2017 Intense Primer Pro

Words Andrew Major
Photos Dave Smith
Date Nov 13, 2016

Intense Primer Pro

What weighs 27.2 pounds and looks awesome? An orange & grey, size large, 2017 Intense Primer Pro. I am told that I have questionable taste so I asked around. The consensus is that this carbon rocketship is one of the nicest looking machines Intense has ever made.

Once paired with a 140mm fork and 29″ wheels, the 115 or 130mm travel Primer Pro frame is in position to attack the trail bike genre. I would describe the current state of this category as wicked fast mid-travel bikes that are pedaled all day while snatching riders from the jaws of doom with their big hoops and aggressive geometry.

Intense Primer Pro

Intense Primer Pro by the numbers: 115 or 130mm travel rear. 140mm travel front. 27.2 pounds. 67.5-degree head tube angle. 72.3-degree seat tube angle (actual). 75-degree seat tube angle (‘effective’). 438mm (17.25″) chainstays. 453mm (17.8″) reach & 628mm (24.7″) stack for a size large.

Primer vs. Carbine

Intense’s history as a race brand is wholly documented, aggressively marketed, and if you’re wondering what Leigh Donovan or any of their other past champions are up to these days, it seems they still love to ride bikes.

I’m most interested in what the Primer Pro has inherited from its bigger sibling the Carbine. I’ve ridden the last two generations of Carbine – with a variety of shocks – and they are wickedly fast. The Primer has shorter stays, a longer reach, and only a half-degree steeper headtube angle. This from a bike pumping out only 10mm less rear wheel travel and up to 20mm less front travel.

Intense Primer Pro

Carbine 29’er 140mm front and 125/140mm rear with a PUSH Coil shock and Ohlins fork. Photo: Kaz Yamamura

Intense Primer Pro

Primer 29’er 140mm front and 115 or 130mm rear with a Fox Performance DPS EVOL shock and Fox Performance Elite fork.

This is where the Primer Pro vs. Carbine gets interesting. With a 150mm or 160mm fork installed the Primer Pro would still have a far steeper seat tube angle (STA) than a Carbine – both effective and actual. That’s amazing potential for a trendy bit of 29’er over-forking.

For the purpose of this review process, I’ll be running the stock 140mm fork. That said, the Primer is also available as a frameset.

Intense Primer Pro

The fork is a Boost (110x15mm) Fox 34 Float Performance Elite. It uses Fox’s top-end FIT4 damper with adjustable low-speed damping. Actually, both the fork and shock are identical to Fox’s premium ‘Factory’ level suspension excepting the lack of Kashima coating on the stanchions and body. Teardown article with SuspensionWerx coming soon.

Suspension Components

First off I’d like to clear up a bit of confusion. This is after all an $8400 (CAD) bike equipped with Fox Performance level suspension? The Fox Performance Elite DPS EVOL shock is identical to Fox’s boutique Factory models minus the Kashima treatment so this shouldn’t be seen as a big downgrade.

I like that Intense used a very common 200 x 50mm shock (7.875 x 2.0″) as opposed to a smaller, lighter, and less common 190 x 50mm shock (7.5 x 2.0″).

The stock fork is a Boost (110 x 15mm) Fox 34 Float Performance Elite. The ‘Elite’ moniker is reserved for original equipment Performance forks equipped with a bladder-style Fox FIT4 damper. This is a notable upgrade compared to the standard Fox Performance fork which uses Fox’s new budget conscious ‘Grip’ damper. The fork feels great right out of the box.

Intense Primer Pro

The Intense Primer Pro’s Fox Performance Elite DPS EVOL shock is identical to Fox’s top end Factory models but for the lack of Kashima coat treatment. The carbon link has two travel positions, 115mm and 130mm, with the upper hole being the long travel position.

