It’s time to let you in on a little secret. A lot of riders out there (myself included) are pedaling around too much suspension travel for their local trails. But who can blame them? For years, if you wanted low, slack, and long geometry, you’ve been forced into bigger bikes than you would typically choose. Following the progression from trail, to all mountain, to enduro, and now back to trail bikes, we’re seeing a major shift in mountain bike design. No longer confined to travel lengths suitable for enduro racing, fun and playful frame geometry is edging its way into the realm of the XC/Trail bike.
The result is a new class of trail bike. One that truly offers the majority of riders the best of both worlds. One that includes the new Intense Spider 275 Carbon…
Since the early days of full suspension, it seems like manufacturers have always been claiming that a bike will pedal like a hard tail and descend like your favorite long travel machine. Frankly, bikes are actually getting closer to that claim though with many different ways of going about it. Intense’s latest approach is through their JS Tuned suspension system. Essentially their take on the recently expired VPP patent, Intense will be using the JS Tuned system from here on out.
Often, it’s easy to go for a ride at one of these press launches and be impressed by the riding of someone as talented as Chappy Fiene above. It’s also easy to somehow equate their riding with the performance of the bike – the guy has so much style, he could make a department store bike look good (I tried to take the same photo of Lopes, but he went through so fast all I got was the landing). Fortunately, we had the chance to take the bike home in February to get plenty of ride time in on our own turf in order to offer a true review.
Within the first few miles on the Spider 275 Carbon, I was instantly impressed by the bike’s agility. We were high above Laguna Beach whipping through densely shrubbed singletrack and in spite of not being able to see what was around the next corner, the Spider seemed to instinctively know where to go. Changes of direction at high speeds seemed effortless, manuals came easy, and it wasn’t long before I had a huge grin on my face.
Back home on varied trails, the ride just seemed to get even better. One day I was out setting PRs on the climbs of a notoriously tough trail, and the next day I was shooting some sketchy lines and big jumps at one of the gnarlier tracks with the least travel among the group. If there’s one thing I can impress upon anyone considering the Spider 275 Carbon, it’s to not get hung up on the travel number. If you’ve been considering some of the latest enduro rigs, 130mm may seem like pretty short travel, but it feels way more capable than the number would imply. After all, it’s not just the quantity of travel but the quality. When combined with the Spider’s modern trail geometry, you’ll find yourself pushing the limits and finding new lines on trails you’ve ridden for years.
On the other end of the spectrum, climbing is almost just as good as the descending. Almost. Suspension wise, even without the Propedal engaged on the Fox Float with EVOL air can, the Spider climbs with little to no detectable bob. Traction is plentiful, though perfectly timed square edged hits while traveling uphill and putting down a lot of power can upset the tire. The biggest consideration seems to be that the front end wants to wander just a bit on steep switch back turns. If you’re coming from a bike with a steeper head angle then this might take some getting used to, but soon you’ll be taking the turns a little wider and modifying your style on the climbs to the point where it’s no longer an issue.
Pointed up or down, the Spider just wants to go. It’s the type of bike that the more you put into it, the more it returns – only it seems to keep on giving after your skill has run out. Typically, with a handful of review bikes to choose from at a time, I choose my bike based on the trail I’m headed to at the time. Over the course of the Spider review there was never a moment when I thought, “nah, I shouldn’t take that. I’ll bring something else.” Obviously, there is a limit to the Spider’s abilities but you really have to push yourself to find them. A full blown enduro bike may be a touch more forgiving on descents, but it will have a tough time keeping up with the Spider on the climbs.
It’s easy to love the Spider, but it certainly didn’t hurt that I was riding their most expensive build at a whopping $9,499. Realistically the Pro Build uses the same frame as the Factory edition with lower spec components to save almost $3k. Still an expensive bike, but a little more reasonable than the Factory – but it’s nice to dream, right? All in, including a pair of Shimano XTR trail pedals, the medium Factory edition above came in at 25 lbs 6oz, or 11.5kg. Not bad for such a capable bike.
