INTENSE TRACER 279 REVIEW – AN ENDURO RACE WEAPON
The mixed-wheel monster trucker mountain bike!
INTENSE TRACER 279 REVIEW
Roughly four years in the making, Intense’s latest Tracer model is the biggest-hitting rendition yet. In fact, the 2023 Tracer shadows Intense’s M29 lower link with the only real difference being an ever so slightly tweaked linkage that provides a better pedal platform. The result is 170mm of JS-tuned VPP suspension bundled with a mixed-wheel chassis designed and developed to be an enduro race weapon, though it makes for a great all-mountain option, too. If mixed wheels aren’t your thing, Intense recently introduced a 29er version, but this review is specific to the 279 version.
This year’s Tracer is available in carbon and only carbon. Unlike previous generations, the shock is driven by the lower-link rather than the upper-link actuation of late. This allows the shock to sit low in the frame, creating a very low and compact center of gravity. To do this, a split seat tube was created to allow the shock to lay horizontally. It’s a clean design, similar to what Santa Cruz uses with their latest VPP platform, and as a bonus it allows plenty of room in the front triangle for water bottles or boss-mounted accessories.
A flip chip sits within the lower link and offer 7mm of bottom bracket drop, a half-degree-slacker head tube angle and a 5mm-shorter reach in the “low” setting. There’s a 3-percent compression variation between the settings, with the “hi” setting offering slightly more progression. It’s not the easiest adjustment to make, as it essentially requires removal of the shock, or a second person to sag the suspension to the point of allowing bolt access in the otherwise restricted linkage. Truth be told, we wouldn’t have seen the flip chips if they weren’t pointed out to us. That said, geometry adjustments are usually a great option for riders who like to dial in their bike to specific terrain and personal preference.
The new Tracer joins the trend of in-bike cargo space with their CHAD storage. Named after Intense’s late, great COO, Chad Peterson, storage is accessed via a screwed-on panel at the downtube belly. It pairs with a neoprene stuff sack to keep rattling to a minimum, and works well for stashing items that won’t be needed regularly. It’s not quite as handy of a storage option as those accessed from the sunnier side of downtubes, but is a much appreciated addition to the Tracer model.
The Expert-level Tracer is the least expensive of two complete bikes that top out at $6899 for the XT drivetrain-equipped Pro version. While alloy bars and SRAM NX components on the Expert level aren’t going to impress anyone a la carte, what is impressive is getting this capable, complete carbon bike at a $5499 price point. SRAM Code R 4-piston brakes matched with 200mm rotors front and rear were very appropriate on the Tracer, as was the 200mm (size XL-specific) Intense Recon dropper.
Shifting was perfectly okay from SRAM’s NX drivetrain, and e*Thirteen’s bar/stem combo offered comfy ergonomics.
Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR II tires with EXO+ casings performed very well and were an appreciated provision of performance in a build kit that could have just as easily been spec’d with a less expensive and similarly less capable tire set.
VPP’s counter-rotating links are familiar in both the Intense lineup, as well as Santa Cruz’s models. The latest trends with the design see a lower shock placement, and actuation via the lower link versus the upper link of previous models. At a glance, the Tracer’s suspension design looks to be almost identical to that of a Nomad. And in many ways, both bikes are quite similar. But, upon closer inspection, Intense’s link runs concentric to the bottom bracket, versus Santa Cruz’s link that’s positioned just behind the bottom bracket. This design frees up more space in the front triangle, and keeps the Tracer’s suspension very compact, albeit with some necessarily larger bearings and larger link that may contribute to some frame heft. The JS Tune design ultimately provides a more progressive feel than the Nomad and works incredibly well with coil shocks.
Intense specs a Fox Performance Elite DHX2 coil shock on this bike with a two-position climbing switch to firm things up for the ascents. The Tracer’s Expert build also comes with a 170mm-travel Fox Performance 38 Float fork with a GRIP damper.
At 36 pounds and with a coil shock, it was hard not to assume the Tracer would be a pig on the climbs. In reality, it was an impressively efficient bike to pedal up all but the trickiest and steepest ascents. Comparing it directly to a Nomad with carbon rims, an air shock and a net weight loss of several pounds, test riders felt that the Intense actually climbed better. Fox’s pedal switch was key to keeping things firm enough to propel efficiently, as was expected. Out-of-saddle efforts were a little squishy but not too terrible, all things considered.
As for the mixed wheels, there’s a notable difference in how the less weighted and larger diameter front wheel rolls over obstacles versus how the smaller rear wheel does. The 27.5-inch wheel has a tendency to snag on square edges and the like, especially on steeper sections where rider weight is more heavily centered over the bike’s rear. It’s a common trait of mixed wheels, and somewhat of a misdirected complaint for the general intention of a 170mm enduro weapon, but still worth mentioning.
