The Sniper has been in development for quite a while and Intense Founder Jeff Steber says that he has been working on a high-performance 29er cross-country trail bike for well over two years. A rough count revealed there were at least four aluminum test mules made to experiment with suspension kinematics as well as how far Intense could push the geometry without completely alienating the Spandex Crowd. The project came into sharp focus, however, when the bike maker switched to their new "Rider Direct" sales model.
Sniper XC Details Intended use:
29" Frame construction:
UD carbon frame, carbon/magnesium linksSizes:
$4499 - $8499 USDWeight:
21.9 lb - 24.1 lbMore info: intensecycles.com
Meet the New Sniper
The decision was made to go with progressive geometry - a crazy-for-cross-country 67.5-degree head tube angle, with a super-sized top tube designed to pair with stems in the range of 40 to 50 millimeters, and a pedal friendly 74-degree seat tube angle. The mandate for those progressive numbers, however, came with a powerful caveat: the Sniper would not be produced unless its weight and pedaling efficiency were equal to or better than current cross-country World Cup superbikes. Success for the project came in the form Intense's Chad Peterson - a self-proclaimed cross-country geek who puts in well over a hundred miles a week in one of the more technical zones in Southern California.
Two versions: Peterson embraced the Sniper project as his own, and ultimately, two models were slated for production: The 100-millimeter-travel Sniper XC, and a more aggressively spec'ed 120-millimeter-travel Sniper Trail. At 21 pounds and some change (10kg), the top-drawer Sniper Factory XC can shamelessly walk the runway with the likes of Scott's Spark - the racebike that sets the bar for dual-suspension on the Pro Tour. (Spoiler alert: they share the same factory.)
Chad Peterson: Chief of Operations, with the Sniper Elite XC.
And the Sniper Trail? It shares the same carbon chassis and dual-link rear suspension, but its longer, 120-millimeter legs are accompanied by a burlier build, including 30-millimeter inner-width DT Swiss wheels, mounted to 2.3-inch Maxxis Forecaster tires. Both versions feature Fox suspension, SRAM Eagle drivetrains and Shimano brakes - and every price point features a dropper seatpost.
Sniper Trail Expert
Sniper Trail Pro
Affordable options: With four models to choose from, prices for the Sniper XC range from the $4499 Expert Build to $8499 USD XC Factory Build. Two models of the Sniper Trail are offered: the $5599 USD Pro Build and the $4499 Expert Build. In case you were wondering, weights for medium-sized bikes range from 21.9 pounds to 24.1 pounds for the Sniper XC, and from 24.57 to 25.64 pounds for the Sniper Trail models.
Sniper Trail Geometry
Sniper XC Geometry
Features and Construction
Much effort was directed towards arriving at a rear suspension system that could satisfy pedal picky cross-country pros and at the same time, respond to the terrain without requiring electronics or a cable remote lockout system. Jeff Steber says that computer models and real-world testing produced kinematics that ended up very close to their Primer 29er. The convergence was accidental, but the uncanny pedaling efficiency of the Primer is a strong wager that the Sniper will be similarly endowed. Pro XC racers can generate 800 watts on a whim, and Steber says the 100-millimeter-travel Sniper XC's shock curve ramps up more than the longer-travel Trail model to counter those efforts.
Carbon link and sturdy clevis seat-stay pivots.
A pull-out lever to unscrew the through-axle.
Mechanically, the Sniper's suspension is straight-forward. Its upper link is carbon and the major hinge points rock on full complement ball bearings. Intense eliminated the hollow that many bike designers still carve out in hopes that the front derailleur will return from the dead. The Sniper is dedicated to one-by drivetrains and the swingarm pivots are widened for extra strength - as are the down tube, seat tube and its 92-millimeter bottom bracket. Clearances are tight around the 2.25-inch Rekon tires, but there is just enough room to squeeze in more aggressive rubber should the devil of shred whisper in your ear.
Top XC models are outfitted with Fox's Step-Cast 32 forks with a 44-millimeter axle offset and Factory DPS shocks (Kashima, of course). The longer-travel Trail models run Fox 34 forks with 51-millimeter offsets and a similar Fox DPS shock. Chad says the differing offsets help keep the XC bike's steering on point while climbing and puts some teeth into the Trail model's technical handling.
Details catch the eye throughout the chassis. Titanium hardware, well-concealed hoses and cables, thick noise-reducing pads on the chainstay and the underside of the down tube, and a pull-out lever in the rear axle to hasten wheel changes are just a handful of them. Plenty of stand-over clearance is afforded by the deeply curved top tube, and the single down tube water bottle location is well placed for racing.
Intense went all out on the parts spec of its flagship Sniper Factory XC, with Enve wheels, SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain - the list goes on to support its MSRP, but elsewhere, the team makes use of house-branded components and some intelligent mixing and matching of drivetrain and cockpit parts that offer up a busload of performance at surprisingly low weight figures, and much more attainable MSRPs. The medium-sized second tier Elite XC that I have been riding weighed 22.8 pounds (sans pedals) on the Park Tool scale. It weighs one pound more than the $8499 Factory build and its MSRP is two thousand dollars less.
The Sniper XC's Fox Step-Cast 32 fork has a 44-millimeter offset.
Sniper Elite XC Specs
Sniper Elite XC
Chad Peterson brought a Sniper Elite XC in my size for a show-and-tell in the mountains near San Diego. I normally ride this particular route on a longer travel all-mountain bike, so it would be a trial by fire for the 100-millimeter-travel XC machine. To spice things up, some of the upper passages were snowbound. The ride was a hoot, with the nearly treadless Maxxis Rekon tires drifting wildly at inopportune moments. And, as we made our way down the mountains, the two of us tried to beat the carbon wheels off of the bike in the zone's infamous rock gardens.
If there was a flaw in the new bike's design or handling, it didn't show up on that day. The handling was far tamer than my recollection of cross country, with none of the front-end push in the turns that steeper steering geometry paired with longer stems is infamous for. Initially, I was concerned that the slight rocking of the shock was sucking the life from my legs, but as it turned out, I was climbing and accelerating in much taller gears than I am accustomed to.
The front center is long, really long. I moved the saddle forward one centimeter on the medium-sized frame and I still needed a few miles to acclimatize. The stretched out cockpit, paired with the 50-millimeter stem keeps the front wheel planted and the steering precise while climbing steep pitches. The steering, in general, feels light and responsive - which I would expect from wheels that are lighter than any hoops I had ridden all year.
Cross-country and trail riding are often measured by the climbing involved, and a good XC bike is supposed to make that job a lot easier. Its 74-degree seat angle feels just right for high tempo climbs. The forward position over the bike takes some bite from the rear tire when the grades get steep, so I had to be mindful to put more pressure over the rear end.
Maxxis Rekon tires on Intense's new 25mm IW carbon rims.
DT Swiss hubs and those tiny looking 160mm rotors.
Intense's suspension kinematics encouraged me to leave the shock's three-way adjustable compression ever in the open position most of the time. That said, the Sniper felt better on longer climbs with the lever set in the middle position. If there were no serious descents looming ahead, I would be inclined to leave the lever there.
That's about as much as I can squeeze from a few rides. Intense is going to let us take the new Sniper out for a long-term review, so we can elaborate on the bike's finer points. So far, I am certain that intense's decision to go with modernized geometry and a slack head angle was a good call. The pluses outweigh the negatives (if there are any negatives). It's the most fun I've had on a 100-millimeter bike in quite a while. Whether it can win races? Well, that is the million-dollar question, isn't it?