BIKE REVIEW: Intense Primer 29
The Primer has been in the Intense lineup for a little while now, and before this revision was a single bike offering 130mm of travel with a 29” wheel size. For 2020 it’s been beefed up into Intense’s main trail bike option, swallowing up the ACV, Recluse and old Primer models into a new set of models offered in three wheel sizes, the 29, the 27.5 and an S model which has mixed 29” front and 27.5” rear wheels.
Travel gets bumped up to 150mm front and 140mm rear, and the frame has been strengthened and gained a little weight in critical areas. The frames are shared between the S model and 29er on test here, meaning you could run a 27.5+ wheel in the rear of the 29er or a 29er wheel in the back of the S, with the 27.5 model having its own frame design.
In the stand
We had the Pro build on test here, offered with Fox 34 Factory forks up front with FIT4 3-position damping, Fox DPX2 Factory rear shock, GX/X01 shifting, Stylo 6K Dub cranks and Shimano XT brakes. They’ve opted for a 4-piston / 2-piston brake caliper combo, to give more power up front from the 4-piston brakes with the rear getting the still powerful 2-piston XT setup.
Geometry-wise on the 29er, it sits right in the crop of current modern trail bike geometry towards the slacker and lower progressive end but not extremely so. A head angle of 65.3 degrees and a bottom bracket height of 337mm in the Lower setting, with a simple to operate flip-chip setup at the base of the shock to change those numbers by 0.6 degrees of head angle and 8mm bottom bracket height, taking it to 65.9 / 347mm in the Low setting.
The leverage ratio has been changed to the ‘JS Tuned Trail’ curve thanks to bigger upper and lower links than the previous bike, now sporting a more progressive curve throughout the travel with only a short regressive curve at the very start of the travel to aid pedalling. Compared with the previous Primer, the weights have been beefed up, with extra material at the front of the rear triangle for stiffness, now the linkage looks very much similar to Intense’s bigger bikes like the Carbine.
There’s little details on the frame, like the fact the frame hardware is titanium, great to see that being used to minimise the overall weight, and the colour options stand out, without being as in-your-face as some designs from Intense have been in the past.
Cable routing is well thought out, with no rattle to speak of on the test bike, the only minor niggle with the routing is that the cables emerge for a short run on the underside of the BB, which could put them in the firing line of rocks, but they’re placed fairly well back behind the rubberised “flak guard” frame protector on the lower downtube so I don’t think the risk is going to be high.
On the trail
Out on the trail, it shined on the downhills. With the travel coming in plenty of progressive action, set up with the recommended pressures & suspension settings it struck me how balanced the overall feel is. Under pedalling load, there’s not much movement of the rear thanks to the antisquat of the rear suspension, and the setup stays active under braking quite well. When the trail gets steeper the 65-degree head angle keeps it easily controllable even when having to get the weight far back.
The bike does feel long but right in the mix of current frame sizing with the large sporting a 470mm-ish reach and 1226mm wheelbase, while it does become a little bit of a handful in tighter turns, the balance here on the design is not pushing the geometry limits as much as some bikes out there. While Intense could have pushed it to an even slacker and longer design, it strikes a balance to keep it comfortable but capable. It rewards pushing the limits and feels like a bike with a lot more travel, both planted in rough sections and playful when you want to get airborne.
Climbing is comfortable, with the rear end staying fairly bob-free when pedalling even in the open setting of the shock, while the Firm mode really firms things up (funny that). For most trails the middle setting was most comfortable to climb in for a bit of extra traction over rocks and roughness on the climbs of my local trails. The seat angle could be a little steeper if I was to say anything about its climbing poise, so as to put the hips closer to the top of the bottom bracket and make it easier to weight the front in technical climbs and corners while climbing. With the seat adjusted forward in the rails the position was decent enough to still get power down on the climbs and not feel like I was too stretched out.
The 34mm stanchions of the Fox 34 with 150mm travel don’t quite feel as confidence-inspiring on the trail as bigger forks like Fox 36, but only through the roughest of sections and edges of handling could you find yourself wanting a stiffer fork. Note that the Primer S, the 29/27.5 mixed-wheel-size bike is specced with a Fox 36, so more aggressive riders or those that just want the beefier 36 could look at buying that model that if you preferred a bigger fork, along with an extra 29er rear wheel to turn it back into a 29er as the frames are identical. The 3-position compression adjust on the Fox 34 Factory FIT4 I prefer over the LSC/HSC setup on the top of the GRIP2 models, while the GRIP2 damper is highly adjustable and can be a little better-performing in some trail conditions once you’ve got it dialed in, the on-the-fly compression adjustment on the FIT4 is still valuable.
