The INTENSE story is one of passion, innovation and creativity. Back in the early 1990’s a young thrill-seeker from Ohio decided to head out west to chase his Californian dream… that person was INTENSE founder and CEO Jeff Steber. Designer, artist and craftsman, with a hands-on approach and a drive to make things better. In those early days Jeff sculpted and welded aluminum frames in his garage. These bikes would go on to set the competitive bicycle world on fire. The legendary M1 and racing success was soon to follow, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Wanting to improve on what was currently available, and with a knowledge of motocross bike design and an understanding of what would and wouldn't work, Jeff Steber started sketching out ideas and plans for a new full-suspension mountain bike. And thus, his prototype bike came to fruition: the full suspension, 3" travel Spyder. The bike used a MacPherson Strut design with a Horst Link chainstay pivot. It was an excellent combination that helped to isolate pedaling and braking forces. The bike became adopted by downhillers, and Jeff's local trails became his salesroom floor, with riders commenting that the bikes looked 'intense!'. And the name was born.
The INTENSE brand becomes properly established, and Jeff attends his first Interbike trade show. All sample frames are sold, international distributors are signed up... things are happening fast. There’s a realization that INTENSE could become a real business.
The first M1 is produced, featuring active suspension, a stiff monocoque construction, CNC machined parts, sealed cartridge bearings, and adjustable geometry. It was a game changer. The M1 would become an industry leader and the most iconic downhill bike of all time. It was also in 1994 that Shaun Palmer picked up his first M1 and Kathy Sessler became the first Pro rider for the brand (image below).
Bikes started to be used by local MX riders for cross-training. Mike Metzger (the Godfather of Freestyle Motocross) was already racing and on the INTENSE team, and he brought his friends Shaun Palmer and Randy Lawerence to the party. These three would form the first INTENSE Factory Racing team, racing the US NORBA series. Their action sports backgrounds brought a different attitude to the scene.
Palmer wins the US National Championships on a linkage-driven, 6” travel INTENSE M1. He then powers this same bike (this time painted with the USA flag) to second place in the World Championships in Cairns, missing out on the top spot by just 0.15 seconds. The downhill world is in awe.
John Tomac rides an INTENSE M1 (Giant) to second place at the Chateaux-d'Oex (Switzerland) World Championships. During this period, many top racers would ride rebadged M1s with their sponsor’s logos on them – US greats like Eric Carter, Toby Henderson, Mike King, April Lawyer, Brian Lopes, and others. The M1 was everywhere.
As well as the M-1 SL Team Issue, the newly launched INTENSE website featured the complete UZZI range of bikes. There was the Uzzi DH, “It gobbles up ruts, rocks, and roots like butter...bitchen bike.” Then the 4 1/2” ‘kick-ass’ UZZI SL, “If you only own one bike in your entire life, make it a UZZI SL.” And finally, the 3” travel “agile dream machine” the UZZI XC. The new Tazer hardtail also featured a similar-looking monocoque front triangle to the M1. Still, the most noticeable feature was the lack of seat tubes (later models did feature various styles of seat tubes). The Tazer was a thing of beauty and highly sought after.
Leigh Donovan raced on INTENSE bikes from 1996 to 1999 (three of those seasons on the Mongoose team). She took the M1 to her first World Cup win at Massanutten, Virginia, in 1997 and then the 1998 DH US National Championships.
Australian legends Chris Kovarik and Michael Ronning sign for INTENSE. Chris would become a multi-time Australian National Champ, win several World Cups, and epitomize everything INTENSE stands for. Kovarik has been on INTENSE bikes ever since.
Constantly looking for ways to improve the mountain bike experience, Jeff sees that riders struggle for grip while riding on flat pedals. So, he starts talking to Charles Cole (inventor of ultra-sticky Stealth rubber and founder of Five Ten shoes) about developing a bike-specific shoe. Over the next few years, INTENSE logoed Five Ten shoes would be winning World Cups, the World Cup overall, and World Championship titles.
INTENSE partnered up with Santa Cruz to launch the VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) system at Sea Otter. Both brands utilize the same technology but with their own personal take on it. Sabrina Jonnier signs for INTENSE. In her five years with the brand, she was a permanent fixture on the women’s podium. She won four World Cup DH races, the overall DH title twice, and the 4X title once on INTENSE bikes.
The downhill world is stunned as Kovarik wins the first ever Fort William (Scotland) World Cup by a staggering 14.02 seconds. He would go on to win the next round in Slovenia and then podium at World Champs. Young upstart Sam Hill wins the Junior World Championships in Kaprun (Austria) on an INTENSE.
Greg Minnaar won the World Championships in Lugano, Switzerland, on an INTENSE Haro. The frame was built by INTENSE specifically for Haro and used the M1’s rear end and a section of the front end’s monocoque structure, but with an adjustable seat mast that was taken from our UZZI DH bike. The geometry was slightly different too compared to the M1, a little slacker with a lower bottom bracket.
Vanessa Quin wins the World Championships DH title in Les Gets, France, riding for the Dirt Magazine team on the recently launched M3, VPP downhill bike. Gee Atherton wins his first World Cup in Schladming (Austria) onboard an INTNESE M1 (Muddy Fox).