Intense founder Jeff Steber discusses then new ultra-versatile ACV 27.5-plus MTB

With the launch of the new Intense ACV, the Californian brand is bursting into the plus-sized segment with a bike to take on wherever the trail leads thanks to incredible grip, low-pressure plushness and genre-bending versatility. Intense founder and ACV designer Jeff Steber talks early plus experiments, prototyping the bike's character and its 29-er ace in the hole.

The ACV might be the brand's first foray into the modern plus-sized tyre segment, but like most things mountain biking, founder Jeff Steber has toyed with the idea before.

"Back in the late 90s, early 2000s, we had 'Intense Tire Systems' and were developing tyres," says Steber. "We were running 2.7-inch downhill tyres at the time and in certain conditions they were awesome but the one thing that kind of steered us away from those eventually was weight and rolling resistance. But the benefits that the big tyre sizes brought were real obvious back then. And in a sense, the way those tyres were sized, they were pretty much a 26-plus, because I would say the outside diameters were closer to 27.5 on those tyres already."

On the back of this experience, Jeff was quick to get involved when today's plus-sized tyres and bikes began to filter into the market.

"I made a couple of prototypes just to figure out geometry and things and it really opened our minds to this segment because it was such a fun bike. We kept pushing it more into the trail segment as far as geometries and spec on the bike go because we saw it as a kind of adventure style bike ideal for a lot of areas in Europe where you might take a lift up and then head out on an uncharted trail network, the bike really excels at that. Hence the name – the Air Cushioned Vehicle – ACV.

"It kind of pulls from a special ops hovercraft that was designed to transition seamlessly from water to sand to snow to swamp, whatever, so it kind of fit. The other part of the Air Cushioned Vehicle concept we realised when we were riding the prototypes, was that because it's a very high volume tyre the amount of air pressure you run in the tyre really affects the way the bike rides and handles. So you can tailor how you want the bike to feel by the air pressure you run. You're getting about three-quarters of an inch to an inch of undamped suspension there too, especially when you're running the lower air pressures. It's kind of a unique quality, a really cushy plush ride that just hooks up incredibly.

"We totally get behind the concept that the bike has different personalities depending on how much air pressure you run in the tyres. It does make a difference on these plus bikes and sometimes depending on the condition and trail I'm riding, I'll either run more air or I'll let a little air out on the trail because then I can optimise the bike for that particular ride or trail conditions."

With the MTB scene undergoing a host of platform changes over the last few years, Steber is understanding of the resistance to plus bikes but notes that the ACV is also a very capable 29er in its own right.

"I think it's one of those segments that people have got to throw a leg over it and try it. Most people that try it, especially if it's in trail conditions that are really conducive to it, they come back with an incredible ride experience and they're psyched about it.

"We made the ACV more as a dedicated plus bike and in the marketing materials, we haven't really pushed that it's also a really great 29er. But I think it's important that if you have a separate 29-inch boost wheelset, you could just plug it right in and you have a really awesome 29er. Because we're starting with a Boost 27.5 fork, the 29-inch wheel fits in there totally fine. So you're not really stuck with one or the other.

"The point is that a person buying a dedicated 27.5-plus bike may be thinking, 'This is my only bike and I'm gonna be stuck,' but if they know in their mind they can have this other wheelset and have a totally different bike for a different kind of riding day or condition or trail, then they have that option there. It's actually more versatile and an important part of the conversation on the ACV.

"That's my favourite 29er right now: the ACV with the 29-inch Boost wheelset with 2.3 High Roller tubeless front and rear. Honestly, that's my favourite in the line!"

The ACV has already won incredible critical acclaim from the world's MTB press. Check out the latest Intense ACV reviews here.

Photos Carmen Herrero / Saddleback