Aaron Gwin's Size XL Intense M29 with Kenda Tires - Intense Factory Racing 2019 Unveiled
Afew months ago when Aaron Gwin announced that he and the YT Mob were no longer in a relationship, the rumors began to fly. We love it when the rumors begin to fly because we're usually in the dark just like everyone else. Is he going to Trek? Is he going to KHS? Is he going doing some custom KTM deal? Oh, wait, that was a rumor from a couple years ago. Finally, the digital dust has settled after some Instagram teases were leaked, and the whisper that Aaron Gwin and Neko Mulally joined Intense Factory Racing (IFR) has been made fact. The two #USDH shredders join Aussie IFR veteran, Jack Moir, to complete the 2019 team. The U.S. bike brand synonymous with Shaun Palmer and all things downnhill retained the services of Moir while former IFR ripper, Dean Lucas, landed on a new Scott Factory program, and Charlie Harrison continued to straddle a red carbon bike, but this year it's a Trek.
The 2019 IFR bikes feel more like the 2018 Mob bikes with different, non-horst-link frames. Intense Factory Racing has gone from the SRAM/RockShox/ENVE/Maxxis builds of 2018 to the semi-random-but-now-proven assortment of parts and pieces hand-picked by Gwin himself over the last few years; FOX suspension, e*thirteen wheels and components, TRP brakes, shifter and derailleur (which now look refined and clean), Renthal cockpit, SDG, ODI and Flat Tire Defender. The most unexpected and wildest equipment change to the program is the departure of Onza tires. Gwin developed his signature and race-winning-in-almost-any-condition Aquila tire with the brand. We figured those would be a no-brainer on the team bikes, so it was a shocker to see the M29 wearing Kenda Hellkat shoes when we received these bike photos the other day. In the audio interview below, Aaron gives an amicable, but nondescript reason for Onza's absence and is clear that further Kenda tire development is something everyone is working on together.
As you'll also learn in the interview, the entire team is riding size XL Intense M29 frames. Aaron says he's running a shorter-reach headset with 45mm stem to snug things up a bit while Jack and Neko roll longer. Outside of the Yeti bikes he rode years ago, Gwin says he's never been on a multi-link suspension design like the M29's, but initial seat time points to business as usual on track. John Hall, Aaron's long-time mechanic, reveals that they will probably work on some custom linkage options for fine-tuning suspension characteristics; something hardly surprising at the World Cup level.
As super fans of World Cup downhill and the sewing circle that is team rumors, we sure wish we had all the grimy details about deals, dollars and deliveries, but we don't. No matter, we still have these shiny, red two-wheeled monster trucks to drool over and analyze until race day in Maribor.
AUDIO INTERVIEW - Aaron Gwin and John Hall on the Intense Factory Racing move
Prior to getting the audio interviews above, we sent some questions about the new team to Team Manager, Todd Schumlick, and received the following responses:
Vital: We realize Aaron and YT parted ways, so what was the genesis of Aaron and Neko moving to Intense? How did this all come together?
Schumlick: I'm not sure of all the details regarding how it all started, as things were already in motion with Aaron and Intense when I was asked to be a part of the program. Aaron and Intense had began talking after Worlds and things fell into place really well. The timing was kind of just perfect for everyone. Aaron is the owner of the Intense Factory Racing team now, and I know he's just excited with the opportunity and Intense is equally excited to have him leading the program. I've been hired to help with the logistics, management, etc, and we've been working hard ever since. When Aaron began talks with Intense, I'm told their previous riders (besides Jack) were already on the move. That left one open spot on the team, and Neko was the man for the job. Aaron and Intense have been a natural fit from the beginning. I believe we'll do great things together as a team.
Was a 29-inch-wheeled bike a necessity for Aaron in deciding on a bike brand to work with?
Aaron really likes the 29ers, so having a downhill bike with 29-inch wheels was definitely a must. Most brands now offer a 29-inch DH bike, so the wheel size wasn't an issue in his decision making this time.
Was having Neko come along a must for Aaron?
We wouldn’t call it a must, but something Aaron was hoping for when the opportunity came up. He's been teammates with Neko on and off for a long time, and they've developed a great friendship. He believes in Neko and they trust each other. That helps them both a lot at the races.
Is Martin Whiteley involved with the team at all now?
No. He’s still operating the YT Mob.
