Intense cycles have launched their brand new 2020 Primer, and what’s unique about this new model is that it comes in three different wheel sizes - Primer 29, Primer 27.5 and Primer S, which runs 29-inch front and 27.5+ rear wheels and tires. They’re also bucking the trend of super-long reach measurements with the release of their new Primer.
The three trail bikes all have similarities, but they’re all unique too, so let’s dive into these new machines to see what makes them tick, who they’re made for and where they shine.
Intense has made an effort to clean up their line. Instead of five different trail bikes, only the Primer exists now with these three wheel size options. In the trail segment of Intense, the Recluse, the ACV and the Spider are no more. There is only one carbon layup option now instead of two, and the number of color choices has been reduced. Additionally, pricing and component selection within build kits have been simplified.
Each Primer is carbon and has 150mm of front travel and 140mm out back, using the JS Trail link. A supple leverage curve starts the stroke with a ramp toward the middle to help pedaling without the need for in-shock lock-out. There’s a flip chip for “low” or “lower” geometry choices, both which have their own suspension characteristics. Despite the three models, there are only two new frames, both designed from the ground up. The 27.5 is on its own while the Primer 29 and the Primer S use the same frame, just with different paint. All frames have titanium hardware.
The color options continue to reflect Intense’s race inspiration, and there are a few different ways to get on a new Primer. Across the board, Factory frame-only kits are offered at $2,999, Pro Builds at $5,699 and Expert Builds at $3,799. The Primer 29 and 27.5 are also offered in high-level Elite Builds for $6,999. The Primer S does not come in this option.
Each frame is available in size S, M, L or XL, and generally speaking, the sizing is conservative these days. Intense says the new Primer stays “True to the Trail” and these measurements may be a reflection of that statement as they are not pushing boundaries in the reach department.
Here are some quick and dirty reach numbers for the new Primer
- Primer 27.5 reach size Medium is 435mm (low) and 430mm (lower), 461mm and 455mm for large.
- Primer 29 reach size Medium is 443mm and 437mm, 468mm and 462mm for the large.
- Primer S reach is 435mm and 429mm for medium, 460mm and 454mm for large.
Head angles are pretty slack at about 65 or 64.5 degrees on the Primer S and the 27.5, while the full 29 is slightly steeper at 65.9 or 65.3 degrees. Bottom bracket heights are pretty low in the “lower” setting. The 27.5 is at 337.6mm, the 29er 337mm and the Primer S at scrapey 326.8mm. Lifting up to the "low" setting from the "lower" bumps the BB up about 7.5mm.
Component-wise, the bikes share parts but subtleties are tweaked based on wheel size and intended use. Dropper post length is size-specific, and FOX suspension is the only option with DPX2 shocks across the line. The Primer 27.5 uses a 44mm offset FOX Float 34, the 29 and S use 51mm offset forks, but the 29 runs a FOX Float 34 while the S uses a beefier FOX 36 Float. Similarly, the 27.5 and 29 run a 2.5 Maxxis High Roller 2 front tire while the S runs a 2.6 Maxxis DHR 2 front tire. 2.3-inch Maxxis Aggressors are found as rear tires on the 27.5 and 29 models while the Primer S uses a 27.5 x 2.8 Maxxis Rekon+ out back.
One of the interesting notes is that all bikes run 170mm cranks, regardless of size. Four-piston Shimano brakes stop the front while two-piston brakes work out back - a smart way to get power where it’s needed without bulking up the bike. All bikes feature Intense bars and 45 or 50mm stems depending on wheel size. The Intense house-brand grips are surprisingly comfortable and grippy.
SRAM Eagle drivetrains complete the builds depending on the kit chosen, anywhere from NX to X01 and e*thirteen wheels keep the bike rolling throughout the line.
We haven’t been riding these bikes for very long, but we did have time to get in some test laps at our local trails, and even knock out an extended shuttle run on the bikes. All of the test bikes ridden were mediums and given the conservative reach measurements, they did feel a bit on the short side. One of our personal bikes is a size medium Santa Cruz 5010 with a 437mm reach in the low setting. We consider this a fun, but small, bike for jumping and hitting bike park berms so we can pretend to be Loosedog. The 27.5 Primer has a reach of 429.9mm in the lower setting, so the compact nature was noticeable. Another personal bike is a Norco Fluid FS 1 29er in size large. Its reach is 470mm which feels about right these days for fast, open trail rides. Compare that to the medium Primer 29 we tested at 443/437mm and we were snug. The Large Primer 29 at 468/462mm is still shorter than what we’re used to. Compared to some other new bikes recently released, it’s easy to see that running a size larger than normal may be needed depending on preferences and riding styles. With that said, we adapted. Having the shorter reach did help us keep weight over the front wheel with the Primer's aggressive head angles.
All three of the bikes are fun, the suspension platform is solid and pedals efficiently, but the three models have intricacies that should be considered based on what type of terrain you ride most.
