Trail and Enduro Bikes

Fast Bikes – 2018 Intense Primer Expert

An engaging and rapid 29" wheel trail bike

For 2018 Intense Cycles move to ‘direct to consumer’ sales with lower prices throughout the range. We’ve revisited the latest take on the Primer, a bike that we felt was one of the fastest trail bikes we’d ridden…

Words: Sean White  Images: Ieuan Williams

We loved the 2017 Intense Primer from the first ride onwards. All of us here at Dirt felt the mix of 29″ wheels, 130mm of travel and a lightweight carbon frame resulted in a very fast and capable trail bike. A bike that could cover distance with ease, yet feel engaging tight, twisting and rough terrain. A trail bike through and through. In grey and orange with a full Fox Factory suspension and colour matched DT carbon rims the 2017 Primer looked a real weapon…

All this performance came at a cost though, with the Factory spec 2017 Primer having a price tag of £7999. Cheaper builds started at just over £4000 but however good the finish, performance and spec was, comparisons to similar machine such as the YT Jeffsy 29 and Trek Fuel EX 29 were inevitable. The competition were offering higher specs for the money and also aluminium framed versions of the same bike.

With the move to direct sales for the 2018 model year we’ve revisited the Primer but this time testing a more affordable model. The 2018 Expert model (one up from the cheapest Foundation build at £2699) sells at £3299, using the cheaper of the two Primer frames but with a twelve speed SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and a full complement of proven hardware. The only ‘in-house’ components are the lock-on grips and stubby stem. This Primer now sits very well against the big brands such as Trek and Specialized when it comes to value for money.


Most of the bike testers at Dirt HQ are 6 feet tall or above so with the very low stand over on the Primer we opted for an XL frame size. We’ve become accustomed to the longer reach and wheelbase of modern enduro bikes (of both wheel sizes) so the measurements of the 2018 Primer are certainly not pushing any limits.

The seat tube on our XL bike measured 508mm (20″) and with the stock 150mm Fox dropper post felt fine for me at 6’2″. Shorter riders who liked the length of the XL would need to use a dropper that is shorter in stroke though.

The reach measurement of this XL is 477mm (with 453mm on a L and 431mm on a M) and this is matched up with a 50mm stem length. The head tubes are relatively short at 119mm for the XL test bike which we felt worked well with the longer 140mm travel fork that’s spec’d on the 2018 Primers. The stock 760mm Renthal Fatbar felt narrow on a bike of this size and was one of the few components I swapped out to get a better fit. Bar width is personal preference but a 780mm or wider bar on the L and XL would be a welcome spec change in our opinion and give the option to trim to suit.

Angles – we’re in trail bike territory here and the head is a not-so-slack 67.5° with a steepish seat angle of 75° assisting seated climbing.

The bottom bracket sits at 337mm across all sizes as do the short chainstays at 438mm. The wheelbase of the largest XL bike measures 1207mm (47.5″), which on this lively 140/130mm travel 29er feels bang on.

There’s no larger (XXL) frame size available on the Primer and although at 6’2″ I was comfortable, I’m sure there will be taller riders looking for a frame with more length.

suspension and chassis

On the Foundation and Expert Primers specs Intense use the slightly heavier frame with the SL frame being used on the Pro builds and above. It’s still a full carbon frame and rear triangle though but with an aluminium upper link and without the titanium bolt kit – it weighs in around 2.73Kg (6 pounds). Using the JS-Tuned trail suspension system, Boost spacing front and rear and sporting clean cable routing and neat frame protection, this latest Primer is bang up to date.

Intense has upped the travel of the stock fork for 2018, now with 140mm up front and the same 130mm rear travel (that can be dropped to 115mm if needed). The new RockShox Revelation RC fork may well keep the same model name but has had a full overhaul with 35mm upper legs and Boost spacing. Yes, it’s not a Pike or a Fox 34 (look further up the range for those models) but it impressed us and was a good match for the rear RockShox Monarch RL shock. We didn’t use the rear lockout switch at all as once set the suspension felt great on all surfaces including long draggy climbs.

Mud clearance was very good – we switched to chunkier treaded 2.35″ rubber at the rear and the new-wave 2.6″ size up front with no issues.


The silence (in even the wettest and grittiest conditions) and reliability of the 1×12 SRAM GX Eagle transmission was impressive and the gear ratios were never lacking. The ample power of the two-pot Shimano XT brakes (with no inconsistency…) were spot on with a maybe a switch to a 180mm rear rotor is needed for some riders. A Fox Transfer dropper post was good to see – no budget or ‘own brand’ model here.

DT’s M1900 wheels aren’t the lightest at around 2Kg for the pair but the 30mm (internal width) rims give an option for higher volume rubber. These wheels felt like they’d go the distance and they set up tubeless with no issues.


As with the 2017 Intense Primer there is an immediate feel of urgency from the first pedal stoke. This bike feels like it wants to press on and not hang about. The Expert model carries more weight (bike weight is around 13kg depending on personal spec changes) than the Factory model that made that lasting impression on us, but when you’ve jumped to this from a sluggish 27.5″ wheeled enduro bike it still feels very light on its feet.

If ‘singletrack with a dash of tech’ makes up a big part of your riding then you should check out this bike.

The switch to a wider bar made a difference, opening up the cockpit but not changing the character of the bike. It let us push on harder into technical terrain more confidently and get more out of the bike. Climbs were dispatched quickly too, whether short and technical or long and smooth. The Primer has poise and accuracy to let you chase down riders on longer travel bikes without the feeling that you’re pushing the bike beyond its comfort zone. There’s no discomfort from an overly stiff frame or carbon rims either – it’s far less tiring than some of the bikes we’ve recently tested in our Dirty Dozen bike test.

Longer trail rides are where this bike truly shines though. Sure, it’s great for an hour of messin’ in the woods but there are plenty of bikes that do that well. When you’re three hours into a full-on trail ride the Primer just seems to be on your side, not dragging you down or making you feel like heading home. It wants you to keep turning those pedals – up, down and along; whatever the trail brings this Intense can handle it… and all at a rapid pace.


We’ve heard of industry riders running burlier Fox 36 forks (with the correct travel) on a Primer, opening up the opportunity to hit more challenging terrain. We’ve not tried this but we’re tempted. But it’s easy to start making this bike a very different beast – would this mess with some of the qualities that we love? It’s a trail bike after all and although we switched the bars to a wider model and fitted chunkier treaded tyres for the winter we very much appreciate the Primer for what it does best. Fast trail rides, whether short and punchy or long and challenging are where this bike is in its element.

And yes, the Primer could be a touch slacker in the head tube and longer in the reach. Sizing and geometry is evolving fast and many riders may question the ‘on paper’ figures of this 2018 Intense, but… maybe get a spin on one first?

Spec wise, you could go lighter on the wheels and look for a fork with more refined damping. If you can stretch to the Primer Pro at £4899 you not only go up in spec on the fork, shock, wheels and transmission but also to the lighter SL frame.


If ‘singletrack with a dash of tech’ makes up a big part of your riding then you should check out this bike. The 29″ wheel trail bike has steadily evolved of the years and although harder hitting longer travel bikes are only a shade heavier, there is a certain charm in bikes like this 130mm travel Intense. The Primer is addictively fast, totally engaging and now at a more affordable price.

PRICE: Primer Expert £3299 (range starts at £2699)

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