Bike: 2015 Intense Tracer T275C
Size Tested: Medium
Geometry: See page 2
- Drivetrain: SRAM XX1
- Brakes: Shimano XTR
- Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3
- Shock: Cane Creek Double Barrel Air (Upgrade option from Rock Shox Monarch Plus RC3)
Travel: 140mm – 160mm (adjustable)
Reviewer Info: 5’9”, 155 lbs.
Test Location: Boulder City, Nevada
Interbike’s outdoor demo is located at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s a fantastic network of trails, and it’s a great escape from that wretched hive of filth and villainy that is Las Vegas.
The trails we spent most of our time on were relatively fast, with a fair amount of sand and some pretty rocky sections.
Having said that…
Riding bikes at a demo is always kind of tricky. For starters, we’re unable to get as much time on each bike as we like–our test durations are measured in minutes and hours, not our preferred time frame of weeks and months. One good ride can tell you a lot about how a bike handles, but it certainly doesn’t allow for the customary, in-depth, Blister analysis.
Demo days also don’t generally permit the time needed to get each bike dialed to our liking. A quick suspension setup and fiddling with the bike’s ergonomics gets it most of the way there, but it takes days to really get everything running just right. Furthermore, differences like tire selection and tire pressure can have a huge effect on how a bike rides, and we generally don’t have the chance to get to tinker with those variables too much.
So while we believe it’s important to be upfront about the limitations of reviewing bikes in such settings, there is also merit in riding a slew of bikes, back to back, on the same trail. Subtle differences that might not become apparent if our test rides happen weeks or months apart are able to come to light, and each bike’s attributes may be more easily identified.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Intense Tracer 275C.
Intense’s owner, Jeff Steber, started turning out hydro-formed aluminum frames in the mid ‘90s that, at the time, were pretty exotic and groundbreaking. There was nothing cooler than Shaun Palmer getting heli-dropped onto the Viper Trail aboard an Intense M1.
Fast forward 18 years or so, and Shaun Palmer is back on board with Intense, and the old Horst link Intense bikes have been replaced by a slew of bikes with VPP (variable pivot point) suspension designs. There are still quite a few hydro-formed aluminum frames in their lineup, but Intense’s stable now includes a number of carbon trail bikes, too.
The new Tracer 275 comes in both carbon and aluminum constructions, built around the same basic VPP platform that Intense has been using for a while. With travel ranging from 140mm – 160mm and a relatively slack 66.5° head angle, the Tracer 275 sits somewhere between more trail-oriented bikes like the Santa Cruz Bronson, and longer travel “enduro” bikes like the Devinci Spartan.
The carbon Tracer 275C that I rode was equipped with Intense’s top of the line “Factory” build, comprised of a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, Enve wheels, Shimano XTR brakes, a Rockshox Pike RCT3, and a Cane Creek Double Barrel Air rear shock. Needless to say, hung on a carbon frame, this is a light but expensive build.
I didn’t put enough time on the Tracer 275C to really test all its components fully, but the brakes and drivetrain seemed to work flawlessly, as did the Pike, which I think is one of the best forks on the market. The build left little, if anything, to be desired.
Having spent a bit of time with the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air, I can say that it’s a very good rear shock. I will also say, however, that the shock can make it difficult to get a quick, initial impression of any bike it’s on. The CCDB is highly adjustable and I can eventually get it to feel good on almost any bike. But that adjustment process takes a number of rides and a bit of patience, so it can be tough to distinguish the suspension attributes of the frame vs those of the shock (which may not be tuned to your liking) in only a number of hours on a bike. While riding the Tracer 275C, the CCDB’s air pressure and rebound felt like they were in the right ballpark for me, but there are a number of other adjustments I didn’t have the opportunity to play with.
The geometry numbers on the Tracer 275C are pretty average / middle-of-the-road. In a size Medium, the frame has a 585 mm (23”) top tube, a 416 mm (16.4”) reach, and 432 mm (17”) chainstays. All of that makes for a comfortable bike that doesn’t feel particularly long or short.
The Tracer’s head tube comes in at 66.5°, and the seat tube is 74.5° (effective). Both of those numbers are a little bit on the steep side if you’re comparing the Tracer to some of the more slacked-out “enduro” bikes, which are slacker than some of the more trail-oriented bikes like the Santa Cruz Bronson or Devinci Troy.