Having Jeff Steber down the street for prototyping seems handy, especially considering how hands-on Aaron seems to be with bike development. Are prototypes and modifications part of the discussion for the year or will the M29 the boys race on in 2019 be the same as the one in 2018?
We are currently racing the same M29 frame as the team was in 2018, but Jeff, Aaron, and the other riders are always forward thinking when it comes to future development. Jeff and Aaron are both on the same page, they love developing product and they wanna make the fastest race bikes on the planet!
How's Jack feeling about the team changes? The previous IFR seemed like they all got along like brothers.
At this point, a few days in to our team camp, the vibe feels great between everyone. The boys are all really chill and great people in general, so it's fun to see them getting to know each other more. Team chemistry is super important to Aaron, and we worked hard through the off-season to put our group together. I believe we're gonna have a great time moving forward.
What are the team goals for 2019? Domination. Ha! Simply put, we want to provide the riders and staff with every opportunity to perform at their best. We’ve put this team together with that in mind.
If you've kept up with the team rumors this year, what was the most comical speculation? In the beginning, I believe a few of us on the team were checking out the team rumors, but not as much in the past few weeks, it's been a busy time. I'm not sure what the most comical comment was but there were definitely a few good ones. It's been fun to see everyone's interest and we're just stoked to finally give our fans the news!
Does anyone on the squad try to troll us in the team rumors thread? I sure hope so!
Sorry, not on our end! Seems like a place that is best left up to the *professionals*.
The Official Press Release from Intense
INTENSE ANNOUNCES 2019 FACTORY RACE TEAM
INTENSE proudly announces the 2019 Intense Factory Racing (IFR) Program. The new roster includes returning IFR team member, Jack Moir (AUS), American National Champion, Neko Mulally (USA) and multi-time World Cup medalist, Aaron Gwin (USA).
“As a brand, we’ve spent the last year doing a lot of soul-searching. It became clear that what made INTENSE great in the beginning was our commitment to racing. Our biggest benefit was derived from having top riders competing in the most challenging conditions as a part of our R&D process” says INTENSE founder and CEO, Jeff Steber. “We made a promise to ourselves and to our company, that we would reclaim our spot at the top of the World Cup circuit. As soon as we did that, choosing the roster was easy.”
It’s not always as simple as choosing a roster, though. With so many teams and only a handful of riders capable of bringing home top results on any given weekend, it’s a seller’s market on the World Cup these days, and top riders have their pick of solid programs to choose from.
For Aaron Gwin, though it wasn’t a hard decision. “I’m stoked to begin this new chapter of my career with Intense Bicycles and my fellow teammates Jack and Neko. I’ve been buddies with the owner Jeff for a while and having the opportunity to work together now is super cool. We share a lot of similar passions and our love for racing and riding-developing fast bikes has been a big part of both of our lives. As a rider and team owner, I’m excited to run such a legendary race program. We’ve put together an awesome group of people and I’m looking forward to the years ahead.”
Neko Mulally was another top pick for INTENSE. Gwin and Mulally were teammates in past years and bring a solid working relationship to the team. “As an American racer, I’m excited to race for an American brand with such a strong heritage in downhill racing,” commented Mulally.
Jack Moir is an IFR veteran, and 2019 will be his fourth year with the program. At 24, Jack is the team’s youngest rider, and rose to stardom under the IFR flag when he played a pivotal role in developing the M29. In 2017, Jack spent the entire season on a different prototype at nearly every race.
“Prototyping in public isn’t for everyone” says Steber. “Anything can happen with prototype bikes. Jack’s ability to ride the bike for its strengths and really embrace the development process during the World Cup Series showed his true professionalism.”
The team will be managed by long-time trainer of Aaron Gwin, Todd Schumlick and Cathy Zinck. The duo has a long history of working with athletes and running successful race programs at both the privateer and factory racing levels. The IFR Technical Team will include John Hall for Aaron Gwin, Daniel Paine for Jack Moir and Sam Yates for Neko Mulally. Brock Van Heel has been hired as the team videographer.
“As Aaron’s trainer the past 6 years, we’ve had a chance to develop a strong relationship,” stated Schumlick. “We agree that for a race team and its riders to perform at their best, there needs to be confidence in everyone involved. For this reason, I was thrilled to come on board as Team Manager and take on this new challenge. I’m very excited to start the season. I believe the INTENSE M29 is an exceptional bike and I am eager to get the ball rolling for the 2019 season and help our team reach new levels and milestones for the INTENSE brand.”