Intense Primer S review

Santa Cruz Highball Xt Carbon C 29

Intense’s Primer S is a do-it-all trail bike targeted towards downhill grip and stability. Front travel has been upped by 10mm to 160mm over the standard 29er Primer, while there’s a bump-munching (but heavier) coil shock out back. This setup brings extra capability and a shift to an attitude that’s similar to Yeti’s SB140 T-Series LR, or what the EVO suffix has meant to Specialized. Using carbon throughout, Intense’s rig trounces many rival trail bikes in terms of value for money. The price advertised here is what you’ll pay to have the bike delivered in the UK too; there’s no mucking about with additional unseen charges as with some online brands.

Intense Primer S frame and suspension

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

Cables route internally at the junction of top and down tubes. Clean-lined and made from full carbon fibre, Intense’s glossy Primer has been around in various guises for a few years. As you’d expect from a brand with a big racing heritage, it comes across like a bit of a competition-level bike with its Ferrari-like styling. This racy outlook is reflected in the details. The Primer has a weight-saving carbon fibre upper rocker link and titanium hardware, which is the kind of bespoke equipment you’d expect to see on kit intended to stop clocks.

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

The presence of Öhlins suspension is a huge part of the Primer’s appeal. Two short counter-rotating links tune the suspension kinematics. These links in the Primer’s suspension form a virtual-pivot design with counter-rotating short links called JS-Tuned. It’s named after Jeff Steber, Intense’s founder and CEO, and works much like Santa Cruz VPP bikes before the brand switched to a lower link-driven design a few seasons back.

Intense Primer S geometry

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

A flip chip enables adjustment of the frame’s geometry between two positions. The UD carbon frame is adjustable over two positions via a flip chip at the rear triangle tips, where swapping hardware moves the lower-shock eyelet forwards or backwards to tweak geometry.

Low / HighLow / HighLow / HighLow / High
Seat angle (degrees)73.8 / 7573.8 / 7573.8 / 7573.8 / 75
Head angle (degrees)64.8 / 65.364.8 / 65.364.8 / 65.364.8 / 65.3
Chainstay (mm)441.5 / 440441.5 / 440441.5 / 440441.5 / 440
Seat tube (mm)408.4430.8451475.5
Top tube (mm)581 / 577612.7 / 607.4640 / 635.6676.4 / 672
Head tube (mm)9090100120
Bottom bracket drop (mm)33.8 / 30.334.1 / 30.434.3 / 30.2534.8 / 30.66
Bottom bracket height (mm)341 / 345341 / 345341 / 345341 / 345
Wheelbase (mm)1,173.7 / 1,172.61,204 / 1,2021,232.6 / 1,231.61,271 / 1,269.6
Standover (mm)813 / 818.7813 / 818.7816.5 / 818.7826 / 818.7
Stack (mm)618.6 / 610.9619 / 611629 / 620.4648 / 638.9
Reach (mm)401 / 420444 / 450469 / 475499 / 505

At a fraction under 470mm, the reach and 65-degree head angle are contemporary and in line with the bike’s peers, but the 73.8-degree effective seat angle that’s too tipped back for my taste definitely isn’t. There are also longer than average 441mm chainstays out back that seemingly exert a lot of leverage on the JS-links joining the two chassis halves, which we’ll get onto later.

Intense Primer S specifications

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

The Magura brake levers may divide the crowd. There’s a chunk of e*thirteen gear here, including 35mm carbon handlebars, a Vario dropper post (with a useful adjustable ride height) and the brand’s Helix + cranks. It’s all sorted and solid kit. The heavy-duty, DH-ready, LG1 enduro rims and race hubs from the same brand reinforce the sense that while e*thirteen hasn’t always had the best reputation for reliability, it’s improved massively on that front in recent years. Slowing down these heavier hoops are German Magura MT7 brakes. These work fine, but the lever-blade shape won’t be everyone’s favourite and a smaller 180mm rear rotor means brute stopping power isn’t huge. By far the most impactful kit choice, however, is having Öhlins suspension at both ends. It brings the brand’s unique damped and controlled feel to the Primer and defines the ride, especially with the incredibly smooth and fluid TTX rear coil shock.

Intense Primer S performance

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

The performance of the Öhlins suspension smoothes out most bumps in the trail. Öhlins suspension being the dominant force in the Primer’s personality is a good thing, especially in terms of downhill performance and control. The Swedish brand’s damping scrubs the worst edges off anything in your path and grip levels are phenomenal. It’s all a bit like riding on plasticine tyres, especially at the back end, so the Primer feels very planted on any terrain and particularly unshakeable if things get really hectic tackling repeated drops or smashing straight through rock gardens and G-outs.

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

Helix + cranks are among a tranche of e*thirteen kit on the Primer. How much this good suspension performance is down to Öhlins’ damping or to Intense’s frame and suspension design is hard to say, but, either way, it certainly doesn’t impact on pedalling prowess. Much like the older Santa Cruz VPP attitude it reminds me of, there’s a distinct surge on each downstroke and an efficient feel when accelerating. This is despite the heavy wheels and a draggy and sticky Maxxis MaxxGrip Minion tyre at the front.

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

An upgrade to a lighter wheelset could be a priority. This attribute would be easier to milk if the dated slack seated climbing position didn’t tip rider weight back. Even so, the Primer’s still a pretty good technical climber when you’re stood up or inched forward on the saddle. The Plentiful bite and traction means it can get up pretty much anything with the big Shimano 51t XT dinner-plate cassette. When linking corners or slamming berms, the Primer feels a little too high off the ground, and it left my feet higher than I’d like. The steering can feel a little vague and keeping perfectly on-line can be tricky.

Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike

At the front, Öhlins supplies its 160mm-travel RXF 36 M.2 fork. I had multiple instances of exiting high G-force berms or long, sweeping corners in slightly the wrong place, an issue I’ve not experienced on other, similar bikes. My hunch is frame flex between the frame halves or the front end is soft around the head tube, which leads to some chassis twisting. This means there’s less precise steering and pin-point front-tyre accuracy.

Male Rider In Yellow Top Riding The Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike Over Rocky Ground

The ride is calm and composed rather than wanton fun to throw about. It’s not the easiest bike to pop, manual and chuck about easily. That’s partly a consequence of the dull, calm and controlled Öhlins ride I mostly appreciated, but brings handling that’s almost the opposite of the Pivot Switchblade’s zing. Instead, the Primer floats over bumps like a butterfly. Ultimately, it feels like the Primer S can’t really make its mind up about what it wants to be. It’s too muted, stuck to the floor and vague in terms of handling to be a really nimble and reactive trail bike. Yet it’s not slacked-out, stiff and bombproof enough to hang with the best enduro bikes.

Intense Primer S bottom line

Male Rider In Yellow Top Riding The Intense Primer S Full Suspension Trail Bike Over Rocky Ground

It’s hard to argue with the value for money the Primer offers. Even bolstered by superb control and grip from the Öhlins suspension and good kit, Intense’s Primer S still offers slightly incoherent geometry, ride feel and handling. If price is your priority though, you’re getting easily as good a spec as rival trail bikes for at least £2,500 less cash.


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