Dirt is my common denominator. I've explored the off-road world using four knobbies hooked to a transfer case, two knobbies propelled by a two-stroke, and a pair of lug-soled boots and a backpack. Mountain biking falls instinctually in line with the rest of my favorite methods of going off-roading.
Just as there are many types of off-road trucks, mountain bikes also take many different forms. Fragile, featherweight cross-country racing machines represent one end of the spectrum and are countered by burly downhill rigs at the other.
The 5.5 begs to be ridden. Available as a frame only or as a complete bike, the 5.5's personality can be tailored to rider preferences and local terrain. This particular setup is slanted toward long rides over varied terrain, with slender 2.1 tires and sensibly light (not stupid-light) components. I still had several good parts from my previous bike, so they found their way onto the 5.5. Intense offers its frames in myriad color choices. If you're not a fan of baby blue, you're bound to find a hue in Intense's palette that suits your taste.
Mountain bikers themselves run the gamut from cross-country racers to downhill specialists. Most riders, myself included, fall somewhere in the middle. I enjoy looking at squiggly lines on a map and discovering for myself what they look like in the real world. It's the two-wheeled, human-powered equivalent of prerunning in Baja or motoring through unpaved routes in the Rockies.
Although I hardly ever compete in organized events, I still push my personal performance envelope on the trail. I need a mountain bike that climbs and descends well. I need a mountain bike with a smooth, plush ride and long-lasting, rugged construction. The Intense 5.5 is a perfect fit.
Intense's 5.5 combines rugged construction (witness the gusseting at the head-tube/downtube/top-tube juncture) with 5-1/2 inches of plush suspension travel. The 5.5 is light enough for climbing steep trails but still rugged enough for nasty downhills and big bumps.
A perusal of today's mountain bike market reveals plenty of offerings featuring 5 or more inches of suspension travel and rugged frame construction. What sets Intense apart? Two main factors spring readily to mind: made-in-the-USA construction and VPP rear suspension.
At Intense, welding, machining, heat-treating, and assembly are done in house. Intense uses USA-origin raw materials such as the Easton EA6X tubing used to create the 5.5. Powdercoating and sheetmetal forming are sourced from nearby companies in Southern California. All of these factors add up to superior quality control and responsive customer service.
Why VPP rear suspension? Rear suspension design dictates the bike's personality on the trail. Mountain-bike rear suspension has two opposing goals: efficient pedaling with minimal energy loss and bump absorption. The patented Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) system strategically positions the suspension links so that the rear axle follows a specific curved path as it cycles up and down. The VPP axle path uses chain torque to keep the rear suspension from bobbing up and down as the rider pedals but still allows the suspension to absorb bumps and dips in the trail. The VPP system works so well that shock lockouts and other "crutches" are not necessary to obtain a properly working rear suspension. Intense uses the VPP system on all of its full-suspension frames from the ultralight Spyder FRO (For Racing Only) to the burly M3 downhill model.
The Intense 5.5 is available as a frame only or as a complete bicycle. Many of the parts from my previous bike had lots of life still in them, so I began with a bare 5.5 frame and built it into a complete bike. My old frame used a non-VPP rear suspension design and had 4 inches of travel. Just the same, it had proven itself a worthy performer in the backcountry, so the 5.5 still had a tough act to follow. To date, I've had the chance to run several of my favorite trails with the new frame. The 5.5 soundly beats the old frame on every count: pedaling, bump control, and handling.
If mountain biking is part of your dirt diet there's only one number you need to remember for epic backcountry trails. That number, of course, is 5.5.