Suspension Design

The suspension design is now called ‘JS Tuned‘ in honour of Intense’s founder and head designer Jeff Steber. Don’t Panic! It’s still the tried and true virtual pivot point design that Intense has been employing for years. A solid front triangle and solid rear triangle joined by two short-and-stiff counter-rotating links. That’s great because the suspension system is proven to work well in most situations.

Intense’s two travel positions are quickly accessed by swapping the shock’s rear eyelet between two holes in the linkage. This is accomplished by removing and installing a single 5mm hex head bolt. What’s interesting is that the travel swap preserves the bike’s static geometry. The leverage ratio does change from an average 2.3:1 in the short travel setting to 2.6:1 in the long travel setting. That means that the air pressure needed to get proper sag and support may need a refresh between travel settings.

Intense Primer - first impressions - grease port

The Primer has solid front and rear triangles joined by a pair of short, stiff, counter rotating links. The lower link is equipped with grease ports.

Is It Still Okay…

… to talk about stock handlebars being too narrow?

My tape measure says the 31.8 x 50mm Thomson stem is mated to a 760mm handlebar. On a size large frame. MEC, who carries Intense bikes in Canada, state the cockpit combo boost the Primer Pro’s “specialness” but I’m scratching my head a little. I’m 5’9″ with T-Rex’s ape index and I prefer a 780mm or 800mm bar on my bike. Prefer a narrower setup? It’s a lot cheaper (and easier) to chop a bar down than replace (or grow) it to a wider one.

One of the first comments I heard about the gray & orange Intense was a disparaging note about the lack of a carbon handlebar on an $8400 bike. I’m on record as being a big fan of Renthal’s aluminum bars in general, so that doesn’t bother me at all. Well, aside from the width.

Intense Primer Pro

I love Renthal’s aluminum bars but I am truly surprised to see a 760mm bar spec’d on the Primer Pro. Especially on a size large frame. It’s an easy swap at the time of purchase but I can only imagine dealers getting more reluctant to take 31.8mm bars and stems in trade?

Watcha Rollin’ On?

The Primer Pro is spec’d with DT Swiss M 1700 Spline 2 wheels with IS 6-bolt rotor mounting. The rims sport a narrow internal width of 22.5mm but DT Swiss categorizes them for ‘All Mountain’ usage. Its a great looking laterally and torsionally stiff wheelset and the rear hub internals are upgradeable for faster engagement.

The M 1700 wheelset comes with a maximum rider weight limit of 120kg /266lbs. Riders approaching 19 stone with gear aren’t uncommon and I know a few guys who only hit that after a good movement – so be aware Super Duper Clydesdales.

Intense Primer Pro

The DT Swiss M 1700 wheelset has a rider weight limit of 120kg. The stock Nobby Nic tires are a solid all-around choice for the Primer Pro’s category; I’ve swapped the front to the rear and put a used Magic Mary up front. Photo: Andrew Major

The Primer Pro’s wheels are tubeless ready with rim tape installed. The stock tubes are paper thin – insert reminder of 27lbs weight here – so I’d recommend going Tubeless or changing them out before hitting any aggressive trails.

The rear wheel on the Intense comes stock with DT Swiss’ 18t star ratchet set. That means a lackluster 20-degrees of movement between engagement points. It is a very, very, quick and tool-free job to upgrade to DT’s 36t or 54t ratchet kits for significantly faster hub engagement at some cost to durability. The upgrade is an additional $125-$145 (CAD) on top of the cost of the bike.

Intense Primer Pro

Nobby tires in the winter love to throw mud in your eye. Good thing for the NSMB #longlivechainsaw front fender.

A Product Manager’s Hardest Job?

In my mind picking OE tires for a bike is a product manager’s biggest challenge. Personally, I think Intense did a great job with the Primer Pro. The front tire is a Schwalbe Nobby Nic 29 x 2.35 in the Trailstar compound and the rear is a Nobby Nic 29 x 2.25 in the harder, faster-rolling, longer-wearing Pacestar compound.

