Photos: Ryan Palmer
In a year when Intense Cycles is wheeling out an entire new line of bikes, all designed around the company’s new VPP-inspired suspension platform, taking inventory on all the changes can feel like thumbing through a card catalog at your old public library. And with each new bike boasting the contemporary “long and low” geometry, distinguishing one bike from the next could require the encyclopedic knowledge one might expect of a career librarian.
Having already spent some quality trail time on Intense’s recently revamped Spider 29c (read that review here)—which on paper bears a strikingly strong resemblance to this new Primer 29c—I wondered whether I would notice substantial differences in the two 29ers. But once I’d settled into this new Primer, I felt like I’d finally stumbled onto that elusive book that hadn’t been returned to its proper place on the library shelf.
As a continuing advocate of the current generation of 29ers—even amid the recent onslaught of capable, plus-size 27.5 bikes—one could rightly argue that I have a positive predisposition toward ‘wagon-wheeled’ bikes. And while this proclivity for the roll-over-anything characteristics of many 29ers might arouse suspicion of my conclusions, it also engenders a certain pickiness between 29ers. Having had the luxury of riding this top-of-the-line Primer 29c on a wide variety of terrain, however, I’ve had a hard time finding weaknesses in this bike’s performance vis-a-vis the handful of 29ers that I hold in the highest regard.
I first rode the new Primer 29c early this summer, at Intense’s soft-launch on the rocky-and-rugged trails of Sedona, Arizona—a place I’ve long felt plays to 29er strengths. With steep, punchy climbs filled with rocks and square-edged slabs, Sedona’s trails can really separate the wheat from the chaff. And from the first punishing technical climb, I was reaping the larger-wheeled rewards: Once at a consistent speed, the Primer 29c pummeled the rock-filled climbs up to the famed Hiline trail with the poise of the late Muhammad Ali knocking out George Foreman in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle. The VPP-esque ‘JS Tuned’ rear-suspension design (the ‘JS’ stands for ‘Jeff Steber,’ Intense’s founder and designer) provided a remarkably stable pedaling platform, and with the 130-millimeter Fox Factory Float EVOL shock set at around 25-percent sag, the bike fairly hummed through the most thankless of obstacles. The rear-wheel traction was impressive, even when grunting out of the saddle through loose, sandy sections, bringing out the brightest climbing characteristics of the finest 29ers.
After repeated rides up a wide range of taxing climbs, the Primer 29c never failed me, its 75-degree seat-tube angle placing me in a balanced position whether seated or standing out of the saddle. This, together with the longish, 23.5-inch toptube on my size-medium test bike, lent significant control over the front end, keeping the front wheel obedient despite the sensibly-slack 67.5-degree head angle.
This geometry repeatedly proved to be a sensible compromise between climbing and descending prowess, allowing me to enjoy the benefits of efficient climbing without sacrificing control and stability on steep descents. This proved to be the most noticeable difference between the Primer 29c and the more XC-oriented Spider 29c, whose steeper 68.5-degree head angle makes it noticeably less surefooted when descending through vertically-challenging terrain. And while the Spider 29c possesses more point-and-shoot precision in tight-and-twisty turns than the Primer 29c does, I’d trade that any day for the increased confidence that the Primer 29c affords on steep-and-technical descents. In this sense, the Primer outshines its lighter-duty Spider brother when it comes time for all-around trail duty. Though this Factory build comes with a 130-millimeter-travel Fox Factory 34 Float fork, the Primer 29 is designed to accommodate forks with up to 140 millimeters of travel—a choice that could put this bike squarely into the ‘aggressive trail’ category.
Adding to the Primer 29c’s trail credentials is the stiffness of the all-carbon chassis and rear triangle. The two higher-priced models, the Factory and Pro, have been molded with thinner walls and high-modulus carbon. The tube junctions have been visibly reinforced for additional strength in traditionally high-stress areas, and the beefed-up bottom bracket and enlarged swingarm tubes have added considerable stiffness to the frame. Further optimizing the Primer 29’s stiffness is the Boost 148 rear-hub spacing, which also allows for wider tires and shortened chainstays.
While the 17.25-inch-long chainstays are not the shortest among the current crop of trail 29ers, the Primer still feels fairly snappy and playful—and the upside of the chainstay length is an added stability when bombing down straight-ahead series of drops at high speeds. This type of terrain is perhaps where the new Primer shines the most, and this strength could also be explained by the relatively long 45.5-inch wheelbase of our size-medium test bike. In this sense, the Primer begs to be ridden hard and fast down burly straightaways, and I regret that I have to return the bike without testing its mettle on finger-fatiguing descents such as Moab’s Porcupine Rim trail.
This top-of-the-line Factory model retails for a whopping $9,500, but this build has been carefully spec’d with an impressive array of high-end parts—and it’s clear the company has not cut corners with any aspect of the build. In addition to the Fox Factory Float EVOL shock and the Fox Factory 34 Float fork, the bike comes with tried-and-true Shimano XTR brakes, trusty Renthal FatBar Carbon bars and a 50-mil Renthal Apex stem, DT Swiss XRC 1200 wheels, a 150-millimeter RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper and, of course, the new SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain. The only part of the spec that didn’t agree with me was the rounded-profile Fabric Scoop Radius Pro seat, and we all know that saddle choice is a highly personal affair.