Price: £1395 frame and shock
Frame: Custom butted 6000 series aluminium
Fork: Manitou X-Vert Super
Wheels: Sun/Ringle RPM lite with Intense Comp 60 cc 26 x 1.95 tyres
Trim: Intense SDG saddle, Easton monkey bar, EA50 stem and EA70 seatpost.
Weight: Approx 26.5lb as tested
From: Intensecycles.comTest logbook
A few hard laps round the rain ruts, singletrack, screaming descents and grunting slag heap climbs of “Chapelfornia” between the M1 and Chapeltown near Sheffield. Yeah, it’s a glamorous life.The Reason
Intense Cycles made their name with the box monocoque M1 DH monster much beloved by Shaun Plamer and repainted into their own corporate colours by many others. However in the past couple of years the Intense Tracer has built up a reputation as one of the most lusted after XC suspension bikes. Indeed it assumed almost legendary status on the Bike Magic forum a few months back as the bike unfortunate enough to be chosen as high horse of the month by Shaun Murray of Singletrackworld.com.The Rig
It’s not hard to see why it’s been dubbed the “Snob’s Specialized” or more kindly the “FSR that doesn’t flex and doesn’t need a bearing replacement kit every month like the old ones did”. At a glance the curved toptube / seat tube with it’s seat mast cantilevered over the shock is pure FSR. The short shock carrying linkage and geniune “licensed courtesy of Specialized USA” Horst Leitner chainstay pivots and low main pivot behind the bottom bracket are also straight Spesh. Get close though and you can see why they want more dollars than the folks at Morgan hill do.
The mainframe uses larger diameter tubing than the Spesh although the flat tube side profiling isn’t as dynamic as the FSR, and the simple throat gusset isn’t as cute as the Specialized box unit. The headtube is externally butted, and like the FSR there’s a reinforcing leaf gusset on the top tube too.
While Specialized have used mass produced (but still perfectly serviceable) tube profiling, extrusions and pressed plate pieces, Intense plug in some natty CNC work. The seatmast / shock mount plates are seam welded with a small gusset just ahead of the seat post stub and the lower section is then CNC relieved to reduce weight. The joint of the seat tube – top tube junction is also a small CNC’d angle block that carries the linkage pivot, and the lower chainstay pivot mounting and bottom bracket are all machined from one piece too. Out back it gets even more intensively worked. One piece seatstay and chainstay bridges are deeply sculpted and hollowed through for minimum weight with USA machined into the top surface for those who didn’t realise. The beefy square stays are also externally butted, Pace stylee, before being cut off diagonally to where they meet the pivot and dropout.
The dropouts themselves are big one piece strut supported units with replaceable hanger and disc brake bosses all present and correct. Cartridge bearing pivots all round also make the 4 bar set up super fluid, with smooth long term running according to what we’ve read in various rider reviews. The small twin plate linkage gets three mount holes for the shock giving 3 or 4 inches of travel or 71.5 / 70.5 degree head angle options.The Ride
The most noticeable aspect of the Tracer is it’s relatively compact ride position, even with a lay back seatpost. While this might not suit those who like to stretch for speed it makes for easy weight shifts and confident centrally planted handling. The high (compared to Specialized) bottom bracket also reduces dabs and clatters through technical terrain. The forks on our test model were also straight off Nige’s dual slalom bike, and were significantly oversprung compared to the rear. This left the front end feeling slack compared to the plush rear but obviously a quick fork sort would iron out the differences.
As soon as you’re in the saddle you can feel the excellent frame alignment and taut tracking, combining with the cartridge bearings to deliver a totally responsive ride. There’s slight squat as the power goes down but it’ll pick out traction from hardpack ripple sections whether you’re sat or stood, and the Intense rubber out rear never spat it’s traction dummy even when provoked. The Fox shock comes with a lockout option but we never actually used it off road, which is always a good sign.
Lightweight linkage bikes normally suffer lateral twist and yaw when cornered hard against the grain of the trail. Not so the Tracer which tracked and drove cleanly even when we hammered it round and round in a circle over sun dried truck tyre ruts. As you’d expect from a bike with such a downhill lineage, when the back end did break free it was a calm rear end slide that we could still pedal through before flicking out of the corner.
With such an aggresively responsive mainframe even the 4″ travel was thumped through regularly, but increasing shock pressure cancelled out the suppleness of the first couple of inches so we settled at around 150psi (11 stone rider for all you shock watchers out there).
The area we were riding was also big on steep rutted drops criss crossed with MX scars but apart from some kick up from the oversprung forks we never suffered the slightly stomach churning twist and flex of many lightweight sussers, we either lobbed it neatly over the top or just let it cut straight through, wheels hitting the chosen line cleanly every time.
XT and Easton kit is an ‘as good as you’ll ever really need’ set up but leaves complete bike weight around 26.5lb (sorry, we forgot the scales) with the Manitou forks. We reckon there’s easily a strong 25lb bike in there with a different build up though.Verdict:
We were very sorry to leave hand the Intense back to Nige, but seeing as he hadn’t even ridden it yet our plans to ride off meet a getaway car on the hard shoulder of the M1 would have been cruel.
It’s a basic structural fact that most manufacturers try and hit a ‘raceable’ weight they start to lose the rigidity and accuracy that makes bigger suspension bikes more clinical and confidence inspiring. Intense have machined away all the excess weight they can without compromising the solidity of the ride. This might mean it comes out heavier than some bikes but it means you’re investing in a machine that won’t be afraid to ride as hard as you can, all day, everyday for years. It’ll also turn in impressively responsive performances, whether your racing or chewing up your local technical circuit.
We’ll have to reserve judgement on the steering at the moment as like we said Nige’s bike was overforked, but we’ve got a ride of another example lined up in a few weeks so we’ll update the test then.
Intense bikes come a whole lot bigger and badder than the Tracer, so if you want to have a look at the rest of the bikes click here. There’s even a second hand page if you can’t stretch to full price.