Recently, Intense Cycles landed at MEC. A proven pedigree in the mountain bike world combined with some next-level engineering made the decision a bit of a no-brainer. (Naturally, we’re pretty stoked to be carrying them.)
If you’ve been following the bike industry for the last few years, you’ll know that bike lineups are getting increasingly complicated. From wheel sizes to geometry to travel set-ups, there’s a lot to keep track of. To keep you in the know about what distinguishes the Intense Spider, Tracer, ACV, Recluse and Primer, we locked MEC bike buyers and bike tech nerds in a room together to develop this comprehensive guide. So, if you’ve ever thought about giving one of these bikes a go, this guide has everything you need to pick a bike, give us a shout and book a demo ride.
First off, what’s this JS Tuned suspension business?
Take a quick glance at any Intense specs, and you’ll hear a lot of talk about JS Tuned suspension set-ups. First off, the “JS” stands for Jeff Steber – the founder of Intense. Let’s lay it out there: every company has their own “super high-tech space-age advanced” suspension system that promises the best performance ever. Thing is, JS Tuned suspension is kind of a big deal.
Long story short(ish): JS Tuned suspension is essentially a customized variant of the now-famous Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) system.
Wait, isn’t that used by some other mountain bike company whose name I can’t remember?
Yes. Along with Intense, a very select list of brands have the patent for this tech. It’s a sophisticated system that can’t be built in huge numbers, so big bike companies don’t have the manufacturing resources to create them – which makes it a pretty exclusive piece of tech.
Every bike company using the system engineers it a bit differently. JS Tuned suspension is Intense’s custom take on it, which means each suspension set-up is specced specifically for each bike in the range based on wheel size, intended use, drive train, geometry and a ton of other stuff.
So how does JS Tuned suspension work?
The basics: it’s a dual-link suspension system. Unlike single pivot set-ups, it doesn’t produce an arc axle path; when riding gnarly trails, an arc axle path can make it feel like the bike’s bucking you off like you’re on a cheap-beer-fuelled mechanical bull ride.
Not-so with JS Tuned suspension set-ups. Because of the lower link tucked near the bottom bracket (Intense calls it the “iBox”), the bike lengthens during the top of the travel. Meanwhile, the suspension is controlled throughout its entire travel, and ramps up at the end of the stroke to reduce bottom-out.
Lost yet? The main takeaway is excellent small bump sensitivity, better pedalling efficiency, greater control at the top of the suspension, and reduced bottom out. It’s sophisticated, high-level stuff, and the fact that Intense leverages this platform and then meticulously tunes it to each bike is a bit of a big deal.
Alright, that makes sense. Let’s talk bikes. What’s the Primer all about?
Along with the Recluse (more on that bike later), the Primer is Intense’s do-anything, go anywhere bike. It’s a 29er trail bike with a slightly-aggressive headtube (67.5 degrees), 140mm up front and 130/115mm in the rear. The front and rear triangle are full carbon.
So what’s the Primer good for?
A lot of everything. Let’s say you live on the west coast with burly, steep terrain. With the Primer, Intense has managed to squeeze the fast-rolling goodness of 29er set-ups into a package that feels compact and flickable when descending. With a lot of 29ers, there’s a sense that they’re too long, and so they can feel like they handle like an old Chrysler. Larger wheels equal a longer wheelbase, and while that might be super, it’s not necessarily what you want when you’re darting through technical, fast trail where timing and responsiveness are key. With the Primer, Intense has shortened the chainstays and overall wheelbase dramatically (thanks, in part, to the JS Tuned suspension). The result? A ride that feels remarkably competent on gnarly, gravity-oriented trails.
Okay great, so it’s a solid gravity bike. That’s it?
Well, no, not at all. The 29er set-up, slightly aggressive geometry, and pretty-light overall weight also make it a talented XC machine. So if you live in an area that also has XC trails or calls for more climbing, you’re dialled.
It’s not quite as light as some full-blown XC rides, but it’s not supposed to be. Instead, it hits the sweet spot between all-mountain and XC that gives it a bit of a two-faced character (in the best way possible). You can thrash about on steep trails with your Tuesday night buddies and have a blast doing it. Yet if you’re looking to enter a few XC races over the season, it’ll handle those with spritely grace – the JS Tuned suspension set-up Intense is so efficient that it’s a bike that feels faster than it should be on sections of climbing. It might be a set of wheels away from being a race weapon, but, general consensus is that it’s the ultimate “do anything, go anywhere” bike on display by Intense for 2017.
And what are the different Primer builds?
Foundation, Expert and Pro. Expect to see different component specs across all three (like the drool-worthy SRAM Eagle kit on the Pro), but we won’t go into that level of detail here. One thing to note is that the Pro build utilizes a different carbon fibre layup and achingly sweet titanium bolts and hardware to shave a few extra grams. It’s a gorgeous, truly special build.
Let’s move on: tell me about the Intense Recluse.
