had seen some of my restored bikes and loved my collection and asked if I wanted this old frame he had. The only condition was that I do a full restoration on it.

The front end looks pretty normal, but the split seat tube, and then the shock is obviously very funky looking?
This specific frame uses the same monocoque design INTENSE are famous for, but on the rear it uses the ‘Mc Strut’ or McPhearson Strut design which was what INTENSE used before venturing down the multi pivot route. This frame uses a Shock Therapy damper for suspension duties.

So you have done a bit of research and you believe this to be a second generation M1? Is there a serial number?
Well the story goes that this frame was given to Patrik by Jeff Steber himself in the early ‘90’s as a replacement for the broken Gen 1 M1 Patrik had. Jeff apparently told him this was a prototype frame for the new Gen 2, as the bike that he sent had not been released yet. It has some strange extra gussets that I cannot say if they are original or not, and I think from memory the serial number is 4.

Do you know if any famous or well known riders rode this model of bike?
Palmer, Randy and Metz would have all ridden this bike. Maybe even Kathy Sessler.

You’ve already started to strip the paint off the frame, what is happening next? The INTENSE color palette was quite limited back then wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was basically red, black, yellow or raw back then. That was INTENSE’s color palette, but it worked. Slap on a few FOX and TLD decals on it and you were the coolest cat on the block. For this I want to go yellow front end and red rear, like the bike Palmer rode. Unfortunately the frame did not have the original paint on it when I received it. Someone sand blasted the original yellow paint off, then it had a really bad rattle can job done on it with engine enamel. Luckily the swingarm is the original color.

The graphics and decals are very important on any retro build, especially when the frame has had to be repainted. How do you go about getting the correct era specific decals?
There are a few guys that now do great repo these days. When you have a really rare bike you have to work with them to get custom stuff made, but there are so many people collecting their dream vintage bikes these days that most decals are already on file.

And the build? Are you going to build this up as a complete bike, or will it be frame only?
I will build it complete, and all era correct, most likely as close to the bike Palmer rode back then.

Some people view retro bike collectors as a bit weird and geeky, do you think that is fair?
Oh 100%. We are all bike geeks, or bike tech geeks, or racing fanatics... it’s the cycling industry. We are all a little crazy right?

Do you look upon these bikes as investments or is it really just for your own personal pleasure?
For me it’s 100% personal pleasure and nostalgia.

Can people ever see your collection, or is it hidden away?
Only a handful of people have seen my entire collection. I have it kept tucked away in storage.

Do you have a favorite that you own?
Oh yeah, I have a few. Sorry it’s not an INTENSE, but my pride and joy would be my fully restored Specialized Palmer Race Edition bike. It was the first production bike by Specialized limited to 300 bikes.

And is there a ‘Holy Grail’ for you, one bike that you are desperate to have?
Actually... there is one. I would kill for a Palmer original frame. He was an absolute idol for me growing up and a big reason why I love bicycles so much. If I could choose it would be an original Palmer M1. I don’t even care which one ha ha... Jeff, I hope you are reading this!!!

We are going to do some research on this frame, so hopefully we’ll have some more info and we’ll be able to fill in the blanks. And interestingly whilst doing a bit more searching we came across another Gen 2 M1 (above), this one is owned by a guy called Nick Cook. Watch this space...