by James Love
February 7, 2017
James Love has been testing an early Intense Tracer sample for the last few months and here's his in-depth first test
To know where you are going first you have to remember where you have come from…
2017 Intense Tracer: Frame and suspension.
Intense has always had panache. Panache and vision.
They have been doing fast for years. And are hungry for more…
What we have here is newly designed Intense Tracer Factory. It’s a 165mm travel, 27.5in wheeled, ride-anything machine. The Factory spec moniker is given to the top tier, cream of the crop, top o’ the tree, best of the best, spare no expense bits and pieces that are available. This build will set you back nigh on 10 grand!
After my initial ride for a couple of hours on a Catalunyan hillside riding an eclectic mix of unfamiliar trails I was keen to swing a leg over it again and send it down, along and up my local trails in the winter filth. I left impressed after that first ride. Setup was a simple: give the bike a good old coat of looking at, set sag, bed in brakes and head up, up and up to the first trail.
This was a physical affair with plenty of tight twists and turns that to keep moving required good flow and reactions to what lay ahead, following this was a rough and ready rocky chute, kinda like a dry riverbed section of rapids cascading down a 18% gradient with some ‘oh help me’ moments. After this and more up, then down and what felt like 1,000 jumps at serious speed. At this point the question was – would you like a beer now/would you like to go again? I chose to go again, giddy from the riding so for and intrigued to see what was next. Overall impression from this first ride was positive. Straight away the Tracer was easy to get on with and understand and easy to let run.
The new Tracer has a sleek and strong look with classic Intense flare from the made in USA aluminium bikes of old. It looks powerful with more carbon meat in the downtube and a more slender toptube. Chainstays are deep and seatstays slim. There are two versions of this frame: Standard and SL. One has a standard layup and the other is high modulus: this uses a different process for the same stiff and strong qualities with the more involved method resulting in a lighter structure and costing more.
Both the front triangle and the swingarm are made from carbon. Across the Tracer range standard layup carbon is used in the Foundation and Expert bikes with SL carbon used in the Pro, Elite and Factory bikes. The SL carbon is a step-up from standard. With high modulus carbon less material can be used to achieve the same strength, so it’s lighter. This and the use of a carbon upper suspension link and titanium hardware makes for a weight saving of 200g over the standard frame.
Let’s see what Intense reckons about its new machine…
What would it be like back home?
Back in Yorkshire the sun was decidedly weaker and conditions more moist. In contrast to Spain temperatures are lower, there’s more precipitation and significantly more clart present on the trails. First job before heading out to ride my local trails/surf the slop was to attatch a mudhugger front mudguard. I left the rest of the spec as is.
I have ridden wafer trail bikes that claim to go up and down equally well. Whilst they can can be skipped uphill they usually come unstuck coming back down. I’ve spent a good amount of time on 30lb enduro shedders that fly down and burn calories fast when heading back up to earn more downhill thrills. Each have definite strengths and weaknesses. This thing does both. It goes down with supreme confidence and has surprising uphill ability…so you can do more ups and more downs. Amazing!
The new Tracer looks both sleek and strong. There’s some heritage muscle in some of the lines. The top tube hump for example is classic Intense… and some are shapes are bold and new with some slight and some sturdy areas all flowing together to give what is a purposeful looking chassis.
Intense has racing very much in its roots. The spec on this machine has been built to be an enduro race bike. When you first swing a leg over it and ride along it’s pretty happy at tickover on mellow trails, but there’s a strong feeling that it won’t hang around when the going gets rough. It’s not at all demanding… if anything it commands attention because of the way it looks being pretty loud, but it is eager and when your engine is warmed up and you’re ready to go. It goes!
In the mainframe there’s room for a piggyback shock, a sticker of a bear riding a bike, but no room for a bottle… ah well, suck it up (from a hose)
There’s a high level of attention to detail throughout with internal routing that allow for use of full length outer cable to the rear derailleur and with sleeved guides servicing promises to be easy and stress free. I couldn’t detect any rattling around of gear cable or hoses, everything stays put pretty well and this contributes to be a quiet ride. The downtube is protected with rubber armour and there is wrap-around rubber on the chainstay and a section on the driveside seatstay protect and help with overall hush.
