Launched in 2018, the Intense Sniper T has its cross-hairs aimed at the top step of the XC podium.
The Intense Sniper T Expert costs £3,899.99, has 120mm travel front and rear and comes with a dropper post fitted as standard. But at 13.7kg, is it too heavy to find a spot among the best XC race bikes or the best down-country models?
Intense Sniper T need to know
- Trail version of the Intense Sniper XC bike, with travel bumped up to 120mm front and rear
- Four frame sizes and three spec options
- Two colour choices
- Direct-sales model makes pricing competitive
Intense has an obsession with guns and racing. And while the Californian brand is probably best known for shaping the development of downhill race bikes, it’s never been a stranger at the pointy end of XC racing. As such, the full carbon Sniper is synonymous with Lycra, shaved legs and going eye-wateringly fast. The twist here is that the Spider T shares the same DNA as the out-and-out race bike, albeit with some mutations that allow for a different gene expression.
The burlier Fox 34 fork, 170mm Intense dropper post and the stubby 45mm stem all hint at a more cable, less narrow focused XC bike. Even the dual compound Maxxis Aggressor tyres look positively chunky when compared to the low-profile rubber the Canyon and Vitus in this test roll on. Is the Sniper T a modern down-county bike then? That sure seems like the aim here, even if Intense pegs it squarely in the XC category on its website.
But we’re splitting hairs, as both versions of the Sniper share the exact same front triangle and carbon rocker link. The difference then, is that the T version gets a dual-strut rear triangle for increased stiffness and a 5mm longer stroke shock to boost travel by 20mm to 120mm. And unlike the other two bikes in this test, the Intense is not a flex stay design.
Instead, it uses a counter-rotating twin-link design. And since parting ways with Santa Cruz on the VPP journey, Intense has put its unique twist on the suspension layout, with Intense founder and designer Jeff Steber’s initials now taking pride of place on the swingarm.
Moving forward of the suspension, the frame has a super-low slung top tube, which allows the bike to disappear beneath the rider. It also has a tall seat mast, which works just fine on the pure XC version with a regular post or even a shorter dropper.
Here, however, even with the lower section of the 170mm dropper post slammed in the frame, it gives a minimum saddle height of 765mm. That’s 15mm higher than we would normally run.
Size wise, the Spider T comes in four flavours, small through to XL. But it’s clear from the very first pedal stroke that the front triangle was originally designed around a much longer stem than the 45mm supplied. In fact, if we dive into the numbers, the 456mm reach on the size L Spider T is pretty standard for XC, but it would normally be paired with a 70mm stem or longer to get the correct fit.
By fitting a 120mm travel Fox 34 fork, Intense has been able to open up the head angle a touch to provide a calmer steering response to the Sniper T. The bigger, stiffer fork chassis also provides more confidence to really push harder when cornering, and to stay on line when navigating more technical terrain. Jacking the front end of the bike up has consequences though, as it also knocks the seat angle back by a degree and raises the BB height by 8mm, so you’re in a much less advantageous riding position for climbing.
Thankfully, the Fox Float DPS shock has three compression modes, so firming up the rear suspension is super easy. We rode mostly in the mid-compression setting on the shock, and not because the Sniper doesn’t pedal well, it was more to counter the dynamic swings in geometry that come along for the ride with the shorter wheelbase and high BB.
We took a similar approach with the 120mm travel Fox 34 fork. Running the spring rate a little higher to limit overall travel, and give the bike an altogether tighter, flatter ride quality. And because the basic Grip damper on the Performance 34 is so sensitive off the top, even running the fork firmer doesn’t reduce traction or comfort.
SRAM’s NX drivetrain is functional rather than performance oriented. That’s not to say that the shifting isn’t crisp and precise, it’s more about the additional weight, especially the 11-50t cassette. It also uses the older freehub design, hence the smallest 11t cog, so upgrading at a later date will prove expensive.
And while we’re on the topic of weight, the alloy e*thirteen wheels are certainly robust, but they are slightly at odds with the whole XC/DC ride quality. The entire wheel system, including tyres, rotors and cassette adding over one kilogram in weight compared to the wheels on the Vitus. Freehub engagement is also sluggish, twice as slow as the DT Swiss wheels on the Canyon.
There are some nice details on the component spec though. The 780mm bar has a good profile and gradients on the bar make it really easy to get both of the TRP brake levers exactly the same distance from the grips. With four piston callipers the TRP Slate 4 brakes certainly aren’t lacking in power, even if the lever doesn’t offer the same level of feel as TRP’s more expensive units.
To give the Sniper T a chance at hitting its target, not only did we swap out the rubber for our faster rolling Maxxis control tyres after the first few rides, we also fitted lightweight carbon wheels with a lighter cassette. The turn of speed that this injected to the ride was impressive, and it also answered one important question. Namely, was the heavier cassette and wheel package affecting the suspension? In short, no.
The Intense still had a tendency to hook up on square-edge hits and break traction more readily when climbing out of the saddle. In the end we chalked this up to the high degree of anti-squat, which in turn makes the Sniper T pedal with hardtail efficiency on smooth terrain.
So even though the Intense has more travel than the Vitus it didn’t feel any more capable on rougher terrain. In fact, the shortcomings in the geometry and sizing make it much harder to ride fast in every situation, and it was only the addition of a dropper seat post that gave the Sniper T an advantage on the steeper descents. Fitting a dropper post to the Canyon or Vitus is a relatively easy and affordable upgrade.
Correcting the geometry and sizing on the Sniper T to make it a capable down-country bike is neither easy nor affordable.
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It would be easy to say that the Sniper platform is showing its age. And while that’s true to a degree, it’s actually the modifications that Intense has made to the build kit that cause the Sniper T to fall well short of the mark. In pure XC guise it would be a much better bike as that’s what the front end was designed for. In trail guise, the entry-level Sniper T Expert is too short in reach, too high at the BB and when compared directly to the Vitus, it’s also too expensive given the build kit.