Could the key to eternal youth lie in a Californian dream with wide wheels and voluminous tyres?
Could the key to eternal youth lie in the a Californian dream with wide wheels and voluminous tyres? Here’s our Intense ACV Pro review.
Intense has always been the Gucciest of Gucci brands, the marque we all lusted after while holding our lottery scratch cards, but a switch to a direct sales approach last year means that our pockets don’t need to be (quite) as deep to afford one. That said, the ACV Pro is still the most expensive bike here, and £4.3K is not an insignificant amount of money, but by ordering online you net a hefty £1,000 saving. Cutting the local bike shop out of the equation means your bike now arrives in a box. However, you only have to turn the bar and tighten the stem, slot in the front wheel, add pedals and away you go.
Intense ACV Pro review
ACV stands for Air-Cushioned Vehicle, and sits under Intense’s ‘Enduro’ umbrella, which we think is somewhat misleading seeing as it only has 130mm of rear wheel travel. For us, the modest rear travel and relatively conservative geometry mark the ACV out as a trail bike through-and-through.
It’s also closely related to the Intense Primer 29er, sharing the same full carbon front triangle albeit married to a unique swingarm with stiffer, twin upright configuration and additional tyre clearance.
As you’d hope from something with that iconic flaming head badge, it’s a gorgeous looking frame; the squat standover, acute top tube angle and classic twin-triangle silhouette with its stubby suspension links receding into the shadows.
Those short, counter-rotating links form the basis of the ACV’s JS-Tune suspension design. It’s a similar virtual pivot layout to that used by Santa Cruz, but using Jeff Steber’s (the Intense CEO) own take on axle path and kinematics.
We set it up with 25 per cent sag, which equates to 13mm on the shock body, and the O-ring only got close to full travel on big, flat drops, so there’s no lack of progression, but the defining ride characteristic of the JS-Tune is one of absolute pedal efficiency.
Whether standing up or sitting down, the ACV squanders none of your energy, surging forward at every turn of the crank. There’s an urgency about it that only the Scott can get close to, and only when it’s in Traction Mode.
Early versions of the ACV came with a few quirky components that hampered the bike’s performance, but these creases have been largely ironed out on the 2018 model. The extra wide 780mm handlebar is clamped by an in-house stem that looks virtually identical to Renthal’s Apex (no bad thing), the DT Swiss M1700 wheels are light, fast and quiet and the Fabric Scoop saddle is a great shape with plenty of cushioning. However, the 2.8in Maxxis Rekon tyres lack the grippy 3C compound, so you simply can’t corner as aggressively or trust the bite in slippery conditions as much as you can on the other bikes here. And the lock-on grips clamp at both ends, forcing your hands away from the outer edge of the bars, Which effectively narrows the bar back to 760mm, but leaves a couple of protrusions either side for catching on trees.
Get on the gas and the ACV takes off like a Tesla in Ludicrous mode, and the steep seat angle and pedalling bias mean it laps up steep climbs. But there is a trade-off to be made for all that zip under power. The suspension doesn’t handle rough terrain or square-edge bumps as well as the other bikes on test, and it clams up under braking, with the back-end tending to skip over stutter bumps on the approach to downhill corners. There’s a fair bit of friction in the shock hardware, too, so it doesn’t feel quite as sensitive as it could.
While hardly conservative, the steeper head angle and short reach reduce stability on faster, flowing trails as well as steeper descents. And because it doesn’t have the suspension firepower, it starts to feel a little under gunned on more challenging terrain compared to a couple of the other bikes on test.
If you want to cover the most ground, with the least effort, and you’re a surgeon on the descents rather than a steamroller, then the ACV is the bike for you. Its sharp handling and eye-watering pace are addictive assets, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want that head badge hanging in their garage? But the traits that ensure it stomps away from the competition on pedally trails also hinder it on more challenging terrain. It’s a balancing act, and you have to decide which side of the scales you sit.