Review – Intense Sniper XC Elite

Cross-country racing has seen a bit of a renaissance in the last couple of years, with World Cup courses becoming more technical and riders demanding more from their bikes. While brands like Cannondale and Scott have pushed the boundaries on geometry and capability, Intense has pushed way beyond any constraints with the release of its all-new Sniper. In late 2017 Intense announced that it was moving to a consumer-direct selling model, and the Sniper is the first bike the company has released since then. With geometry numbers that rival most enduro and trail bikes, the Sniper is all but hiding in the bushes.

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

The Sniper was designed to be a modern cross-country race bike with the ability to get rowdy with the boys on the weekends. Sporting 100mm of front and rear travel, the Sniper may look like it has its limitations, but the geometry is very progressive, putting the rider in a comfortable and confident position. There are two versions of the Sniper available—XC and Trail. The Trail version sports 120mm of front and rear travel with a head angle that is a full degree slacker. If the minimal XC version doesn’t look rowdy enough, the Trail is sure to fit the bill.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Intense spent two years developing the Sniper. The XC has 100mm of Steber Tuned suspension, with a carbon fiber top link and magnesium lower link held together with titanium hardware to keep the weight down. Adding to the weight savings is a full carbon fiber frame and rear triangle with internal cable routing that is 1x-specific. Intense offers the Sniper in a slightly heavier but more affordable carbon frame and rear triangle on the lower-end models. Making the Sniper extra stealth are full internal cable routing and a Press-Fit bottom bracket. The XC is in a category all its own with progressive geometry numbers that resemble a modern trail or enduro bike’s. Intense went way longer, way lower and way slacker on the Sniper.

With a 100mm-travel fork, the head tube angle comes in at 67.5 degrees with a 13-inch bottom bracket height. Intense went a step further and spec’d the Sniper with a 44mm offset fork. Most 29-inchwheeled bikes use a 51mm offset, but the steeper 44mm on our test bike increases the trail. For even more stability, Intense pushed out the wheelbase to 1152mm for the size medium tested. Within the Sniper line, there are two different carbon layups and several different colorways. Framesets start as low as $2000, with complete builds starting at $4500 for the XC. Our Elite-level build kit has Fox Factory suspension and a SRAM Eagle X01 drivetrain with Shimano XT brakes for $6500. Intense now offers its bikes consumer-direct, as well as through its brick-and-mortar dealer network.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Our test bike sits one level below the top-of-the-line Factory build, which uses the same carbon layup and suspension but with the higher-end SRAM bits and Shimano XTR brakes. During our testing, the SRAM X01 drivetrain shifted consistently, and the Fox suspension was plush and adjustable for our ride preferences. Intense released its own line of alloy wheels called Recons that came spec’d on our test bike. While these were aluminum rims, they came in under 1400 grams for the set and were stiff and sturdy.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Suspension setup: We set up the Sniper with 20-percent sag in the fork and the low-speed compression about halfway. Our test bike came with one volume reducer installed, but after a couple of rides, we installed an additional spacer for a more progressive feel. Intense recommended 25-percent sag in the shock, which worked well for most of our test riders. The Sniper has quite a bit of ramp at the end of the stroke, and we never felt the need to install an extra spacer.

Moving out: The Sniper has a very trail-friendly cockpit with 760mm-wide flat bars and a short 50mm stem. We dropped the stack height all the way down for a lower position off the front of the bike. While we normally run 720–740mm bars on our XC bikes, the wider stock setup felt comfortable, especially when we started descending.

Cornering: We were immediately comfortable on the Intense, with the progressive geometry giving us plenty of stability and confidence. Dropping into our first corner, it became clear that the Sniper is a bike that loves to be leaned over and pushed hard. The 760mm-wide bars gave us plenty of leverage to lean the bike over confidently. The stock Maxxis Rekon tires had very generous shoulder knobs that grabbed the trail effortlessly with the right air pressures.

Climbing: The Sniper has the soul of a cross-country race bike. It was able to efficiently conquer any climb in its path. Between the lightweight build and stiff frame, the Sniper climbed just as well as any XC bike we have tested. On steep technical climbs, the Sniper was stable and the Rekons had plenty of traction and grip. The steeper seat tube angle allowed our test riders to comfortably shift their weight forward to keep the front wheel planted and weight distributed evenly. Out of the saddle, the Sniper was lively and responded to our efforts without any hesitation.

Descending: With its longer wheelbase and shorter fork offset, the Sniper felt very balanced and stable, especially at high speeds. The larger 29-inch wheels made quick work of rocks and technical sections of trail. We were surprised at how capable the Sniper was with its minimal 100mm of travel. Hitting bigger drops and steep sections of trail, the Sniper tracked confidently and constantly had us pushing harder than we normally would on a bike with this much travel.

Braking: The stock Shimano XT brakes are heavier than other dedicated cross-country brakes but gave our test riders plenty of control. With the Maxxis Rekon tread and XT brakes, our test riders were able to control their speeds on steep terrain and into corners confidently.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

The build kit on the Sniper is dialed with an impressive complete weight. If you want to shed a few more grams, you can go with a dedicated cross-country tire from Maxxis such as the Aspen. Our bike shipped with one volume reducer in the fork, and all of our test riders agreed that an extra spacer balanced the feel of the bike when descending.

BUYING ADVICE

The Sniper is a bike that we didn’t see coming, and it has left a lasting impression. The lightweight build, efficient pedaling platform and descending capabilities put this beast into a category of its own. If you are a serious cross-country racer looking for a bike you can train and race on while still having a good time, the Sniper has a few tricks up its sleeve.

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