Reviewed by Fred Robinson
As you may have noticed, Intence Cycles is not slowing down anytime soon. In fact, they're actually ramping things up quite a bit with five new bike launches in the span of only 12 months. Jeff Steber, the founder of Intense Cycles, continues to develop and refine bikes in his workshop at the factory in Temecula, Calfornia, and his latest creation is the all-new Intense Tracer. In collaboration with Cesar Rojo and the team at Cero Engineering and Product Design // UNNO bikes, the duo collaborated to create eight prototypes, or "mules", before settling on the geometry and kinematics of the new Tracer. Sporting Read More »
Reviewed by Fred Robinson
As you may have noticed, Intence Cycles is not slowing down anytime soon. In fact, they're actually ramping things up quite a bit with five new bike launches in the span of only 12 months. Jeff Steber, the founder of Intense Cycles, continues to develop and refine bikes in his workshop at the factory in Temecula, Calfornia, and his latest creation is the all-new Intense Tracer. In collaboration with Cesar Rojo and the team at Cero Engineering and Product Design // UNNO bikes, the duo collaborated to create eight prototypes, or "mules", before settling on the geometry and kinematics of the new Tracer. Sporting 165mm of rear travel, a slack 65.5-degree head angle, and some promising geometry numbers, we threw our leg over this beauty to see if it all added up.
- UD Carbon
- 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
- 165mm (6.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 160mm (6.3-inches) fork travel
- JS Tuned Enduro Link suspension design
- Tapered 1 1/8 - 1.5 headtube
- Internal cable routing with internal cable sleeves
- Carbon top link for Factory (tested), Elite, and Factory frames
- Integrated chainstay, seatstay, and downtube protection
- Extra large diameter bearings
- Press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
- Boost 148mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
JS Tuned Leverage Curves
Building off what they learned from their years using the licensed VPP linkage system, Intense has optimized the system around three different application-specific platforms, dubbed JS Tuned. With three different linkage designs (Trail, Enduro, and DH), Intense has optimized the leverage curve to best suit the intended use of the bike. The JS Enduro linkage featured on the new Tracer is somewhat of a hybrid between Intense's JS Trail and JS Downhill, with an almost linear beginning stroke and progressive ramp towards the end of travel.
The new Tracer also features integrated chainstay, seat stay, and downtube protection to minimize frame damage from chain slap and rock strikes. They've included a metal plate on the chainstay for added protection, which barely clears the spec'd 34-tooth chainring, should you bend it. If you're not willing to take that chance, ISCG05 mounts are included if you prefer to run a chain guide and / or bash guard.
Internal cable routing helps keep the lines clean on the new Tracer. The frame features a dedicated port with internal sleeves for the rear brake and shift cable entering through the left side of the headtube while the dropper enters through the right. Your routing should still look clean if you run your brakes Euro-style or left-side-of-the-pond-style. And, you'll be thankful for those internal sleeves come install time, especially in a race situation. Aside from making installation a breeze, those internal sleeves should also help keep things quiet and prevent any cable rattle inside the frame.
Other details include oversized bearings and Boost axle spacing to keep things stiff, Zerk grease fittings to make pivot maintenance easy, as well as a press fit bottom bracket.
As you may have noticed from the chart above, Intense has gone quite a bit longer in terms of reach when compared to the previous generation Tracer. Now sporting a 15-20mm longer cockpit, depending on size, along with the 65.5-degree head angle and moderately short chainstays, the new Tracer is well within the realm of modern, aggressive enduro bikes.
On The Trail
Being that we got our hands on the new Tracer just as winter was rolling in, we stuck to the typically dry and dusty trails in SoCal. The terrain consisted of mostly loose over hard, with a fair amount of rocks and jumps mixed in. Thankfully, the heavens opened up this winter and we did see a good amount of rain, so we tested the Tracer in some wet, tacky, and even muddy conditions; a rare treat for SoCal trails.
