Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Tim Bardsley-Smith and Intense Cycles
On January 14, journalists from the World’s leading mountain bike media outlets gathered in Temecula, California for a special event touted as the “Intense Experience.” As we admired Shaun Palmer’s 1996 World Champs M1 downhill bike, shook hands with skilled machinists, chatted about the next day’s ride over beers, and at last sat down for the big unveiling, we honestly didn’t have much of an idea of what was in store. Then Jeff Steber took the stage.
Behind the podium, Jeff recounted founding Intense Cycles back in 1991 alongside Marv Strand, welding frame after frame in their Southern California work shop, and sweating the details at every step along the journey. As he spoke, you could sense his pride in the authentic American brand they’ve built up over the past 20+ years. He also introduced us to a few recent additions to the Intense Cycles workforce - men with dozens of years of experience brought onboard to share their expertise. From the moment Jeff started speaking to moment the new team additions left the stage, it was clear that Intense is making moves for 2014, and they’re doing it in a way they’ve never done before.
Several rounds of applause later, just one thing remained on the night’s agenda - to pull back the curtain on Intense’s latest creation.
Introducing the 2014 Tracer T275 Carbon…
Tracer T275 Carbon Highlights
- Full carbon frame
- 6.25 or 5.75-inches (160 or 145mm) of rear wheel travel
- 27.5-inch wheels
- VPP2 suspension
- Tapered headtube
- Press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
- Integrated 142X12 dropouts
- Internal cable routing system (including Stealth Reverb)
- 66.5-degree head angle
- 74.5-degree seat tube angle
- 13.5-inch (343mm) bottom bracket height
- 17-inch (432mm) chainstays
- Colors: Naked and Red
- Frame Weight: 5.6-pounds (2.5 kg) for size M frame with Fox CTD shock
- Complete Weight: Factory - 26.7-pounds, size L (12.1kg) // Pro - 28.0-pounds, size L (12.7kg) // Expert - 29.1-pounds, size S (13.2kg)
- Pricing: Factory Build - $9,999 // Pro Build - $6,599 // Expert Build - $5,999 // Frame and RockShox Monarch Plus Shock - $3,199
Designed from the beginning as a purpose built Enduro and all-mountain slayer, the new Tracer T275 Carbon is the next evolution of an already popular machine. Not only does it feature a full carbon frameset, but Intense took the opportunity to update several key features from the aluminum Tracer 275 predecessor. In addition to 10mm more travel, the bike has more aggressive geometry with a full 1-degree slacker head angle, 0.5-inch longer wheelbase, increased standover, and comparable top tube/reach measurements. By moving to carbon Intense dropped nearly 2.2-pounds (1kg) of weight.
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. Gone are the replaceable G1 dropouts and their extra hardware, in are new integrated 142x12 dropouts that simplify the rear end and make this a dedicated 27.5-inch platform.
For years Intense has specialized in aluminum frames welded in their headquarters. Only recently have they started to offer carbon, and they’ve been learning and refining their technique along the way. Much like a welder’s beads get better and better over time, the Tracer T275 Carbon is made with evolved monocoque construction techniques when compared to the four other carbon bikes in their lineup. The new molding process ensures the best material consistency and shape to date, with no extra material or filler added. It’s every bit as smooth on the inside as it is on the outside, which is key to a strong carbon frame.
While the frame may be made overseas, CNC machines at Intense’s workshop crank out everything from the suspension rockers to the shock mounts and pivot hardware. Everything is then assembled in-house.
“If we can’t do it all here – like in the case of our carbon fiber line – we go to the experts. While all of our aluminum products are designed and manufactured in-house at Intense, we source the carbon fiber manufacturing to Asia. But even then, we hold fast to our ideals and import fronts and rears, leaving room to put our 'Made in USA' stamp on every nut, bolt, link, washer that goes on each carbon frame. Even the box is made down the street.”
Also new is an internal cable routing system. Inside, nylon guide tubes connect the entrance and exit ports, sealing the frame and making assembly and maintenance an easier task. The rear brake and derailleur go through the downtube, while the optional front derailleur routes through the top tube. Stealth routing for the dropper post starts external while tracing the top of the downtube before entering the seat tube near the bottom bracket. Cable clamps at the left and right of the headtube allow you to pick the best dropper post routing option based on cable lengths and the cleanest look.
Up front, the angled seat tube and a direct front derailleur mount help keep the chainstays to 17-inches. Nearby ISCG-05 mounts allow for a chainguide if you feel the need, and a 92mm press fit bottom bracket is used to keep things stiff. Integrated downtube and chainstay armor protects the investment and looks super clean. The frame also sees the addition of water bottle mounts inside the front triangle, though they’re really only usable on models without a piggyback shock.
