Words: Jason Nixon Photos: Jason Nixon & Toni Walbridge
Intense Cycles is based out of Temecula, CA and is one of those rare bicycle companies who have a rich and storied history in the cycling community. They’ve helped stimulate local businesses and continue to fabricate many high-end mountain bikes and CNC parts in-house.They’re a company who pride themselves on their downhill history but are humble enough to know when they needed help to achieving their future goals. They’ve brought in some new employees recently that are helping Intense Cycles become the best that it can be.
With help from some new faces at Intense Cycles, they aim to produce not only better bikes, but improve their company as a whole to enable them to create more of the bikes that we all love. The main reason for our visit to their facility was to check out their new Tracer 275 Carbon bike that you’ll be reading more about below. If you’re looking to learn more about the people, process, or facility we’ve documented those as well that you should take a look at as well.
Intense Cycles was a company who initially focused only on downhill bikes. As time progressed they began to expand their lineup to include a wide variety of bikes. Intense began outfitting their bikes with the VPP linkage system that has evolved quite a bit over time and continues to be used in their full suspension platforms. As riders began demanding more out of their trail/enduro level bikes Intense was quick to answer the call and provided a wide variety of options for riders early on that enabled them to pedal a longer travel bike uphill that could also be enjoyed thoroughly on the way down.
The 26 inch wheel was the go-to wheel size for most of Intense’s bikes but they experimented quickly with 29 inch wheels and quickly came out with models to suit the bigger wheel size. At Sea Otter in 2012 Intense Cycles showed off one of the first trail-oriented 27.5” wheel bike called the Tracer 275. At the time there weren’t quite as many 27.5” / 650b wheel’d bikes available but Intense was able to create their first mid-sized wheeled bike that many people clamored for early on. As others in the cycling industry began to embrace the 27.5” wheel it wasn’t long before there were a number of options available for riders.
Intense continued to refine their bike lineup and introduced a variety of carbon models like the Carbine, Carbine 27.5, Carbine 29, and even a 27.5 Intense 951 Evo downhill bike. Intense is mostly known for their in-house aluminum fabrication but they understood that the interest in carbon fiber was coming and have done it right in a lot of ways for their company.
For the Carbine 27.5 Intense employed the services of German Engineering company, SEED. Their experiences with them proved fruitful and Intense found new ways to utilize their Temecula, CA facility by using it for complete frame/bike assembly as well as manufacturing of all CNC linkages, derailleur hangers, and bolts.
Intense has now created a new Tracer T275 Carbon for 2014 with SEED’s help. Thomas was on-hand from SEED during our visit to help explain some of the details of this new bike that we’d be able to test out for a few months. He took us through the details of their new frameset and expounded on how they’ve designed this awesome bike that you see here.
Video: Intense T275 Overview
3 Sizes currently available (S, M, L)
142 x 12mm rear axle
RockShox Monarch / Fox Float CTD / Cane Creek DBAir CS
160mm (top hole) and 140mm travel modes
High-Module unidirectional carbon fiber
Monocoque frame construction
2 color options (Red or Naked)
Internal cable routing
press in bottom bracket – bb92
down tube flak guard and chain stay protector
Carbon Fiber front and rear triangle
With the exception of the seat stay bearings, all of the bearings are located inside the linkages.
5.7lb claimed frameset weight
The internal cable routing is a bit unique in that the frame has nylon cables that help guide the full cable housing through the frame effortlessly. Some frames require you to fish around for the cable or have interrupted cables running inside the frame that present their own set of problems.
The Intense solution is quiet, takes full length housing, and is a cinch to run. The dropper post cable runs down the down tube and installs through a hole in the seat post tube. It makes for easy setup but make sure the cable is long enough for the seat post height before cutting it. With this design the internal cables weren’t loud or annoying to install which is great.