After setting the bike up to roughly 30% sag, which equates to just over 3/4-inches (21mm) on the 8.5 x 2.5-inch shock, we trudged up on our first climb aboard the new Tracer. Referencing our time spent on the Intense Spider, we were expecting a quick, spritely climber. And while the Tracer is no slouch, that may have been a bit of an unfair expectation given the Spider is a 115-130mm travel bike while the Tracer is an unapologetically (read: non-adjustable) 165mm travel bike. With the shock in the open position, we did experience some pedal bob which in turn robbed us of some efficiency. Whether or not Intense was attuned to this characteristic, spec'ing the two-position FOX Float X2 was a wise choice, and we did make good use of the two-position adjustment. That said, with the shock in the firm position, the bike remained compliant on chunky climbs, hugging the ground to help keep us moving forward. We also noticed the front end did tend to wander a bit on the steeper climbs, and in order to keep the front wheel down, shifting our weight to the very nose of the saddle was necessary. All things considered, after a flip of the Float X2 two-way switch, we found the Tracer to be about average in the climbing department, which is to be expected for a bike with "earned" gravity in mind. After all, an enduro race isn't won during the liaison stages.
So where does the Tracer shine? You guessed it...when it's pointed down. Unlike other 160mm "mini-downhill" bikes, now just called enduro bikes, which are clearly great descenders, the Tracer (as cliche as it may sound) truly does feel like a mini-dh bike. More so than the majority of other same-class bikes we've tested. We're not sure if we've heard the descriptor "plow bike" to convey the feel of an enduro bike before, but that's the best way to describe the Tracer. We often find ourselves forgetting we're on a trail bike while riding aggressive 160+mm bikes until the inevitable "oh shit" moment occurs, reminding us to ride a bit more cautiously. Those moments were few and far between with the Tracer while riding trails both a DH bike and enduro bike would feel at home on (i.e. our local trails).
The suspension tracks extremely well in the chatter, smooths out those square mid-sized successive hits, and leaves just a little bit extra give available on those hard landings or rock strikes. But, that planted DH feel comes at a price, and we found the Tracer to be a bit less playful than some other 160-170mm bikes. This was most noticeable when doing back-to-back runs on the same trail with the Tracer and a 2016 Trek Slash. That said, in the rough, this bike really excels. Whether successive square edge hits, chatter, or even the occasional missed line, the Tracer kept its composure nicely. Speaking of rough sections, it's worth mentioning the Tracer runs dead quiet. The was no cable rattle and chain slap is nicely damped by the integrated chain and seat stay protection.
In the corners, we had no trouble feeling at home on the Tracer. Mid-stroke support felt spot-on and the bike provided a steady, supportive chassis to push into, allowing us to grab as much traction as available. The bike doesn't require any extreme body positions to track, allowing us to stay centered or slightly over the front while engaging a corner. Of course, cornering performance, aside from kinematics and suspension, has a lot to do with wheel and tire choice, which we'll dive into in the next section.
We also noted the Tracer, despite that planted feel we described earlier, is quite a fun bike to jump. With proper suspension setup, the bike was stable and predictable in the air, and we had no problems clearing jumps we expected to have to put in some extra effort for due to the subtle nature of the bike's suspension.
Intense Tracer Factory Build Kit
- Fork: FOX Float 36 Factory FIT 4, Kashima Coating
- Shock: FOX Float X2 Factory, Kashima Coating
- Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle
- Shifter: SRAM XX1 Eagle
- Crankset: Race Face Next SL
- Cassette: SRAM Eagle 10-50t, 12sp
- Chain: SRAM X01 Eagle
- Brakes: Shimano XTR w/ 180mm Ice Tech rotors
- Headset: Cane Creek 40
- Bars: Renthal Fatbar Carbon 20mm x 780mm, 31,8mm clamp
- Stem: Renthal Apex 40mm
- Grips: Intense Dual Density Lock-On
- Front Hub: DT Swiss 240, Boost 110x15mm, center-lock, 32h
- Rear Hub: DT Swiss 240 Boost 148x12mm w/ XD Driver, center-lock, 32h
- Rims: ENVE M70 HV
- Spokes: Bladed
- Tires: e*thirteen TRSr 2.35x27.5
- Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 150mm travel
- Saddle: Fabric Scoop Radius Pro w/ carbon rails
- Measured weight (size large, no pedals, tubeless): 28.69 pounds (13.01kg)
- MSRP: $10,399 USD
Intense isn't know for being modest when it comes to their top-of-the-line build kits, and the Tracer Factory is no exception. Decked out with flagship components from basically every brand, top to bottom the Tracer Factory is a no-compromise build both in terms of performance and dollar.