Primer S on the Trail
Having never ridden a mixed wheel size until this test, the Primer S is a good introduction. The 27.5+ wheel out back keeps the diameter closer to a 29-inch wheel but keeps some of the rotational heft of the rim and spokes a bit tighter. Sitting on the Primer S we felt more reclined while climbing compared to the 29, and that’s because the seat angle is almost a degree slacker. The 27.5+ Rekon did not have gratuitously low pressure like many plus riders enjoy. The beta given by Intense was to run it firmer so it would be supportive in corners or on jump faces - that’s how their testers had been using it. At 22psi, there was some compliance, but it wasn’t a wallowy, squirmy ballon. Traction was uncanny with such a big footprint, and in the lower setting, the Primer S is a hoot in the corners and through faster, rough sections.
Visually and mentally there's the monster truck of the 29 up front, but out back the bike feels more fleet-of-foot than a regular 29er. Climbing got a little tricky when things got steep. The short reach and slack seat angle meant having to make things shorter by sliding up on the saddle to keep the front wheel tracking. Around tight, uphill corners the slack head angle encouraged the wheel to flop around a bit. Despite climbing challenges, it was a fun first-time experience on a mixed wheel size bike that made us want to try it with a regular 27.5 wheel.
If we consistently rode rougher bike parks or more gravity-fed “enduro” style trails, the Primer S would be our go-to bike out of the new Primer models. The FOX 36 fork, the DHR II front tire and the agility of the setup worked well for the aggressive side of the trail-riding spectrum. While having a 27.5+ rear tire made us feel a little goofy, with a some fine-tuning in the pressure department, the Rekon+ is not going to break loose for those in favor of a consistent, traction-filled experience. Those wanting to slide and drift may feel too glued to the trail, however.
Primer 29 on the Trail
The Primer 29, while smaller than what we’d hoped for, was a beauty. The modern, slacker head angle combined with the suspension properties looked like it would be a perfect bike for the fast, flowing singletrack trails in our area. And it was. There’s no comparison to 29-inch wheels, front and rear, for carrying momentum, providing traction and smoothing out the trail. Our first test lap, however, had us wondering if something on the front end of the bike was loose. It just felt odd. We stopped, checked and nothing was loose. We figured out the feeling came from the Maxxis High Roller II front tire. It is a less-than-ideal choice for the generally hard-packed trails in our area which is surprising because the trail conditions here in Idaho are similar to the Southern California area where Intense developed the bike. While fast-rolling, the side knobs of the HRII just don’t offer much support, and there’s a squirminess about them that takes some getting used to when the tire is used up front. The bike felt like it would wander indecisively in cupped sections of trail. In corners, traction never felt secure. Out back, the High Roller II can be great fun for getting loose, but up front, unless in softer, loamier conditions, we weren’t very satisfied.
We swapped the wheel and tire (Maxxis DHR II) from the Primer S to the Primer 29 and never looked back. It’s handy having three bikes that share so many parts. The Primer 29 shined with the Maxxis DHR II up front and the rear Aggressor worked nicely in our conditions. The support of the DHR II side knobs never left us wondering if we’d hold a line. The Primer 29 was fast and efficient and would be our pick for anyone who lives for fast, flowing singletrack for a true trail bike feel. Climbing was more stable and predictable aboard the 29 compared to the S due to the slightly steeper seat tube and head tube angles. For the trails in the greater Boise, Idaho, area, our bike choice of the three new Primers would be the Primer 29, but we would size up to a large.
Primer 27.5 on the Trail
We experienced the same squirmy, uncomfortable High Roller II issue on the Primer 27.5, but now we were aware of the situation. Thankfully we had a 27.5 DHR II from another bike to throw on the front, and off we went. After riding the 29, the 27.5 felt slow in the open sections of trail, but was definitely nimble. On the bermy, jumpy flow trails at our local zone, the 27.5 is a blast. In the Lower setting, it really is a modern day slalom bike. The medium Primer 29 felt small to us, but the medium 27.5 felt acceptable, not too far off from our personal 27.5 bike. A maneuverable bike for throwing around and leaning over just feels more fun in a manageable size, so the shorter reach with the head angle worked for us when on the smaller wheels. While 27.5 isn’t our cup of tea as a main bike, it’s a lively addition to the quiver. The Primer 27.5 was fast in the tight spaces and should be considered by the smaller rider or the die-hard 27.5 fan looking for a capable trail bike.
Things That Could Be Improved
If we were to buy either the Primer 29 or the 27.5, a new front tire would be an immediate tweak, and we’d save the original High Roller II as a rear tire.
The rear axle, if you’re new to Intense, is a bit counter-intuitive. It requires tightening/loosening a bolt on each side of the axle and turning the main bolt (a 5mm hidden inside a 6mm bolt) the opposite way, so lefty tighty, righty loosy. Ultimately we had to go to the Intense video archives to learn how to remove their axle. Once the technique was, it’s not a big deal, but it’s definitely not tool-free or going to be as brainless as some axle options on the side of the trail.
What's the Bottom Line?
Considering what Intense has with their three new Primer models, the best suggestion we have is to demo these bikes through a local dealer or the Intense Demo tour, especially if you’re trying to decide between the Primer S and the Primer 29. The sizing and geometry may have you going a size up than what you’re used to, and if you’ve never ridden a mixed wheel size bike, this could be an off-the-shelf opportunity to get it done. The new 2020 Primer mountain bikes keep the Intense Cycles tradition alive with cleanly designed, high-performing trail machines.
You can purchase the 2020 Intense Primer or learn more about it on www.intensecycles.com or through your local Intense dealer.
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