Intense offers the Sniper frame in different packages, including an XC model and a Trail model, both built around the same frame; however, one is a more traditional cross-country bike, while the other blurs the lines into the light trail category.
This month the wrecking crew got ahold of Intense Cycle’s 2020 Trailedition Sniper to see what the new version of this bike is all about.
The front triangle of the 2020 Sniper is virtually the same as that of the 2019 version; however, the updated rear triangle increases stiffness by adding a dual rear strut and cross brace. Intense found that Sniper riders, especially on the Trail models, were beginning to push the limits of the bike’s cross-country design. Enhancing the stiffness of the rear end allows the Sniper to accommodate riders looking for more of a lightweight trail bike than a beefed-up cross-country rig.
The rest of the amenities from the 2019 model are carried over, including internal cable routing, titanium hardware and the ability to carry two water bottles. Intense ups the travel on the Trail model to 120mm compared to the 100mm XC model and claims it shouldn’t have any issues running a variety of 2.4-inch-wide tires.
Three different build kits are available for both the Trail and XC frames for a total of six options, not including the two different frame-only kits. Expert builds in both categories start at $3,999 and work their way up to $6,999 for the Trail Elite model we tested here. Meanwhile, the Sniper XC Elite model costs an extra $100 to cover the cost of some weight-saving parts, such as a Kabolt bolt-on axle and a magnesium lower link instead of an alloy one. The XC model has a claimed weight of 23 pounds thanks to its narrower wheel and tire package. The Trail pounds, package. model we tested offers rims with a 4mm-wider inner width and pairs them with 2.35-inch Maxxis Forekaster tires. You can find the weight of this test bike in our spec chart.
The Sniper line uses Fox suspension, with XC models receiving 100mm travel, Float 32 Stepcast forks and Trail models getting 120mm-travel Float 34 Stepcast forks. Travel is matched in back to offer each model a balanced ride. The Sniper bikes rely on VPP-inspired JS Tuned linkage, with pedaling efficiency being the priority. Intense recommends 30-percent sag for its shorter-travel bikes, so we followed that advice. With proper sag and minor adjustments to our suspension knobs, we quickly found a sweet spot that provided great mid-stroke support. Additionally, the suspension offered a bottomless feel that surprised our riders considering the bike’s travel category. Even under hard compressions or huck-to-flat landings, our Sniper felt composed and ready for action.
DOWN AND DIRTY
The Sniper is built for riders looking to spend long days in the saddle conquering long climbs or speeding through rolling terrain. At heart, it’s a cross-country racer, but its increased travel makes it feel capable when downhill terrain presents itself.
The Sniper’s suspension felt absolutely dialed during climbs; however, we couldn’t say the same about the geometry. Today’s mountain bikes have steeper seat tube angles to help balance rider weight and place riders in a power position. The Sniper Trail has a seat tube angle that’s a degree slacker than that of the XC version, giving riders an off-the-back feeling during steep climbs. This made the bike want to wheelie up the hills and forced our test riders to lean further forward to get the wheel on the ground. That said, the suspension does an amazing job planting the rear wheel and propelling the bike forward.
On descents, the Sniper lights up and tosses its XC personality out the window. Our Sniper Trail never shied away from jumps or bonus lines. It handled small bumps with ease and charged intimidating rock gardens with confidence. All of our test riders agreed that if you could only have one bike to race cross-country on but still wanted a fun trail bike for time off the clock, the Sniper Trail would easily fill those shoes. It’s truly a weekend warrior built to shred descents and fly up climbs.
The hardest decision to make won’t be what parts to upgrade; instead, it will be figuring out which Sniper model is better suited to your needs. Riders who avoid getting their tires off the ground and want a bike built for pure speed will prefer the XC model. Meanwhile, the Trail model is designed for riders who like to drop the saddle and move around the bike, tossing it into turns and hurtling it off jumps. As far as the build packages are concerned, each of these builds does a nice job delivering value within its price point.
The Sniper Trail is a bike that won’t let you down. Sure, it’s not the best option for replacing a long-travel bike, but it does a great job of filling in as a part-time cross-country racer and a capable, short-travel trail bike. This bike would be ideal sharing garage space with an enduro bike, allowing a rider to cover a wide spectrum of riding styles with just two machines. It could also be a great solo bike for a rider who doesn’t need 5 or more inches of travel. This short-travel shredder will continue to be a popular model from Intense due to its versatility, value and ability to charge down singletrack.
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