When you’re dropping £8k on a trail bike it really needs to excel at everything
You don’t get much more boutique than Intense Cycles. It’s the brand, with the help of Shaun Palmer, that single-handedly transformed mountain biking from its fluorescent, Lycra-clad roots into the cool sport we know and love today.
In more recent times, the Californian marque has shifted its focus away from handcrafted US aluminium frames to sleek high-end carbon designs, launching three new models in as many months, the latest of which is the Recluse.
Named after a venomous North American spider, the Recluse is a 140mm travel trail bike rolling on, what we now consider, ‘traditional’ 27.5in wheels. There are five carbon models in the range, where the three top-end SL bikes use fibres spun from high modulus lightweight strands to save weight. Regardless of the grade of carbon, all five bikes use the same moulds and share the same geometry and sizing.
Developed specifically for the Fox Float X2 rear shock, the new JS Tuned VPP suspension linkage on the Recluse pumps out 140mm of travel. And unlike some bikes we’ve ridden with the Float X2 shock, the back end on the Intense didn’t feel sluggish and over-damped. You can still feel the Fox internals working their magic though, especially when you smash the rear wheel into a square edge hit and the damping builds to absorb the impact rather than simply allowing the wheel to get out of the way.
The Fox Factory 36 FIT4 fork has been spaced down to 150mm travel, and the Boost lower legs give you the convenience of a 15mm quick-release. We found the damping on the FIT4 cartridge easier to set up, with a more usable range of adjustment than the Fox RC2 version.
While the other bikes in this test have somewhat generic SRAM build kits, Intense has put together a more custom package for its flagship bike. By using an 11-speed e*thirteen 9-44t cassette, the gear range on the Intense almost rivals SRAM’s 12-speed Eagle, while allowing it to use a shorter cage XX1 mech for improved ground clearance. It’s a neat idea, and the shifting was impressively seamless and smooth.
Other aspects of the finishing kit aren’t as inspired. The Fabric Scoop Radius Pro saddle left us numb after just 20 minutes of riding, and while plenty of the top EWS racers run Renthal’s 760mm FatBar handlebar, we’d like something wider on the Intense for improved control and confidence.
Being the most expensive bike in test, and the one with the least amount of travel, we expected the Intense to be the lightest bike by quite some margin. As it turns out it’s actually the heaviest, even if only by the weight of an inner tube.
Not that you’d notice those extra grams on the climbs. Even with a softer compound 3C tyre on the rear, the Intense simply rockets uphill — the steep seat angle pushing your weight forward to ensure you’re not hanging off the back of the bike, even with the ultra-short chainstays. The JS Tuned suspension linkage is really effective at isolating the shock from pedal forces too, so the climb switch on the Float X2 shock is only there for reassurance.
The Recluse isn’t shy of steep ascents, but sadly it’s not quite so adept where it really counts, on the descents. The lofty BB and short back end only serve to undermine the excellent suspension and generous sizing. As such, the Intense lacks poise as the pace picks up on more demanding trails. Panic, and tap the XTR brakes for reassurance and their grabby action only serves to unsettle the bike further.
All it would take to rectify the geometry on the Recluse are some offset shock bushings. Not only would they bring the bottom bracket height down, but given the angle of the lower link they would also increase the effective chainstay length, further enhancing stability at speed.
The Intense Recluse has the longest reach measurement in this test, yet it feels the smallest bike. And just to be crystal clear, we’re not talking about the fit or sizing — it actually handles like a short bike. The tall BB and ultra-short chainstays have a coupling effect that make the Intense feel noticeably less stable at speed. This is doubly frustrating, as the geometry is the only real barrier to tapping into the full potential of the excellent Fox suspension. Obviously the lofty bottom bracket is perfect for picking your way up jagged, rocky climbs, but when you’re dropping £8.7k on a trail bike it really needs to excel at everything.