Intense Tracer 279 Expert review


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Jun 05, 2023

Intense Tracer 279 Expert review

If it’s good enough for Aaron Gwin… This competition is now closed By Luke Marshall Published: August 3, 2023 at 12:00 pm The Intense Tracer 279 Expert is the brand’s long-travel mixed-wheel bike

If it’s good enough for Aaron Gwin…

This competition is now closed

By Luke Marshall

Published: August 3, 2023 at 12:00 pm

The Intense Tracer 279 Expert is the brand’s long-travel mixed-wheel bike that’s ready to tackle anything from the bike park to the world’s toughest enduro races.

With design input from Aaron Gwin, you can be sure the latest Tracer has had every detail thoroughly examined and tested.

It dishes out 170mm of travel front and rear, and has a mullet wheel setup. It features a full-carbon frame and a flip chip.

Coming in carbon fibre only, the Tracer 279 frame includes a carbon upper rocker and titanium hardware. While the suspension layout has changed, it still looks very much like an Intense.

The chunky down tube/bottom bracket area means there’s plenty of space for Intense’s Chad Storage System, named in memory of Intense’s late colleague and bike fanatic Chad Peterson.

It’s an internal frame compartment for stashing tools and spares. The hatch is easy to open and close, but because the cover is right in the firing line of mud and water, it may need regular maintenance to keep working as easily as intended.

The carbon frame gets all the usual refinements, including fully guided internal cable routing, space for a bottle cage, and a huge rear fender to protect the shock hardware and frame pivots from mud and grime.

There’s plenty of frame protection too, including the hefty shuttle guard under the down tube and comprehensive chainstay protection.

It also features Boost hub spacing and a threaded bottom bracket to make maintenance easier.

While it has been redesigned, the frame still uses Intense’s JS Tuned twin-link suspension approach. However, the shock is now driven by the lower-link as opposed to the upper one, as on older Tracer models released up to 2021. It’s also the same as that used on the latest Santa Cruz bikes.

What makes the Tracer different from Santa Cruz bikes is the lower-link pivots concentric to the bottom bracket with a hefty, forged rocker that uses huge bearings. This change is claimed to help lower the bike’s centre of gravity.

This redesign will also change the suspension leverage curve. The previous Tracer had a regressive/progressive leverage curve, or a ‘humped’ curve that meant the suspension was softest around the sag point. That wasn’t ideal for mid-stroke support or beginning-stroke sensitivity.

The new kinematics produce a consistently progressive leverage curve that should blend more supple initial sensitivity with greater mid-stroke support and decent ramp-up at the end of the travel.

This is a similar kinematic change to that seen when Santa Cruz updated its range to lower-link driven shocks.

The shock mounting point on the lower link features a flip chip for geometry adjustment, giving high and low settings. This changes the travel between 170mm and 167mm.

The geometry of the new Tracer 279 is modern without being overly progressive. There are four sizes available, from small to extra-large.

In the low setting, the medium-size test bike I rode has a 450mm reach.

The head tube angle is 64 degrees and the effective seat tube angle 77.4 degrees. These numbers, give-or-take, are the norm these days for aggressive long-travel bikes, and should suit the Tracer 279’s intended purposes well.

The chainstays are a sensible 439mm that balances speed and agility. The bottom bracket sits 12mm below the 650b rear axle, which is low but not wild.

The frame ticks a lot of boxes in terms of geometry.

For the price, the kit on the Intense is its weakness. Of course, you must consider the fancy carbon frame when assessing the value for money on offer. However, overall the spec is by some distance lower than the YT Capra MX Core 4 and Propain Spindrift MX Alloy Performance I’ve also tested.

The carbon frame comes with a fancy Fox DHX2 Performance Elite shock. However, this doesn’t get the high-speed rebound damping of the Factory model.

The forks are lower-spec Fox 38 Performance, with the GRIP damper.

However, this is a more usable fork for the majority of riders, thanks to its lighter damping than the higher-spec GRIP2 forks.

The Tracer gets a complete SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain with its 11-50t cassette. The brakes are SRAM’s Code R with 200mm rotors.

The Tracer rolls on e*thirteen LG1 Enduro rims with a 30mm internal width, laced with DT Swiss 2.0 spokes onto Intense alloy hubs.

It comes with Maxxis Minion DHF MaxxTerra 3C EXO+29×2.5in and Maxxis Minion DHR II MaxxTerra 3C EXO+27.5×2.4in tyres.

The Tracer 279 Expert is finished off with an e*thirteen cockpit, Intense dropper post and WTB Silverado saddle. My medium-sized test bike weighed in at 16.76kg without pedals.

It should be noted the Tracer 279 Expert comes with a tool kit including a shock pump, torque wrench with 16 tool bits, a 3-way Allen key, and a tubeless valve and tyre sealant.

I tested the Intense in a mix of wet and dry conditions at BikePark Wales and around the Forest of Dean in the south west of England.

This gave me a suitable choice of trails, ranging from fast bike park runs with drops, jumps, berms and plenty of rocks, to tighter twisting natural tech trails.

