Nathan Hughes' Intense Primer S
‘Never buy a car in the rain’ is always the advice. A sound recommendation that definitely extends to bikes as it hides the scratches and gives the machine a thoroughly unfair sparkle. This bike isn't for sale, so hopefully you'll pardon the gratuitous use of moisture to enhance it. For maximum effect, on an already soaking wet day, I took it to a timber yard which had intermittent sprinklers to preserve the wood, also making the photography more fun.
Intense stake their claim to creating ‘striking mountain bikes since 1993,’ and the striking part is something I personally do get onboard with. There's no way I'm not biased, having been the DH team photographer for the past several seasons, but I find the bikes exciting and feel a nice twinge of nostalgia from all the race history under the greats like Kovarik, Palmer and now Gwin. Anyway, the release of this 'mixed-wheel corner carver', as Pinkbike dubbed this mullet bicycle back at the end of 2019, had my interest piqued. Mostly, if I'm honest, because of its sharp looks and racy pinstripe than anything else. As a photographer and aesthete rather than athlete, I try to admit the draw purely to its looks without shame.
PB testers, Mike Levy and Mike Kazimer, found the original Primer S ‘mind-blowing in the turns’, but they also had a fair bit of negative to say about the bike in the Field Test
. Like somebody said in the comments 'I wanted this bike to be better'... me too, so I tried to make it so. The last mullet I owned was straight out of university back in 2009 and it was a hit. First-employers disagreed, however, and mullets are still controversial to this day.Stock Origins
The bike began its journey to improved handsomeness and performance (strictly as a side-perk) as the stock model for 2020. Among other differences, it came with the Fox DPX2 Float shock and 2020 Fox 36 fork with the Fit4 damper. It had Shimano XT brakes on 180 rotors, alloy E13 rims and most notably it came with a Maxxis Rekon plus tire at the back. *Shudders*. Why not go for the Carbine or full 29 Primer? As I have pretty long legs, a mullet is perhaps not so 'necessary' for me, but then the idea of getting my mind blown in the lefts and rights was appealing. Also, as mentioned, there was the not-to-be-underestimated draw of the paint.
The Angles 2020 Intense Primer S Custom Build
• Intended use: All-Mountain / Enduro
• Travel: 160mm front, 140mm rear
• Wheel size: Mullet 29/27.5"
• Frame construction: Carbon
• 63.5°(ish) head angle
• Chainstay length: 440mm
• Size: L
• Weight: 33.5lbs/15.2kg
• Price: $5799 USD plus significant extras
• Color: Black/grey
Did it spoil the climbs fitting a longer fork and removing the oversize Rekon propping up the rear? How to further spoil the already spoiled misery of climbing itself? Without getting so philosophical, I like to think the 10mm extra is spent as sag and along comes a harder-charging head-angle of 63-point-something for the descents. It could still go slacker with the flip chip in 'lower' mode, which could be a nice ode to having owned a Yeti DH9 years ago.
Maybe it's the Grip2 damping system, maybe the extra travel, I'm not sure, but the new 36 is one buttery front wheel holder and seems to stay higher in the travel on the brakes than the original 2020 version. Other benefits include that I can now run the new Fox mudguard, which looks dialled and will keep used zip-ties out of the nostrils of sea turtles. Zero man-points to me for not having any fork tokens; I'm running them plug and play.
Fork: 2021 Fox 36, 160mm
Shock: Fox DHX2, 550lb spring
Wheels: ENVE M730 29' (F) & M735 27.5' (R)
Brakes: Hope Tech 3 V4, 200mm (F) & 180mm (R)
Tyres: Schwalbe Ultra Soft Magic Mary (F&R)
Handlebar: Renthal Carbon Fatbar 35, 785mm
Stem: Renthal Apex 40mm
Pedals: Hope F20 flats
Drivetrain: Sram Eagle XO mech, GX shifter
Cranks: Truvativ Descendant
Grips: DMR Deathgrip (thick-flange-camo)
Hubs: Chris King
Saddle: Fizik Antares carbon rail
Dropper: Fox Transfer & Raceface shifter
The ENVE rims are hard to miss and complete a mostly carbon build on the bike. They're quite loud and proud and after the first few rides of full fear that I would smash and explode them faded, I really appreciate the lively feel they bring to the ride. I'll probably have to pay closer attention to tire pressure than I would have previously bothered with on alloy wheels, but that just sounds like a great lesson for life.
