Intense Cycles is no stranger to the carbon world. Two years ago, Intense introduced its first carbon bike, the Carbine, as a collaboration with the German carbon engineering company SEED. While we loved the Carbine as a tight and nimble trail bike, we still hoped Intense would embrace its gravity racing roots and build a carbon bike that could be called a “real” Intense.
Intense has been building the Tracer for more than a decade. It’s long been the “trail” bike in their lineup and is certainly the most versatile package Intense offers. The Tracer line has evolved from the original aluminum Horst-link suspension versions first ridden in the late ‘90s, all the way to the full-carbon super-bike we’re riding now.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Tracer has long been Intense’s do-it-all trail machine, and the carbon version sticks to that design theory. With 6.3 inches of travel, relatively slack geometry and an ultra-light parts package, the Tracer is only limited by the skill of its pilot. Don’t think of it as a jack-of-all-trades, however; think of it as the most well-rounded frameset Intense offers with all the benefits of full-carbon construction.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The carbon frame uses Intense’s version of a virtual pivot point suspension design, which Intense dubs VPP Generation 2. While the front and rear triangle are made entirely from carbon, they are held together with aluminum rockers and hardware, all of which are CNC machined right in the Temecula factory, where each frame is also assembled by hand and quality inspected. Each frame rides on cartridge bearings throughout for stiffness and durability. The Tracer Carbon also features an internal headset, 12- x 142-millimeter rear axle, press fit bottom bracket and internal cable routing, including a place to run a Stealth-routed dropper post.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
With the “Factory” build kit our test bike came equipped with, it’s hard to pick out even a small component that could be upgraded. Everything from the razor-sharp shifting of the XX1 drivetrain to the plush and bottomless feel of the RockShox suspension to the super-light Renthal Fatbar Lite handlebar is top-of-the-heap.
Intense stands out from the crowd by pairing Shimano XTR brakes with a SRAM drivetrain. While that might sound as wrong as wearing a pair of brown shoes with a black belt, it’s far from it. Intense carefully selected the components for its factory build, and the Shimano XTR trail brakes were simply the best brakes for the job. The wrecking crew approves.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Setup: Suspension setup on the Tracer is kept simple with an air-sprung fork and shock. We set our bike to 30-percent travel and hit the trails.
Climbing: When built with the “Factory” kit tested here, we weren’t surprised the bike put gaps on riders when the trail pointed up. The carbon wheels and lightweight package make it a snappy climber. While Intense’s take on the VPP suspension design makes for a bit of pedal bob, the compression adjustment knob on the Monarch shock is easy to access, which prompted us to use it on even short climbs to improve the pedaling performance further.
Cornering: The Tracer Carbon goes into corners like a cheetah chasing a gazelle. Aggressive turns are rewarded with a light and quick feel that’s lively. That same light feel makes it easy to snap it from side to side on the trail. The Maxxis High Roller 2 tires are icing on the cake, because they handle best when they’re laid over, and that’s exactly where this bike performs best: laid over in a corner.
Suspension Feel: As with with other VPP bikes we’ve tested, the Tracer tends to stay in the middle of its stroke with a plush and active feel; however, unlike other multi-link suspension bikes we’ve tested, the Tracer also feels buttery smooth over small bumps and fast-paced trail chatter. While this bike seems to lack a firm pedaling platform, it more than makes up for it with excellent plushness.
Descending: The 66.5-degree head angle combines with the plush suspension to deliver confidence on the steepest of chutes. Whereas other “trail” bikes struggle to keep it under control on elevator-shaft descents, thanks to the excellent suspension and braking performance, the Tracer makes it look and feel easy. The wrecking crew has been critical of the aluminum 26 and 27.5 Tracers’ tight and steep geometry in the past, because the plush feel and ground-leveling performance were hindered by the slightly twitchy handling manners. Intense solved that issue with its carbon version.
Pedaling: While the VPP Generation 2 suspension does exhibit some anti-squat characteristics, we still found ourselves reaching for the compression damper when on the pedals. Plan to use the compression damper with this bike, as the plush and active feel needs a little help to stay efficient.
Braking: VPP suspension is designed to minimize brake jack, and the Tracer pulls it off in spades. Even under the hardest braking, the steering remains accurate and the suspension stays active with this bike.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The made-to-look-like-carbon chainstay protector started to peel off after a few weeks of testing. It’s a nice idea to have a specially made protector here, but we’d probably just opt to peel it entirely and replace it with some 3M 2228 electrical sealing tape.
We experienced creaks with this bike after just a few short rides, prompting us to inject grease into the frame’s integrated Zirk fittings to remedy the problem. Unfortunately, it had little effect. We then pulled the linkage and pivots to clean and grease them. After this little surgery, the bike exhibited no further problems.
If the Tracer Carbon were a car, it would certainly be closer to a Ferrari rather than a Jeep. This isn’t the kind of bike you can run into the ground time and time again without some due maintenance. Just like most top-end bikes, this frame is going to need some love from the “team mechanic” to stay working the way it’s designed to.
The true strength of this bike is in its well-rounded nature. The incredible suspension performance, dialed geometry, precisely machined aluminum bits and perfect attention to detail in the build kit make it a perfect choice for a number of trail riders. While this particular test bike falls in the “superbike” category, the Tracer Carbon can be had for much less with one of Intense’s other build kits. Since we still can’t wipe the grins off our faces thinking about shredding turns on this thing, we can’t help but recommend it for a huge cross section of trail riders.