Intense Tracer 2 £1699

An instant hero

BikeRadar score 4/5

The Tracer 2 is Intense’s idea of the perfect ride. It’s variously labelled 'enduro', 'all-mountain' and 'trail' by the Californian company, presumably because it’s so versatile it can be many things to many people. In the right hands it'll ream the most technical mountain trails, spitting a steady stream of singletrack swarf off its back tyre. But it's a bike that excels at 'big country', gravity-fed riding rather than all-day cross-country epics.

Ride & handling: Not a bike for everyone, but perfect for riders who charge the mountain.

Ride the Tracer 2 in its preferred habitat of pointy rocks and you’re immediately reminded why it got a podium place at last year’s Megavalanche race in France, under French ripper Emmeline Ragot. The bike responds to trail bumps and rider movement like a wet bar of soap jammed between your hands. It just shoots forward, like your foot slipped off the clutch with a ton of revs up.

We’ve rarely been so thankful for tacky grips. Without them we’d have lost the Tracer 2 a few times as it tried leaping from our grip down the hillside. Pure descending aside, it’s the way the bike turns that impressed the most. The super-stiff-feeling chassis is happy to be strong-armed though turns with no hint of rear wheel steer and carries alarming speed into successive sections.

This cornering stability is helped by a low (for its travel) 350mm bottom bracket height. Sure, you’re going to catch pedals if you’re still pedalling through compression; only you can know if you’re able to make this work with your riding style or whether it’ll be annoying. Whatever you feel about that, the bike is extremely plush and when the VPP linkage does its short linked counter-rotating thing the bike squats and holds on tight making tyres tear on the ground.

Hammering the Tracer 2 in tough terrain is a drug-like feeling and one that'll make you a believer in a single descent. It’ll make you want kneepads and cause pictures of full-face helmets to flash before your eyes. But owning one can be likened to owning a big dog. It needs a certain amount of space to exercise in order to thrive; likewise the Tracer needs to be pointed at real mountains, or at the very least genuinely rocky lumps of countryside, to be happy.

If you live somewhere flat, look to something lighter and tighter, like the new Santa Cruz Blur TRc, instead. Otherwise you’ll become annoyed with it and it’ll become frustrated with you. Yes, you’ll roll along happily, but try to make the Tracer 2's magic happen on smooth rolling terrain and it doesn’t, it’ll just sit there obediently sucking up the ripples using about 15 percent of its ability.

For all the hype about the Tracer 2’s descending ability and its strong downhill DNA, it isn’t a downhill bike. It's a built-for-chaos trail bike that likes to go downhill in preference to climbing. But surely a ‘perfect’ trail bike should descend and climb with equal aplomb? True, to be the ultimate trail bike, or even get close to it, a trail bike has to do both.

As it climbs the Tracer 2 handles neutrally rocky ledges and loose sections, and super-slow uphill stall hairpins are dispatched without fuss or fanfare. There’s no need to start sawing the bar or use crazy body language only a contortionist could manage. For a relatively compact package, it feels like a lot of bike, even if the tape suggests fairly standard lengths in all departments.

However, try as we might, the Intense never quite felt at home climbing at more than a seated pace. When we stood and tried to light the afterburners, it failed to ignite. We dearly wanted the Tracer 2 to have a dash more climbing verve. Instead, it makes steady, assured progress. Instead of a true all-rounder, the Tracer 2 is a bike for amped-up trail riders who know the value of wide bars, flat pedals and sticky rubber FiveTen shoes.

Frame & equipment: High-quality, travel-adjustable frame with 'tempered luxury' spec

The Tracer 2 is travel-adjustable between two settings – 145 and 160mm (5.75 and 6.25in) – giving the bike and rider options for both how deep and plush the ride can be for a given trail and also a chance to tweak the geometry to better suit the terrain. It’s as easy as wielding a single 5mm Allen key and takes about three minutes if you drop the bolt twice.

Standing back to admire the gunmetal grey beast (CanAm yellow and a fetching raw metal ‘works’ finish are also available) you can see the time and workmanship put in to make each handmade frame. Yards of perfect ‘fish scale’ welds are proof that a skilled man spent serious time making each one.

It’s also the answer to why the Intense Tracer 2 isn’t the cheapest option when hunting for a bike with a similar spec sheet – US welders are expensive, especially in a world where time is money and most brands are looking at putting frames together by machines in minutes rather than the hours invested at Intense’s Lake Elsinore facility.

Intense use VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension technology, which has evolved organically over the years with a minor tweak here and a small adjustment there to zero in on their idea of the perfect ride. We like VPP, but fall short of calling it perfection.

Our build, which was referred to as ‘tempered luxury’ by one tester, is dominated by Shimano's uber slick XTR Trail transmission, topped off with solid Formula RX brakes. Fox 32/RP23 BV suspension, and Easton EA90 wheels and Haven carbon finishing kit. It tipped our scales at 27.2lb (with pedals). Not too shabby, but not in the Scott Genius ballpark either.

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This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

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