07 Mar 2018

Intense, that most loin stirring of classic mountain bike brands, are jumping back into the cross-country racing realm, with the all new Sniper XC. We've had it in our hands for a week or two already, and here are our first impressions.

The not-so-minor details

Product

Intense Sniper XC (Elite build)

Contact

Intense Cycles Australia

http://intensecycles.com.au

Price

$10499

Positives

A great blend of XC weight and trail bike geometry.
Beautiful finish.
Dropper post and unique spec choices.

Negatives

Rear brake cable routing.

Ah, Intense. How can you not love this brand?

Maybe its just a product of our rapidly advancing years, but Intense Cycles pulls at our heart strings. We would’ve joyfully given a kidney to ride an Intense back in the day. This is a brand with such heritage, presence, such cool – it oozes out, and that’s why aficionados have always been willing to fork over the big bucks for an Intense. You’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting a small slice of Intense cred. The all-new Intense Sniper is the latest bike to join their range.

You’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting a small slice of Intense cred.

Short travel, long days, small weight, big grins.

Over the past decade the brand has had ups and downs as they’ve moved some operations away from the US and navigated the world of Asian manufacturing, but the legions of Intense fans have stayed true. The brand is back at its best now, and with a new Rider Direct sales model (more on that later) the pricing puts Intense within the reach of many more riders. The Intense Sniper XC is the first dedicated cross-country bike from Intense in many years and it joins a crew of trail bikes and Enduro bikes that have been getting a lot of accolades recently.


Check out our review of the luscious Intense Spider 275 C here!


Super sharp paintwork!

Shhh, it’s in disguise!

No, we’re not talking about the pop art-esque digital camo graphics. At first look, the Intense Sniper does a good job of pretending to be a conventional high-end cross-county race bike; with 29″ wheels, 100mm travel at both ends and a feathery 10.2kg weight, it has all the boxes ticked to sit alongside the likes of Giant’s new Anthem 29 or Specialized Epic. But when you look deeper, it’s clear this isn’t your usual XC race bike.

The upper link is carbon, and the lower magnesium.

Let’s take a look at that geometry.

If you don’t like numbers, just skip this bit, but if you’re a geo-nerd this is interesting stuff! Just like other categories of bikes, XC race machines are getting slacker. But the Sniper’s head angle puts it way ahead of the curve. At 67.5-degrees it’s a full two degrees slacker than the Specialized Epic, and 1.5 degrees slacker than the Giant Anthem 29er.

Similarly, its reach measurements are longer too, designed to work with a 50-60mm stem. In a size medium, the Sniper has a reach of 444.5mm and a wheelbase of 1152mm. Again that’s much longer than either the Epic or Anthem. Compare the Epic in particular and the Sniper is a massive 3omm longer  in the wheelbase, despite having practically identical rear-centre measurements.

The Sniper’s head angle is what you’d expect to find on a 130-140mm trail bike.

So what?

What it all means, is the Sniper has the confident kind of geometry you’d usually associate with a longer travel trail bike, but mated with the weight and efficiency of a cross-country bike. So does it blend is the best of both worlds, or is it a watered down version of the two? That’s what we’ll be aiming to be find out in our full test to come.

It’s so good to see a dropper post on an XC weapon like this.

Proper dropper.

Reinforcing the Sniper’s trail bike vibe is the speccing of a 125mm-travel dropper post from KS. More often than not, a dropper post would be the first addition we’d make to a XC bike, so a big high five to Intense for speccing it out of the box. Even better, the dropper is found on all models in the range, not just the top tier. Intense could easily have been tempted to run a conventional post and get the weight even lower, but we’re happy they didn’t. A 76omm bar and 50mm stem tell you even more about how this bike is meant to be ridden.

The compact front end will fit a full size bottle.

It gets better the more you look at it.

The more time we’ve spent with this bike, the greater our appreciation for its construction. We love the lightweight asymmetric rear end, what a stunner! The upper link is carbon, while the lower link is magnesium (the base model frameset found on the Expert spec bike gets an aluminium link, which is about 50g heavier). You won’t find provisions for a front derailleur, nor do you need one with the Eagle drivetrain.

The rear end is asymmetrical.

A full size water bottle fits easily, and there’s good chain slap protection, plus a protective guard on the down tube too. The paint job (while pretty lairy) is bloody fantastic, with awesome detail and sharp, crisp lines.

The only downside we’ve found so far is the cable routing for the rear brake. Like some other US brands, they seem to have forgotten provisions for riders who run the rear brake on the left. It would be nice to see a port for the brake line to enter on the other side of the head tube, for cleaner routing.

We’re big fans of the slender FOX 32 Step Cast fork – it’s way more capable than its slender build would suggest.
A 50mm stem and 760mm is not your standard XC racer fare.

What’s the whole JS Tuned thing about?

‘JS’ is Jeff Streber, founder of Intense. The JS Tuned tag signifies a wholistic approach to the bike, not just a suspension tune. It’s all about picking the parts that are most fit for purpose, rather than just whatever is convenient or will hit a certain price point. The eclectic spec on this bike demonstrates this perfectly: a SRAM drivetrain, Shimano brakes, a KS dropper post, DT hubs… the spec looks more like it has been hand picked by a shop staff member, rather than chosen out of a catalogue to hit a figure on the shop floor.

The Pro build we have been riding rolls on Intense’s own carbon rims laced to DT hubs.

Spec options and Rider Direct sales.

There are five tiers of Sniper XC available in Australia, and while our Elite-level bike comes in at a hefty $10499, models start from $5499 for the Foundation build kit. That’s a far cry cheaper than you could ever purchase an Intense for in the past, an outcome of their recent shift to what they’re calling ‘Rider Direct’ sales.

In a nutshell, you now have the option to buy an Intense direct and get it delivered to your door, or you can have it sent to an Intense dealer for assembly and pick up.  Either way, the price is the same. Because the model means dealers aren’t required to hold huge amounts of stock, the pricing is a lot sharper. In our mind, the Expert level spec ($6999) is especially competitive.

This bike is going to be with us for a few months, we’ll be racing it at Port to Port MTB, so expect an in-depth review and plenty of updates!