We've always wanted to visit a bike factory. The thought of frames being welded and assembled is a Willy Wonka type of dream. So when the chance to visit one of the most influential mountain bike brands in the U.S. was offered, we jumped at the opportunity.
Right away, one thing was clear from the moment we set foot inside the Intense headquarters, located up against the Rancho Santa Rosa foothills; Intense is a racing brand. While their bikes are widely used and accepted for non-competitive trail and gravity riding, Intense is focused on performance riding and their athlete roster proves this. From the infamous Shaun Palmer and his new junior team, The Palmer Project, to World Cup downhill privateers, to race legends like #55, to the xc and endurance duo of "Mike and Mary" who have both represented the US at World Championships and in Mary's case, the Olympics, this company is about going fast.
Our tour started with the basics: a well designed lobby full of Intense memorabilia and pristine showroom display bikes, a walk through the a few different departments where the staff was huddled together in different groups working on a variety projects. We were led upstairs to the market department where a brainstorm session with a few people was taking place – with Mr. Palmer himself. We'd later learn that they were putting together the Palmer Project junior downhill team, which was announced at Sea Otter.
No tour would be complete without a ride, so we geared up and hit the spaghetti bowl of trails right outside the factory back door. We were stoked on these trails, and so is the crew at Intense. Apparently, these trails keep getting built and no one knows who's doing the digging. Good on you, whoever you are.
Next up, it was time for chips-n-salsa and lunch at a local favorite taco spot. Shaun joined, and we got to hear about some of the old days, and a bit of what's to come. If you ever have the chance to meet him at an event, do it. He's very approachable and down to earth considering he's an extreme sports icon.
Back at the factory, we were turned loose to photograph the action. Welders, frame makers, and assemblers were all happy to talk us through the process of their craft. Around a corner we even bumped into (literally) Jeff Steber - founder of the brand, who talked about some of his theories and ideas, and even took us behind the curtain (again, literally) to his workspace where he was putting together a top secret bike at the time - Palmer's custom 4x bike.
In the bike business, it's not hard for brands to fade away as trends change. Some feel that Intense has seen their golden age come and go with the disappearance of American downhill and NORBA events. But we'd argue that point. From what we've seen, Intense is here, and they're faster than ever.