Intense hopes to recapture its glory days with this comprehensively overhauled mullet enduro bike.
With a carbon frame, mullet wheels, internal storage and 170mm of travel, the new Intense Tracer has its sights firmly locked on the best enduro bikes on the market. Has it hit a bullseye?
Intense Tracer 279 Expert need to know
- Updated enduro bike from Intense with 170mm travel
- Lower link driven JS-Tuned suspension for more consistent performance
- ‘Chad’ internal frame storage lets you stash your essentials
- Flip chip gives two geometry positions
- Integrated mudguard protects shock from dirt
- Four frame sizes and two complete builds (plus frame only)
Intense has always followed an open door policy when it comes to prototyping and product development. While most brands go to great lengths to prevent their next generation models being spotted, Intense has courted the curiosity of the public, usually through social media posts of freshly welded mules at the brand’s California HQ, but also by building complete bikes for pro riders and telling them to go racing.
Back in 2019, the embryo of this radically updated Tracer was handed to Intense’s then-pro enduro racer, Isabeau Courdurier, and ridden to victory at the final round of the EWS in Zermatt, which also sealed her the overall series victory. The chance to win on Sunday, sell on Monday was not an option at the time as the alloy bike Isabeau rode was a long way from production.
But when Covid hit, any chance to capitalise on the success of the prototype bike slipped away. Monday became Tuesday and Tuesday became Wednesday until finally, nearly three years later, the finished carbon bike went on sale.
Swing low sweet chariot
The most obvious development on the new Tracer is the move to a lower link driven suspension layout similar to the one first employed on the M29 downhill bike. Dropping the shock in the frame and lowering the centre of gravity were key goals according to Intense, but in real terms the advantage is minimal – moving a few hundred grams down 20-30cm is less than 1% improvement when taken as part of a system weight that will typically range between 85 and 105kg.
So why bother? Well, for answers we should probably look at the other key brand using a similar counter-rotating twin-link design – Santa Cruz. It moved to a lower-link design on its first trail bike back in 2018 (the Nomad), mainly to smooth out the leverage curve and bring a more consistent suspension performance that was easier to tune.
This is the real benefit of what is quite a complex restructuring job. Since then Santa Cruz has adopted the design on every one of its bikes with over 120mm travel, and I’d be surprised if Intense doesn’t do the same over the next few years.
Intense has not made life easy for itself, though. While Santa Cruz uses a lower link that sits just behind the BB, Intense has gone for a link that runs concentric to the bottom bracket. That means it needs a massive bearing and a huge forged link, along with some very tight packaging. It does free up more room inside the front triangle compared to the Santa Cruz, but I’d speculate that it’s a heavier solution.
What’s more, the lower link has nowhere near as much ground clearance – our demo bike had two big chunks taken out of the paint at the lowest point, presumably from rock strikes. Time will tell how that big bearing holds up in typical UK conditions as well.
With such a radical change to the frame architecture, the new Tracer was always going to look very different to its predecessor. Having said that, there are still elements that will be familiar to any Intense fan. Details such as the seat tube strut, carbon upper link and integrated rear mudguard first introduced on the Tazer e-bike.
One thing that has been dropped, to my relief, is the locking collet rear axle system that made removing the rear wheel frustratingly long-winded. Now there’s a slick retractable QR lever that pulls out of the axle like the one found on Canyons.
Intense has also introduced built-in frame storage. The ‘Chad’ door sits under the down tube and comes with a neoprene wrap for storing essentials. The location is a bit vulnerable to water ingress, but it’s still a useful addition that helps you ride unencumbered by a pack. As you’d expect on a carbon frame from a boutique brand, there’s guided internal cable routing, extensive moulded frame protection and a rider-friendly threaded BB shell.
MX wheel configuration
While Intense has taken its time moving to the lower-link driven frame layout, it was an early adopter of mullet wheel set-ups, releasing the MX Tazer in 2018 and the Primer 279 in 2019, and the Tracer follows that trend. The clue’s in the name – 279 – although much like US dates, the numbers are literally back to front.
According to Intense, Aaron Gwin had a hand in developing the geometry on the new Tracer. As such, there are four frame sizes on offer, where the numbers are contemporary but still safely within accepted norms. A flip-chip at the rear shock mount gives two head angles as well as affecting BB height, seat angle, reach and wheelbase.
In the slacker setting I measured a 63.4º head angle, 342mm BB height, 441mm chainstay and 470mm reach. These numbers – aside from the head angle (which was slacker than claimed) and the reach (shorter) – were pretty much bang on Intense’s advertised figures for a size large. One thing I would have liked to see is a slightly shorter seat tube. At 450mm it’s slightly at odds with the low-slung top tube, and meant the saddle did get in the way a few times during the test period.
