Mention Intense Cycles and it’s easy to get lost in a cloud of nostalgia for the glory days of downhill racing back in the nineties. That does down the fact that in recent years Intense has been staging something of a comeback, with a big investment in carbon fibre and loads of new models. The all-new Tracer 275C is said by Intense to be the cherry on the top of that cake, breathing new life into an old name.
Like its forebears, it’s designed to be a hard hitting machine on the descents that can still be pedalled up to the top, with 165mm of rear wheel travel and the ability to run a fork anywhere between 170-180mm.
The big news is that Intense founder Jeff Steber collaborated with legendary engineer Cesar Rojo when it came to suspension and geometry. Rojo is best known in the mountain bike world for his work on Mondraker’s Forward Geometry concept, which radically increased the reach of the bike in order to improve stability while making the stem as short as possible to keep the rider in the same overall position. So it’s unsurprising that the new Tracer has much greater reach than its predecessor, measuring 460mm for a size large frame. That’s not Mondraker long by any means, but it’s spacious enough for most, while the 65.5-degree head angle and 75-degree effective seat angle are bang on trend for an aggressive enduro machine.
Friends in high places
While many different and radical frame designs were knocked about at the design stage, Intense settled on a design that’s instantly familiar to anyone that knows the brand, with a muscular looking full carbon fibre frame.
There will be five complete bikes in the range, with the top three using a high-modulus ‘SL’ carbon mix to help drop weight without compromising strength and stiffness. The two entry-level bikes use a more affordable blend plus an alloy upper link with a claimed weight penalty of 200g overall. All get very tidy internal cable routing with in-moulded guides to ease cable fitment and there are large diameter bearings on all pivots with the lower link getting a Zerk grease fitting for easy re-lubing.
The bike is single ring only and also uses Boost 148 spacing at the rear end with a rather faffy, but very secure, collet thru-axle that requires both a five and six millimetre Allen key to remove.
There is no aluminium framed bike in the range, mostly because Intense is now refocusing on the high-end luxury sector rather than the mass market. While Steber still prototypes by machining and welding frames in California, working exclusively in carbon is what Intense feels this end of the market desires.
Intense has moved away from the VPP platform it once shared with Santa Cruz in recent years to a similar multi-link design under the banner of ‘JS Tuned’, keeping the counter rotating links but using its own axle path and kinematic. That said, the Tracer uses a very different kinematic than the other bikes in the Intense range and there are no prizes for guessing why it's called ‘JS Enduro’.
There’s no rising then falling rate trickery at the beginning of the stroke, just a nicely progressive curve designed to give a supple initial part of travel, good mid-stroke support and good resistance to bottoming out while working with an air shock. The anti-squat figures are also much more neutral, meaning less pedal feedback under compression.
Fit for a king
As well as testing the bike at the launch in Spain, we got to take home and test the top-spec Factory model on home trails. As you’d expect for the £10,000 asking price — yes, really — you get the absolute crème de la crème of kit fitted to the bike. That means a full selection of Fox’s Kashima coated suspension with a Float RC2 fork up front and Float X2 shock at the back. Both have adjustable high and low speed compression, and rebound damping as well as a flawless track record when it comes to bump-eating performance.
Motive force is handled by the 10-50T range of a SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain paired to a set of lightweight, carbon fibre armed RaceFace Next SL cranks with a direct mount 34T ring. The shifts are smooth and clean, there’s enough gearing for everything from goat-like climbing to fireroad speeding, and although the cranks aren’t the stiffest, that’s not overly noticeable in use.
Stopping duties are handled by Shimano XTR Trail brakes with 180mm rotors at either end. The wandering bite point issues of old seem to be fixed and they provide plenty of grab for minimal mass, though it would be nice to see a larger rotor up front for big mountain descending. Elsewhere, Renthal provides a carbon Fatbar with plenty of width and a dinky 40mm stem too. A 150mm travel RockShox Reverb dropper is paired to a comfy and lightweight Fabric saddle.
Part of that painful price tag is down to the wheelset, which pairs ENVE’s carbon fibre M70 High Volume rims to a set of DT Swiss 240 hubs. They retail alone in the thousands but you do get a stiff and durable wheelset with fast pickup and a shape that gives a good profile to the incredibly sticky E.13 TSR Race rubber. It’s the perfect choice for incredibly greasy and rough descents, with a tough and well-damped carcass and predictable handling in almost any conditions.
On the downside, speccing the super sticky compound both front and rear means they’re a bit of a pig to pedal up for long distances and the touch sidewall means they’re pretty weighty too. Fitting a set of faster rolling tyres does make the bike roll with much more urgency, so unless you’re willing to suffer uphill for ultimate control downhill, you might want to switch the rear at least for something faster.
Intense Tracer 275C Factory ride
While the stock tyres dampen the feel of the bike when climbing, it’s immediately obvious that it’s a very well mannered bike uphill despite this and the 13.1kg mass is respectable when running such chunky rubber. The feel through the pedals is neutral and while you’ll probably want to engage the climbing switch on the Float rear shock for long climbs, even in open it’s not a bobbing pig by any means. The pedalling position feels good too, with a sensation of being sat well in the bike but being far enough forward to weight the front end on steep sections and while the pretty slack head angle does need attention, a nice and low stack height means it’s not constantly trying to wheelie away from you.
Of course, climbing isn’t really what this bike is about and once it’s time to apply your goggles and launch yourself down the trail, the Tracer starts to come alive.
The first thing you notice is just how quiet the bike is. Save for the odd wheeze of a shock or scrape of a tyre, it’s a silent killer and the feel back through the frame is also incredibly well damped, with little harshness or buzz being filtered back to your hands. More importantly, the angles make you feel immediately at home. It’s very rare to be able to perform basic set up, jump on a bike and instantly be able to ride at 9/10ths, but the Tracer allows you to do that. Sticky rubber and superb shocks help, but it’s neutral in the best way possible and gives a blank canvas for you to work with — whether you want to go Jackson Pollock or Leonardo da Vinci on it. It simply devours rock gardens with very little loss of momentum and dives into the gnarliest of steep sections with abandon.
The back end is brilliant too, refusing to get hung up on rocks or feed back unnecessary chatter to the pedals and offering excellent support both when cornering and simply hucking it to flat.
A deal for the devil
Of course, you kind of expect all these superlatives from a literal superbike. The elephant in the room is of course whether this bike — or indeed any bike — can be worth this sort of money and it’s there that we can’t really help — it’s simply so subjective it’s beyond answering.
If you want something highly exclusive and superbly made and you’ve got this sort of cash burning a hole in your pocket then you might be able to justify the purchase. If you don’t, then you definitely won’t when there are bikes that perform with similar aplomb for a third of the price. Think of this as the private jet, the superyacht or the hypercar. None of those are rational purchases by any means when you’ve got Easyjet, a ferry or a sensible hatchback on hand, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have huge appeal, whether you can afford them or not.
Intense Tracer 275C range overview
- Tracer 275C Factory Bike: £9,999.99 / $10,399 / AU$14,999
- Tracer 275C Elite Bike: £7,000 / $7,999 / AU$11,550
- Tracer 275C Pro Bike: £6,200 / $6,999 / AU$10,190
- Tracer 275C Expert Bike: £5,300 / $5,899 / AU$8,599
- Tracer 275C Foundation Bike: £4,200 / $4,599/ AU$6,699
- Tracer 275C SL Frameset: £3,100 / $3,399 / AU$4,950