Staff Rides: Photographer Nathan Hughes' Intense Primer S

Jul 12, 2021
by Nathan Hughes  


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.

Intense Primer S custom build

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.

Intense Primer S custom build
Intense Primer S custom build

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

bigquotesI had a Tracer for a few years and loved it, but the Primer was more fun and felt better right off the bat, even with less travel. Still, I recognised the limitations of the bike outlined in the reviews and considered the next moves to tune it up. And yes, as somebody without Monaco plates and a catamaran, I'm very aware I'm lucky to work in the bike industryNathan Hughes

The Angles

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.

Full Specification

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
Intense Primer S custom build

Intense Primer S custom build

Much Carbon

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.

Intense Primer S custom build
Intense Primer S custom build

Intense Primer S custom build
Intense Primer S custom build

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.

Intense Primer S custom build

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.

Intense Primer S custom build
Intense Primer S custom build

Intense Primer S custom build
Intense Primer S custom build

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.

Intense Primer S custom build

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.

Intense Primer S custom build
Nathan Hughes
Location: Chamonix, FR
Age: 34
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 180 lbs
Industry affiliations: Numerous
Instagram: @nathhughesphoto


  • 63 1
 Custom builds that make you happy are ALWAYS worth it!

Or as the Author so rightly put it
"we mustn't forget that money is a construct with no real existence in this universe other than the human mind."

  • 37 1
 I'm all for spending money on things you enjoy but don't kid yourself with that. You do work, someone makes an imaginary number in your bank account get a little bigger, you swipe a colourful plastic rectangle on a beeping machine and some bearded fella in a building hands you a fancy new shock. Might be a bit disconnected from trading chickens for bean seeds but the work you did to get there is just as real as anything else
  • 5 5
As bonkers as it seems, money really is a fictional thing. If you have the time check out this classic This American Life episode (423), it's a classic in 3 parts.
  • 11 0
 Now, by using that reasoning, I have no trouble justifying any of my bike purchases.
  • 33 0
 @IMeasureStuff: thanks i just told my landlord money is fictional and now i dont have to pay rent
  • 4 0
 @huvudvind: I'll be telling my wife this when I buy a new bike. Likely my last post ever lol
  • 1 0
 @Kyanw: It always amazes me what I learn in the Pinkbike comment section. Unfortunately I'm not a reserve bank so no matter how imaginary it is, I still can't create money. If everyone agrees to make me the new head of the Federal Bike Reserve Bank, I'll buy all my backers new bikes.
  • 20 0
 "Intense pain " . Got a Costco 951 on Tuesday. Got 3 broken ribs on wedsnday .
  • 11 0
 Holy smokes heal up buddy! 951 looks sweet though.
  • 14 5
 What is the point of noting industry affiliations if you just write "numerous". Isn't the point to see conflicts of interest and give a bit of transparency to reviews and articles???
  • 23 0
 I did initially think that too. But the main affiliation is in the body: Intense. Furthermore, this isn't a 'review' anyway, and it's making no pretense to being impartial.
  • 5 0
 Yeah its a bit nitpicky I know, but people will still look at PB articles and take away some opinions on companies and parts they see here. Sure the Intense photographer thing is pretty obvious but if there are "numerous" affiliations maybe a bit of transparency wouldn't hurt? Does anyone really buy Hope brakes or ENVE wheels with their own money? Wink Smile
  • 4 0
 similarly, the teaser that he "didn't hold back on the build' is laughable in light of product being given to him for free. "he spared no expense, only the best ENVE wheels for him!" lolz.
I'm fine with this not being a review, but just say: check out this sweet build.
  • 1 0
 @BeardlessMarinRider: you're 100% correct. The fact that its in the body of the article means its hidden in the fine print.
  • 12 0
 'Numerous' should be translated as 'not at all impartial' because I work or have worked with many of the brands on the build. It isn't a review, but still I kept the 'how does it ride' paragraph at the end as maybe it's interesting to know for some how I think it performs with all the upgrades, albeit as owner and fully biased part of the industry (aka lucky recipient of occasional free or discounted kit).
  • 3 1
 @shredddr: that there is any room left for smug preening and glossy vocabulary is testament to his humble genius
  • 10 0
 That paint job is amazing.
  • 2 0
 Beautiful. I was like, "This guy 100% is an aesthlete." Then. I. saw. those. grips...
  • 10 0
 you only yolo once. amazing.
  • 5 0
 You only live once once
  • 7 1
 The self deprecating commentary is as beautiful as the bike. I similarly had a hellish time seating a Magic Mary. Ended up seating it with a tube, then removing the tube without disturbing the bead on one side, leaving only one bead to be seated with my floor pump. I mangled my rim tape a little in the process and have had a slow leak ever since, but if I fix that I'll have to seat the Mary again!
  • 1 0
 So all that struggle for a MM? Why not go with a DHR2?
  • 1 0
 @rrolly: because I got the MM for $55. It's actually a great tire aside from that. I have a DHR2 on the back wheel and like them both equally
  • 5 0
 I'm building up a Primer S but going full 29er. I'm not loving the collet cap on the rear axle, specially since it requires to different sized hex sizes to take off the axle. In all the bikes i've had, I never thought "oh this would be better if I needed multiple tools to take this off. That and the 160mm rear brake post mount, since most bikes now come 180mm as standard.
  • 2 0
 It's just a 5mm to take off the axle. It's two operations, one from each side, but one size hex. If you want to take of the hanger then you use the 6mm on the drive side.
  • 1 0
 @JohanG: i undid the 5mm collet bolt and then the 6mm to unscrew the axle out like a normal bike.
  • 1 0
 @matadorCE: 5mm to undo the collet on the nds, 5mm to unscrew the axle from the ds.
  • 1 0
 @Ridenwithbear: That's really dumb. I'm really going to look into replacing it .
  • 8 4
 I would like to argue that clip in shoes are actually better for hike a bike situations, my DMT shoes have a very rugged Vibram sole and are quite stiff very much like a walking boot. My 5.10's have a flat sole like a skate shoe. Not all SPD's are disco slippers!
  • 5 0
 Depends on terrain - rocky and carrying a bike? Id rather have flat shoes any day.
(My climbing shoes are pretty smooth too!)

