Tested : Pete’s 2021 Intense Primer S Review.

Pete gives his thoughts on the 2021 Intense Primer S, the highest-spec bike in Intense’s trail bike range.

With a sold spec, sensible weight, 140mm rear and 150mm front travel, the Intense Primer S looks to be at the more capable end of the ‘trail’ bike spectrum.

Pete took the Primer S to the Highlands for a mix of different rides to see what the bike is made of.

Key features:

  • Ohlins RXF 36 M.2 Air 150mm fork
  • Ohlins TTX22M Coil shock
  • Shimano XT 12-speed drive
  • Magura MT7 Pro brakes
  • E13 LG1 Enduro Race wheelset
  • E13 Vario Inifinte dropper
  • £5,499.99 RRP
  • UK.IntenseCycles.com

Build and Spec

A mostly unchanged Primer frame still features a monocoque carbon frame, with a carbon upper link and Ti hardware throughout. Internal cable routing is on hand for all your cables and runs silent. The downtube comes with Intense’s Flak guard frame protector.

Suspension is handled by the top-tier Öhlins units, with a coil-sprung TTX22M shock and an RXF 36 M.2 air fork. I’d only run the lower spec Öhlins dampers before and found the forks wanting, but was hopeful the Primer’s suspension could do the job.

Drivetrain is Shimano’s solid, dependable XT 12-speed, running on an EThirteen TRS+ crank.

Magura’s MT7 Pro brakes provide the stopping power, with 200mm and 180mm rotors front and rear respectively. I’d not used these before but had heard good things.

The remainder of the bike was mostly made up of EThirteen components, including an 800mm carbon bar, Vario Infinite 150mm dropper, LG1 Race enduro wheels. A Cane Creek headset, SDG Radar saddle and Intense Grips rounded out the package.

Geometry

Little has changed in terms of the frame with the focus being on spec and pricing for the 2021 Primer range.

On the size Medium Primer S in the ‘Lower’ setting as tested, you get a 444mm reach and 430.8mm seat tube length combo, with head angle at 65.3º with a seat tube angle at 74.3º. Wheelbase is at 1199mm with a 440mm chainstay.

The bike feels roomy in the cockpit without being massive, but the chainstays are definitely in the less playful end of the spectrum, which enhances the bikes ‘ride through anything’ feel.

Opening moves

The Primer arrived shortly before a planned week in the north west Highlands, with some serious altitude and mileage planned, I knew I’d find its strengths and weaknesses pretty soon.

Before I got wheels on dirt, I did have some trouble centreing the Magura brakes, partly due to warped rotors, and with the mounts not allowing the brake to get far enough out with the bolts and washers supplied.

After a lot of muttering under my breath, driving the pistons home, before starting again, I got them to a point where they’d spin freely enough. This is where direct sales loses some ground over a shop-bought bike. A good mechanic could have sorted this before the wheels hit the ground.

With the brakes somewhat sorted, and the 800mm bars clipped to 750mm to suit my 5′ 4″ frame, I set about a riding 30 hours, 46 miles and 9,000ft up and down in four days. Munro bagging and some big Highland circuits definitely gave me an insight into what the Intense was made of.

TLD A3 Helmet

I was happy to see the new Öhlins dampers providing everything I asked from them in terms of traction and dealing with the hits. The ramp up chamber on the fork allowing me to easily set the amount of progression I wanted, rather than remove tokens. The coil shock out back working well with the linkage that put all of my power into forward motion, including not stalling on square-edged hits, in fact, it felt like the bike used these hits to spur me forward. This combined with the relatively low weight and fast, yet grippy, Maxxis Minion DHR II tyres meant that technical climbs and any manner of descent were a joy.

The XT shifting as as crisp as you’d come to expect, and the drivetrain dealt with the Highland grit and slop well.

I swapped the grips out for some thinner offerings, but anyone with adult-sized hands would have no issues with the Intense numbers fitted as stock. My concerns about 35mm bars being too stiff did not come true with the EThirteen bars, even when clipped.

On day one, the rear brake threw its toys out of the pram early on, with the lever pulling to the bar until I could get some heat into the system several hours later on a prolonged descent. This did make me wonder why, with the Shimano drive train fitted, any one of Shimano’s excellent 4-piston brakes wasn’t chosen to provide the anchors.

That said, when they did work, lever feel was excellent and power almost limitless, with good modulation. It’s just a shame as had they worked flawlessly, the Primer S was quickly making a name for itself as far as bikes for big day missions are concerned.

With the early issues with the brakes mostly ironed out, the Primer S was a delight in pretty much all trail conditions. Easy speed was found regardless of square edges or trail chatter, and it took some amount of pushing before the Primer started to feel rattled. I was pretty happy with how a short setup on the suspension led to that amount of speed from the get-go.