The suspension was exactly what you would expect out of Fox. The Factory Float 34 set at 140mm of travel really adds another level of stiffness to an already stiff frame. Certainly a good amount of the bike’s confidence in hard g-outs, over thick roots, and off the lips of jumps comes from the choice of a 34mm chassis over 32mm. Much like the rear suspension settings, after getting it dialed in, the platform adjustment levers weren’t touched. If I was riding for awhile on the road or sustained fire road climbs I might make use of them, otherwise the suspension is efficient enough that adjustments like that are starting to become superfluous.
Keeping with the Factory theme, nearly every part is the best of the best. Along with a SRAM XX1 1x drivetrain and RaceFace Next SL carbon crank with a 32t chainring, the bike ships with Shimano XTR Trail brakes – all of which performed flawlessly. Also excellent are the choice of the DT Swiss XMC 1200 Spline carbon wheels wrapped in Schwalbe Nobby Nic Snakeskin TL-Easy tires (27 x 2.35/2.25 ft/rr). This is my first chance to spend any amount of time on the carbon hoops from DT Swiss and they did not disappoint. Plenty stiff and 24mm wide internally, they paired well with the new Nobby Nics. To be fair I was a fan of the last version of the Nic, but the new tread pattern is definitely better and more durable. Intense also gets credit for some super comfy dual density lock on grips.
It’s been almost all positives so far, so let’s talk about some of the negatives. One of the biggest annoyances for me (and other riders with short legs who ride mediums) is the tall spike of a seat tube. That makes it so the absolute lowest you can position the saddle with the included RockShox Reverb 125mm dropper post is 695mm from the top of the saddle to the center of the bottom bracket. I ride my saddle at 690mm. Five millimeters is all that’s between me and my ideal fit on the bike. I’m almost always on a medium (excluding a few 29ers) and on most bikes I can get away with a 125mm dropper, but not here. I also had the same issue on the Tracer. There is likely a saddle out there that is 5mm shallower than the carbon railed Fabric Scoop Radius Pro, but to be honest I like that saddle quite a bit. I also could have swapped out the 125mm dropper for a 100mm version but since this bike is going back to Intense soon (reluctantly), I simply used the dropper to lower the seat 5mm for the course of the review.
On one hand I loved the stiffness and the control of the Renthal carbon Fatbar (20mm rise, 760mm wide) and Apex 50mm stem, but on the other I haven’t had so many issues keeping a stem tight in a while. After getting the bike home from California and reassembling it, the stem was installed per Renthal’s instructions with zero gap at the lower clamp and bolts greased and torqued to 5Nm. Yet, during the course of testing I had both the bar clamp and the steerer clamp slip multiple times – usually at some inopportune moment like crossing a creek or pulling a manual. This meant pulling out my multi-tool and tightening the bolts until it no longer slipped. Since I don’t have one of those fancy torque-multitools yet, I’ll have to guess, but I’m fairly certain that number was over the 5Nm recommendation. After getting the bolts to that point though, I haven’t had an issue since.
I’m not sure this last one is a problem, so much as it’s an annoyance. While the JS Tuned suspension works incredibly well, the lower link also functions as a perfect little shelf for mud and debris to accumulate. Granted, one recent ride was fairly muddy, but even after our ride in Laguna, a sandy mixture had already started to deposit itself on the link. The question is how much of an impact this will have on the suspension’s durability over time. The top of that link is sealed, with the only entrance to the bearings somewhat shrouded on the sides. There are also the Zerk fittings to purge the system with grease – granted you’ll have to exhume them from the mud bath first. It seems the frame could benefit from some type of mini fender to shroud the lower link, but Intense says nothing is in the works at the moment.
Those few gripes aside, I can’t get the Spider out of my head. Ever since “trail bikes” have started to get longer, lower, and slacker I’ve thought that something along these lines would be my ideal bike. My time on the Spider 275 Carbon just confirms it. Call it the mid-western enduro bike, call it a trail bike, call it whatever you like. The Spider really does deliver on a near perfect balance of capability and pedal efficiency to be the go-to bike for a majority of riders.
*Thanks to Grant B. and D.A. for help with a few shots