By Vernon Felton
Intense Spider 29
There are times when the whole 29er/650b hoopla gets a bit, well, stupid. Slap some big wheels on an existing model and presto—the bike somehow gains a 29 or 27.5-percent boost in efficiency, stiffness and utter radness. Logic and reason go right out the window.
The sheer volume of marketing hype makes me want to vomit. Then I throw a leg over a bike like Intense's Spider 29 and, I'll admit it—the application of big wheels can, at times, make for an outstanding ride.
When Intense's first VPP Spider debuted in 2003, it was a flyweight cross-country machine. Nearly a decade later, the Spider 29 has evolved into something more versatile. Sure, you can race XC on this bike—the second generation VPP rear suspension is top-of-the-game when it comes to brisk pedaling manners—but the Spider 29er truly shines as a ride-it-anywhere kind of machine.
With the rear suspension at 4.75 inches of travel (adjustable down to 4.25 inches), the bike has a well-balanced and familiar feel to it. In fact, while I set out with cross-country ambitions on my first few rides, I was soon tackling much bigger and uglier terrain. It was only when I found myself in the midst of rolling a steep rock chute, which I'd previously only attempted aboard freeride bikes, that I remembered that there was a hair less than five inches of travel beneath my arse.
Kudos here to the made-in-America frame, which follows a brilliant recipe for stiff: two complete triangles, short suspension linkages, a tapered headtube and both front and rear through-axles. Mix all those ingredients and you wind up with a bike that relishes being thrown into the breach.
Our test model was equipped with a Fox Float 29 FIT RLC fork, Fox RPL rear shock, Novatec TX29er wheelset, SRAM X9 drivetrain and Elixir 9 brakes. As equipped, the bike tips the scales at 28.2 pounds. The only fault of the Spider's parts spec? The Kenda Small Block 8 tires proved terrifying in Northwest winter conditions. Then again, if you live somewhere, dry and dusty, or ride on a lot of hardback, you’ll probably dig those tires. Different horses for different courses and all that jazz…
The Spider 29's geometry is well sorted. While not as nimble as some 26er cross-country or trail bikes, the (size medium) Spider's 44.6-inch wheelbase and 17.7-inch chainstays aren’t “short” but are reasonably tight for the 29er genre, and the 13.2-inch bottom-bracket height gives the Intense a nicely planted feel that I appreciated in the midst of threading tight switchbacks.
Are you looking for a lightweight cross-country machine? The Spider 29 can play the sprint-for-the-finish line game, but there are other bikes more directly fixed on that target. The Intense's brawn and confidence-inspiring manners, on the other hand, make it an excellent all-rounder.