This is the Intense Primer, a 130mm 29er of the New School, and it’s therefore Intense’s answer to machines such as the SantaCruz Hightower and the Yeti SB5.5c – do-anything, medium travel trail monsters both.
What do we mean by ‘new school’? Well, compared to bikes of a few scant years ago, it’s longer (our XL test bike has a 648mm top tube and 477mm reach) with a snappy, short back end (438mm chainstays), a slacker head angle (67.5 degrees) and a steeper seat tube angle (75 degrees effective). And of course, it’s Boosted to 148×12 at the back end.
Let’s not beat about the bush, our review Primer in a Factory spec couldn’t have been any more bling without being accidentally wheeled, at speed, through one of Liberace’s chandeliers. The ‘Factory’ test frame itself boasts Intense’s SL carbon layup with Ti hardware, which maintains strength while losing weight in non-critical areas and saves a few hundred grams of overall frame weight (a standard layup frame is also available). The swing-link is carbon and, as you’d expect, there’s internal cable routing throughout. The Primer actually shares a front triangle mould with the ACV we reviewed a few weeks ago, but don’t be devised; the layup is different, and there are a few other touches which mark the two apart – the Primer has a front mech mount, for example. The rear triangle is completely different, though; braces and struts are in different places, and although the bike is still Boosted (and frankly looks like you could probably squeeze some chubby wheels in there if you wanted) the back end looks a little more slender than the ACV’s rear.
The drivetrain is full SRAM XX1 with a RaceFace Next SL carbon crankset – it should be noted that production models will come with full XX1 Eagle 12 speed, but as this wasn’t available at the time of testing we poor unfortunate souls had to make do with 11 speed instead. Sob. Shimano’s XTR trail brakes provide the stopping power (180mm front and 160mm rear rotors); an ultra-light carbon DT 240 wheel set with Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, Renthal stem and bars, and Fabric carbon-shelled saddle are some more bling highlights, and bounce is provided by Fox’s Factory 34 fork up front and a Factory Float shock in the back (custom tuned, of course).
Shockings and Suspenders
Actually, it’s worth going in to the suspension in some detail. Way back in the mists of time, Intense and SantaCruz both licensed the VPP suspension system, and Santa Cruz has carried on with its ever-evolving iterations. But, although it looks extremely similar superficially, this is not VPP. The whole design philosophy is known as the JS Tuned system, and it encompasses everything from suspension kinematics through geometry to drivetrain and componentry specification. But let’s look at the suspension anyhow…
It’s still a rear triangle attached to the front triangle by a couple of linkages; the upper one also drives the shock. But compared to the latest VPP (3, fact fans), pivot location, axle path, shock rate (custom tune, remember?) and suspension curve are different. Intense claim that the bike us very well supported in the mid stroke, so you can run it with more sag so you’ll get better small bump performance.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way now; this is a fantastic bike, as you’d hope. Firstly, although in photos the paint-job can be divisive, it’s very pretty in the flesh. And if you really don’t like it there are other colours available. But when you pick it up, you can feel where your money’s gone – this is a pretty light bike. It’s a whisker over 26lbs.
And a lot of that weight saving is in the wheels, so turning the pedals is a similarly entertaining experience. It’s a breeze to get up to speed, and (although I doubt my fitter riding companions would agree with me) I felt faster on this bike than I have done for a long time.
Pointed up, the suspension does actually seem to do what it says on the tin; there’s a good amount of support in the midstroke, and even running at 30% sag (Intense’s suggested level) I found that pedalling was so effective that I barely bothered with the lockout switch on the shock at all; the bike was ridden fully open most of the time to no detriment. Descending was a similarly entertaining experience; the bike felt beautifully poised in every situation I threw it down, and responded immediately to any shift in weight. Initially I found myself wondering how it’d perform with a 140 or a 150mm fork, but the more I rode it the less of an issue it seemed. The Fox on the front seems a good fit to the rest of the bike, and such concerns faded to the back of my mind. Cornering was direct and entertaining, and it’s surprising how confidence inspiring it felt when things became properly technical.
This directness was initially almost disconcerting, actually. The Primer is extremely stiff. Those carbon bars, wheels and frame conspire to produce a bike which responds with laser guided certainly to any input – but when riding somewhere rocky (my home turf) some adjustment is required. You can’t expect to pick a vague line and for the bike to happily contort itself to the route of least resistance; if you pick a ropey line, the bike will ride it. It’s far from a bad thing, but it takes a little getting used to compared to some of the other bikes I’ve ridden recently. You simply need to level up your line selection processes. Happily it’s also good enough to get you out of most scrapes it’ll get you into…
Kit and Caboodle
And what of all that gorgeous kit? It’s almost pointless to talk about the componentry, if I’m honest. For an eight grand bike, the kit had better be top notch – and fortunately it is. Sad as I was not to be able to try out the Eagle drivetrain which will appear on the production bikes, the 11 speed XO1 was, of course, flawless. The carbon cranks were silent, shifting was perfect every time and there’s not really much else to say. Braking wise, I’ve never been overly fond of Shimano’s latest XTR brakes – the race ones I’ve spent most time on felt wooden yet flexy – but these trail models – I’m happy to report – go a considerable way towards assuaging my unhappiness. You can still see the lever body flexing slightly when you properly haul on the anchors, but the servo-wave mechanism ameliorates the issue to a great extent, and once bedded in, I found some some good, confidence-inspiring stoppers.
Any more whinges? Well, small beer, really. I didn’t get on with the Fabric Scoop Radius saddle at all – I much prefer their flatter ‘Flat Pro’ Scoop model to this extremely rounded one, so I swapped it out. But saddles are very personal things; plenty of folks have arses which can accommodate the more overt curve of the Radius. And I’d perhaps have liked an extra 20mm width or more on the bars; but this is coming from a local riding area of wide open spaces and very few thread-the-bike-through-the-trees moments. The lower pivot can on occasion act as a sort of mud shelf, and when things get properly gloppy it can collect a fair amount of clart, but throughout the review period it never rubbed, seized or caused much of a problem (it’s also got grease ports). Like I said, small beer.
A beautifully poised, beautiful, elegant, fast as hell trail bike, which would be as just as happy on an XC course, or an Enduro one. And yes, it costs eight thousand pounds, so you’d expect it to be good. And fortunately, it is. Very. I’m off to raid the piggybank.
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- Frame – Primer SL Monococque
- Shock – Fox Factory Float
- Fork – Fox Factory 34 Float Boost
- Hubs – DT Swiss 240s
- Rims – DT XMC 1200 Spline 29 carbon
- Tyres – Schwalbe Nobby Nic
- Chainset – RaceFace Next SL Carbon
- Rear Mech – SRAM XX1
- Shifter – SRAM XX1
- Brakes – Shimano XTR Trail
- Stem – Renthal 50mm
- Bars – Renthal Fatbar Carbon 760mm
- Seatpost – RockShox Reverb
- Saddle – Fabric Scoop Radius Pro
- Size Tested – XL
- Sizes available – S, M, L, XL
- Weight – 26lbs
|Tested:||by Barney for 2 months|