Factory Tour: Intense Cycles’ Impressive American Production Line

Intense Racing

Nestled in the beautiful Southern California desert, at the foot of a mountain range that hosts some of the areas best mountain biking and road rides is Intense Cycles. The company, which was founded nearly twenty five years ago, got its start on Jeff Steber’s kitchen table. A self taught welder and born tinkerer, his first design was a 3“ full suspension cross country bike – at a time when everyone was still riding hardtails.

This was way back in 1990, when even downhill mountain bike races were being won by guys in full spandex. Many things have changed since that era, but one thing still remains, Intense Cycles’ commitment to doing things their own way.

Drop past the break to learn more…

Intense Factory Assembly Floor

Just behind the front office lays the assembly floor. Stacked on opposite sides of the room are carbon and aluminum front and rear triangles.

Intense Factory Floor Carbon Assembly

Carbon frames are received from overseas as just front and rear triangles.

Intesne Factory Tour Bearings Pressed

Each is individually checked for quality before the bearings are pressed and final frame assembly may begin. If the only thing Intense manufactured was carbon frames, this would be the end of the tour, but every single aluminum frame bearing the Intense logo is hand built in their California facility. 

Not only is every aluminum frame built in the United States, but so is every dropout and linkage. Jeff Steber and his team aren’t just passionate about building great bikes, they’re dedicated to making them locally. This commitment has been a boon not only to the local economy, but to the business as well.

Intense Factory Aluminum Hydroforming

Each top tube begins it’s life as a flat piece of aircraft grade aluminum that is pressed over an aluminum mold in a gigantic press, then CNC machines trim the pieces to size. It’s this process that gave Intense frames their unique shape. When Jeff first started building bikes out of his kitchen, the big companies wouldn’t talk to him. So he began to develop frames using this process, and it’s what gave the legendary M1 it’s iconic look.

Intense Factory Tour Jig

The press stamps out right and left specific molds which are then tacked together in custom jigs. Intense creates these jigs in house for every model.

Intense Factory Aluminum Hydroforming

Intense Factory Tour Aluminum Tubing

These top tubes, jigs, tack welded frames, and a variety of other miscellaneous materials are stored directly across from the welding stations.

Intense Factory Aluminum Welding

Depending on the frames on order, these materials are then collected and welded by Intense’s staff of expert welders.

Saris Fails At Welding

As a result of a stupid (or shall we say inspired) inebriated conversation with Jeff, I found myself early the next morning fully kitted in leather gloves and a welder mask. Under the tutelage of the legendary Rick the Welder (pictured below) I had the privilege of attempting to lay down my first bead. The weld on the bottom left is what I was trying to emulate, the holes on the right are why I intend on keeping my day job.

Rick The Welder Intense Factory

On their premiere downhill frame, the Intense M9, Rick lays down more than 16 ft of beads. When RTW is not rocking a welder, his preferred tool is the throttle of his Harley Davidson, pictured on his station wall. Now in his 50s, Rick also still shreds downhill laps. Just left of the Harley is a picture of him crushing it on his M9 at the local race series.

Intense Factory Aluminum Heat Treating

Before the Aluminum frames can even hit the factory floor they’re subjected to a two-part heat treatment process. First, the frames are heated for one hour at 980 degrees Fahrenheit, then dropped into a special water bath, which cools them to room temperature in under ten seconds.

At this point, each frame is checked for straightness. The Aluminum has not been heat treated back to its final hardness and small imperfections can still be addressed in order to bring the frames back into tolerance. Once that quality control process is complete, the frames are sent back into the heat chamber for an additional eight hours at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Intense Factory Aluminum Quality Control

The final quality control check on aluminum frames  involves checking the head tube angle, shock link, seat tube, etc…. Every aluminum front and rear triangle manufactured in the factory is hand checked at this station before being sent to the painter.

Intense Factory Aluminum Frame Seat tube Reaming

The seat tubes are also reamed in ordered to ensure posts enter the frame smoothly.

Intense Factory Aluminum Paint

From here the the frames are ready to be painted, and are sent out the door to the local powder coating facility.

When Intense first began making large batches of frames, they had to send them over an hour away (if you were lucky enough to avoid LA traffic) for painting, because the local painter was a one man shop whose facilities were unable to meet the companies growing demand. Although the local painter remained Intense’s go-to for small projects and prototypes, until Jeff  hit on a remarkably simple idea.