Intense has created some really nice geometry on this new Tracer 275 Carbon. In comparison to the aluminum model they’ve modified a few things that we’re glad to see including a longer wheelbase / reach and a slightly slacker head tube angle. There unfortunately isn’t an XL available currently but it looks like Intense is planning on adding an XL to their lineup.
For this new Tracer 275, Intense is giving riders a lot of options when it comes to builds and framesets. There are three builds available that really capture a solid build-spec at all levels. They used the beset of the best components on their complete bikes that mimic what many riders are looking for. All of the completes include Shimano brakes and a variety of 1x SRAM options are available as well as parts from Renthal across the higher end builds. Tires included are the High Roller II. The factory solution even comes with ENVE composites carbon wheels with Stans No-Tubes wheel options in the other two trim packages. For details see here.
At a claimed weight of 5.7lbs for the frame set, this is one light carbon bike. Our complete large Expert build weighed in at 29.07 lbs (without pedals) which is quite impressive given the build spec.
Intense has done a great job when it comes to the details on this bike. Starting with the frame there is ample clearance for the tires and the guided nylon hoses inside the frame are a nice feature that makes installing cables a cinch. It includes ISCG-05 chain guide tabs, is front derailleur compatible, and has a 142x12mm rear axle. Across all of the complete bikes, they all utilize the same carbon frame set so there isn’t anything to be gained outside of component specifications. The three complete build options (Factory, Pro, Expert) give riders some solid complete options. Framesets aren’t cheap but they are also available. Below we’ll be reviewing a Large T275C Expert build.
At 6’3” I personally would’ve liked to have seen an XL option offered that would’ve suited my taller stature a bit better but for this test I rode a large. Intense has adjusted the geometry of this new carbon bike to be more in line with what we like to see on bikes like this and provided a longer wheelbase along with a longer reach/top tube in comparison to the aluminum Tracer 275. If you compare their geometry numbers to say a current Santa Cruz Bronson you’ll find the geometry on the Intense is longer when comparing sizes.
We found the geometry on the bike quite good for its intended purpose. The low bottom bracket helps the bike corner very well but care needs to be taken if you’re used to a high bottom bracket in rockier terrain. The seat post angle was also tailored to help riders climb better as its not too slack. The wheelbase / reach numbers are good as well and in comparison to the aluminum Tracer 27.5 are longer which we think riders will benefit from. The chain stays at 432mm (17”) made the bike easy to snap around and remained playful while still proving ample chassis stability. The rider positioning was comfortable on the bike and rode well in a general neutral riding position. With many riders looking to ride longer bikes for additional stability and control we’d like to see an XL size added to the mix in the future.
The VPP suspension worked well on the bike and helped keep the bike composed on the descents as well as aided in pedaling efficiency on the way up the hill. Previous generations of VPP don’t hold a candle to the way these latest VPP bikes perform. Small bumps were soaked up well and the bike traversed across rough terrain with ease. We didn’t get a chance to try out the Monarch or CCDB Air on the frame but the FOX CTD shock worked without any major surprises. We suspect other shock options might make this bike come alive even more given our experiences aboard other shocks.
Since the Expert trim complete bike was equipped with a double crankset we were able to try it in both 26/38t. It pedaled well without much feedback and really helped the bike propel itself forward nicely. Intense gave us a good amount of time onboard this bike as well and we’ve rode it in a variety of terrain including but not limited to the San Juan trails in California, Moab (Utah), and some south-east coast terrain given the time of year.
The build on their Expert setup that we tested is setup with all Shimano XT and FOX suspension components. The XT brakes worked perfectly and the inclusion of Shimano brakes across all of the T275C complete builds is a good thing as these are some excellent brakes. A RockShox Reverb hydraulic seatpost was included as well which was worked well but was cut a bit short for my seat height.
