Intense Tracer 29
$2,280 (frame and shock) / intensecycles.com
From the Designer
We wanted to make a 29er for the non-29er crowd--no disrespect intended--a burly 29er that was made to thrash and play, yet still had the finesse to hammer uphill and on the flats. We wanted to build a bike that would be ahead of its time and would define the category.
Tester 1: Vernon Felton
Years Riding: 22
Test Locale: Bellingham, WA
Intense has taken their brawny Tracer 2, and made a 29er of it. You're looking at 5 to 5.5 inches (adjustable) of VPP suspension wrung out of a low-slung aluminum frame. This is no psuedo all-mountain bike. The stout frame sports a full 1.5-inch headtube and ISCG 05 tabs. Out back, the Intense's replaceable rear dropouts, enable you to run either 135-millimeter quick release or 142×12 through-axle hubs.
Out on the trail, the Intense swallows ugly terrain. The big wheels help, but the kudos here really go to the excellent rear suspension. As with most Virtual Pivot Point bikes, the Intense climbs and accelerates like a much lighter trail bike, but where some VPP bikes suffer from poor small bump compliance, the T29 is positively silky over washboards and roots.
Intense bills the T29 as a "trail bike", but there aren't a lot of trail bikes, or 29ers for that matter, that excel in such steep and unforgiving terrain. This bike comes ready to brawl.
There are, however, a few drawbacks to the larger hoops. The long chainstays and wheelbase (18 and 46 inches, respectively) make performing manuals a bit of a chore; and while those same dimensions boost the bike's high-speed stability, they also add up to some loss in nimbleness. That, however, didn't stop me from constantly reaching for the Intense.
Tester 2: Seb Kemp
Years Riding: 15
Test Locale: Bellingham, WA
By some stroke of transmutative genius, an all-mountain bike is supposed to give a sense of both fire and ice--as merciful on the climbs as a cross-country bike and as forgiving on the downs as a downhill bike. There are many examples of bikes that have managed, by using varied concoctions of base materials, to achieve some semblance of all-mountain gold, but Jeff Steber's Intense Tracer 29 has used the most unlikely of magic fixing agents to make what is arguably one of the best-performing and rider-friendly all-mountain bikes.
The Tracer 29 pedals with the light-footed prowess of a 29er, skipping and smoothing its way up climbs--technical or buff.
The long and low cockpit feels roomy and drawn out enough for seated duties, and gives lots of latitude for body English when the trail gets technically demanding.
The relatively long wheelbase and wider contact patch of the bike meant it felt genuinely as stable as a downhill bike when pushing into corners, charging the rough and jumping. Yep, this bike does all the things that 29ers aren't supposed to do (if you believe what you read on chat forums).
This is exactly the kind of genre-defying bike that shouldn't be made, but thank goodness Intense has, because both high-octane chargers and less-than-confident riders could benefit from the Tracer 29.
Intense's Two Cents
What Vernon and Seb are describing is a true testament to people actually riding the bike, not discussing it, not thinking about it, not reading the specs, but getting on it and shredding.
There have been so many Internet chat forum battles with people saying, "Do you really need that much travel on a 29er? It kind of defeats the purpose." But like I said, they simply have not ridden a Tracer 29. We have customers of all ages and all types of riding backgrounds who assume the bike will be slow, sluggish and heavy feeling, yet walk away thoroughly surprised by the bike. --Jeff Steber