Instead of wasting hours and money shipping the frames to and from the facility located in Los Angeles, he made the Temecula based painter a bold proposition. He offered the small business owner all of his business, some 40k annually at the time, if the man expanded into a large warehouse and hired more employees to meet Intense’s growing needs. It was a tough choice for a small business owner, but all of Intense’s aluminum frames are now painted locally – within the same business park.

Intense Machine Shop

In addition to the aluminum frame construction, Intense builds all of the items required for it’s aluminum bikes (headtubes, BB shells, etc), and the linkages, axles and hardware utilized by both it’s aluminum and carbon bikes.

To do so, they employ fifteen HAAS CNC machines running almost around the clock, and a plethora of other toys. As with their paint production, Intense was motivated to buy HAAS machines because they’re local. The company is the only CNC manufacturer still left in the US and produces their machines only two hours away. This makes service fast and parts easy to acquire.

Intense High Voume CNC machine

Over the years, instead of investing heavily in magazine spreads and advertising, the company has focused on purchasing equipment. This high capacity machine has two jigs with a four sided vice, so the operator can unload and reload one while the other is still in operation.

Intense Factory Tour HAAS

Three of these HAAS machines produce only cylindrical parts.

Intense CNC Parts

These finished parts started their lives as the solid aluminum blocks pictured in the top right corner.

Intense Factory CNC

This heavy investment in machinery has paid off big dividends for Intense Cycles within the past two years. In that time frame, a craze for the not so new-new wheel size swept the industry, and the company was able to capitalize on the trend. The owners and product managers  listened to rider feedback and were quickly able to make convertible dropouts for their frames. This enabled existing owners to easily upgrade to 27.5″ wheels.

In addition to their convertible dropout system, the company was also one of the first major players to bring a dedicated 27.5″ platform to the market. This was possible because the company has never been bogged down by bureaucracy. If Jeff has an idea, he can prototype it in a day, and be out testing it the next. It’s this flexibility that has lead to unusual prototypes like the 2951 and the company’s early acceptance of the tweener wheel craze. This first to market approach resulted in a 40% increase in revenue last year!

Intense Factory Assembly

And now we that we have the back story, we can return to the assembly floor.

Intense Factory Tour Bike Box

Where all of Intense’s frames are assembled and then packaged in boxes made locally.

Special thanks to everyone at Intense for the opportunity to tour the facility! The company has big things ahead of them, including a very special product launch Mid-March, and rumors of a new carbon downhill platform.

Comments

Magic - 01/22/14 - 10:20am

Great read. I love my 2003 Intense Tracer and she is still rocking the trails here in the Midwest. Good luck to Intense and I can’t wait to see the new stuff coming down the pike.

soemand - 01/22/14 - 10:31am

Thank you for these factory tours. Really enjoy them!

DGWW - 01/22/14 - 10:35am

Good to see, I especially like: ” Over the years, instead of investing heavily in magazine spreads and advertising, the company has focused on purchasing equipment. ” Less talking and more walking. Glad to see this type of production in North America and at competitive prices…I am more inclined to buy Intense in the future. Keep up the good work!

Kerry - 01/22/14 - 11:26am

I love the fact that I have had the opportunity to visit this place several times to pick up frames for inventory and our shop riders. It is great seeing a company like this source everything for their aluminum frames within a 20 mile radius, even the stickers are printed locally!

Dave S. - 01/22/14 - 11:53am

These guys are doing it the right way. And they’re in an excellent spot, too. Temecula has some of the best cycling of all types anywhere, and a pretty big cycling community.

Jib's Mom - 01/22/14 - 12:42pm

So that’s where my Intense Tracer was welded all cockeyed.

K11 - 01/22/14 - 1:11pm

intense has been, and continues doing things right. high-end, high quality aluminum manufacturing here in the US. i have hope for future carbon to be done in the states.