Intense offers two build kits for the Tracer, and thanks to its direct-sales approach, both are relatively good value.
The one you see here is the entry-level bike at £4,799 and gets Fox Performance suspension and SRAM NX 12sp drivetrain with Code R brakes and mostly E*thirteen parts. For £5,999 there’s also the Tracer 279 S with Öhlins suspension, SRAM XO1/GX/X1 drivetrain, Magura brakes and E*thirteen parts. Got a shed full of parts? Then the frame-only option for £2,799 could be up your street.
How much does Intense’s direct-sales model save you? Well, as a rough guide, a Santa Cruz Megatower Carbon C with very similar parts will set you back £5,499, or £700 extra.
At first glance the spec looks sorted, but dig a little deeper and there are some compromises to hit that price point, such as the heavy PG-1230 cassette that weighs over 600g and comes with a limited gear range. Remember this is unsprung weight, so it will affect suspension performance, and not in a good way. It also runs on a HG freehub body, so upgrading will require buying an XD driver as well, and the shifting is nowhere near as precise or solid as GX or XO1. The Code R brakes are powerful enough, but the levers on our demo bike had already developed some slop and play.
On the other hand, we had no complaints about the E*thirteen wheels, bar and stem, and the Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II in 3C compounds were spot on, although some riders will want to upgrade the rear casing from EXO+ to DD.
How it rides
Given that this is an enduro bike with a mullet rear wheel, I didn’t expect to begin by talking about its climbing prowess. But the Tracer 279 is a very effective and stable bike on the ascents that lets you spin away in a comfortable, upright position. Thanks for that must go to the steep effective seat angle and the new kinematics. There’s a decent amount of anti-squat to help the pedal efficiency, which is welcome as the low-slung shock means the Climb Switch is quite a stretch with the saddle at full height.
So the pedal manners are impeccable, but there’s no disguising the Tracer 279’s overall weight. At 16.68kg without pedals, it’s a bit of a lump, which takes a toll on energy levels sooner than it would on a lighter bike, particularly if you’re riding dynamically and making lots of acceleration bursts. Which is exactly what a 170mm mullet bike encourages you to do.
Furthermore, quite a bit of that weight can be felt hanging off the back end of the bike in the shape of that heavy cassette, and that has a detrimental effect on the suspension performance as well as your ability as a rider to pick the rear wheel up when switching lines or hopping over obstacles.
Although the bottom bracket is not particularly low, I did experience a number of pedal strikes, so it could be worth switching to 165mm cranks if you’re planning on running the bike in the low position. Moving to the high geometry position is also an option, but making the switch is not very easy as the bolt is completely hidden by the swingarm upright. As such you actually have to unbolt the front of the shock and compress the swingarm to gain access.
While most Santa Cruz bikes use a bearing in the lower shock eyelet, Intense makes do with a DU bushing, which will also have an impact on sensitivity.
Spring rates are chosen according to a best guess by Intense. You can get away with a few turns of preload on the spring, but after that you’ll have to move up or down a spring rate, which is an additional cost. For reference, at 78kg, I ended up with 28% sag on the 500lb spring. I would have liked to try the 450lb spring, but one wasn’t available.
I also had an issue with the shock on my demo bike – it had lost some damping oil and was running too much preload – so that the rebound couldn’t cope. This was fixed under warranty by Fox UK and the bike felt much better when it was returned, but the rebound damping was still lightning fast, particularly on the high-speed side (and I like a bike with quick rebound).
There was also a touch of harshness that I could feel through my feet (and they got blown off my pedals a couple of times) that might be to do with the extra unsprung weight, a by-product of the anti-squat, or a combination of both. Although specced with a 32t ring, my demo bike was running a 30t, which will increase the anti-squat, so perhaps going back up a couple of teeth on the front chainring would be a smart move if you’ve got the leg strength.
- How to improve your grip strength to get better bike control
- Best mountain bikes: the ultimate trail, enduro and XC bikes
- Some brilliant brain savers: the best MTB helmets tried and tested
Three rides in then, and I still don’t feel like I’ve sussed out the new Tracer. I’d like to try it with a lighter rear wheel, a larger chainring and a softer spring rate to see what difference they make to the suspension performance. The bike has gone back to Intense UK now, but I’m hopeful I’ll get a chance to ride it again with these mods and report back. In the meantime, it looks like the smart move if you’re in the market for a Tracer would be to try and stretch to the next model up. This comes with the lighter XG-1275 cassette and fully adjustable Ohlins suspension for £5,999. Being a wider-range cassette would also make running a bigger chainring more palatable. And, like all the best Intense bikes over the years, the rosso red paint job looks a million bucks standing still.