The Tracer has been a staple in the Intense lineup for over two decades as a long travel, heavy hitting trail and enduro bike. The latest version was developed with two different size wheels based on input from Intense's athletes. Bikes with a 29" front wheel and a 27.5" rear may not roll over obstacles with the same ease as full 29ers, but during extended enduro stages, mixed wheeled bikes can be much easier to manipulate, particularly for shorter riders.
If the Tracer 279 looks like the most recent M279 downhill prototype bike
, that’s because Intense used their findings from that build process and applied them to a bike that can pedal uphill, as well as thrash the descents.
Intense Tracer 279 Details
• VPP suspension
• MX wheel only - 29" F, 27.5" R
• Carbon frame
• Travel: 170mm front, rear N/A
• Head angle: N/A
• Effective seat angle: N/A
• Chainstay length: 445 mm
• Wheelbase: 1280mm
• Weight: N/A
• Price: N/A
The carbon Tracer I spent time on was covered with Intense's hazard camo prototype decals, but it's unlikely that the frame will undergo many changes before production. Intense wanted to give us sneak peak without indulging in a typical "First Ride" pre-release of the bike. Furthermore, the geometry, weight, and build kits could change depending on what parts will be specified. Due to Covid supply chain issues, the project has taken longer than anticipated.Frame Details
Jeff Steber, Intense’s founder, has always held a high regard for detail. The built-in look of the seat clamp lines up with the seat tube brace neatly, which carries over from previous Tracer, and the top tube runs straight into the head tube, avoiding a bulbous, "gas-tank" shape. The striking lines of the frame aren’t the only thing that make this bike stand out from the crowd. Onboard tool storage is something we often see on enduro race bikes and below the monstrous bottom bracket area hides a clever tool storage compartment. Another gadget is the lever that slides out of the rear axle for tool-free wheel removal, and the rear triangle has a tidy fender molded around the yokes to keep any debris out of the linkage.
Similar to the M279 prototype, the shock is now driven by the lower link, rotating around the BB with two positions to change the geometry and kinematics. The shock and linkage are offset to the non-drive side and the left crank arm runs tight to the frame. We've seen this before from brands like Devinci and Evil, to name a few, but the idea is to maximize the real estate there to create a wider, stiffer bottom bracket area and produce a better chainline. However, the lower shock eyelet does not ride on bearings like you'd find on some other VPP bikes. With the amount of rotation at this point, I expected to find more than a regular DU bushing there.
Tool storage - check. Fender - check. Hidden rear axle lever - check. Water bottle inside the front triangle - check.
Since this was a prototype, we may see the inclusion of 4 cable ports at the head tube for those who run their brakes moto style.Frame Details
Although the geometry and specifications weren't provided during my initial ride on the bike, the updated Tracer follows the lower, longer, slacker trend. Intense stated that even though the carbon molds are set, the geometry could slightly change due to different linkage dimensions or the change in axle to crown lengths between different fork manufacturers.
A tape measure and iPhone angle finder did tell us a few measurements, such as the 450 mm seat tube and the 445 mm chainstays. Even with a 200 mm dropper post, I had enough clearance while descending with 80 mm of post still above the seat clamp. The angles seemed to fall in around the new normal - near 77º for the seat tube and 64º for the head tube. For a size large, the reach felt in the realm of 475 - 480mm with a 112 mm head tube length.
Taking into consideration that the previous Tracer had 165 mm of rear wheel travel and the bike we rode had a 170 mm fork installed, I think it's safe to say the Tracer 279 will land around 170 mm. The frame accepts a trunnion mount air or coil shock and there are two shock settings on the lower link. Most readers will be pleased to find ordinary Boost 148mm rear hub spacing, a threaded bottom bracket, a 31.6mm seat post, and a common ZS44 / ZS56 head set. Ride Impressions
Whistler's valley trails are primarily made up of advanced, technical singletrack with a lot of steep chutes, rock rolls and rooty bits that demand confidence and control - what better of a place for a shakedown? Chris Kovarik had built this Tracer 279 with his personal choice of equipment, including some Magura brakes with huge floating rotors, Maxxis DH casing tires, sturdy Chromag bits, and a Fox 38 fork and DHX2 shock. Touting a build like that, I felt ready to tackle some gnarly moves on a foreign bike.
The Tracer was the first MX bike that still gave me that secure "in the bike' sensation that is usually reserved to describe some 29ers. The center of gravity and stand over height are lower than some other 4-bar bikes, which attributed to confidence while descending. The bike wants to push you over obstacles instead into them, keeping your body weight centered and refrained from being pitched forwards. The dynamic geometry let me climb and pedal through rough sections without stomping the pedals into the ground. The steep seat angle kept my weight forward without popping wheelies, but was easy to manage rear wheel traction on the dreaded Whistler Flank climbs.
We started out with a heavier 500 lbs spring rate in the high setting, but dialled it down for the next half of the day and switched to the low setting. The bike stayed free of crank strikes when we went to a 450 lbs spring and felt more aggressive in stature as it sagged lower; perfect for the bike park laps ahead. The frame's progression in the low BB setting never let me reach the very end of the travel. Aaron Gwin did have a lot of input on this bike and has been know to like a progressive setup.
It seemed like that last 10-15% of travel was reserved for the worst of impacts that only Gwin could endure and despite my best efforts to launch further than usual, I never got there. That didn't seem to slow me down and the small bump traction remained active, but that ramp kicked in a little earlier on impacts that didn't match where the fork was in travel. Sometimes there is a downside to this. The bike can store a lot of energy on those big hits and launch the rear wheel back before you can adjust your body weight, aka: going OTB. But, those huge compressions were still managed predictably. I adapted to the benefits of having that support deeper in the travel, carrying more speed when pushing into jumps and turns. If I had more time on the Tracer, adding a volume spacer to the fork to match the frame kinematics or dropping down in spring rate to a 425 lb spring might be the ticket.
With its generous stack and low center of gravity, it can certainly become a bike that helps you stand tall and strong (think Danny Hart
posture). At times, I wished the head angle complemented this and was a touch more aggressive to allow me to attack with that extra 10%. Other bikes in competition with the Tracer, like the Transition Spire carbon, offer that kind of stance in a full 29er. It would be interesting to put these two toe to toe in a timed test to see if the Spire's lighter weight build and bigger rear wheel could take on the Tracer.
That smaller 27.5” wheel combined with the size large that I rode was easily managed on the tight, technical Whistler valley trails. Through consecutive turns, the bike was easy to tip side to side with the smaller rear wheel and the 445mm chainstay struck a great balance between the speed that this bike can hold and maneuverability in the jank.
To summarize, aggressive riders will be content with the Tracer as their only bike, especially if they live near a chairlift or shuttle zone. It has that confidence to try and keep up with downhill bikes in serious terrain and is more energetic than those beasts on jump trails, yet it has the angles and suspension to make it work for climbing. Yes, it's going to be a bit more of a slog than a 14kg, 150 mm, dual 29er on the climbs, but it's ability to charge the descents will likely leave the other all-rounders behind.