It’s winter on the North Shore, so I have swapped the 2.35 Trailstar Nic to the rear and installed a used Magic Mary up front for the local conditions but for much of the year, and most places, the stock combo is great for a 130mm trail bike.

Intense Primer - first impressions - Fabric saddle

The Fabric Scoop saddle is a great, neutral, choice that will work well for a large cross-section of riders. I’m pleasantly surprised as my other Scoop experience was on a carbon-railed model and it was STIFF. The latest gen 125mm Reverb dropper post goes up and down smoothly.

Defined or Restrained?

Does the Intense Primer Pro level build kit help define or simply restrain the bike?

The 760mm bar, SRAM LEVEL TLM brakes, Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires front and rear, 22.5mm internal width DT Swiss rims, and the 27lb weight all place it firmly in the trail bike category.

At the same time, my experience with the Carbine is such that I’d choose a more aggressive build if this was my personal bike. In my mind, the Primer is fighting for aggressive 29’er traction with category originators like the Kona Process 111, Banshee Phantom, Transition Smuggler, and Specialized Stumpjumper. I think the Primer would make the most of the weight penalty for more powerful brakes, a wide bar, and a more aggressive tire up front.

Intense Primer Pro

SRAM’s LEVEL TLM brake shares the great lever feel of the Guide brakes; however they may be light duty for the type of riding the Primer is capable of.

SRAM says the LEVEL brakes are “optimized specifically for cross-country and light trail use” so I’m perplexed by that spec choice. Especially given that the more aggressive Guide brakes have an awesome lever feel but aren’t exactly rim vices on the trail.

I recognize this bike is spec’d for a wide range of riders hitting varied terrain all over the world. There are always going to be some compromises for any given region with a stock bike. So, I am going to try running larger rotors before drawing conclusions for the follow-up article.

Intense Primer Pro

In a nod to European sales (?) the Primer Pro is front derailleur compatible. This is my second experience with SRAM X0 Eagle and it’s a great choice for this bike.


Gears for climbing, gears for descending, gears for in between. Like the Santa Cruz Nomad I have been riding, 1x drivetrains work optimally for Intense bikes. The 34t ring up front is a great pairing for the Primer.

As with my other Eagle experience, the shifting is crisp but smooth and there is no chain derailment during backpedaling. The derailleur cage also has more clearance when mated with 29″ wheels.

Intense Primer Pro

I’m coming to terms with the look of 10-50t cassettes and, aesthetics aside, the shifting quality and chain retention of a fresh X0 Eagle drivetrain is excellent.

Second Look

The Primer Pro auditions for the role of an awesome ‘Shore XC’ bike as it sits. No question. The Fox Performance Elite fork and shock are smooth out of the box. Combined with the VPP suspension they provide great support. The fresh SRAM X0 Eagle drivetrain shifts elegantly through a 500% gear range.

I think most riders appreciate that OE-spec tires are not going to suit every customer. Swapping the stock rubber to something appropriate to local conditions is the fairest way to test a bike. And, a local Intense dealer should be able to support their customers with the best advice for local terrain.

I’ve already swapped out the 760mm bar for a wider one. I’d also like to try the bike with more aggressive brakes for comparison’s sake but I’m going to start by up-sizing the brake rotors first. It’s a very fun machine to ride and I’m looking forward to this test period.

For more on the Primer hit up Intense Cycles. In Canada you can check it on the MEC site.

I’m Primered for an Intense winter.


Nov. 18, 2016, 5:06 a.m. -  Sean Muldoon

I purchased this same bike and waiting for it to come in. I rode the hightower loved it but get a deal through intense for a shop i race for. I thought the fork was 130 not 140? I was planning on getting air rod to move it to 140 because website says 130? Also how does this feel compared to hightower? I am planning on doing 36t rachet upgrade and throwing on xtr brakes i already have. The wheels might swap out to i9 next year. I use nomad for burly enduro but plan on using this for trail bike and some more pedallier enduros.