Muddy? Clip shoes as like you say they can have miles better tread for that everywhere the cleat isn't
  • 5 1
 I personally prefer to walk on flat pedal shoes in every situation bar CX race type mud.
Even Five Ten Impacts (Sam Hills in my case) which often are accused of being "too stiff for walking" turn out to be amazing hiking shoes on really rocky and rough ground
  • 4 0
I guess British style mud is probably fairly rare, flats shoes are literally the worst in wet mud. I did quite enjoy xc shoes for steep push ups as I could just find some very long studs for the toes
  • 6 0
 Top article Nathan. Miss those good old days sliding downhills in south Wales. Bike looks sick. That yeti you had was ace too! Dan
  • 8 0
 What, no Intense jokes or trash talk? Slow Monday I guess.
  • 2 1
 I mean I can if it'll make you feel better. LOL. That is a gorgeous bike and Intense did a huge fail on it by using a 29er frame. That's why it came with a ridiculous balloon on the back wheel. You mullet the smaller wheel size frame when you mullet.
There. Wink
  • 2 0
 Really sick bike. Excellent build. The Primer is a really fun bike and my main bike. Sharp, light, and nimble. I have mullet'd it before and it was definitely better in the downhills, but made it a little more difficult to climb. Mine weighs 28lbs and could easily shed another pound with no compromise in performance.
  • 4 0
 I had thought that bike was a bit of a weirdo but sounds like you did it justice! An unapologetic rig even with all your disclaimers.
  • 3 0
 Cool machine and article, I had a 2018 primer with a 1.5 deg angleset, was fun.
  • 3 0
 Great photography and even more enjoyable writing! Thanks for this article! And ya, that bike is sexy as!
  • 1 0
 "my home terrain of Chamonix " ahhhh that explains the tyres and burliness. I would be riding as close to a DH bike as I could carry if that was my home! Not reconsidering living in the flat lands at all now. Nope
  • 3 0
 Cheers Natan! Beatifull build!!!!
  • 2 0
 Awesome Nike Nathan. What a change from the Trusty Marin and Yeti. Loved your Yeti, such a nice bike
  • 3 1
 Wet bike contest photos. Has someone has a squirty bottle full of water at hand before the photos.
  • 3 0
 Came for the comments about intense on enve;