Small details include an IS brake mount, optional aluminum front derailleur direct mount cover, an o-ring on the seatpost clamp to keep water out, and the blazing Intense Cycles headtube badge that looks absolutely mint.
Suspension duties are taken care of using a dual link VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) design. Changing the rear wheel travel between the 5.75 and 6.25-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. Most builds come stock with a RockShox Monarch Plus rear shock, but a Cane Creek DBair CS is available as an upgrade. 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 zerks on the lower rocker link.
The Tracer T275 Carbon not only appears stunning, but it’s a well-thought-out package from top to bottom.
Chris Kovarik Unleashed on the Tracer T275 Carbon
On The Trail
We spent the better part of two months riding the Tracer T275 Carbon in Southern California, Sedona, and Phoenix, Arizona. Our $6,599 "Pro" level build came equipped with a RockShox Pike fork and Monarch Plus shock, Maxxis Highroller II tires, Renthal cockpit, SRAM X01 drivetrain and Stan's No-Tubes wheels.
Thanks to a smart spec, from the second you grab hold of the 740mm Renthal bars you’re comfortable on the new bike. When we previously tested the aluminum Tracer 275, we enjoyed nearly every aspect of the ride save the steepest descents and were left wishing for a slacker head angle. This new model answers that request, and the geometry is dialed for the aggressive rider. Those who prefer a long reach should consider sizing up, as our 5'10" tester quickly found out.
Coupled with the super sensitive VPP suspension, stout rear end, and 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires, the 13.5-inch bottom bracket makes for an awesome cornering experience as it carves from turn to turn with ease and ample traction. The 17-inch chainstays and wheel path require a bit of effort to overcome when popping up into a manual or picking up over obstacles, but not to a degree that hampers the playful experience.
The bike exhibits a consistently fun nature as you pop off lips and throw it around beneath you, but at the same time is very well balanced and maintains composure through the rough. Just like Kovarik, it performs best when you’re on the gas and maintains speed well once you’re there, provided you keep the cranks spinning. The riser bars and stem combined with a 5.25-inch headtube height (including headset) and 160mm fork add up to a pretty tall front end, which can be a bit precarious at slower speeds, but keep it pinned and you’re golden.
With the Monarch Plus shock installed in the 6.25-inch travel mode, 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. It got a little skittish over successive square-edged hits, but handled g-outs, drops, and small bumps assuredly. Jumps were predictable as well. Front to back balance is excellent, and the rear end mimics the RockShox Pike fork nicely. The combination of the suspension, tires, and dual 180mm rotors provide great braking performance.
Though the bike is quite light, under power it doesn’t exhibit an over the top go get ‘em attitude, nor does it yield huge bursts of speed when pumping the terrain. It does move along quite well once you hit a minimum speed, though. The suspension remains very active under pedaling, allowing it to motor incredibly well over rough terrain both in and out of the saddle. Using the shock’s compression lever is good for big pedaling efforts as it stiffens things up slightly and gives a more performance oriented feel without taking away too much small bump compliance.
Pointed uphill, the only hindrances are the slightly tall front end and somewhat mushy feel at the pedals on slow, technical climbs. It turns well around switchbacks without pushing, but these two combined can create some awkward moments. Also be conscious of your pedal timing at all times, as crank/pedal spiking is a pretty common occurrence with the 175mm cranks and relatively low bottom bracket.
The Tracer T275 Carbon is available in Factory, Pro, and Expert level build kits, as well as a frame + shock option. Looking at the range, Intense has clearly done their homework in spec’ing the components. Each build makes use of many of today’s most well-regarded components, and there is next to nothing that we’d change about any of them. They’re all made with reliable, quiet, top performers in every category.
From top to bottom: Factory, Pro, and Expert builds. Each is available in two color options. Compare the three builds side-by-side here.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Don’t let the smooth lines and gorgeous finish fool you. This bike is meant to be ridden hard and fast, and it’ll keep up over any type of terrain. The purpose built do-it-all rig represents the culmination of Intense’s many years of experience, merging impeccable in-house craftsmanship and a leap into the world of high-end carbon. It’s the next evolution of an already successful ride that brings it up to the highest level of standards. From a spec sheet that mimics our dream builds to the incredibly well-balanced VPP suspension and impressive carbon construction, they’ve nailed all the major details and the minor ones, too. Well done, Intense Cycles. The Tracer T275 Carbon is a winner.
Bikes are available now at an Intense dealer near you. Visit www.intensecycles.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.