Reviewed by Matt Thompson and Jess Pedersen // Written by Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer
Born and bred in the USA - these aren't words we can often write about bikes, which is why it was a real pleasure to hop on the latest version of the popular Tracer platform from Intense Cycles. Already available in both 26 and 29-inch versions, the Tracer 275 aims to gain the "best of both worlds" by utilizing the in-between 650B wheel size. Rather than simply slapping some slightly modified dropouts on the bike and calling it good, Intense went back to the drawing board on this one, ultimately arriving at a fresh redesign specifically made for the 650B wheel size. Combined with 5.5 to 6-inches of adjustable VPP suspension travel, there's certainly a lot of promise to this ride on paper, so we received it with open arms for Vital's 2013 Test Sessions in Southern Utah.
Tracer 275 Highlights
- 6000-series aluminum alloy construction
- 650B (~27.5-inch) wheels
- 140 or 150mm (5.5 or 5.9-inches) of rear wheel travel
- Tapered headtube
- 67-degree head angle
- 71-degree seat tube angle
- 13.3-inch bottom bracket height
- 17-inch chainstays
- Threaded bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
- G1 Replaceable Drop Out System - 135mm QR or 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 31-pounds, 8-ounces (14.3kg)
- $4800+ MSRP, depending on spec options
From headtube to dropout, nearly every piece of the Tracer 275 is made in-house, and Intense is proud of it. The front triangle and rear swingarm are a combination of Easton 6000-series aluminum alloy tubes and hydroformed aluminum sections that are all impeccably welded together. CNC machines crank out everything from the replaceable G1 dropouts to the suspension rockers, shock mounts, pivot hardware, and bottom bracket shell.
Out back, Intense's G1 dropouts allow for relatively easy wheel changes when axle sizes vary. Swapping between 135 QR and 142x12mm options is as simple as removing a few pieces of readily available chainring hardware. Love it or hate it, Intense integrates the derailleur hanger into the dropout, but builds it in a way that provides additional strength.
Up front, the angled seat tube and a direct-mount front derailleur help keep the chainstays to 17-inches. Intense says the frame will take up to a 2.5-inch tire, but be sure to note that mud clearance is limited near both the chain and seat stays. Nearby ISCG-05 mounts allow for a chainguide if you feel the need. Other small details include both external and internal dropper post routing options with a neat little rubber gasket on the internal option. Unfortunately there are no bottle mounts do to a lack of available space inside the front triangle.
Suspension duties are taken care of using a dual link VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) design. Changing the rear wheel travel between the 5.5 and 6-inch modes doesn't affect the geometry of the bike, but does alter the suspension rate slightly, with a slightly firmer feel in the shorter travel option. Adjustable angular contact bearings and 15mm pivot axles keep the system stiff and play free. Service is easy, too, through the use of replaceable grease zirks on the lower rocker link.
On The Trail
In order to properly put the Tracer 275 through the Vital MTB Test Session wringer, Matt and Jess set it up in 6-inch mode, headed to the hills, and pointed it down Grafton Mesa Trail - a very rough, partially shuttleable trail that would allow them to bang out multiple laps quickly. The terrain includes a good mixture of techy rock sections, small drops, and high-speed surprises. There are also a few good pedally portions near the beginning of the trail that are littered with small square-edged rocks. All said, Grafton is a great place to assess not only the bike's performance, but the influence of wheel size as well.
For a 6-foot tall rider, our large test bike felt centered and balanced. The 24-inch top tube was comfortable, and although we would have preferred a slightly wider handlebar than the 740mm bar provided, the stock 70mm stem length was acceptable for aggressive riding. Though climbing was limited while testing this bike, rider position was good for most climbs without compromising great rider position for attacking steep descents and railing turns.
Geometry was good for nearly every aspect of trail riding, save super steep descents. The bike was really easy to get up over obstacles, descended very well, and railed corners thanks to the low bottom bracket height. All this and it climbed very well, too. If anything, we would have liked a little slacker head angle for the burly portions of the trail, of which there happened to be many.