The upper link on the Factory bike is carbon for further weight saving over the aluminum link found on the standard layup frame. It’s painted bright yellow so you can’t miss it!
The lower link of the JS Tuned suspension is aluminium with good (read big) size bearings and grease ports with an eye on durability and ease of maintenance. However, we’re concerned that the link sits very close to the seat tube and when riding in moist conditions, we’ve discovered that grit can easily lodge behind the link, scratching through the paint as the suspension cycles. While it’ll never be a structural issue, scratched paint isn’t what you need on your 3 grand frame.
FOX’s X2 rear shock is super tuneable with options to fiddle with/get just so. It features adjustments for low ‘n’ high speed rebound and low ‘n’ high speed compression and a climb switch. The Tracer climbs just fine. Personally I did not feel the need to flick the switch. The JS tuned suspension does a lot of things well – efficient pedalling, sensitive over small bumps and small scale high frequency trail chatter. It offers a clear mid-stroke that you know where you are at with and ramps up toward the end dealing competently with bigger, harder hits. Superb small bump sensitivity and a balanced and supportive mid-stroke.
Set the sag at 30% and hold on tight.
The FOX Factory 36 Fit 4 Float fork has dials to adjust both low and high speed compression and rebound so you can get the setup just so.
The Fox 36 is run at 160mm. Suspension is traction rich with a real pitter patter quality over low frequency chatter and control of higher amplitude and higher frequency impacts.
15mm boost q/r axle and those matchy matchy decals.
148mm boost spacing with a simple, secure and clean collet 12mm diameter rear axle setup. Clean looking and efficiently secure with nothing protruding.
2017 Intense Tracer: Geometry & Fit
The new Tracer has a head angle that sits at 65.5°. The seat angle measures up at a nice and steep at 75°. These angles are in the right place to go up in an efficient and comfortable seated pedalling position and head down with confidence and authority.
The reach has grown over previous versions with some 15-20mm extra length added to the toptube while chainstays have remained on the shorter side at 432mm. The wheelbase is good and long for overall stability and high speed confidence. The extra length upfront is welcome and keeping chainstays short maintains a quick cornering feel. This gives some particular handling characteristics – there’s a real cornering snap, easy front end loft and stability when moving along quickly.
The top tube is low down and out of the way. I’ve been riding the XLarge frame size. There’s generous standover on all sizes throughout the range, there’s plenty of room to move. We’re glad to see the rather tall seat mast we saw on the Recluse doesn’t seem to have been mirrored on this frame, so there should be plenty room for today’s longer droppers if needed.
Whichever way you point the front wheel you are in a good place. Up, down or along the ride is balanced, comfy and ready for action, happy to charge with confidence. The suspension feel is predictable. It’s warp speed capable but not a total trail disconnect.
2017 Intense Tracer Geometry Chart
2017 Intense Tracer: The Ride
So what’s it like then? It’s fast. Everywhere.
It’s built light and the geometry is right for up, down and along quickly. For a big travel bike… it weighs not a lot and it moves well. Pedalling response is very good and it get’s moving quickly, it’s efficient going up with a comfortable and balanced seated position. Climbing is good. The new Tracer is well mannered and all-round capable for a 165mm travel bike and certainly no chore to ride if gravity is not in your favour. It’s light for a 165mm travel bike too. Very light. Every time I have ridden it I’ve been amazed at how light it is… the XLarge that i’ve been riding weighs – 28.38lbs and that’s with super grippy tyres that weigh almost 1kg each.