Another flavour of all-rounder from Intense. The quick ’n’ dirty facts: 27.5 wheels and a touch more travel (140mm in the rear, 150mm up front) combined with a slacker headtube than the Primer, which all orients the Recluse into steeper, gnarlier terrain. The enduro inspired geometry makes it a stable, wonderful machine when descending, yet it doesn’t suffer from being too slack.
Well, with a slack geometry comes the chance of lethargic or “flip flop” handling. Power into a corner, and there’s the risk that the bike will unpredictably fold into itself or oversteer like a 1980s Corvette on wet roads. Not so with the Recluse. It captures the stability of a slacker ride while retaining a handling character that’s predictable and responsive.
How does the Recluse ride?
Much like the Primer, the Recluse’s character is largely a result of the JS Tuned suspension. Its unique design allows for a bike with a surprisingly short wheelbase. Yes, some will say that a longer wheelbase equals greater stability, and that’s not untrue. But the slack geometry combined with a shorter wheelbase makes this the best of both worlds: a hoot to huck about, totally nimble, yet still plenty stable. It’s an aggressive machine, but it’s also accessible with a “point and shoot” feel. Don’t expect it to bog you down on the climbs, either – expect the front wheel to feel poised, responsive and planted on steep climbs.
Okay, so why choose the Recluse over the Primer?
If aggressive, steep trail is in your future, opt for the Recluse. Yes, the Primer can handle it, but the Recluse will give you just a slight edge when you start to get in over your head. Both hold up almost everywhere, but the extra travel and slacker angles of the Recluse make it a more competent enduro machine. The Recluse is a new ride in the Intense lineup, and you can tell that they’ve packed years of gravity, XC and DH learning into a package that works great on climbs, trail and everything else.
Let’s talk about a slightly different beast – the ACV.
Right. Notice anything unique about it?
Yep, you nailed it. Effectively, the ACV (that stands for Air Cushioned Vehicle) is a “plus-size” bike.
So it’s a 29er?
No, not at all. Like the Recluse and Spider, it’s a 27.5, but like many brands are doing now, Intense is calling it a 27.5+. That means that the frame has been built specifically to accommodate mega-sized 2.8in. tires.
Extra big tires: why?
A few reasons. It’s been designed for long-haul comfort and total versatility over rough terrain. The plus-size tires give it a degree of float over loose, rocky terrain that standard trail bikes just can’t match. On top of that, expect a bit more comfort and a smooth ride over burly trail when you run those mega-sized tires at a lower PSI (Intense recommends the 12 – 25 PSI range). One thing to note: this isn’t a race bike. Yes, it’s efficient, but it isn’t designed to rocket you to the top of a climb at race pace.
So what’s the ACV good for?
Adventure and outright fun. While the Recluse might be Intense’s do-anything/enduro bike, the ACV is Intense’s ultimate “go far” bike. If bikepacking or riding deep into the backcountry is your thing, the ACV delivers. Rock solid, burly and comfortable, think of it as the ultimate mountain bike adventure ride.
But what if I’m not into that?
Then it’s an outstanding ride for intermediate riders. The massive amounts of traction and stability from those tires makes it feel totally solid. So if you’re still building up confidence on gnarly, aggressive terrain, this is an excellent bike to do so.
And how about the ride?
It does take some getting used to, but not in a bad way. First thing to note: it’s no wet noodle. Tucked in between the seat stay and chain is a bracing strut to keep it feeling stiff and responsive. It won’t climb as rapidly as the Spider or Primer, but it’s far from flexy or lethargic. It’s surprising how responsive it is under power (a statement that not a lot of plus-size bikes can make).
Outside of that, it’s a blast to ride. Big tires equals ridiculous traction, so you can pop and weave and huck it around the trail. A hearty dose of travel (150mm up front, 115/130mm rear) combined with massive tires means you can botch gnarly lines and not feel like an idiot for doing so – it handles a lot you throw at it. In particular, the ACV floats over loose terrain, and offers an amount of control you can’t expect out of most other bikes. With this bike’s “adventurous” character, you can ride about anything on it (although, if you’re planning on tackling really muddy/wet stuff, opt for a tire with a bit more bite). Try the ACV for an afternoon, and you get inspired imagining just where the bike could take you.
Next, the Intense Spider.
Along with the Primer, the Spider leans slightly (but not totally) towards the XC end of the spectrum. It’s a different beast from the Recluse, though; many call the Recluse a beefed-up Spider, so that should give you an idea of its character. However, don’t mistake it for a delicate XC butterfly.
Again, the Spider represents a niche in the mountain bike world that, until recently, didn’t really exist: the mid-travel trail bike. 140mm (or 130mm on some builds) in the front and an adjustable 115mm or 130mm in the rear means it can handle itself without being excessive. It’ll absolutely rip undulating sections of trail where flow and finesse is required, and it feels light and spritely to ride.
