SEARCHING FOR SPEED: INTENSE M279 HP6 DH PROTOTYPE
There was a buzz around INTENSE when the news broke out just over a year ago that industry stalwart and suspension ace Devon Sullivan was going to be joining our design and engineering team. Think of pretty much any of the top MTB suspension brands in the world and Devon (at some point) has probably worked for them. What he doesn’t know about shims, oil, springs, curves, links, etc., probably isn’t worth knowing (although I’m sure he’d deny that statement!).
“It's been awesome working with Devon and he's really been what we needed to bridge that gap between riders and the brand as far as product development goes. Jeff (Steber, INTENSE founder and CEO) and I started discussing hiring a ‘race engineer’ a few years ago that would primarily be focused on the team and the downhill bike. It was super important for us to find the right person who we felt like really understood how downhill bikes and suspension worked together.”Aaron Gwin
Late March 2022 and Devon (left), IFR team rider Joe Breeden (center) and Joe’s mechanic Jon Stout go through some initial HP1 run data at the Lourdes World Cup.
“It was also a huge bonus, and a hope, that we could find someone who rides at a high level themselves so that they can not only hear our feedback, but feel it somewhat as well. Devon has been everything we hoped for and maybe more. I'm really happy with his effort, attitude, and knowledge that he brings to the table. He has a ton of experience with suspension products and brands as well, which is an advantage for us when it comes to setting the bikes up and how everything works together as a whole.”Aaron Gwin
The team had a good year onboard the new HP1, culminating with a third place for Dakotah Norton and a fourth for Aaron Gwin at the treacherous Val di Sole World Cup.
This year’s HP1 was just a small part of this new INTENSE downhill bike development story. The HP1 was always meant to be just a stepping stone to something greater... the new M279 HP6. There’s already been quite a large amount of interest in the bike, so we thought it would be a good idea to get some of the facts in place. We caught up with Devon just after he had returned from a testing session out at Windrock (USA), where he, Aaron and Dak put the prototype bike through its paces.
Telemetry, data, facts and figures. Each of the IFR team riders have different riding styles and physiques, which leads to differing setup needs and requirements.
Hi Devon, first off could you just introduce yourself and gives a bit of your background history in bikes?
I currently manage the ride dynamics for INTENSE and IFR. This involves bike design as well as developing and improving a variety of traits relating to how our bikes perform for consumers and athletes. I rode at the elite level 20+ years ago. This set the groundwork for the last 15 years designing suspension for a variety of companies.
On a wild and windswept Aonach Mòr (Fort William), Devon and John Hall (Aaron’s longtime mechanic) take five during track walk. The two have worked side by side all year.
So when did you join INTENSE and how long have you been working on this specific DH project?
I have been with the company for one year and working on this project most of that time.
Can you just explain to us a little about the evolution of this bike. We know that at the end end of the 2021 season Jeff and the team started to look at competitor’s bikes to see what they were doing and to see where INTENSE could go next. It started with the HP1, can you tell us a little about that bike?
The HP1 was an exciting step forward for INTENSE. This has been our first departure in a while from dual counter rotational URT bikes (JS Tuned/VPP). Jeff and Aaron were critical to expanding our opportunities into evaluating various suspension concepts. We agreed early on to use the HP1 as a learning experience evolving into this latest M279 HP6.
Fresh tires, fresh kit, fresh bike. Round 1 of this year’s World Cup in Lourdes was the first time the team had ridden the new prototype HP1 under race conditions. The learning curve was steep!
The IFR team only got the HP1 a few weeks before the start of the season, so it really was testing in the raw?
I would say that’s an understatement. The guys hadn’t even been on track with the HP1 when we arrived at the Lourdes World Cup this year. Set-up took a back seat to just getting comfortable on a new bike. Everyone’s patience was phenomenal. We knew the speed was there, with more time.
The HP1 may not have won any races but it certainly put INTENSE back in the limelight on the world stage, with both Dak and Aaron having some great results. Was the decision to ‘retire’ the HP1 a tough one after its success, or had that always been the plan?
It was expected. Our plan at INTENSE was to use the HP1 as an evolutionary step into a 6-Link concept. The athletes also needed to agree with that statement though. It has been collaborative from the beginning. The M279 HP6 could not be what it is today without HP1 laying that groundwork.
What could be described as the ‘beating heart’ of the M279 HP6, but is actually referred to as the ‘backbone’, this single piece of CNC’d aluminum is the central section that currently connects everything together. Early R&D experiment.
This sounds like a dream project for anyone involved in downhill bike design. Basically starting from scratch. Who came up with the initial concept and layout of the M279 HP6 design?
Yes pretty exciting. This project was collaborative between JS (Jeff) and myself, with significant input from IFR. I researched and studied a variety of competitive bikes and layouts early on while spending a lot of time with Aaron getting his perspective on what is needed out of a winning bike. The implementation I arrived at is based on the agreed metrics the bike needs to deliver. It turns out this is somewhat a blend of various other concepts. I wasn’t looking to design something just to be different. This 6-Link gives us those desired ride characteristics.
M279 HP6, 3D printed (nylon/plastic) proof of concept.
The M279 HP6 is a high pivot 6-Link design. Now I am sure there will be plenty of people out there that think they know what is going on with all those links and pivots, but can you just try and explain it in simple turns?
Our M279 HP6 is the result of a close understanding of the current competitive landscape, race circuit, and suspension characteristics. We set out to make a bike that can win races at any level. While remaining fun and comfortable at the bike park. This involved detailed analysis of everything from single pivot to true 6-Bar. Each of those tends to offer strengths and weaknesses. Great for certain aspects and bike categories. This 6-Link high pivot provided us with the most neutral combination of kinematics for modern DH racing.
Devon and IFR team rider Dakotah Norton discuss initial HP6 setup out in Windrock, USA, late October, 2022.
And what are the main reasons to go for a 6-Link design? What does it offer you in terms of improved performance, etc.?
The horst-link concept provides certain traits that we had previously agreed were crucial for speed, stability, balance and comfort. The 6-Link adds an obvious degree of freedom to the suspension design. We discuss axle trajectory as opposed to idler and pivot locations. The execution and placement of pivots is a by-product of how we needed the bike to react. These performance metrics existed before the bike began development. Stability and energy management were also highly prioritized in choosing this layout. IFR helped tremendously in that regard. We could not have done this without them. The bike is fast and responsive whilst remaining calm. That can be challenging to achieve. And something we believe is best achieved from this 6-Link.
Various HP6 rear ends have been tested for specific ride characteristics.
You had a big crew of you out in Windrock at the start of November testing the M279 HP6. How did that go?
We’re very pleased with initial field testing. It was a quick decision to move onto M279 HP6 from HP1. As mentioned, the athletes are critical in this process. These bikes are developed as a team, utilizing their input every step of the way. Our off-season R&D testing will continue internationally on varied terrain. The guys are fired up and ready to get racing on this bike. Our job is to utilize that downtime in optimizing this update.
The first M279 HP6 complete prototype prepped for fabrication.
There was a mullet version and a 29er only version, what was the feedback on the different bikes?
Well I like the 29”, but our current plan is to release a mixed wheel bike initially and continue testing the 29”. If the demand is there, we will produce both.
So what is next for the M279 HP6?
Refinement. The foundation has been proven. And the research to get here has been extensive. Now we will work on optimizing the bike for race and public launch.
We’ll be giving you more updates on the progression of the M279 HP6 over the coming months.