Nov. 18, 2016, 9:15 a.m. -  DrewM

Hi Sean,

There is conflicting information on the web, so I measured the fork myself. It's definitely a 140mm.

I haven't ridden the High Tower so I'm unhelpful there. I do find with the stock shock tune (185lbs riding a large) I like the performance of the suspension in the long travel mode. I only use the DPS on the road and the bike is happy charging about in the 130mm setting even for some standing bursts.

With the Carbine I preferred the shorter mode except for straight line rough descents so that's where I started on the Primer.

Stock rims are good quality (definitely upgrade hubs)… it's just any "real" sized tire is pretty round in profile. A 26-28mm internal rim would be a better choice for the 2.35 tires I like to run on a 130mm bike I think.


Nov. 15, 2016, 12:34 p.m. -  earle.b

Is it wrong that I want to see more of that shop than the bike?


Nov. 15, 2016, 1:30 p.m. -  DrewM

Dave Smith did a beautiful job of setting the mood, so I'll say no.


Nov. 15, 2016, 9:34 a.m. -  gg

Why is the FIT4 damper over the Grip such a notable upgrade ?
Levy penned a big PB review and concluded it's hard to tell them apart …


Nov. 15, 2016, 12:11 p.m. -  DrewM

The biggest difference out of the box is adjustable low speed compression in the open setting vs. micro adjust. This makes a huge difference to being able to dial in support on rough/steep terrain without over pressurizing the air system (compromising traction/performance in other situations) and still use the other settings. The damper performance feels much more "refined" when run in the firmer usable settings.

Beyond that, I assume someone spending this kind of coin on a mountain bike is planning to keep it for some time. The Grip damper performs very well - it is a huge upgrade over the Evolution series it replaced - but it is still a basic system designed foremost to allow Fox to hit OE price points that their bladder-style FIT dampers don't extend to.

The additional beauty of the bladder style FIT dampers is the valving is custom tunable for different rider weights, terrain, and preferences. Something easily done in addition to a full service.

Furthermore Fox has an excellent history of supporting their top-end FIT dampers with ongoing upgrades. For example the new low friction sealheads released in 2015 are backwards compatible through all generations of FIT dampers.

If someone is spending $8400 on a bike I think compatibility with future upgrades (and future tuning options) are nice to have.

One last note, I know Fox is calling the Grip damper "FIT" but that doesn't fit with their past nomenclature where all FIT dampers used a bladder system.


Nov. 15, 2016, 8:05 p.m. -  gg

Thanks for sharing !

Nov. 15, 2016, 8:56 p.m. -  DrewM

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Nov. 15, 2016, 2:40 a.m. -  TheHik

Very similar to the Santa Cruz Hightower I just bought. A fantastic bike. Great geometry, enough travel for the rest of us. These style of bikes are awesome.


Nov. 15, 2016, 7:21 a.m. -  DrewM

What brakes are spec on your Hightower?


Nov. 15, 2016, 11:37 a.m. -  TheHik

I built mine up with selected parts. I've got shimano xt m8000 group set on it.

Nov. 15, 2016, 8:58 p.m. -  DrewM

Yeah, XT would be a great option on the lighter side and still fit with a wide range of usages folks might consider this bike for…

Personally, with the big wheels I like to run big brakes. From Shimano my first choice would be to buy some Zee levers OR XT levers and mate them to a Zee caliper up front and an XT caliper out back but that would never happen from an OE perspective and I wouldn't expect Intense to spec 4-piston DH brakes on a trail bike… so yeah, XT or even Guides would make sense here.

Nov. 16, 2016, 5:28 a.m. -  TheHik

Ive never looked at it like that. Ill see how the XT's fare and maybe up spec if they start to fade.

Nov. 16, 2016, 7:22 a.m. -  DrewM

Fade. I also find the 4-Piston Shimano calipers have a more consistent power curve for feathering/control in steeper terrain.

Wasn't meant to see doubt - just conversation. Enjoy your bike!

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