Out back I decided to run a Magic Mary for max grip. That call was probably reactionary after riding too long on the over-sized stock tire with such a low-profile tread. Still, the bite is definitely back and I'm not bother by a little extra rolling resistance. Aero spokes and the touted ‘un-flattable’ rim tape are very cool touches to the wheels and made the afternoon of hell-on-earth fitting the Marys to a 35mm rim close to worth it.
A Renthal cockpit was an easy choice to bring lightweight strength and a bit more graphite grey & gold to the overall look. Continuing the carbon theme, I chose to run a light and tidy looking, 155g Fizik Antares saddle and stick with the perfectly adequate Truvativ Descendant cranks that came with the bike. British Brakes
Enormous Hope Bulb hubs in anodised red adorned my first ever downhill bike and I've admired Hope's CNC artwork ever since. True enough, with a great range of colour customisation options comes great responsibility, but I don't think the orange-gold touches are a touch too much on this set-up. Upgrading to a 200m rotor at the front and a 4 piston caliper at the rear definitely helped stopping, but as it's a mullet I thought I'd better stick with the little rotor out back or lock up all the way down the mountain.Added to Basket
As a flat pedal 'lifer' the very slim Hope F20 pedals with their impeccable machining make me happy. I never learned to clip in and although I'm certainly old enough now, my home terrain of Chamonix just doesn't seem like the best place to get into them when a couple of hundred vertical metres of 'hike-a-bike' are always a possibility. You don't want metal hooves for that. DMR Deathgrips changed my mind about thicker grips and a BMX style flange never goes out of style, just like camo. The stealthy Chris King hubs came with the wheels and the original Fox dropper keeps the Kashima dream alive under the saddle. As for the SRAM Eagle drivetrain that came stock, if it was good enough for the formidable soldiers of ancient Rome, it’s good enough for my MTB. Getting Sprung
The observant and the cynical would be quick to point out that the 2021 Primer S came with a coil shock already... and in amazing Ferrari red. That was all unknown to me a year prior, but I was onto the same idea to get that DH bike grip and small bump sensitivity pumping. I consider the DHX2 to be the real game-changer on all the upgrades made to the build. The seamless actuation feels great and flat turns are now a closer friend. €800 and something, plus the spring, seems like a stretch for this upgrade, but we mustn't forget that money is a construct with no real existence in this universe other than the human mind.But it's not even light
That sure brings a tear to the eye; all the semi-extravagant upgrades have somehow only bestowed more bulk. The original Primer S came in at 13.6kg, albeit in size medium and without pedals. Certainly what was shed in the wheels was slapped right back on by trading out the Fox Float for the DHX2 coil, the latter weighing nigh-on double the former. The burly casing of the Magic Marys is also a big part of it, but with the ENVEs at stake I'll take the extra weight in padding. I suspect the fork is a slither heavier, but now I can land 10mm larger drops. Anyway the bike is 15.2kg no matter how many times I reset the scales.How Does It Ride?
I'm no veteran tester or seasoned athlete, but on the hill what I do tend to clock is the sound of the best bikes and super quiet is the only order of the day at the races. This bike is totally quiet, ok partly because it's still pretty new, but partly and I'm saying, mainly, because it rides so smoothly. At the same time it's lively, maybe more aggressive feeling than the Tracer, Intense's true enduro charger. Going up it's decent; there's practically no bob even without using the climb switch and the seat-post angle is totally bearable, although I'm no climb connoisseur. To conclude; this bike is dead fun and I enjoy how it looks, both of which make me believe I'm riding better; ergo the bike is faster. As a side note, this build also makes me, or anyone attempting to mimic its mostly carbon tendencies a lot, lot poorer. Something Intense are not alone in taking a lot of flack for. Still, you only YOLO once.