The rear shock is the Fox DPX2. It’s been interesting watching the development of rear shocks nowadays and the DPX2 is arguably one of the best trail air shocks out there now. Intense have tuned the rear shock with a medium compression circuit and reasonably firm setup on the base valve compression adjuster, along with a fairly large volume spacer in the shock (0.86 cubic-inch) to aid with keeping the bike high in its travel curve. In conjunction with the already highly progressive suspension design, it delivers a progressive feel and lots of bottom-out resistance when you push the limits a little far.
When it came to setting up that rear shock, I found it a little odd to get fully dialed in whilst I had the bike on test. For the first few rides I used the basic numbers in the manual for my weight and made the mistake of not checking the sag numbers, I ended up with too much sag and not enough pressure which made the bike feel not-quite-right, wallowing in the mid-travel, but at least I wasn’t bottoming out easily. I tweaked it for a couple of rides with a smaller volume spacer (0.4 cubic-inch) and more pressure in the shock which changed the feel to more supple off the top, but I had to run a lot higher pressure to reach my desired sag and there was less mid-stroke support.
Back with the original larger spacer in and a little more reading of the manual, I got the sag set up correctly at 30% rear / 25% front and it felt more balanced than the very first rides, but I still wasn’t able to reach full travel on the rear. If I had the bike for a little longer I’d tweak it further to see if I could get the right mix of mid-stroke support, sag and full travel. Maybe it was just me, or maybe the rear shock would have been better specced with a different compression tune and/or different spacer. That said my only real issue with the rear setup is having travel I couldn’t use, never quite reaching full travel at the recommended sag setting and specced volume spacer, but it still performed well. Those looking to install a coil instead of the air shock, the leverage ratio on this bike supports running a coil shock.
A Fox Transfer Factory dropper post is installed, I’ve previously had one of these on review for a while now and I haven’t had any issues yet, it’s been reliable and performs like a champ. Initially, I thought that the 150mm drop may not be enough, but as the seat tube is quite long, there was plenty of adjustment, only the steepest downhills left me wishing I could drop the saddle a bit more. On S/M frames, 125mm posts are offered and on XL, 175mm.
I did spend a little bit of time having to track down a slight creak that would only emerge under power, that turned out to be the rear axle being not quite torqued up to spec and a little dry, although this bike had seen a few riders before me who may have wiped off grease, it may be worth just checking over the grease levels of the pivots and axles and using the included torque wrench to finish everything off to spec. Points to Intense for including a threaded bottom bracket, while sometimes the negatives of press-fit bottom brackets are in my opinion overstated, if you do have a need to replace a bottom bracket, this will be an easy affair.
Wheels are the E13 LG1 Enduro alloy wheels, which at an internal width of 30mm work well to let the 2.5/2.3” wide tyres reach a good volume. The bike had seen a few riders before me and I didn’t notice any damage or looseness in the wheels, and I certainly didn’t add to any damage even with a few rough landings and rocky sections testing them out. The choice of alloy wheels adds a little mental insurance on such a hard-charging bike, as the cost of replacement for a damaged rim will be a lot easier on the wallet, but if you need the extra stiffness and compliance of carbon wheels then go for it. While overseas models of the Primer offer the Elite build with carbon cranks and wheels, Intense’s Australian rep tells me that the demand just isn’t high enough for this to be stocked, but that if you do want one to get in touch. Regarding tubeless compatibility, the E.13 wheelset I set up tubeless without a hitch with the Maxxis tubeless-ready tyres, with just a floor pump after checking the tape, adding valves and a little sealant.
The Maxxis tyres work well for the bike, while those with a keen eye will notice that I was running a DHR2 2.4 on the review bike, the Aggressor 2.3 that the bike is specced with is quite similar. I’m not a huge fan of the Highroller II design for a front tyre, but tyres are easily changed and the Highroller II still does a good job, it’s just that I feel there’s better tyres with more grip and a more direct feel in corners like the DHF/DHR2, Assegai or Michelin Wild.
But how much does it cost, I hear you ask. The 2020 Primer starts at $6499 for the Expert build across the 27.5, S and 29er options, which places this squarely into the mid-upper level of bike pricing, ranging up to $8499 for the Pro level tested here. The Expert build still has the same carbon material and layup in its frame, albeit in a different colour, still with a good selection of components. With the direct-to-market model the prices are highly competitive against similar options from the likes of Santa Cruz, Yeti and Pivot.
I think Intense have put forward a solid interpretation of the trail bike formula with the Primer, a capable and balanced bike that has the capability of a bigger bike than it is on the trail. With the range of wheel size options from 27.5 to 29er and a range of different spec levels, there’s plenty of options for everyone that can afford the starting price to get on one.
In the stand: 9/10
On the trail: 8.5/10