We began our time here on the new Intense 29er trailbike on the vasty different trails of Sedona, AZ. There it was a real success and I could have hardly asked for more. But now it was time to bring it back home to Southern California where the terrain is wide open and the climbs longer and smoother. It would not be the first time that a bike left me less than enthused here after, say some time at Bootleg Cyn where I was more impressed. Horses for courses. So after many hours of riding on trails that I am much more familiar with, I do have final thoughts and some things that were a bit less than 100% positive. Don’t get me wrong…it is a crackin’ good bike. But it can’t be all good, can it?
As well, I gave the bike to Navy Mike for a couple of weeks of use to see what he thought, so I will include his experiences from his perspective, a unique perspective for sure, but one that might ring true with a reader here and there.
If you have read any of the other reviews that hit the ‘presses’ right about the same time, you know that the Primer was universally praised. After goodly time on the smoother trails of So Cal, I still think it is a rather brilliant bike. If this represents the new model of the modern 29er trailbike, then things are getting really good for anyone who loves big wheels.
Where Sedona requires a bike that can work well with lots of quick transitions, ledges, drops, and sharp turns, back home we can easily climb for an hour then bomb back down on a reasonably smooth dirt road, punctuated by the surprise rut and rock here and there. Singletracks are more open, faster, and flowier. So the suspension has to be steady enough to make this feel acceptable. If it feels ‘fast’ when pedaling uphill in this scenario, then that is a good thing. Bikes that do well here, at least in my experience, are the ones using DW link like Pivot and Ibis. I think the latest FSR iteration is a snappy feeling bike too. In or out of the saddle, they feel scooty and rewarding. In that way, the Primer is perhaps not the snappiest feeling thing out there, but between the light weight and the absolutely steady JS Tuned link suspension, it is a big notch up from any VPP Intense of the past that I have been on and any platform you want to tune into the shock is just optional. That said, I did run it in Trail mode a lot of the time, both front and rear, as that felt steadier and just a bit better when pedaling fast on smooth-ish trails. Remember that in Sedona I never even took it out of full open mode.
This is a stiff chassis too, and with those bomber DT Swiss wheels and Fox 34 fork, it is absolutely ‘together’ feeling from tip to tail. The Nobby Nic is a fav tire of mine for dry conditions so it all worked in sync.
The LG size in the Primer works for me so well because of a couple things. It is a long reach bike for a LG at 453mm, coming pretty close to some XLs in that regard. The Intense Primer has the steepest effective seat tube angle I can remember riding on a trailbike, that being 75°. That pushes the front end out there a bit more than a slacker angle would, so that effectively feels like a longer than measured top tube length. Combine that with a stem in the 70mm range and a handlebar that has very little sweep…7°… and is 760mm wide, and I was well balanced weight wise, even when standing. Many trailbkes I have ridden feel OK seated, but standing puts my lanky frame over the bars too far. Not so on the LG sized Intense Primer.
The flip side to this is I have found an 8° to 10° backsweep in a handlebar to be kinder to my wrists. So on longer rides where I was just cruising along, it bothered me a bit. However, it felt good when things got more technical as it allowed an elbows out and slightly forward body position to keep things hooked up and charging ahead. Sweep aside, the stem and bar spec are good looking pieces of kit.
Now, that steep seat tube angle is interesting. Most dropper posts have very little set back, so getting the saddle back far enough for long legged folks can be hard if you are picky about where you want to be in relation to the BB. In Sedona, that steep ST angle was fabulous, requiring less ‘on the nose’ of the saddle moments to stay hooked up rear/front end down on the uncountable tricky sections, ledges, steps, etc. In So Cal, I found it a bit less great on long fireroad climbs where I wanted to be back behind the BB more, allowing me to bring more of my glutes and such what into use. Pedaling so far forward relies more on quads, or so it seems to me. Dropping a stringline down from the nose of the saddle and measuring forward to the BB center, The Intense Primer put me over an inch forward as compared to my Salsa Horsethief. That is quite a lot. If this was a road bike, that change would be unacceptable. But on a road bike, you do not pedal up steep and narrow trails and switchbacks, and that was, again, where the 75° ST angle worked for me, allowing almost magical moments ascending tight turns and iffy sections. So, it is a compromise.
Honestly, that is only real thing I can say that struck me as less than great about the Primer, and that is likely related to my lanky frame and riding conditions.
Now then, the Intense Primer has an adjustable travel setting on the rear shock that reduces from 135mm to 115mm. Curious about how this would feel, I made the change which, by the way, does not affect geometry at all. What I chose not to do was make any changes in shock pressure settings. I did measure sag and it still seemed to be reasonable, although I am sure it was a bit less than when at the 135mm setting. The 115mm setting has less leverage on the shock, so in order to have it feel plush in that setting, I would have to redo PSI. I chose not to mostly as I cannot see anyone buying this bike and actually running it full time at 115mm. Why would you when it behaves so well at 135mm? The fun factor would drop and the fast factor would only rise a tiny bit. Anyway, what I did find was that it felt snappier and firmer, especially when out of the saddle on hard efforts. No surprise.
