The Intense Primer has evolved with a broader purpose, and carries the entire weight of Intense's trail expectations on its shoulders
The Intense Primer has evolved with a broader purpose, and carries the entire weight of Intense’s trail expectations on its shoulders.
The original Intense Primer was a trail whippet – seriously light and hyper fast – that made you feel like you’d just jabbed a horse syringe full of EPO in your arm every time you rode it.
Intense Primer need to know
- Reworked trail bike with 140mm travel and dual link suspension design
- Consolidates Intense’s trail offering, replacing Recluse, ACV and Spider
- Three wheel size options: 27.5in, 29in and mixed 29in front/27.5in rear
- Three build options, all with carbon frames
- Range starts at £3,699
This is a pivotal year for the Californian brand. There has been a cash injection from outside investors, including MX champ Ryan Dungey, and Aaron Gwin has come on board as rider/owner of the Intense Factory Racing Team. The spotlight is shining brightly on Temecula, then, which makes this comprehensive overhaul of its trail bike range all the more significant as it offers a strong indication of the brand’s direction in the next few years.
When I say ‘comprehensively overhauled’, I might also say ‘comprehensively culled’, for the new Primer fills the shoes previously occupied by four different models. Yes, in an effort to streamline and simplify, Intense has parked the ACV, mothballed the Spider and retired the Recluse. Instead of two carbon lay-ups – cheaper and heavier/lightweight and pricy – there’s now one. And component specs are streamlined between ranges. Yet there are still three wheel-size options, two different paint jobs, three spec levels and either three or four sizes depending on the model, so while it’s definitely an improvement, it’s hardly the Ford Model T of mountain biking.
Most curious of the options on the menu is the mixed wheel size mullet bike. In Intense parlance it’s the Primer S 279, with the S denoting Staggered, although 297 seems to make more sense than 279. As you probably already know, mullet bikes are a big thing in the e-bike world, and increasingly trendy in top level DH competition, but not since the days of the Specialized Big Hit has it really been popular among a wider audience. In fact, for all the hype surrounding this trend, we could only find one other off-the-shelf model with mix and match wheels that wasn’t from an ultra niche brand (the Alchemy Nine7Five). Which makes introducing a range of three different mullet models quite a gamble for Intense.
So why bother? Well, The aim of mixing and matching wheel sizes is to give you the benefits of a fast, smooth-rolling 29er up front, with the agility and responsiveness of a 27.5in wheel at the back. By using a big volume rear tyre, the variation in outside diameter is reduced and you get better terrain tracking, which mean a smoother ride on descents and genuinely phenomenal traction on climbs. This is the main reason e-bikes use them too. Downhillers, on the other hand, are drawn to them because they reduce the chances of getting buzzed by the rear tyre on steep drops, but allow for maximum rolling speed up front. On a trail bike with 140mm of travel, this is rarely an issue. What is an issue is the relatively thin sidewalls of Plus size tyres, as well as the simple fact that mixing wheel sizes makes replacing consumables more complicated. Swings and roundabouts, then, and while we think the benefits tend to outweigh the drawbacks on most e-bikes we’ve ridden, the jury’s out on mixed wheel trail bikes without motors.
With its charcoal frame and retro Californian pinstripe, the Primer S looks seriously cool. There’s a more purposeful stance than its siblings, too, thanks to the chunky rear tyre and fork upgrade from a Fox 34 to a burlier 36. Frankly, we feel the 36 should be standard on all the Primer models, regardless of wheel size, as in our experience it offers much better support, as well as increased stiffness, over the 34.
The frame itself is completely new, and Intense has engineered two wheel-size specific versions. For the Primer S, the 29er frame runs a 27.5in wheel, which means you could theoretically turn it into a full 29er should you wish. To stiffen up the back end, the new version now sports dual uprights, there are new JS (Jeff Steber) counter-rotating links to tune the suspension and the upper one is semi-concealed by the top tube for cleaner lines.
The rest of the spec on this top end Pro Build is a mix of SRAM GX and X01 Eagle with Shimano XT disc brakes, E13 wheels (with wider rim out back to support the 2.8in Rekon tyre) and a Fox Transfer dropper post with Race Face remote.
How it rides
One of the key marketing messages behind the new Primer range is that it’s ‘true to the trail’. Of course the problem with this message is that one rider’s trail bike is another rider’s XC bike, or enduro bike. The trail category is so broad and open to interpretation that you need to know what a brand’s definition of trail is before you can decipher its intended use. Although not explicitly outlined in the press pack, by looking at the spec, geometry and suspension characteristics, it’s fairly clear that Intense’s interpretation of trail riding leans more towards the traditional end of the spectrum. That’s to say it’s aimed more at mellow gradient singletrack, good pedalling efficiency and slow-speed steering ability over the typical trails you see in shreddit videos and Instagram mash-ups.
It’s an observation backed up by the Primer’s on trail performance, where the stable pedalling platform leaves a more lasting impression than the bike’s bump absorbing performance. Where the handling feels tuned to work with as wide a variety of speeds and gradients as possible, rather than sacrificing some slow-speed agility in return for downhill confidence.
However, the Primer S edges closer to the more progressive trail offerings on the market. You can feel UK distributor, Saddleback’s influence on this bike in the way it rides. It rocks back on its haunches thanks to that smaller rear wheel, giving a slacker, lower, more aggressive stance, and you sit behind that sturdy Fox 36 fork, so it feels like you can attack the descents a bit more as a result. And that big, floaty 2.8in tyre compensates for the slightly underwhelming small bump performance to give you a smoother ride and more grip. And, as long as you slide the saddle right forward on the trails, there’s a superb level of traction to exploit on tricky, technical climbs – although the super low bottom bracket height makes avoiding pedal strikes a real challenge.
We’re not quite sure what to make of the Primer S. While the Primer 29 and 27.5 are straight-talking trail bikes designed to perform on a trail centre loop, the Primer S doesn’t quite make the leap to progressive enduro loam slasher. We’re sure it will suit some riders yearning for a bit of extra speed, but cautious of losing some dexterity, or wary of getting hung up on the rear wheel. Whether that market turns out to be significant remains to be seen.