2009 Intense Tracer VP Review from Spoke Issue 32

The Tracer name has resurfaced in Intense Cycles’ lineup of bikes this year, with a new do-it-all, multi purpose machine inheriting the name from their original four-bar linkage trail bike. VP is tacked on the end as a reminder of the latest version of the VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension platform that it uses. Entirely handmade in California, The Tracer VP is a frame that is positioned at the boutique end of the market and comes from a brand that backs up its high-end price tag with a reputation for beautiful craftsmanship and cutting edge performance.

The VPP design of the Tracer connects the rear assembly of the frame to the front with a pair of short, sturdy linkages. Unlike many suspension designs that rotate the rear wheel in an arc around a main pivot, this design allows for a controlled rear axle path that travels around a series of pivot points without actual physical locations, which is why they are referred to as “virtual”. This allows some of the pedalling force that acts on the drivetrain to neutralise the accompanying compression force on the rear shock, increasing pedalling efficiency while allowing the suspension to remain active. A choice of two mounting points on the upper link for the Fox RP23 shock allows for the rear travel to be set to either 5.5 or 6 inches, while at the lower link grease ports allow for quick and easy lubrication of the bearings, simplifying routine maintenance. Despite the Tracer’s massive tube profiles and uncompromising appearance the frame still ends up weighing in at a relatively light 3 kg.

Put to the test, the VPP design really does work. Whether spinning a low gear or getting out of the saddle and really hauling, the Tracer delivers power smoothly to the rear wheel with a minimum of noticeable bobbing. It feels far more agile uphill than it should; using it in 6-inch mode with the 160 mm travel Fox Float 36 fork, it still clawed its way up very steep sections of trail quite capably. Fortunately, this efficiency works hand in hand with a generous amount of plush, active suspension travel. The Tracer impressed me with how smoothly it soaked up impacts of all sizes; square edged bumps in particular are levelled out extremely well, thanks to the slightly rearward path the wheel takes as it moves through the initial phase of its travel.

The suspension platform shouldn’t take all of the credit for the Tracer’s performance though. Intense has built this bike around geometry that contributes to very balanced handling across a wide range of trail situations, which is complemented by the very stiff construction of the frame. Up front, the massive top tube meets a beefy oversized head tube (which gives the option of running a 1.5 inch steerer fork for even greater stiffness). When paired up with the Float 36 fork the result is a flex-free front end that goes exactly where you point it. Get the Tracer up to speed and it rides with unreal stability and plows through bumps; steer it down steep, technical singletrack and it really comes alive, showing off its nimble, sure-footed handling. It offers a degree of enjoyment on descents that is above and beyond what I’ve experienced on bikes with similar-length travel.

The Tracer VP is a frame that gives its owner plenty of options. If I were to build one up for myself, I’d definitely look at fitting the travel adjustable version of the front fork, the Talas 36, as having the flexibility to run different settings would make the adjustable rear travel much more useful. Dropping the travel at both ends and fitting fast-rolling tyres would result in an aggressive cross-country trail bike capable of some serious speed, which could be adapted to more abusive situations with a minimum of fuss. Riders considering this type of bike all have different preferences though, and the beauty of the Tracer VP is that it is extremely versatile and should adapt well to all of them. Josh Wrigley

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