Review: Intense Spider 29 Comp – A Bomber Mid-Travel Carbon Mountain Bike
This past spring, Micah and Tyler had the opportunity to ride the Intense Spider 29 Comp, a mid-travel full suspension 29er with a SEED-designed carbon fiber frame.
The Spider 29 Comp was introduced in summer 2012, bringing with it a quarter inch bump in travel over it’s aluminum counterpart. As if to put Intense’s style in perspective, this up-to-5″ travel bike is part of their XC collection. Remember when 80mm travel was considered XC? And when five inches of travel was bordering on freeride? Well, the Spider Comp’s performance puts a big, hard nail in the coffin of those notions by serving up plenty of travel with a quick, snappy ride.
Our review bikes were built up with the Pro build option with X1/X01, but with a few non-stock tweaks. Tyler’s was ridden primarily at the Cane Creek DB Inline launch, so it was spec’d with their new rear shock and some meaty Onza tires. Micah’s came with a Rockshox Revelation rather than the standard Fox FLOAT 32. Here’s how they did…
DESIGN AND SPEC
The headtube is shortish to keep the front end low, but the hump behind it provides an oversized section to keep it all stiff. It also pushes the section back a bit, letting the rest of the top tube slope more aggressively to reduce stand over height.
Rear suspension travel is changed by simply moving the lower shock mount bolt between two holes. The long travel is in top position, shorter travel at the bottom. Both keep geometry the same. The leverage ratio does change, though. In the long travel mode, you’ll need a bit more air pressure to get the same sag as in the shorter travel mode.
Cable routing includes options for front derailleur, stealth and non-stealth dropper posts and/or remote lockouts.
The front derailleur’s direct mount looks lonely on the Pro’s 1×11 build. Underneath, the bike gets their FLK GRD protection for the downtube and BB shell. The lower linkage has integrated grease ports to service the angular contact/collet bearings.
Out back, Intense’s G1 dropouts let you swap between QR and 12×142 thru axles. We’re seeing more brands use some manner of convertible dropouts and think it’s a brilliant idea, particularly for road/gravel/cross.
Per usual, SRAM’s 1x drivetrains worked flawlessly and were well suited to the type of riding we did (see below). The FLK GRD continues on the chainstay coupled with a metal chain guard at the front where chain suck could dig into carbon.
The rest of the Pro build spec is Avid Elixir 9 Trail brakes, FSA 740mm SLK carbon handlebar, Thomson stem and Rockshox Reverb dropper seatpost. Wheels are Novatec Flow Trail with Maxxis Ardent tubeless ready tires. Housebrand lock on grips and saddle finish it off. Retail is $6,399.
First impressions of this 29er reminded the rider of why big wheels have completely eclipsed the old standard. The slightly overused statement, to the point of cliché, holds markedly true for the Spider — the rider does not ride on the bike, rather, the rider rides in the bike. Intense has nailed the geometry here. With the earliest iterations of big wheels the pejorative nickname of “wagon wheel” was not unfounded — simply extending established geometries in order to accommodate 29 inch wheels resulted in cumbersome beasts that lumbered and fumbled through tight and technical singletrack. Most all of today’s 29ers have evolved far past these growing pains; the Spider is no exception.
With front and rear suspension properly inflated and adjusted (a point of the greatest importance), the Spider does not want to leave the trail. It’s a classic “point-&-shoot” game: point the bike where you wish to go (presumably along your favorite ribbon of singletrack) and simply stomp on the pedals; the Spider’s VPP suspension and large hoops do the rest. Roots or rock, hardpack, loose baby-heads, man-made log-rides, doesn’t matter, the Spider holds its line and sticks to it like velcro. All idioms and metaphors aside, what the highly acclaimed VPP accomplishes is a noticeable increase in traction control. Regardless of rider position — seated, standing, fore or aft — the rear tire engages with the terrain and will not slip. It’s impressive.
Perhaps the absolute best attribute any product can deliver is the ability to disappear, leaving you to think only about the trail that lies ahead. With the exception of the Reverb dropper-post developing an incredibly irritating creak, the Spider disappeared beneath me shortly into its very first ride. All novelties of such a high-end rig were enjoyed and then forgotten within the first two hours of riding. At that point the Spider handled and responded as predictably and naturally as if it were my longtime companion.
I tested the Spider in the hills around Washington, DC, which consisted of short-steep climbs and fast, tight, twisty descents. Terrain was hardpack, loose rock, and planted cobble plus a few manmade log-rides and boardwalks. The latter provided an excellent testing ground for slow-speed handling.
Only more time could tell of the Spider’s durability and its manners in mud or slop (only ideal spring conditions were encountered during my brief test period). But with some confidence it can be stated that Intense has capably refined its understanding of big wheels, equipped its line-up with well thought-out components, and delivered a product worthy of anyone’s consideration.
To mirror some of Micah’s thoughts, the bike did indeed handle predictably right off the bat. When I travel to bike and product launches, I never know what I’ll get. Some bikes have a bit of a learning curve, and some just feel right immediately, letting the focus shift to the parts being tested or the bike’s overall capabilities. Or, as Micah said, the trail ahead. The Intense falls squarely into the latter category.
What I found particularly interesting is that it could carry 130mm of travel without feeling big. Somehow it married a racy, XC fit and handling with the ability to crush big mountain terrain. The VPP suspension is a bit active when standing, but like Micah said, traction is solid. Seated, it’s very efficient. At 130mm, the Fox 32 fork was well matched for XC to trail riding. The 4.5″ to 5″ of rear travel translates to 114mm to 127mm, so it’s well matched and felt balanced. Intense says the bike works well with up to a 150mm fork, and for that I’d think something with wider stanchions would make sense.
The frame itself is stiff. Very stiff. The parts spec here complemented it well, too, creating a package I could muscle through the rough stuff without fearing frame or wheel flex would sabotage my intended line. My rides were around Asheville, NC, namely Pisgah Forest and Dupont. It was a good mix of long climbs, fast descents, roots, wet rock, drops and solid hits. Through it all, I had no complaints about my choice of bikes for the weekend.
Regarding the frame spec and perceived weight: Frame is claimed at 5.5lbs with shock, size medium. Micah and I both tested a Large and, while we didn’t get a chance to put it on the scale, my guess is around 28 pounds (dear commenters, yes, I have a pretty decent sense of these things by now). That’s not exactly XC weight, but with tire swaps and a standard seatpost, it gets close. Carbon rimmed, lighter wheels would also be sweet and provide the stiffness for anything while shedding a bit more weight. As is, it was still a capable climber if not exactly spritely on the climbs. On the flats or descending, the bike’s weight was a non-issue.
If you’re looking for a bike that can do a little bit of everything, the Intense Spider 29 Comp is definitely worth a look.