Don’t worry if you’ve just done a double take – we did when we realized that we’d shot Intense’s almost identical looking Tracer 275 in exactly the same place as we did this time last year. Aesthetics apart though this year’s T275 is a significantly different and even more appealing prospect for riders after a handmade hardcore ride with a distinctively direct character.
Frame and equipment: true to the roots
The most obvious change from a buying point of view is the price tag – this year’s complete entry-level Foundation spec bike only costs only slightly more than last year's frame. Before alarm bells start ringing about construction cost cutting or abandoning its hand-built in Temecula, California heritage for offshore building, Intense assures us that the alloy frames are still all home grown.
The company’s had such a successful sales past recently that larger material volumes are reflected in lower bulk prices. There’s also some simplification of the frame design, with a separate welded strut and hydroformed seamless top tube rather than a pair of seam-welded hydroformed halves making up the Y section. The dropouts are now fixed 142x12mm thru-axle pieces rather than the multi-axle option, bolt-on G1 versions of the previous 275.
Simplified top tube construction means reduced price and weight
The surprisingly simple process of using exactly the same tube profiles as the carbon T275 has introduced some new shapes, including the striking twisted and double tapered offside rear swingarm strut. All the contemporary fixture essentials are ticked too with chainguide mounts on the bottom bracket, a DMD front derailleur mount cantilevered back off the seat tube and a Stealth dropper post port on the seat tube.
The VPP linkages use 15mm axles with adjustable collet bearings and grease injection ports for smooth long term swinging, while twin rear shock mount holes give either 140 or 160mm of travel. There’s also more than enough beautifully crisp machining on the various linkages, bridges, pivot housings and other keystone sections. The big fishscale weld beads guarantee you’ll still get that proper Intense owner pride every time you see your Tracer, and it comes in black, red, fluorescent orange, and fluorescent yellow as well as the raw ‘works’ finish of our sample.
If welding and machining make you happy, then this bike is pure joy
As much as cosmetics undoubtedly count when choosing to spend extra on a boutique frame the new tubeset also saves a full pound in weight over last year’s alloy bike. It’s also cheaper, frame-only, despite the fact it comes with a Cane Creek DB Inline shock upgrade as standard.
Ride and handling: live the dream
There’s no doubt that the new Foundation build kit is going to be a real draw for riders who’ve always wanted an Intense but never had the cash to make it a reality – the Shimano SLX/Deore, X-Fusion spec list is a who’s who of our most cherished cost effective components.
The saved frame weight means the large Foundation we rode this year was only 100g heavier overall than the SRAM X01 and Reverb post Pro spec bike we rode last year. The otherwise identical carbon frame is 1.13kg lighter for a sizeable extra chunk of change, if weight’s a real concern.
VPP suspension means plenty of feedback through the pedals
You’ll need to be patient, though, to reap full potential – our desert riding proved yet again that the tight seals of X-Fusion’s forks and shocks need double figure ride hours to loosen up. Once the seals have softened you can run the Sweep fork at lower pressure than you’d presume in the car park and rely on the accurate mid-stroke damping to keep the front end supported and consistent through corners. It still collects serious singular hits without too much complaint, with the relatively simple rebound and compression circuits only starting to stutter and skip a few beats when you’re properly pinning it through a long section of strife. Even at 160mm travel the 34mm stanchions and 15mm axle of the Sweep carry the impressive mainframe stiffness of the T275 right through to the trail.
The T275 is a degree slacker up front, but 3.5 degrees steeper in the seat tube than the previous 275 for a more planted feel with plenty of front wheel weight emphasis. While the Intense bars are a decent width, a shorter stem is tempting. If you're riding in wet conditions, you may want to switch the front Ardent rubber for something like a Maxxis Minion DHF to lock down turning and braking traction, and it’s gagging for a dropper post. Any shop worth its salt should sort any of those swaps without spoiling the big value bonus.
Relaxed angles make it a more stable trail pinner than before
As for the the rear suspension, once it’s bedded in the specifically tuned X-Fusion shock is one of the best matches we’ve met for the VPP suspension system. By using a constant level of low speed compression throughout the stroke rather than just as an initial platform it stops soggy wallow in the mid-stroke and keeps feedback and power delivery sharp from any point in the travel.
The accentuated rearward swing of the long (significantly longer than Santa Cruz’s version of VPP) lower linkage makes it a great flat faced rock or big drop eater as long as you’re ready for big kickback through the pedals. The direct, interactive connection from pedal to trail as the chain tightens the suspension is also balanced against reduced suspension sensitivity under power and obvious bob in the smaller chainring – so it won’t suit fans of neutral riding bikes.
But in a world of increasingly similar, totally sorted, mostly neutral suspension characters and bike designs, outliers like Intense’s particularly accentuated version of the VPP system in an ostentatiously hand built chassis are potentially even more appealing. It’s not the lightest or subtlest machine, but it is a ton of flat-out fun in an impressively weak link-free, good value complete bike format.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.