Buying Online: can you get peace of mind?

No one is safe from the force that is online shopping. From books to food to furniture, retailers are grappling with how to transition into this brave new world.

Mountain biking hasn’t escaped this but with most riders prefering to physically grasp any potential purchase, how does shopping online for bikes compare?

I investigated one of the preeminent players in the Aussie market, Intense Cycles.

Intense, California

Headquartered in Temecula, California, Intense Cycles has been at the forefront of downhill and gravity since their origins in 1993. They’ve produced legendary bikes such as the M1 and M3 and lately the M29 downhill race bike now under Aussie downhill racer Jack Moir along with new team-mate Aaron Gwin.

I had the chance to visit their headquarters earlier this year. While a few years ago the welders, frame jigs and CNC machines moved out with a push to produce carbon frames exclusively over the alloy frames they’d been hand building in their workshop, there is still hand-building for prototyping and testing going on under the hands of founder Jeff Steber.

Since early 2018 they’ve been following a new direct and online sales model, bearing proof to the constant change they’ve had to execute in changing their brief around what their customer expects.

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The big, bad internet AKA Online direct sales

Consumers now demand more flexibility from their retailers and brands, with Australia Post reckoning that by 2020, 1 in 10 items in Australia will be bought online. The biggest uptake has come from categories such as fashion and grocery sales, but while outdoor and sporting goods including bikes lag behind there’s still a growing trend via online channels.

As with any major shift in the marketplace, there is undoubtedly a debate about whether the move to online is a net-positive or net-negative for the industry as a whole. On one side of this debate, you have the bricks and mortar stores whose livelihood depends on a steady stream of sales and the other side, the at-times-infamous discount online warehouse.

Either of these have benefits for the consumer. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, the physical store can offer a more personal service and the online can offer better prices. In terms of offering that tactile experience of seeing, testing and riding a bike, while a physical store gives you that opportunity, some online retailers offer programs such as organised demo rides and in-store experiences through a select dealer network. Plus, if the brands can offer a lower price point and get more bikes out there to us willing consumers, that’s only a good thing, right?

Local connections

Within Australia, Intense is distributed by Intense Cycles Australia, from their warehouse in Western Sydney, NSW.
They tell me that they can deliver any bike from their range from XC race machines through to Enduro and Downhill sleds and E-bikes from their warehouse to most places quite quickly with their courier of choice, Startrack.

How quick? To most of the East Coast, 2-3 days is normal, Sydney is a bit faster, and they’ve typically delivered to Western Australia in just under a week’s time.

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After-sales support is handled by the team at the distributor, with a network of service agents around the country that can also assist in the process where needed. Customisation is possible if riders are after any upgrades or changes in components by getting in touch for a quotation.

If you’ve got any other questions, get in touch with the team and they can handle them before purchase. They’re also running demo programs, kicking off around the country in September, offering riders a chance to check out the bikes at a location near them.

The purchasing and building process

To test out the process for myself, I sit down one night and hit up their website. My current bike is a Trek Fuel EX 29’er, and I’m thinking along the same lines in the Intense range and the relatively new Sniper Trail fits the bill. The Sniper is offered with XC and Trail options, the Trail opting for more travel and a beefier set of components over the more cross-country-race focused XC. You can select from their Foundation range through to the Pro and Elite top-level builds, with the Expert build level offering a decent value upgrade over the still well-specced Foundation level.

Fast forward a couple of days and I’ve now signed for and received a box at my front door. It arrives ready to assemble and ride, full toolkit included, with a well-made Intense branded torque wrench and loads of hex and torque bits along with standard sockets included as part of the pack, plus a shock pump, manuals, reflectors and a bell if you need one.

To get it built doesn’t require much at all. After opening the box the main steps are as follows:
1) Removing all the components and packaging
2) Mount the handlebars to the stem
3) Mount the derailleur
4) Fit the front and rear wheels
5) Straighten the handlebars
6) Set up the saddle and pedals
7) Pump the tyres and shocks
8) Give everything a once over, especially the brakes and gears before hitting the trails

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All the boxes inside the box are numbered and labelled to make it easy to know what order to remove things in. There are instructions on the website and YouTube videos taking you through the steps required. A bike work stand is handy to have but in the absence of that you could accomplish most of the build with either the bike carefully upside down or fit the wheels into the bike first then allow it to sit on the wheels. Most people shouldn’t have a problem with the process, the main thing is to make sure not to cross-thread any screws or bolts and take note of the torque specs to use with the torque wrench when tightening things up.

Before heading out on the trail I run the bike up and down the gears both in the work stand and riding up and down the street. Everything’s good without any real adjustment required. I bed in the brakes with some almost-stops from speed down a slight hill, the first few brake applications feel a bit less powerful but by the time I’ve done a handful of repetitions of slowing from 25 to 5km/h the Shimano XT brakes now feel pretty good. The dropper’s working and the seat angle and position feels right. Let’s take this on the dirt!

The Sniper Trail’s a fast and fun trail bike that rolls well over everything I could find on my local loop with its 29er wheels, capable geometry and a good choice of all-rounder tyres in the Maxxis Forekaster EXO’s. There’s not much else to say other than it’s great to be opening the box one morning and with a minimal amount of work, shredding trails on the same day.

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Final Thoughts

There are certainly benefits in these direct sales for both consumers and brands and I think that Intense’s model has proven that an existing bike brand can switch to a direct sales model and succeed. The Australian delivery timelines offer quick satisfaction from ordering to having a trail-ready bike and there’s a good range of quality bikes on offer. For where Intense sits in the pricing spectrum, the quality assurance from the factory through to delivery is reassuringly thought out and executed. Just what you’d expect from a top tier MTB brand.

This article was written as part of a partnership with V-Sport Australia.

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