PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
2020 INTENSE PRIMER S
Mixed wheel corner carver
Words by Mike Levy, Photography by Trevor Lyden
Intense used to have a few different models in their lineup that could be considered trail rigs, but there's only one name for 2020. The all-new Primer offers 140mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork, but there are still choices to make given that you can have it with two 27.5" wheels, two 29" wheels, or a mixed 29" front and 27.5" rear combo like our Primer S test bike.
You can also have your Primer S in one of two trim levels; the 'Pro Build' pictured here goes for $5,799 USD straight off Intense's website, with a Fox 36 FIT4 fork, *e13's LG1 Enduro Race wheels, and a mixed SRAM drivetrain. The Expert model costs $3,899, or you can get the frame and shock for $2,999 USD.
Primer S Details
Wheel size: 29'' front, 27.5+ rear
Frame construction: Carbon fiber
Head angle: 64.5 / 65.1-degrees (geometry
Chainstay length: 440mm
Reach: 454 / 460mm (L)
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
Weight: 30.0 lbs / 13.6 kg (as pictured)
Price: $5,799 USD
More info: www.intensecycles.com
The carbon fiber frame is all-new for Intense, and they've used it as the base for the 27.5'', 29'', and mullet-wheeled models. The former gets its dedicated front and rear triangles, while the 29er and the Primer S share frames. You'll find a flip-chip at the aft shock mount that takes the head angle from 64.5 to 65.1-degrees (in the mixed-wheel configuration) while also lifting the bottom bracket by just over 7 millimeters.
Intense is still using a similar dual-link layout, but they're saying that it's been revised for 2020 for improved efficiency and added ramp-up for those big hits. A Fox Factory DPX2 shock looks after the 140mm of travel while being compressed by the carbon upper link (the bottom one is aluminum), and titanium hardware holds everything together. Fancy.Climbing
There's a lot of talk about steep seat angles these days, but the Primer S' 74-degree seat tube was noticeably slacker than the other trail bikes being tested. Part of the reason is the fact that Intense uses the same frame for the 29" Primer and the mixed-wheel version. That puts you a bit farther behind the bottom bracket than some of us would like to see, and while it wasn't that long ago that 74-degrees wasn't out of the ordinary, it's a compromise worth mentioning.
Also worth a few sentences is how good the Intense feels when you're out of the saddle to use all those watts. It's got plenty of jump to it, with satisfyingly crisp acceleration at every pedal stroke. Just watch those pedals, though, as that 27.5'' rear wheel (and the slightly lower-profile Maxxis rear tire we installed) sees them a few millimeters closer to the ground than is ideal when you need a couple of cranks to push through a tricky climb.
Aside from wanting 2-degrees added to the seat angle, the slow-speed handling was on-par for what you'd expect from a trail bike. Be decisive with your line choice and take advantage of the traction that 140mm can give you to get the most out of it. Descending
Is it wrong that when I see an Intense, I sort of want (and expect) it to be a great descender? With so much of their history revolving around downhill racing, I'm probably not the only one thinking that, but it's a bit more complicated with the Primer S. First, the good stuff.
I can't remember a test bike that's made me look so good in so many corners, and especially when there was a berm involved. At first, I thought, ''You're better than you remember, Mike!
'' Not surprisingly, that wasn't the case. When I rode the other three trail bikes, it became obvious that the Primer S has a distinct knack for carving corners with very little care whether you've decided to go inside or outside or if you've decided on a big ol' slide. It feels low and stable, which obviously helps, but it's also very good at telling you what's about to happen; there are no surprises, no sudden loss of traction that you weren't expecting.
After keeping our thoughts to ourselves during back-to-back testing with the Primer S, Stamina, Optic, and Occam, it wasn't a surprise to find that Kazimer's notes on the Intense's impressive cornering were full of as many exclamations points as my own.
Now onto the less good stuff. Despite the relatively slack head angle, the Primer S felt like it needed a bit more attention on trickier sections of trail. I wouldn't call it nervous, but it and the Occam certainly feel the most 'trail bike' of the four. It's not like I'd shy away from a sketchy line that I'd roll into when on the other three bikes, but the timing doesn't lie: I was consistently slower down our test lap on the Primer S, which is odd given how it amazing it feels in the corners.
Using a 27.5" rear wheel drops the bottom bracket height compared to the 29'' version of the Primer, and it also means that the lower, slacker of the two geo positions feels like it's on the ground. Yes, that low setting would have been a little more useable with the stock 2.8" tire, but either way, you're still looking at a sub-13" bottom bracket height. I realize that's partly why it cuts corners better than me at work, but I couldn't get comfortable with it on our rooty, rocky trails. Thankfully, it's just as impressive in the higher, slightly steeper setting and, as an added bonus, it'll vastly lower your chances of scorpion-ing courtesy of a pedal strike.
On the suspension front, it's not that the back of the Primer S doesn't work well, only that it performs exactly as 140mm should - it's good, but not exactly mindblowing. There are a few things to point out with the bike's spec, too, including a Fox 36 with a FIT4 damper when we all know that Grip2 internals has surpassed it. Yes, the FIT4 system works well - it's what we all wanted before the original Grip came out - but this 'Pro Build' deserves the latest and greatest. ''The FIT4 150mm fork is an excellent beefed up trail bike fork,'' Intense countered when I asked about the spec. ''It still allows the flexibility of a lockout to aid in the long days of a rider climbing just as much as they are descending.''
Also, I understand the idea of a four-piston brake caliper up front combined with a two-piston rear unit (more power where you need it the most), but it just seems odd when I want all the power on both ends; let the customer tune that via rotor size, please. Lastly, it's odd to see a bike with a 2.6" front tire and a 2.8" rear tire. Some mixed-wheel bikes are coming out like this in order to compensate for the shortened reach and dropped BB when going to regular width 27.5, but we're not huge fans of how those rear plus tires feel—especially on a bike that corners this well.
Talking TiresUsing the same 'control tires' for all of the bikes in each category means that we can focus on things that matter most, like the handling and suspension, and then better compare the bikes against each other. Eliminating a variable and all that. Sounds good, right? Of course, it's not that simple.
First, having to change and tubeless twenty-eight tires isn't a quick task. Second, it meant that the Intense would be using a 27.5'' x 2.4" wide Minion DHR II WT rear tire instead of the 2.8'' wide Rekon+ that comes stock. While the DHR II certainly makes sense on the back of the Primer S, the rear axle ends up sitting around 4mm lower in height than with the Rekon+, and that means that the seat angle gets a smidge slacker and the bottom bracket is even lower than stock. We ran the bike in its higher geometry setting to compensate. However marginal, it needs mentioning given some of our thoughts on the bike's performance.