The front FOX 34 Float fork provided some very nice chassis support to the frameset. The front end worked well at maintaining traction but doesn’t feel quite as good as the RockShox Pike in our experiences. FOX makes some great products and this 34 isn’t a slouch in any regard and took all the hits we threw at it without a problem. The FOX fork has a variety of adjustments on it including a 3 position switch (Climb, Trail, Descend). We mostly kept the fork in trail mode and adjusted it from there. The Climb mode was nice for fire roads to keep the front end firm.
The included Intense bars were a bit narrow for my preferences at 740mm and I swapped to a wider bar during my testing. The higher end builds come equipped with wider Renthal handlebars (aluminum or carbon depending on the trim level).
The Expert build is outfitted with an XT double chainring so we were able to experience how it worked with a front derailleur as well as ho the suspension performed with multiple chainring sizes under pedaling. The front derailleur was a little bit noisy during my time on the Tracer. The bike uses a seat tube direct mount front derailleur and with this design only vertical adjustments are needed to set it up which is nice. If I want a front derailleur I tend to prefer the chain stay mounted direct mount front derailleurs on bikes with longer travel like these as the chain tends to make less noise as the derailleur can rotate better with the swing arm throughout the travel. With the direction that most people are going however with single chainrings up front, this is a small point.
Drivetrain’s have come a long way and the Shadow+ Shimano XT rear derailleur helped keep the chain in line for the most part but couldn’t help the front chain from slipping into the lower ring on occasion in rough terrain as there was no chain guide installed on the bike from Intense. This setup can certainly work for some people but if you’re planning on riding in rougher terrain we’d recommend you purchase a chain guide.
The Stans wheel set worked great. Paired with the Maxxis High Roller II tires, they beaded up tubelessly easily. There are faster rolling tires but this setup yielded some really nice traction across a wide variety of terrain. Given that the target rider is most likely looking for a more aggressive Enduro-style bike we felt that these suited the Tracer quite well. The 27.5″ wheel handles much like a 26″ wheel but provides some bigger-wheel benefits. The bike remains snappy but the rider benefits from the bigger wheel in maintaining speed, stability, and traction in rough terrain. If you’ve rode a 29er we assure you this is nothing like that and feels like a slightly bigger brother to the 26″ wheel.
It’s also nice to see a bottle cage option on a bike like this. Some riders will certainly use backpacks but its nice to have the option to run a bottle. Our large was easy enough to load a cage and bottle in and we’d recommend the side-loading style cages for bikes like these. Smaller frame might prove tougher to fit a bottle in the triangle but there was enough in our large.
The rear dropout and axle system worked well. The axle nestles itself nicely inside the rear carbon 12×142 dedicated dropout. As Intense went to this dropout the price to replace a hanger should you break one should be cheaper. The included axle takes a 5mm allen to remove but a quick release style 12×142 axle like the DT Swiss axle can also be used.
When it comes to the ride the Intense Tracer 275 Carbon is a treat to ride in case you haven’t picked up on that yet. It’s a fun bike that is quite playful yet remains a weapon on the trails. We rode it in the 160mm mode for most all of the testing duration and found it to work so well that we didn’t explore the 140mm option much. The bike pedals quite well and descends even better in this mode. Given Intense’s downhill roots the way this bike handled the descents was no surprise.
The carbon frame worked wonderfully throughout our time on it without a peep or creak. Intense has provided a good level of stiffness out of this frame that we were quite pleased with. On some previous Intense frames they weren’t quite as good in this department. This new Tracer we feel really hit the right level of stiffness.
Esthetically Intense knows how to make some beautiful bikes and their new carbon beauty is no different. Bikes come a dime a dozen these days but Intense’s Tracer 275C stands out from the competition.
Suspension works well in the rough terrain as well as climbing
A great direction for Intense’s future if they continue to hit home runs like this one
Lightweight Carbon frameset
Well executed internal cable routing
Very capable descender
There is no 12x142mm QR included
$$$$$ = expensive
No chain guide included
Narrow-ish bars on the lower-end build