Truly gnarly sections of down – ones that you’d tackle with no hesitation on the Recluse – might require a careful hand with the Spider, but it will handle them with a little extra concentration. It’s a testament to how far suspension systems have come, and shows just how effective the JS Tuned suspension is to prevent bottom out when ramping up the stroke.
So the Intense Spider geometry then: race bike, or all-rounder?
If there’s something that the Spider’s been built for, it’s versatility. It’s a lightweight gem, yet the 27.5in. wheels and slightly slack geometry give it some of the flavour of the Recluse. For riders who are on the shorter side, it’s an outstanding alternative to the Primer (29ers are brilliant for a lot of things, but they can sometimes feel a bit cumbersome depending on the rider’s height).
As is the case with all JS-tuned suspension set-ups, the wheelbase is quite compact. So it rides like a barrel of monkeys (that’s a good thing).
Now wait, what’s the difference between the Spider 275C and the Spider 275A?
Good eye. The 275C Foundation, Expert, and Pro are all made of carbon fibre (Intense Pro builds use a lighter carbon and ti-hardware to shave off grams). The Intense Spider 275A Foundation uses an aluminum frame. Same JS Tuned suspension, same geometry, same crazy versatility, but built using more affordable aluminum materials. So, yes, there’s a weight penalty, but you get all of the boutique Intense goodness that’s made the name synonymous with trail greatness at an affordable price point.
So I should buy the Spider if…
… you’re looking to climb like a demon, rip fast and flowy trails, and don’t mind using a slightly careful hand descending aggressive trail. Like the Primer, the Intense Spider has the potential to make an outstanding XC race bike – it’s light, versatile and fast.
Last, but not definitely not least… the 2017 Tracer.
Yes, indeed, the legendary Tracer is back. Revamped and freshly tweaked for 2017, it’s a stellar refresh on Intense’s classic enduro weapon.
So what’s the deal?
The Tracer kicked off back in 1999, and it’s arguably Intense’s most popular and well-recognized bike. It’s been a game-changer in the trail world from the beginning. Since the 90s, there’s been a lot of evolution in the mountain biking world – and Intense itself. But, 18 years later, the Tracer is still incredibly focussed at doing what it does best.
And what’s that?
Shredding steep, aggressive, serious trail. If the Tracer’s cousin, the Recluse, excels on steep terrain, then the Tracer dominates it. There’s a degree of composure and outright confidence here that simply can’t quite be matched by other all-mountain bikes. The best part is that it climbs far better than any bike with this kind of travel should.
Tell me about that frame.
It’s a stunner. Opt for the Tracer Pro, and you’ll be treated to Intense’s hyperlight SL frame. On top of that, you’ll also get a full carbon fibre top link for more shaved grams and shred-ready swagger. Below the Pro in the lineup are the mid-level Expert and entry-point Foundation. These also leverage a carbon fibre frame, and each one features an aluminum top link. Outside of that, though, the geometry is consistent across the lineup.
Right, let’s talk geometry then.
A super slack 65.5-degree head tube angle and 75-degree seat angle hit the sweet spot between efficient pedalling performance and sweet downhill action. The geometry of the Tracer sets it up for vertical trail success, and its unique Enduro Link System develops that character further.
Enduro Link System… sounds self-explanatory, but give me the details.
Think of it as a modified version of the JS-Tuned Suspension system, but with sights placed firmly on enduro. Effectively, the links are longer than on other Intense setups (look at the lower link, for example – it extends way past the bottom bracket).
Okay longer links. What does that do?
It creates a more consistent leverage rate and optimizes the axle path. It’s complicated stuff, but after many hastily drawn graphs and hand gesturing, here’s what you need to know: leverage ratio is how far the wheel moves in relation to how much the shock moves during riding. The more consistent, the better – which means that whether you’re cruising small bumps or big hits, the suspension system and bike will generally feel more consistent and predictable.
So why choose the Tracer over the Recluse?
The Recluse is a remarkably versatile machine, but when you throw it at hyper-vertical terrain, it’ll lag just a touch behind the Tracer in terms of capability and control. The Tracer won’t climb quite as well as the Recluse or Spider, but when you throw it at a line, there are few machines that are this light and can climb this well that also handle terrain so insanely effectively. With the 2017 version of the Tracer, they’ve changed the game once again.
Anything else to know about 2017 Intense bikes?
If there’s one thing to highlight with all of these bikes, it’s versatility. Beneath the achingly gorgeous details that make each of these bikes special – rattle-free internal housing, custom-sculpted chain guards, that sweet badge, a remarkable linkage system – they all represent versatile solutions within their respective niches.
Regardless of whether you’re interested in descending, hitting more singletrack, or more backcountry epics, each bike boosts the versatility to be ridden day in, day out, and none of them will feel like overly focussed whips that require another bike or two to round out your ride quiver. When it comes to choosing one, it depends on what you ride, where you live, and how each bike makes you feel. You never really know how a bike can affect you until you swing a leg over. But regardless of the trails you’re looking to ride, rest assured – there’s an Intense for that.