As cliche as it may be, “point and shoot” is the first thing that comes to mind with the Tracer 279. The steeper and chunkier the trail, the better the new Intense felt. Currently, Intense is sticking to the same length chainstays throughout frame sizing, and in the case of their Tracer, the plan works quite well with keeping a size XL’s wheelbase manageable in tight, messy trail sections. The tighter rear end also allows for noticeably easier manualing and wheelie drops, which is greatly appreciated.
The Tracer does have a nicely progressive feel to it, and tends to lean more towards a racier and tighter kinematic. It’s more about the business end of getting down trails than providing the cushiest ride, which might be a line in the sand for some. On one end, the bike always feels ready for the rider to throw a few pedal strokes in. On the other, it might feel a little less absorbing than bikes of this genre.
Fox’s Performance 38 with 170mm of travel worked very well with the Tracer, providing plenty of unflinching aim and absorption through the roughest rock gardens we could find. While upgrading to Kashima coating on the Factory version would be hard to notice to 99.9 percent of us, and having to air bleed the forks like mere peasants had us daydreaming of Fox’s button bleeders quite regularly. A pair of $25 Fox bleeder buttons would be next on the almost-necessary list of upgrades.
On smoother, shallower trails, the Tracer does become a bit ho-hum. Big bikes rarely feel great on easy trails, and the mulleted Tracer is no exception. What’s more, without putting its 170mm travel to good use, the variation in how each wheel size handles trail sections becomes more apparent. It’s not quite as noticeable as it is on techy climbs, but it is noticeable. Again, a big-hitting enduro bike shouldn’t be in the running for a bike intended to be ridden on buttery, buff trails.
WHAT DID WE LOVE?
Test riders really like Intense’s take on the Tracer’s rear suspension. It works fantastic on the descents and climbs better than its 170mm travel and coil shock suggest. At $5499, this bike is a very decent value considering it has a full-carbon frame and is what most would still consider a mid-sized boutique brand.
WHAT DID WE HATE?
Our original hub had a bit of play between the bearings and end caps that couldn’t be remedied, and was swapped out with another wheel of the exact same spec. While there wasn’t any slop around the end caps in the replacement, the freehub engagement felt as if it needed a full quarter turn before the pawls caught. This was usually just a minor annoyance, but occasionally dabbled with being dangerous when a quick pedal stroke or two was needed before jumping. Another annoyance was a bit of heel rub on the rather wide seatstays. With a neutral cleat position and a rather unremarkable pedal stroke, there was a consistent grazing of a size-11 shoe with the frame. So, for riders with larger feet or those who are a bit duck-footed, it’s definitely worth a proper test ride before committing to the Tracer.
Intense’s Tracer 279 is an impressively capable big-hitting enduro bike with enough of a pedal platform to make it a daily driver option for riders who can put its 170mm of travel to good use on the descents. Heel clearance is something to keep in mind, but for the price and accompanying prowess, it’s one of the most affordable options on the market.
INTENSE TRACER 279 EXPERT
WHEEL SIZE: 29″/27.5″ (mixed)
SUSPENSION: 170mm (front/rear)
Weight: 36 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L, XL (tested)
Frame tested: 170mm travel, carbon composite
Shock: Fox Performance Elite DHX2 coil, 2-position climbing switch
Fork: Fox Performance 38 Float 170mm travel, GRIP damper
Wheelset: e*Thirteen LG1 Enduro 30mm alloy rim, Intense alloy hubs
Tires: Front: Maxxis Minion DHF Maxx Terra 3C EXO+ 29×2.5″/Rear: Maxxis Minion DHR II Maxx Terra 3C EXO+ 27.5×2.4″
Seatpost: Intense Recon dropper 31.6mm, frame-size-specific at 125mm S/150mm M/170mm L/200mm XL
Saddle: WTB Silverado Sport w/ steel rails
Handlebar: e*Thirteen 35mm w/ 20mm rise, 800mm width
Stem: e*Thirteen 35mm, 40mm length
Grips: Intense lock-on
Headset: Intense Top: ZS49/28.6mm; Bottom: ZS56/40mm
Brakes: SRAM Code R 4-piston
Rotors: SRAM 200mm 6-bolt, front and rear
Rear derailleur: SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed
Shifters: SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed
Crankset: SRAM NX Eagle 170mm, 52mm chainline
Bottom bracket: SRAM DUB threaded
Cassette: SRAM PG 1230 Eagle 12-speed, 11-50t
Chain: SRAM NX Eagle
Chainrings: SRAM NX 32t
GEOMETRY SIZE XL
Head tube angle: 64.5º
Effective seat tube angle: 77.9º
Bottom bracket height: 349mm/13.75″
Chainstay length: 437mm/17.2″