The Tracer has two different travel settings (140mm or 160mm), which are set by moving the shock’s rearward mounting bolt. Intense’s website doesn’t give separate geometry numbers for both travel positions, but I would be fairly surprised if the numbers remain the same for both positions. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to take any measurements of my own, so I can’t confirm this, nor can I say which travel position the above geometry numbers are measured in.
VPP Suspension Designs
As I mentioned in my short writeup of the Santa Cruz Bronson, historically I haven’t been a huge fan of bikes with VPP (“Virtual Pivot Point”) suspension designs. I feel like they lack a bit of mid-stroke support, making them more difficult to pump and pop through undulating terrain. As soon as I push on the rear end to pop off of something, the bottom drops out and I don’t get the pump that I’m looking for.
VPP bikes seem to be more sensitive to the tune and settings on the rear shock than many other frames, and that may be why I haven’t gotten along with them in the past. More often than not, I’ve ridden VPP demo bikes or friend’s bikes with shocks that may not have been set up just right for me. These issues aren’t pervasive across the VPP spectrum, however. I had a good time on the Bronson when I rode it, and it didn’t feel like the other VPP’s I’d been on.
So, long story short, it was with some curiosity that I climbed aboard the Tracer 275C.
For my first lap on the Tracer, its shock was set to short-travel mode. I didn’t realize this at first, and I thought Intense had made a terrible mistake; the bike felt twitchy and unstable, without that efficient, snappy feeling that I associate with shorter travel bikes like the Salsa Horsethief or the GT Helion. But once I realized I was in short travel mode and switched the shock to its 160mm setting, the bike was much happier.
I was neither disappointed nor impressed by the Tracer 275C’s pedaling efficiency. It didn’t feel nearly as efficient as the Bronson, yet it wasn’t bobbing far more than other bikes in this category, either. With the shock in climb mode, the bike was much more efficient, albeit at the cost of some comfort and traction.
With its shock in descend mode, the Tracer was fairly composed. The bike is not an ultra-stable sled, but it was comfortable plowing into some roughness with speed. I’d say the Tracer is a little more stable than the Santa Cruz Bronson, Niner WFO, and the Devinci Troy, but it’s not as stable as bikes like the Giant Reign, Devinci Spartan, or GT Sanction. Sticking an angle set in the Tracer and slacking out the front end a little more could squeeze a bit more stability out of the bike, if one felt so inclined.
The Tracer still exhibited some of those tendencies of VPP bikes that I don’t really like. The bike absorbed bumps smoothly, had pretty good small-bump compliance, and didn’t feel like it was easily overwhelmed by large hits. However, it lacked the mid-stroke support that I prefer. Whenever I tried to pump through some rollers or load up the Tracer’s suspension to pop off a small feature, I felt like its suspension was dropping out from under me. This wasn’t as dramatic as on some other VPP bikes I’ve ridden in the past, but the feeling was still there.
This won’t be a problem if you want to cruise along moderate trails in the saddle, or truck straight through chunder. But if you want to bounce down the trail and play off of all those little bumps and rolls on the side of the trail, the Tracer feels a little dead compared to a more playful bike like the Transition Patrol.
As I mentioned above, quite a bit of this may have had do with how the rear shock was set up. While I made some initial adjustments, I didn’t have the chance to really dial things in. After some more tuning of the rear shock, I may have been able to get the Tracer 275C running more to my liking. I’m not prepared to say, categorically, that regardless of the shock and tune, the bike will feel dead or lack mid-stroke support, but the Tracer 275C I rode felt similar to most other VPP bikes I’ve ridden in this respect.
The Intense Tracer 275C is very much a contender in the ~160mm class, especially if light weight is a priority and especially if you like the way bikes with VPP suspension designs handle. If you’re thinking you want something a hair slacker and more stable than the Santa Cruz Bronson or Intense Carbine, but you’re not prepared to jump all the way up to something like a Santa Cruz Nomad, the Tracer could work nicely for you.
I’m hoping to spend more time on a Tracer 275C to see if I can get the rear suspension better tuned to my liking.
Next Page: Geometry