It was firm enough at the 115mm slot to where I never ran it other than open, and even there it felt pretty comparable to trail mode in the 135mm setting, but just a bit more nuanced than that. Now if I were going to be racing a 12 hour endurance event and the course was at least moderately smooth, then I can sure see myself putting it in the 115mm zone and with the fork in Trail, raging a bit. That would make sense. But I put it back in 135mm mode after only one ride and never looked back.
Navy Mike has not been on these pages lately as life gets busy some times, but I wanted to get him on this bike to see what he thought. A type ‘A’ XC rider, Navy Mike really cares about speed over comfort. He actually uses his full lock-outs on his suspension. Front and rear. Really. His stable of MTBs consists of two bikes: A Scott Spark 29er and a steel SS 29er. Neither have over 100mms of travel. His typical ride has a lot of climbing and will be fast paced. This will quite possibly be the biggest travel bike he has ridden at 130mms or so. I say this because there are a lot of riders like Navy Mike and they might be thinking of a trailbike like the Intense Primer as a step-up in bike capability. They might be thinking, “Can I move to something like the light, sexy Primer and not miss my ‘Chained Lightning 29er’ XC race bike? Read on with this perspective in mind.
I wanted to get some thoughts on the Intense over to you and will look to get the bike back to you this weekend. It was a fun bike to ride and very different than the XC bikes I am used to. I put just over 100 miles on this bike with varying types of terrain.
The first thing I noticed on the Primer was that it does not like to go fast on flats or climbs. It seems to take quite a bit of energy to push this bike and don’t get much return for the effort. I will say that if you just ride this bike easy on the flats and climbs it is smooth and I could stay on the bike for some long rides. What I mean is, it almost seems like the bike has sweet spots for riding it and if you stay in its sweet spot then it will move forward with little effort, but does not like to be pushed. Trying to keep up with a friend on his hardtail was not possible on any types of climbs with the Intense, but don’t think the intention of this bike is to be fast uphill. (Note: Keep in mind that something like an S Works Specialized Epic would make Navy Mike swoon. GG)
Before I took the bike on a 50 mile ride I changed the saddle back to the factory one as the aftermarket seat was rather uncomfortable to me and has elevated areas that were painful (I was using the Primer as a test sled for a new saddle. GG) . The factory seat was great and had no discomfort with it at all.
The bike really shines on the downhill sections of trails and absorbs all of the harshness. I wasn’t able to go faster downhill on this bike than I am able on my Scott, but was less beat up at the end of the day. I changed the position of the rear shock to the 115mm setting and that did make a big difference on the quickness of the bike on mildly techy downhill sections and lent it a bit more of the XC feel, but with more suspension at the ready. I also took the bike down a local singletrack that gets more rowdy as it drops into a steep canyon and loved the ride. The Primer would roll over or through anything that was on the trail and I really felt confident.
In conclusion I feel this bike would be a great all day mount when you are not looking to do anything XC fast and you need the extra travel to navigate rough terrain. I would have loved to have this bike when I was on a recent road trip to the Kern River area doing the techy downhill parts. As I am more into the XC/Endurance thing I prefer a faster and more responsive bike, but I really enjoyed getting to ride this one to feel the differences.
Now Intense does not market this as an XC ripper, so I did not expect it to be that. And frankly, once you get to that 130mm range of travel, it just gets to where immediate acceleration is not to be found. So, that is not a surprise. You can’t have it all, even at 26 pounds rolling weight.
If you want most of it, then the Intense Primer is bang on target. As a trailbike it is slack enough, long enough, light enough, stiff enough, fast pedaling enough to make anyone looking for a trailbike centered all-rounder deliriously happy.
When you have a bike long enough on review, you get to where you just begin to ride it and not analyze every minutia of the way it goes down the trail. You just pedal. And that was when the Intense Primer really sang for me. There is a mountain trail system near us that is an escape from the the heat and brown of the scrubby hills of So Cal. Rising 1800+ feet in less than 6 miles, the singletrack climb is a cranking good wallop to the heart and lungs, especially at 6000′ to 7000′ elevation. Once the top is reached, the return is swoopy, rocky, stutter bumped, off camber, and blissful, but only if the bike you are on is able to be balanced across multiple demands: Steep and long climbs requiring a good pedaling response…tight switchbacks…rocky outcroppings that require care and accuracy…suspension that stays active under braking. Poise and power. Balance and grace.
There the Primer sung for me and after several weeks of regular visits, each trip got better and better. It is a spoiler, this one.
Note: The products shown here were provided at no cost to Twenty Nine Inches for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for these reviews and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.