The feel is solid though. For not a lot of weight the tracer feels like it will take a beating and be happy about it! The lack of weight really is very impressive. You simply have to pay for it. The JS Tuned suspension is very impressive. Intense have collaborated with Cero designs on this. There’s kinematics knowhow from Cesar Rojo and the new enduro link is linear, supple and sensitive to start with then progressive from mid-stroke. It has a downhill bike feel; supple and controlled but with very good climbing ability and pedalling efficiency. A standout attribute is the flow and ability to deal with square edge hits. Impacts like these rob momentum and slow you down the suspension is very impressive in this regard and the bike keeps going forwards. The enduro link does a great job of sucking up big impacts and deals with square edge hits very well…noticeably maintaining momentum and forging ahead very quickly.
The overall feel is that of composure. It’s poised, can be pushed hard, goes fast and faster…you’ve just got to keep up. Keep your chin up!
I’ve been happy to use the Tracer for less aggro terrain and longer rides…it pedals well, is comfortable, balanced, efficient and light.
The pedalling feel is good. There’s none of that obvious feedback of previous VPP generations and it builds on the positive legacy/progressive and dynamic attributes of the models that have gone before.
The Tracer has poise too: you can pop over, or you can plough through. There’s good clear support from the mid-stroke or hold on tight and engage warp speed through the rough stuff. It’s quick and easy to loft and manual. But by the same token will flow through angry terrain with calmness and confidence, it will go fast and faster…can you?
At slow speeds and for awkward moves in tight terrain that short chainstay, mid-stroke support and light overall weight means that it can be picked up and moved with ease – front end up, getting the front wheel off the is ground for unexpected drops is easy. While it works well as a heavy hitting all-rounder, it’s spry and is quick to react to both pedal input and it’s good going up and absolutely excels going down
The Tracer is flat out fast when the gradient points down. This bike has serious pace and a DH bike feel. It hauls and is calm doing so.
It’s very much at home blasting rough trails. Whatever lies ahead you have confidence in the bikes solid feel and sublime suspension to get you through at speed, look up and hold fast! This is one bike that really trucks on when it gets messy.
The bike has stabiity and is easy to maouver. It’s got pop. The front wheel is easy to loft and manual. It’s nimble and fleet of foot.
It is furious but really doesn’t feel like your paying a penalty and dragging around too much. Overall the Tracer works well on shallower gradients and excels in the steeps.
2017 Intense Tracer: Components
The Factory build is the top tier, best of the best. With low weight and high performance being the goal – and expense? Not spared.
I’ve mentioned the forks and rear shock. They are FOX’s best offerings. Let’s take a look at the rest of the bits and pieces that make up the bike.
Renthal for holding on to and turning. The light, stiff ‘n’ strong, not very long aluminium APEX stem and long, strong, light and buzz reducing FatBar carbon. High quality both. The bars along with the tyres offer some additional damping and go some way to further taking the edge off. The Intense grips are pretty nice too.
e*thirteen soft, super sticky and strong trsr tyres, tubeless. Heavy duty and race compound. This means that they are very DH-a-like super grippy with some low durometer rubber. The e*thirteen trs race tyre use a 70a durometer rubber for the base, 42a at the centre and 40a for the side knobs. They are really soft and in the two months that I have had the bike they’ve started to show wear. The tyres have a reinforced carcass and use plenty of rubber, they are tubeless and are a good profile with the ENVE rims. Tall side knobs and overall pattern is pretty much classic… I’ve found them to be a good all-rounder. They have performed admirably in the slop, steep and loose conditions here at this time of year. They also worked well in the damp sandy conditions on that first ride in Catalunya. Impressive tyres that give confidence and an additional level of comfort.
ENVE m70s. 27.5 inch diameter attached to DT Swiss 240s. m70s! Billed as being light and strong… ideal for up and down. How much up? And how much down? The number implies that you spend your time doing 70% downhill, 30% uphill. Hmm I’ve not been keeping an eye on my up to down ratio… I’ve a feeling that it’s more like 50/50. The rims though are light, they are strong and they are stiff. A precision feel. Direct and unflinching. Tubeless. DT Swiss 240s with go faster bladed spokes! Highly regarded and high quality hubs. Swiss precision. Smooth, positive and quick engagement.
