Intense is best known for its gravity-oriented bikes, but the Sniper XC is designed for life on the cross-country course. With Intense’s DNA so entangled in DH, this 100mm-travel race bike has particular pedigree on the descents. However, the climbs are just as important on cross-country bikes, so how well does the Sniper fare?
How we tested
This bike was tested as part of a three-bike group test. We wanted to see just how capable these bikes really are when placed between the legs of someone who isn’t a World Cup racer. During testing, we rallied them through berms and over jumps, slithered down slippery chutes and scared ourselves (to greater and lesser extents!) over matted roots, during a particularly damp early winter.
To keep heart rates up, we’ve also given them every watt our legs can muster, both on long, draggy climbs and short, sharp technical ascents. Trail centre laps have given us consistent conditions in inclement weather, while forest tracks have really helped sort our podium’s ultimate order. Having raced locally, we’ve also put some times down around courses we’ve competed on previously.
To hit the top step of our test, the bikes not only have to efficiently dole out power on climbs, but also not cost us time on the descents. Value is an ever-present assessment in a bike review, so we’ve checked every part to make sure they pass muster, and we’ve stripped the essential parts of the bike down to make sure that when you’re giving your bike that final bit of prep on Friday night ready for Saturday’s race, you won’t be tearing your hair out.
Also on test
- Scott Spark Team Issue AXS
- KTM Scarp Master
Intense Sniper XC frame and suspension
Intense’s Jeff Steber gives his name to the JS Link suspension format, which is a virtual pivot point design, whereby front and rear triangles are connected by a pair of links. The idea is to better tune the rear wheel’s arc, and reaction to pedal, brake and bump inputs.
The JS Tuned suspension link, named after Jeff Steber, is Intense’s take on a VPP linkage, with the two triangles linked by two short links. Both front and rear triangles are carbon, and the top link that drives the shock is composite. The rear triangle is asymmetric, with the non-drive side receiving the extra vertical brace at the front, boosting stiffness. The front triangle has space for two bottle cages, with the one mounted on the seat tube required to be side-loading.
The only downside to an otherwise excellent chassis. While cables are routed internally, I needed to use a zip-tie to tether the rear brake hose closer to the frame and prevent it rubbing on the spokes.
Intense Sniper XC geometry
The frame’s geometry is modern, with a long 468mm reach and slack-for-XC 67.5-degree head angle. The 488mm seat tube is also long, meaning I had my 150mm dropper slammed in the tube.
|Top tube length (mm)||584||609||635||660|
|Chain stay length (mm)||440||440||440||440|
|Head tube length (mm)H||90||95||105||115|
|Head tube angle (degrees)||67.3||67.3||67.3||67.3|
|BB height (mm)||330||330||330||330|
|BB drop (mm)||38||38||38||38|
|Seat tube angle (degrees)||74||74||74||74|
|Seat tube length (mm)||406||437||488||538|
|Standover height (mm)||769||771||776||781|
|Fork axle to crown (mm)||503.7||503.7||503.7||503.7|
|Fork offset (mm)||44||44||44||44|
|Front centre (mm)||689||715||742||768|
Intense Sniper XC specifications
Shimano’s SLX running gear is almost identical in performance to XT, save for the lack of a double-release shifter, but it helps keep the pricing of the bike competitive. The 2.25in Rekon tyres from Maxxis roll fast and are triple-compound MaxxSpeed models, though the e13 XCX rims are narrow in comparison to others, at 24mm internally. This pinches the tyres, giving them a more rounded profile, compromising cornering performance.
The narrow rims pinched the otherwise usually great Rekon tyres. Suspension is Performance-level kit from Fox, so utilises a simpler GRIP damper in the fork. It was a touch harsher over sharp edges than a RockShox SID found on some other XC bikes. While they’re becoming more common on XC bikes, it’s good to see a dropper on the Sniper XC. With skinny tyres compromising downhill performance, the ability to get the saddle out of the way makes a difference on descents. There is, of course, some weight penalty though.
The compression lever’s location would be easier to access if the shock was rotated by 180 degrees. Sadly, it can’t be. The other downside of the installation of a dropper is that it prevents Intense from speccing a remote for the fork and shock. With the shock’s lockout lever located near my knees, I found it difficult to access at times. All in, given the price and addition of the dropper, the 11.94kg weight is acceptable.