Sitting between shock spring rates for my 75kg weight, I first tested a 500lb spring recommended by Intense. Because the brand says the frame’s suspension is very progressive, it has installed four volume spacers in the forks to help balance the bike’s suspension.

This setting was far too firm and transferred too much feedback. I swapped to a 450lb spring, removed two volume spacers from the forks and reverted to my usual setup.

This is 88psi in the forks and low-speed compression damping fully open, with rebound set 14 clicks from closed out of 22. This gave me around 20 per cent sag.

For the shock settings, I ran the compression fully open, and used six clicks of low-speed rebound damping from closed out of 20. This gave me just over 30 per cent sag.

Given the coil shock and hefty weight, you would be forgiven for thinking the Tracer 279 Expert is a chore on the climbs.

It’s no racing rocket, but thanks to the MaxxTerra compound tyres, efficient suspension anti-squat and comfortable pedalling position, you can winch your way up most trails without feeling like you’re dragging an anchor.

I never reached for the shock’s climb switch, such was the composed manor when pedalling seated. If you can’t get an uplift every ride, the Tracer 279 Expert will climb as well as any of its long-travel peers.

Ripping the Intense down the trails, the bike delivers plenty of support to push against in turns and compressions.

That’s useful on smoother trails and jump lines, where you need to pump to keep momentum. The coil shock’s supportive mid-stroke props the bike up in its travel.

The frame’s high progression keeps it from blowing through its travel on bigger hits too. However, this isn’t to say the bike transfers lots of feedback to the rider.

The Tracer 279 Expert is impressive at muting the bumps and swallowing up square-edge hits. When tackling rock gardens or root spreads, it takes the sting out of the trail without wallowing deep into its travel.

The Intense uses its travel smartly and conserves it when it isn’t needed. This helps keep the bike’s chassis stable through rough terrain and in high-load turns, such as fast berms.

On bigger features and heavy drops, progression builds smoothly, and we didn’t have any harsh bottom-outs from the coil shock.

The smaller back wheel and moderate reach, head tube angle and chainstay length help keep the Tracer on its toes when you need to manoeuvre through tighter, more technical sections of trail.

You can lean the bike over easily to initiate turns, it finds traction where needed and isn’t shy of being pushed hard.

There are a couple of things I’d like to see changed, though. I’d appreciate a higher-rise handlebar and fewer spacers under the stem to not shorten the frame’s reach.

A grippier front tyre, such as a Maxxis MaxxGrip compound, would be more suitable on this bike.

While the biggest hindrance of the components on the Tracer 279 Expert is weight, and a slightly less refined feel, they didn’t hold me back when charging down rough bike park trails. It didn’t make climbing a grind either.

However, a lighter cassette and rear wheel might add a touch more sensitivity to the rear suspension and give the bike an even more lively feel on the trail.

Sure the Tracer is expensive for a bike with a SRAM NX groupset, and when compared to the YT Capra MX Core 4.

Still, the frame is the jewel of the bike, with impressive performance, plenty of attention to detail, some smart features and a ride character that’s truly versatile.

The YT Capra MX Core 4 is hard to beat on value for money. You get YT’s top carbon frame, full Fox Factory suspension and a SRAM X01 drivetrain. The Intense gets a beautiful carbon frame, but can’t compete in terms of spec for the price.

On the trail though, the difference in performance is less obvious. The Intense has a better pedalling platform and is more stable when winching uphill.

The YT needs the shock’s climbs switch to add stability to the rear end; both will get you to the top comfortably, but not in a rush.

On the way down, the YT isn’t as supportive, but gives a plusher ride. The suspension is fully capable of smoothing the roughest trails.

The Intense is a little more poppy and playful, but still has enough travel in reserve to soak up big hits.

It uses its travel more sparingly though. The YT is where I’d spend my money, thanks to its better value and easy riding demeanour on the trails.

While the Tracer may not represent the best value for money, it’s still more affordable now Intense is a direct-sales brand, and you still get that boutique bike feel.

The bike is a blast to ride that will tackle whatever you can throw at it. It feels responsive on mellower flow lines and it’ll shred pro lines and have your back while doing so.

The handling is intuitive, the suspension capable, and the frame has plenty of performance potential with some key spec upgrades.

The bikes here made up a long-travel, mixed-wheel bikes test. These bikes should excel in the bike park and on the steepest, roughest natural tech there is.

If gravity-fuelled action floats your boat, but you’re not riding the uplift every weekend, these bikes should still be able to get you to the top of the hill under your own power and provide a wide smile on the way back down.

Technical writer

Luke Marshall is a technical writer for BikeRadar and MBUK magazine. He's been working for both titles since 2018 and has over 20 years of mountain biking experience. Luke is a gravity-focused rider with a history of racing downhill, previously competing in the UCI Downhill World Cup. Educated to a degree level in engineering and with a penchant for full-throttle speed, Luke is more than qualified to put every bike and product through its paces to bring you informative and independent reviews. You'll most likely find him on a trail, enduro or downhill bike riding the off-piste tracks around south Wales and the south west of England. He often makes an appearance on BikeRadar's podcast and YouTube channel.