Enjoyed write up
  • 1 0
 Not to be a pedant but Hope Bulb (Big Un's Little Brother) were a similar size to the current hubs, the Big Un however was significantly larger - was it those perhaps?
  • 2 0
 Sweet looking bike. Is this really a bike you ride though? The cranks don't have a single scratch on them.
  • 1 0
 Nice bike, but I’d rather see his cameras and photo gear bags. His work is always so amazing, one of my favorite photographers.
  • 2 0
 Good build, good write up!
  • 2 0
 A Mullet that Billy Ray Cyrus would be proud of!
  • 3 0
 More staff rides please!
  • 2 1
 Now available at Costco! And the resale value of my 3 Intenses are in the toilet...
  • 2 0
 That’s the 951... and top end intense bikes will hold their value no matter what. Loving my m29. Cheers!
  • 1 0
 @leviatanouroboro: We can only hope...but public opinion wins over fact.
  • 2 2
 I'm still a Luddite running 26 inch wheels aluminum frame and no dropper post.
No tools in my steer tube
Wondering why these bikes so heavy?
Progress. Wink
  • 1 0
 Road bikes are even lighter then your 26er but you’d know better then to think that would make one better to ride on a trail then your 26er MTB. The same difference is true of modern MTBs. Just because an old 26er is lighter doesn’t make it anywhere close to as good as a newer bike on trails. Try one and you’ll see. BTW picking up a friends new bike to see how heavy it is and saying “huh”, doesn’t count as trying one;-)
  • 1 1
 @Jordansemailaddress: You think wagon wheels that roll over terrain with less feedback , take more effort to turn are superior? More fun. ? That's great?
Do you know why Dirt Jump bikes are all 26 inch wheels to this day?
Much more agile and stronger build.
I have rode plenty of modern 27 .5 bikes . They feel dead . They mute the trail.
New may be better for you . That's great!
26 inch wheels take more effort I call that fun.
I call big wheeled bikes with lots of "pop" crutch bikes. Because you don't need skill to ride them , Wink
  • 1 0
 @Sshredder: Uhm, yes, dirt jump bikes have 26inch wheels. Nothing to do with why modern bikes are heavier then your average older 26er from the age when all anyone cared about was weight. BMX bikes, which also have nothing to do with this conversation, have even smaller 20” wheels and are even stronger and more agile then dirt jumpers. So why don’t you ride that on trails? Don’t have enough skill? Or maybe there’s better tools for the job. All I was saying, is that when comparing a modern mountain bike, to a 20 year old mountain bike, they’ve come a long way in a good way. Which has nothing to do with dirt jumpers or any other bikes that fit the purpose they are designed for. Look at some footage of downhill racing from the 90’s. It’s a grass and dirt road with nothing more than a few rollers. Not even a fraction as technical or gnarly as even a modern day XC course. Most of that progress is due to bike changes. Take anyone riding pro downhill or enduro or even XC now and put them on a bike from those races in the 90’s and they won’t be riding much better then that old video footage. Even though, (back to my original point), they were lighter weight. To get more fun out of a modern bike, you may need to upgrade the difficulty of the trails you’re riding. Just sayin.
  • 1 0
 @Jordansemailaddress: Your watching videos from the past. I'm from that time son. Freeride bikes were invented then . Heavy beast that spawned the idea of suspension and disk brakes.
Thanks for the lecture.
I'm talking from experience.
Tried it all.
Riding what I like .
I only like black diamond and double black gnar.
Flow trails are ugly and they bore me.
As for racing. I don't race and I don't have on tenth the skill of a pro DH racer . So a pro DH racers bike has nothing in common with my bike or how I ride.
  • 1 0
 @Sshredder: Freeride bikes now? Ok you win. That’s definitely a category of bikes that has not evolved at all whatsoever in 30years. Nope, that technology peaked in ‘96. And I would take your word for it cuz you were there, and I watch videos so I obviously wasn’t (psst I was, I’ve just moved on). Thank you for all the lecturing and education about your skills and how they’re too good for flow trails, and your superiority to everyone on wagon wheels without any skills. Those are some blankets statements to live by! Ride what you like, sure, we all do. Back in your youthful hay day, you’ll remember other traditional cyclists criticizing your new freeride bikes or whatever you were riding. Now here you are, doing the same thing over again, on a comment section about photgrapher’s really nice looking bike. Slow clap for you your excellency.
  • 2 0
 Very good choosing the coil. All Primers should have a coil, fight me.
  • 1 1
 Did he get it on the Online Deals?
  • 1 3
 Who new Intense still made bikes…
Below threshold threads are hidden

Copyright © 2000 - 2023. All rights reserved.
dv65 0.055870
Mobile Version of Website