Could the key to eternal youth lie in a Californian dream with wide wheels and voluminous tyres?
Need to know
- First dedicated Plus bike in the Intense range
- Full carbon frame designed for single-ring drivetrains
- Boost 148 hub spacing and grease port in lower link
- Two travel modes: 130mm or 115mm
In military parlance, ACV is short for Air-Cushioned Vehicle. It’s the pet project of Jeff Steber, head honcho at Intense, and a man who quickly saw the potential of these new chubby tyres.
Now, although his blond Barnet and Californian tan indicate otherwise, Jeff’s actually no spring chicken. Inevitably, with advancing years came a more conservative riding style, focused on self-preservation. Until, that is, Jeff tried Plus tyres and felt the years melt away.
In metaphorical terms, they produced all the benefits of human growth hormone, without the mood swings, health risks and social stigma.
In other words, the more he rode the ACV, the more Jeff saw the clock being turned back, until he found himself relishing the kind of rowdy, technical trails he abandoned long ago. So, forget Botox, collagen or steroids; if you want to feel younger, all you need is an ACV.
Let’s be clear here, the ACV is a ground-up Plus specific design. Sure, you can clamp in a pair of 29in wheels if you want, but this bike is specifically optimised around chubby tyres.
That means a split-spar swingarm design, which differs from the single-spar configuration found on models like the Tracer, and no provision for a front derailleur.
What it does share with other bikes in the range, are the counter-rotating links of the VPP suspension design — now rebranded J.S. Tune — and the ability to change the travel. Although designed as a 130mm bike, you can also run the ACV with 115mm by moving the shock on the upper link.
Only the travel changes, not the geometry, but quite why anyone would use this short travel setting is beyond me, because the ACV is as efficient a pedalling bike as I have ridden in a long time. Even with the Monarch RT3 Debonair shock fully open. Coupled with the longish chainstays — the 440mm measurement grows in the sag position — and the steep seat tube angle and Plus tyres, it delivers serious climbing prowess.
On rolling singletrack there’s planted cornering, thanks to the ultra-low bottom bracket, and plenty of momentum. But if I’m being picky, the ACV doesn’t feel as sensitive over small bumps as its brother from another mother, the Santa Cruz Hightower. It’s a moot point, however, as the tyres eradicate so much of the trail chatter anyway, and the Intense definitely has a more stable dynamic geometry than the Hightower.
We like the shape of the ACV too, with the large frame we rode being a smidge longer and slacker than its VPP rival. And the taller head tube puts you in a more commanding position when running smaller diameter Plus tyres. Even so, at 5ft 10in I wouldn’t think twice about upsizing to an XL frame if I could find a way to make a 125mm dropper post work with my max saddle height.
The ACV is available in two spec levels: the Foundation at £4,099 and the Pro at £5,399, which is the bike we’ve been riding. For that kind of money, we’d expect a pretty dialled spec, but there are a few components in the Pro build that had us scratching our heads.
Tyre-wise, Intense has gone for the 2.8in Maxxis Ikon + front and rear. This is a great rear tyre, but the Maxxis Recon + would have made a much better choice up front, as it allows a far more aggressive riding style without sacrificing rolling speed.
Then there’s the DT Swiss front hub, which lacks the stiffness-improving Torque Caps to mesh with the oversized flanges on the RockShox Pike fork. And finally, the KS Lev seatpost fitted to our test bike has been upgraded to a Reverb for production.