I look forward to finding the sweet spot with the Primer in the very near future. Watch this space.

Check out the full Intense Primer S specs on their website here.


2021 Intense Primer S Review

Last time I checked in about the Primer S, it had a Highland fling under its belt with only some dicky brakes holding it back. The Magura MT7 Pros arrived not only with a fair amount of air in the back brake but some fairly warped rotors too.

Intense have assured me that any bikes go through their US facility before heading to customers here, and mine, direct from the factory, missed this step. Any customer purchasing a bike would have had theirs receive a once-over from the guys Stateside.

With the rear brake sorted thanks to the team at Country Cycles Killearn, and some fresh rotors fitted, the Primer S finally had the wind in its sails. What became immediately apparent was how good the rear linkage was. This was something I noticed early on, but with the bike singing the rear end really came alive. It would silently go about its work, heating up the bumps, big or small. Even in the muck with the Maxxis High Rollers fitted, grip and bump-munching ability were never lacking.

While the Ohlins fork lacked the suppleness of some other forks, the Swedes to tend to go on the firm side of things if my experience with their previous offerings is anything to go by. They’d be stiff and compliant in all but the extremes of low speed compression. The only real gripe is that even with the pinch bolt on the axle, both would still work their way loose.

Unsurprisingly, the Shimano XT 12-speed drive was flawless throughout, when is it not? Even with some signs of ground interfaces, the rear mech just kept going about its business of keeping the chain tight and moving it about the cassette.

eThirteen’s wheels, dropper and finishing kit were solid additions too. Ben tested the Vario dropper and found it to be one of the best he’d used, and my experience was no different. The wheels were stiff without being harsh, but weren’t sloppy either, with a solid engagement. I was wary of the 35mm carbon bars too, as they’re usually far too stiff for me at 9 stone, but they were comfy and at 800mm, had plenty of width to trim to my preferred size.

With a few more big mountains and the usual lap of some very tricky trails in the woods with the Primer flying, it gave me a good idea of what it could do. With a 444mm reach on the Medium tested, it was at the upper end of what I can manage at 5′ 3″, but comfortably so. What really stood out was the 440mm chainstays meaning you’d really have to think about the back wheel coming off the ground. Once you’d agreed with the bike that this simply wasn’t the way you’d ride it, it felt stable and planted with that excellent linkage working its magic.

On the ups, the bike is light enough to go all day, but does feel a little inefficient when winching up the climbs. I would probably chose a chainring smaller than the 32t one fitted as it feels little long for the steep stuff, but obviously the trade-off is being able to keep turning gear on those faster, flat out trails. Maybe I just need to get stronger legs?

The brake issues I had would sadly eat a giant chunk out of the time I had to get this bike hammered but it did show promise when I did finally get it running smoothly. I could never quite get the RXF 36 forks dialled just the way I’d have liked them, maybe a result of less trail time.

What do we think?

If it were my money, I’d save myself the best part of a grand and pick the Primer Pro. Bar the alloy eThirteen crank, you get full Shimano XT 12-speed, including the 4-pot brakes, and Fox’s Performance Elite dampers which now, certainly in the case of the fork, come with high and low speed compression adjustment. The cost saving also makes it far more competitive against the other, similarly-specced direct sales offerings.

We love:

  • Dialled rear suspension
  • Low weight

Could do better:

  • Better spec doesn’t always mean better performance

Check out the full Intense Primer S specs on their website here.

Read all our other bike tests on our Bike Reviews page here.


  1. Nice review, for an even nicer looking bike. What is your opinion on sizing of the frame? I am 5″ 10″, ride normally with 750mm bars and a 45mm stem (on a Tracer in Large, with 460mm reach). Would you say the size M would be the way to go for me to?

    1. Hey Benno, Thank you.

      I am 5′ 3″ and the Medium is roomy enough, I’d say you are probably on the border between a medium and a large but would probably go the M as the L is 15mm longer, rather than 10mm shorter than your current bike.

      Full review to come.

      Cheers,

      Pete.

  2. Hi Pete,

    thanks for the reply. I think I agree with you on the frame size. Then there is the battle between 275 and 29. I would love to thy the Ohlins shock, but I am not sure if I like the 29 vs the 275 I have now.

    Looking forward to the full review!

    Kind regards,

    Benno

    1. No worries Benno,

      I think the reach on the 275 might be slightly longer from memory. I was quoting reach from the 29″.

      The Ohlins rear shock is a delight. A little firm on the low speed compression end but good everywhere else.

      Full review coming soon.

      Cheers.

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