Freeride!

Bike: Intense Uzzi VPX
Year of Manufacture: 2006-ish
MSRP: Not really sure (Google algorithms let me down) but discussion boards said “pricey”
TFKRCP (Trips for Kids Re-Cyclery Price): Tagged $900 but offer ‘em $600 cash and see what happens.

Mountain biking is like jazz or basketball, it is an American treasure shared with the world. Mt. Tamalpais (yeah) and Crested Butte (nope, according to my purely partisan vote) are considered the delivery rooms for its birth. The proud Mamas and Papas were young, long haired, waffle-stomper wearin’, hippies who passed out joints not cigars.  They were 1970’s “Disrupters” of the cycling industry who cobbled together bikes they could and would ride anywhere.

Word got out and “Mountain Bike” popularity and sales exploded in their own cycling boom. Everybody, and I mean, ev-er-y-body, ditched their sturdy, skinny-tired, Schwinn Varsities for sturdy, fat-tired bikes that they, too, could ride ev-er-y-where.  MTB populism soon spawned competitive elitism. Outlaws racing each other in Levis down dusty, rutted mountain trails, became rule-riddled processions on groomed courses, with racers shrink-wrapped in sponsor crowded rainbows of Lycra. XC Champions came to look more like sinewy Olympic marathoners who thought riding a bike on a trail would be a nice holiday.

But that iconoclastic, sparked-roach soul of Mountain biking was still out there, smudging away the bad juju. It smoldered in the hearts of cycling’s next generation of disrupters who were, you guessed it; young people, who liked riding (and apparently, crashing) wherever they could, while wearing anything-but-lycra. Gen-Xe’rs who raised Mountain biking’s fragrant torch and lit an epic maelstrom of healthy hooliganism. Freeride was born.

Freeride is a “Can’t be done? Hold my beer” attitude on two wheels. The cycling horizon became vast again. It shapeshifted easily from Rural Northshore-Drop into Urban-Huck mutations. Pics of guys like Richie Schley and Wade Simmons riding seemingly impossible routes, in impossibly photogenic locations, started to find their way onto Magazine covers. Suddenly everyone knew where Kamloops was. The paved Los Angeles River basin became a sweet place to drop-in. The Olympic Rainforest determined bike specs.  Those that wanted to raise a one-fingered salute to stopwatches and rulebooks, smiled at what they saw. 

The riding this inspired resulted in frequent and massive “Fails” both mechanical and physical. Engineering took care of one and ERs took care of the other.

 For your consideration, I present what I consider an apex predator in the Freeride bike engineering evolution: The 2006-ish Intense Uzzi VPX.

Intense, the bike company, started 30 years ago in Elsinore CA. Until then, Elsinore had been famous for one thing, Motocross racing. Wild, free-for-all, anybody can race motocross racing. The kind of racing that you saw Malcom Smith and Steve McQueen do in On Any Sunday. With that setting as an incubator, it is only natural to spawn an MX bike with pedals. Intense caught the MTB bike “Establishment” by surprise. Seemingly, out of nowhere, this little independent bike maker had their (unfortunately rifle monikered) M1 bikes on podiums at downhill (DH) events.

DH bikes and their racers need to do three things well: 1. Go downhill fast 2. Survive a Crash 3. Go downhill fast again. Intense bikes and their racers were very good at doing those three things very well. Freeriders noted the similarities in their DNA. But they had evolved/regressed(?) needing to be able to pedal their bikes UP hills, too. 60lb+ DH rigs didn’t cut it. Solution? Simple. Put DH bikes on a Paleo diet, drop some weight, keep the strength. And that’s how the Uzzi VPX was created.

First iterations of the VPX were released into the wild in 2005. Our example is a later year spec’d out with Easton Aluminum tubes (custom drawn for Intense), gusseted and braced, in case you get rough with it. Fox DHX 5.0 coil-over rear shock with 8.75, “double-dog-dare-ya”, inches of travel. Up front you’ll find a Fox 36VAN R fork with 6.3” of buttery coil-over shmoosh.  Virtual Pivot technology (the VP part of the name) so that all of your uphill pedaling energy doesn’t get absorbed by the Foxes. Mixed componentry: some huuuge Shimano disc brakes a thoughtful Deore Double crank, so you can go low on climbs;  SRAM X9 shifting stuff; Mavic 26” rims and hubs with through-axel quick releases rolling on 2.5″ Kenda Knobbies, which make the wheels strong for hard landings yet ever so willing to roll over trail not-so-niceties; finally, a Thompson stem adds just the right touch of elegantly functional neck bling to the package.

Do you have a little wild side and your gravel-bike just isn’t quite scratchin’ that itch? I think we both know what you might be missing. You need a little spark to get back in touch with your Freeside. Grab this Uzzi VPX, find a gnarly patch somewhere, hold your phone up high with a concert lighter app flickering on the screen and shout to the canyons “FREEEERIDE!”

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