Intense Sniper XC ride impressions
Despite its gravity heritage, Intense has built a really good XC bike – though that DNA certainly shines through on the trail. My testing took place on a wide range of trails – from fast trail-centre blasts, to natural lines through the woods. I also took the bike bike on some full-gas efforts around an XC course I’d raced previously, to see how it fared when my lungs were screaming.
Fox’s lower leg architecture has a reduced width, shaving weight. It’s enabled by the stepped lowers that still allow for Boost hub spacing.
Intense Sniper XC climbing performance
While not as direct as bikes such as the KTM Scarp Master, the JS Link suspension works well on the Sniper XC when it comes to propelling the bike uphill. With the shock left open it’s not super-firm, but certainly avoids feeling wallowy and soft. This means on smooth climbs, whether fire-road drags or undulating singletracks, I rarely felt the need to toggle the shock from open to medium or firm.
Firm under pressure, the Sniper XC climbs well. This is handy, as the Sniper doesn’t have a remote lockout. The body of the shock is orientated in such a way that the lockout switch is almost under the saddle, and is located under the shock, making it relatively tricky to adjust in a hurry. Were the shock mounted the other way round (sadly not possible thanks to its trunnion architecture), it might be easier. On these root-infested test climbs, the Sniper did well. The kinematics of the suspension help keep the bike driving forward, while it dealt with root steps well, boosting grip and helping me maintain a climbing rhythm.
There’s a lot of heritage behind that headbadge. The only time I really caught the Sniper out uphill was on tightly packed camel humps, where the suspension seemed to drop deep into its travel as the rear wheel rolled through the dip in the middle, before lurching up and over the next hump. This might be attributed partly to the slack 74-degree seat angle. In this instance, it may have your weight further back than it might otherwise be, especially as while the rear wheel is at the base of the roller, the front is already on its way up the next, further pushing your weight rearward. When sprinting, there was some pedal bob, as to be expected. It wasn’t wallowy, but a remote lockout would be useful in such situations.
Shimano’s SLX drivetrain works well.
Intense Sniper XC descending performance
With the brand’s history entrenched in gravity mountain biking, it’s no surprise that the Sniper descends well. The geometry is competitive, with a slack head angle and generous reach, leading to a stable ride on faster, looser surfaces – assuming you can handle the rounded profile of the Rekon tyres. While the tread pattern of the Rekon is shared across its various widths and carcass constructions, it’s noticeable how different performance can be when width, carcass and compound are taken into account. With a 2.25in width and fairly narrow rims, there’s not a huge amount of volume there, which reduces their composure over bumpy surfaces.
The Sniper XC is an absolute hoot on the descents. While JS Link suspension hasn’t always gained fans in longer-travel applications, on this 100mm version there’s decent support and ample progression. Although it will use all 100 of its millimetres, it doesn’t feel as though you crash off the base of the shock too regularly. I also found it relatively straightforward to set up the suspension just right. The Sniper is smooth, but not sofa-like on rough descents. It doesn’t ping off every piece of debris you encounter, despite the tyres, but it’s not quite a magic carpet either. As such, it still demands some attention when making progress on rougher tracks.
Chassis stiffness is balanced well, enabling you to point it through a line confidently. It’s not so stiff that it ricochets from rock to rock, but also avoids feeling soggy when you load it up into a berm. A stiffer fork, such as the 35mm SID or a Fox 34 SC would only boost capabilities, as the 32 can flutter when pushed.
Adding a dropper only boosts the bike’s descending capabilities. Where the Sniper shone was on tight twisting descents, which weren’t overly rough. It felt like the bike was eager to chop and change direction, and I always felt in control when I locked the rear wheel to flick it round a bend. The relatively wide 760mm bars and short-ish 50mm stem almost certainly helped here. The inclusion of a dropper rather than a lockout remote will be a bonus to all but the most traditional XC racers. And, truth be told, droppers on an XC bike make a world of difference when your tyres are scrabbling for grip and your fork’s 100mm of travel is giving you all its got. With the saddle out of the way, you can drop your heels and let the bike rip.
Intense Sniper XC bottom line
Intense’s XC bike proved capable between the tapes. Intense has proved that it’s not a brand to overlook if you’re on the hunt for an XC bike. While the lockout switch is hard to access, I rarely felt the need to flick it, and the addition of a dropper is worth the inconvenience. The Sniper has one of the best chassis around for XC racing. Great geometry is paired with fore-to-aft stiffness, and composed suspension up and down. However, the fork is flexy and not as composed as posher models, and the tyre and wheel combo is just too narrow to fully exploit that great chassis