(wish the US government would offer assistance to companies wanting to do carbon manufacturing in the states, like what the canadian government recently did for some of race faces carbon products.)

mike - 01/22/14 - 2:12pm

So glad to see these guys ramping up their factory capacity and that riders are still falling in love with their bikes. Been a fan since laying eyes on my brothers M1 Back in the day. Love my tracer 275. I know some will always bring up past quality and Customer service issues but I really believe they have turned those things around. My speculation is that the high margins on the carbon bikes have allowed intense to keep the made in america dream alive on the alloy side.

pornitswhatlwouldratherbmaking - 01/22/14 - 3:34pm

Patrik, why be the ants at the picnic?
l like my Tracer2 but l’m pitching a tent for a Carbine. lt sucks they or anyone cant do much carbon here in the states.
l am glad that my frame is straight. We all have heard of Intense frames not being aligned very good at times. im sure they are few and far between.They do need a better website, customer service and more available tech docs however.

Wally - 01/22/14 - 5:57pm

Really impressed with Jeff Steber’s accomplishments and dedication to American made products! But why no carbon made U.S. frames? Is the manufacturing process simply too labor intensive?

Jez - 01/22/14 - 6:05pm

As a non-American (English-born, Aussie-bred, German-influenced) I sometimes find it a little hard to understand the obsession with ‘Made in America’. I understand the patriotic aspect, and supporting ‘local’ or national business. All good. But the global marketplace is bringing everyone things you might otherwise never experience (like Intense’s carbon frames!). Enjoy it!
My 2nd Intense is still going strong (2003 Tazer FS) even though its alignment is absolutely lousy. I don’t care, it looks stupendous and still rides beautifully. None of my Taiwanese-made frames ever had that issue, BTW – which is why Intense chose to manufacture carbon out of Asia. Apart from unbeatable price, the quality is astounding. I’m so glad Intense did this rather than risk everything with carbon startup. If they bring carbon in house one day, that’ll be great for ‘Made in America’, but I don’t think there’s any loss whatsoever with the way Jeff’s chosen to operate. Still my favourite bike brand and will be my next purchase…

ginsu - 01/22/14 - 8:41pm

@Jez If you take a look at manufacturing in the ’50′s in America, then you will truly see the golden age. There were tons of ideas and tons of products all made on American soil, and guess what we (as a country) had very little debt and a strong currency based on a precious medal standard…the dollar was so strong that there was actual silver in our currency up until 1964. That is when our economy was actually rock solid and it led to 50+ years of growth. You wonder why people are nostalgic about this time period? Well it was and never has been better in terms of economics.

A good society is one based on quality manufactured goods sold locally and globally. Why do you think Germany is even remotely doing well when just a few hundred miles away Spain and Greece are suffering record unemployment? When was the last time you bought a car, tool or bicycle made in Greece?

cheese - 01/23/14 - 1:09am

The gold standard is irrelevant, Ginsu, but your other points are spot on.

Charrua - 01/23/14 - 7:36am

I`ve had two 5.5`s and the geometry is awesome … nowadays use my xc bikes a lot more, but these allmountain bikes in my opinion are unparalleled in terms of geometry (not so much in pedal efficiency).

Henrik - 01/23/14 - 8:25am

I still remember the first time meeting Jeff in 1993 with a few of his prototype m1′s up on the San Juan loop in the Oretgas. They were actually being run as XC rigs back then. It’s beyond awesome to see where Intense is these days.

Georg - 01/23/14 - 9:25am

Shouldnt the heat tretment be the other way around? First several hours at 350° for stress relief heat treatment. And then they are straitend and heated to 950 degrees with chilling at the end for hardening?

cheese - 01/24/14 - 10:15am

Annealing makes aluminum softer, not harder, Georg. The quenching is to make the grain structure small and uniform. The lower temperature is for precipitation hardening which allows the alloying elements to form interstitial grains which break up potential slip planes to make the aluminum even stronger.

Micho - 01/24/14 - 12:01pm

Intense makes some great frames especially for the gravity crowd. My vintage 2002 M1 still rides amazing and holds its own with modern designs. I just built up a 951 Evo for a buddy of mine, I think that might be the bike to replace the old M1.
Made in America still makes a difference to me especially when the manufacturer is less than 40 miles away from my door step.

GC - 01/28/14 - 11:52pm

I’ve never owned one, but appreciate the effort and execution. Made in America does matter in both economic and social terms and that takes resolve. Arguing for Made in USA does require an “isolationist” mind set, and there are plenty of reasons beyond mere job creation to concern ourselves with the distance most of our goods must travel from factory to user’s door.

By all my personal anecdotal evidence, Intense is doing it right with great products and a dedicated fan base. Thanks for the peak inside.

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