Here's a review of our demo Intense T275c & Stereo 160 HPC by Dan Hutchings, who has become a regular rider with us over the year. It also give an informative view on the diferences between 27.5 & 29" wheels....
Trying a new wheelsize for…. erm size! I suppose I should introduce myself so you have an idea of what I’m about. I started riding properly about 20 months ago. The last mountain bike I had and actually rode was a fully rigid Evans own brand that I bought for about £400 when I was 14 or 15. I loved bikes but all too soon the lure of cars, girls and pubs took over and I lost touch with cycling for over 20 years.
Fast forward through 20 ‘interesting’ years to 20 months ago and I was looking for something to keep me fit, yet keep my attention. I was playing a lot of squash but to be honest the social side was not doing it for me and I was struggling to find the motivation to organise games.
One day I dug out the 10yr old Rockhopper that I bought new with good (yet unfulfilled) intentions and went for a ride. It hurt for the 2 miles I rode but I enjoyed it, remembering all the fun I had as a kid. I started getting out almost every day for a few miles. I then discovered (through Strava) that one of my old friends was deeply into mountain biking. I went out on a couple of local rides with him and he showed me the trails that I never knew existed. I started to get the bug and explored further, venturing over to Peaslake where the trails almost blew my mind. I very quickly realised that the Rockhopper was not the tool of choice for those hills and that bikes with suspension seemed to be the thing to have…
Everyone I knew seemed to be riding a 29er so that’s what I bought. It was my first full suspension bike and was amazing. It was so much more capable and comfortable than anything I had had before and I started riding as much as I could, during which time I discovered Nirvana Cycles. I had always liked jumping and mucking around as a teenager so when I saw Nirvana’s Freeride practice advertised I thought I would give it a go.
I turned up without a clue of what was in store one Saturday morning and met Si at the shop. It turned out just a couple of us were out that morning and we headed up to Heads roll for some practice. I had not jumped anything bigger than about 6 feet before that day, but with a bit of encouragement and coaching from Simon was hitting the 3 gaps on the Sweetness line with it’s 12ft final jump (with an early crash due to unclipping) in it’s entirety after 30 minutes or so. Slightly bruised but thrilled and undeterred I decided that jumping was awesome and made a mental note to continue throwing myself over gaps for the rest of the ride.
We continued up Leith and ended up at Donnie Darko (now defunct) where having heard Simons description of the jumps I decided to follow Tattoo Dave down blind, figuring that I would be more likely to hit them if I didn’t know how scary they were, and following someone I trusted to have the speed to clear everything. I cleared it all on the first run and although scrappy, survived to make another couple of runs. I was completely hooked.
Nearly a couple of years on and I know my 29er very well. I’ve jumped it over most of the Surrey Hills jumps and chased the legendary Tattoo Dave down most of the trails including Drum n Bass, Alpine Corner, Northern Monkey and Milestone Hips and hit Mother Hucker on Leith a few weeks back, so I’m pretty happy I know what it is capable of, which is just about everything. It has also performed superbly at Rogate and Bike Park Wales. A good time I thought, to explore the other types of bikes out there and see if I was in fact on the correct bike for me…
For the sort of riding I most enjoy (jumping, hucking and steep rough stuff) the obvious bike type to try would be an ‘enduro’ type one with similar or a little more travel, and it would be either 650b or another 29er. Having not ridden a smaller wheeled full suss I decided to start my exploration with some 27.5s as they would provide the biggest contrast to what I was accustomed to. The bikes I borrowed from Nirvana Cycles were the Intense Tracer T275c with a 160mm Pike on the front and a monarch plus rear shock and the Cube Stereo 160 Super HPC, again with the Pike fork but a Fox rear shock. Both bikes had 160/160 suspension travel and are extremely light, both at around 28lbs.
First bike I took out was the Intense Tracer T275C. A fantastic build with Shimano XT and Halo Carbon wheels which looked the absolute nuts. Now whether or not you believe Strava times I ran both an iPhone and a Garmin and instantly smashed some times over some of the tighter local trails I ride on (‘White Honky’ anyone?), on both devices. The GPS error gods clearly giving me favour! The bike also unsurprisingly felt much quicker to accelerate and corner due to the smaller wheel size and just so much more manoeuvrable, ripping through the turns and hooking into any berm with ease. Climbing ability was very good and the bike felt very composed when the trails started to point steeply downwards. I didn’t really feel short-changed for speed when compared to my 29er at all, and there were only a couple of occasions where I noticed that there was slightly less grip due to the smaller contact patch, but certainly nothing major.
For the following rides I went over to Peaslake to ride some jumps and more rooty rough trails and again the Tracer impressed, especially with the manoeuvrability over the jumps on Milestone Hips where the back end was really mobile. I never totally clicked jumping on it though, which may have been down to the VPP suspension which I am not used to, although twisty single track like Evian was an absolute joy and I was very sad overall to hand the bike back.
After an impressive week on the Tracer, I swapped over to the Cube Stereo 160, which at half the price of the Tracer seemed to have no chance, and I wondered as I picked it up if I should have ridden them the other way around. I needn’t have worried, from my first ride on the Cube I instantly felt at home, and although I am usually spoiled by the faultless performance of the XTR I run on my own bike, was prepared to put up with a slightly less accomplished performance on the Cube due to the fact it just rode and handled so well. If it were mine I would fit a chain guide as I did drop the chain over some of the rougher stuff a few times but this is a minor point and easily rectified. As with the Tracer, I found climbing and descending to be superb for a bike with this much travel. I have never really been able to whip before, but a couple of runs down Milestone Hips had me sending the rear end of the bike out like a pro! (in my eyes anyway). Northern Monkey was despatched with similar aplomb and I was having an absolute blast. For me the Cube not only performed better on the jumps than the Tracer but it was very comparable over fast flowy singletrack, where both bikes flew round tighter corners much faster than my 29er and strava times were very similar, the only real handicap being the rider on any of the bikes.
Both bikes leant over easily and really hooked into berms, whereas my 29er really takes some hustling around, despite being rated as one of the best trail bikes. The 29er also just wants to go straight on over jumps whereas the smaller wheels like to send out to the sides.
My verdict? For the type of riding I enjoy, I found the 650b wheel size fantastic fun. I found they jump more responsively and definitely corner with more agility and are overall just more fun (if slightly slower overall) for most riding that I do. I tend to get out for a couple of hours rather than all day epics and I think that for this the smaller, more responsive wheel size will give me more bang for my buck. Tracer vs Cube – no comparison on price, the Cube gives similar performance for half the money, but cant compete on overall finish and amazing looks that the Intense provides and the desirability factor of the Tracer is huge. It’s an amazing bike and if money was no object I could see a carbon Tracer in my garage. In the meantime though, I still love my 29er. It’s a great bike and if I could have both that would be the ideal. However, until I get a lottery win, for me and my money, I’m looking at an XTR kitted Cube as my next bike… watch this space. But I may change my mind after the Banshee demo day… Just my opinion though, different bikes for different riding styles… get out there and try for yourselves. Dan
Intense T275c from £3999 & Cube Stereo HPC 160 race £2999