On the descents, the bike's good geometry, suspension design, and larger wheels provided a very confidence inspiring feeling. It handled things very well when we pushed it, but could also be casually ridden, almost to a point of laziness thanks to the larger wheels that felt as though they could roll over anything. Matt actually stopped picking up and hopping over bumps that he would normally address on a 26-inch bike. There was a marked improvement in rolling speed through rough sections, and the bike handled every bit as well as a comparable bike with smaller wheels.
Lazy moments aside, if you feel like getting aggressive, this bike will take you there. It's a very stable, predictable platform, but at the same time is very responsive and ready to change lines on command. Everything on this bike is stiff, which made for a good time in corners. Just lean it over and go. We didn't notice the larger wheel diameter feeling clumsy in the turns at all, but would have liked to get the bike in some tighter terrain to find out how well it transitions from one tight turn to the next.
The VPP suspension performed very well across the board. It's supportive at the sag point, smooth through the mid-stroke, and rises towards the end of the stroke. While we did feel the rising rate come on a little strong at the end of the stroke, it wasn't a huge issue. The bike pedaled great over rough terrain, both in and out of the saddle and regardless of the gear being used. It got a little skittish over successive square-edged hits, but handled g-outs, drops, and small bumps assuredly. Jumps were predictable as well.
Pointed uphill, the 31.5-pound Tracer 275 felt ever so slightly on the heavy side for a trail bike that we'd like to climb all day with. In fact, it is heavy, but shorter rides were comfortable. The bike accelerated well considering the larger wheel size, and suspension felt stable under hard, out of the saddle efforts. There was minimal bob and it responded very quickly. Overall, we found it to be an efficient climber for a 6-inch bike.
Aside from a slightly wider bar and different tires, there weren't any other components that we'd switch out immediately. Intense did a good job of spec'ing this bike and it's ready to hit the trails out of the box.
Shimano's XT components account for most of the major bits, and they continued to impress us. The brakes provided reliable power, modulation, and feel, and there was no fade on long descents. Drivetrain performance was also near flawless, even over the rough terrain. Thanks to the clutch, chain retention wasn't an issue and chain slap was pretty minimal. You may want to install a chainstay guard to quiet the bike entirely.
Tire performance was likely our biggest complaint with the bike. The Kenda Nevegals were setup tubeless which improved flat protection and decreased rolling resistance, but had a vague transition feeling from straight line to cornering and were unpredictable when breaking loose. We also have to question their use in a tubeless application after experiencing a very abrupt blowout while entering a rocky section. When reinstalling the tire, we were quite bewildered by how easily the tire went back on the Novatec Diablo rim.
Long Term Durability
We could spot no long term concerns. Zip. Zero. Ziltch. Nada. Well done, Intense!
What's The Bottom Line?
The Intense Tracer 275 impressed us. When 650B wheel equipped bikes first made a resurgence, we thought it would take a little while for companies to nail the geometry, but Intense has done just that. From the geometry to the suspension and components, nearly everything was dialed and ready to go. The bike rolled faster and over obstacles better than most, pedaled great, and was super stable all without compromising excellent cornering capabilities and playfulness. Jump it, rail it, manual it, drop it…whatever. The Tracer 275 will do it without the typical big wheel attitude.
If you're not afraid of an extra pound or two, you'll find this bike to be a versatile performer, equally adept at tackling gnarly descents as it is the techiest climbing maneuvers.
Check out www.intensecycles.com for more insight into their USA-made lineup.
Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the 2013 Intense Tracer 275
About The Reviewers
Matt Thompson - Humble enough not to claim his Master's Downhill World Champ status when we asked him what his accomplishments were, Matt has over 20 years on a bike and likes to go fast. Really fast. At 210 pounds of trail building muscle, he can put the hurt on a bike in little to no time.
Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...