Intense chose SRAM's Eagle 1x12 setup for the transmission. With a mix of X01 and XX1 Eagle components, as well Race Face Next SL cranks, shifting performance is top-notch. With a single 34-tooth direct-mount chainring and the Eagle cassette's 10-50 tooth range, we found ourselves mostly hovering in the middle range on the gears, reserving the 50-tooth ring for punchy climbs as a bail-out gear, or when we were simply too flogged to push ourselves up the final climb after a long ride. Shifting has stayed consistent throughout our test and chain retention has remained good, despite the lack of chain guide.
The Factory build comes equipped with Shimano XTR brakes, and it is usually a concern of ours regarding the lack of compatibility between SRAM and Shimano components on the bars. Thankfully, we were able to get all the controls where we like them without much hassle, though it's worth noting running exclusively one brand or the other would result in a cleaner looking setup. We did have one instance where the rear brake lever "packed-up" on us a bit from dragging, but, besides that, the XTR brakes have offered excellent stopping power when paired with 180mm rotors front and rear, and we've experienced zero fading issues with an overall solid performance.
As we mentioned above, cornering performance has a lot to do with tire and wheel choice. Intense specs the Factory build with ENVE M70 HV carbon hoops, bladed spokes, and DT Swiss 240 hubs, wrapped in e*thirteen's TRSr tires. The 30mm internal width of the ENVE rims pairs well with the TRSr tires, giving them a good profile and predictable edge. Cornering traction is great and the wheels hold their line nicely, whether it's through chundery or off-camber sections without being overly stiff or excessively flexy. Sound wise, the DT Swiss 240's were surprisingly quiet while in the stand, and on the trail. You can't hear the rear hub at all, though the slow 18-points of engagement leave a bit to be desired.
Other highlights of the build include a RockShox Reverb Stealth, which performed flawlessly throughout our test, a carbon-railed Fabric Scoop Radius saddle, and the always welcomed Renthal Fatbar / Apex bar and stem. It looks as though Intense is taking note on what riders are demanding - shorter stems and wider bars (40mm / 780mm on the Tracer), 180mm rotors front and rear, and wide, grippy tires with a stout wheelset to boot. The only thing we'd change with the build would be upgrading the star-ratchet in the rear hub to one of DT Swiss' higher engagement ratchets.
Things That Could Be Improved
As we just mentioned, the poor engagement of the 18-point star ratchet is quite disappointing, especially considering the cost of the overall bike and knowing the upgraded 54-tooth ratchet is only $90 more, retail. A small detail that makes a big difference non-the-less. The Tracer also lacks bottle cage mounts, which to some is a deal breaker on a bike intended to go down, as well as up. Sure, limitations due to shock placement can limit the space needed, but we know of a few similar bikes out there that managed. And last, we have to mention the price tag...sure, it's a top-tier build littered with some of the most expensive mountain bike parts on the market, but you can find some similarly spec'd bikes that go for a handful of hundred dollar bills less. That said, we tested Intense's highest price Tracer, and if a top-dollar build isn't your thing, Intense offers the Tracer in five different build kits ranging from $4,599 to $10,399.
Long Term Durability
We have no concerns when it comes to the durability of the Intense Tracer. The frame is as solid as the day we got it, the pivots have required no attention, and all the components function as if they're still new. The frame protection has done its job well, and the only visible damage we've been able to inflict on the bike is some minor paint chipping by the rear non-drive side dropout due to a rock strike and a few scuffs at the ends of the cranks.
What's The Bottom Line?
For the aggressive rider looking for a baller build, the Intense Tracer Factory is right up your alley. With the aid of FOX's two-position lever, the bike climbs well and with a flip of the switch, you have one mean descent-crushing bike. With an outstanding build kit and well-thought-out geometry, there's little to complain about with the Tracer Factory. If this particular build kit is out of your range, the bike is offered in multiple builds that start at less than half the price of the tested build and would be suitable for any rider who prefers the thrill of the descent and doesn't mind earning it. Check out the other builds below.
Vital MTB Rating
- Climbing: 3 stars - Good
- Descending: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
- Fun Factor: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
- Value: 3 stars - Good
- Overall Impression: 4 stars - Excellent
Intense Tracer Build Kits
(Intense Tracer Factory show above)
Intense Tracer Elite - $7,999
Intense Tracer Pro - $6,999
Intense Tracer Expert - $5,899
Intense Tracer Foundation - $4,599
Visit www.intensecycles.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Fred Robinson - Age: 32 // Years Riding MTB: 14 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 240-pounds (108.9kg)
"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two-years-old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.