Fabric Scoop saddle with carbon rails and colour coded graphics. De rigueur dropper from perennial favourite Rock Shox. Reverb with 150mm drop.
As part of the JS Tuned approach to overall spec the right hand plunger mounted the right way up in the correct place – upside down on the left hand side of the handlebar. Attention to detail.
How many gears? 12. The drivetrain on the Factory build is a blend of the two SRAM Eagle groups. Intense has drawn from both X01 and XX1 in the pursuit of high function and lowest weight. The JS Tuned recipe is – X01 derailleur with XX1 shifter and cassette.
The 2017 Intense Tracer frame is dedicated 1x. There is no place for a front derailleur on this bike. Much more fitting would be a chain guide or a chain guide and bash guard combo. If you would like to fit one you can fit one to the ISCG 05 mounts.
Race Face Next SL cranks are super light carbon with a large diameter 30mm spindle that fit with a press-fit BB interface. They continue a theme that runs through the bike of – if it can be carbon it will be and it should be the lightest and stiff. The goals here are to be fit for purpose… high function at light as possible weight. Maximising weight savings has been high on the ‘must feature’ list while speccing this bike. Graphics are of course matchy matchy bright yellow on black. The direct mount chainring is 34T. This with the 10-50T eagle cassette gives a plentiful gear range for ups and downs. There are no protective rubber end caps present on the crank arms, personally I would fit them.
In the quest for specing components that balance both high performance and low mass… weight saving with function these might just be the weak link in an otherwise light and functional component spec. I would prefer something with a more resolute bite point. I’d be happy to take a increased in overall mass hit here if it made for more bite be that a larger front rotor or different brake.
2017 Intense Tracer 275C Factory Specifications
- Frame // Intense Tracer 275 Carbon SL
- Shock // Fox FACTORY X2 165mm travel
- Fork // Fox FACTORY 36 FLOAT FIT4 160mm travel
- Hubs // DT Swiss 240
- Rims // ENVE M70 HV
- Tyres // e*thirteen trs race 2.35″
- Chainset // Race Face Next SL 34T
- Cassette// SRAM eagle 10-50T 12 speed
- Rear Mech // SRAM X01 eagle
- Shifters // SRAM XX1 eagle
- Brakes // Shimano XTR trail 180mm rotors front & rear
- Stem // Renthal Apex 40mm
- Handlebar // Renthal Fatbar Carbon 20mm rise 780mm width
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth 150mm drop
- Saddle // Fabric Scoop Radius Pro w/ carbon rails
- Size Tested // XL
- Sizes Available // S, M, L, XL
- Weight: 28.38lbs (12.87kg) XL
(claimed wight for medium size Tracer 275C Factory is 27.11lbs)
2017 Intense Tracer: Overall
The new Tracer is a rough terrain charger that’s flat-out fast down the hill and punchy up. It’s a lightweight enduro heavyweight. It really does do a lot of things well, it’s versatile enough to use as an all-rounder for most everything and it absolutely carries a big stick.
The Factory build of the new Tracer is… Light. Expensive. Money no object. It’s a flash tool that rides pretty flash. What you get is good. It’s gold dipped in expense and sprinkled with diamond dust. Everything looks and feels great and performance is high.
‘That’s a nice pushbike mister!’ Oh the times I heard that… I still wouldn’t be able to buy it though. You, however, might have different lifestyle priorities.
That price tag promises a lot. The end product delivers. It’s a fancy, highest of high end tool for going fast off-road, a 27.5 wheel 165mm travel enduro bike that weighs 28lbs! It’s easy to ride fast. It will go faster… can you? It is no slouch that’s for sure and not just pointed down. It has been designed for ‘brrraAAAAP’ and it does not disappoint. It’s also a really good climber. It’s not a chore on undulating trails. It’s great that it has these qualities… this is what makes it such a versatile bike. But, in this top-end spec, it’ll cost you!
Available as frame only – £3,100
Intense Cycles intensecycles.com
distributed in the UK by Saddleback saddleback.co.uk