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INTENSE PRIMER VS. TREK FUEL EX

The Trek Fuel EX and Intense Primer are like our bread and butter, milk and honey, meat and potatoes, or any generic food analogy bikes here at Mountain View. We could almost run the shop purely on Fuel and Primer sales. These are both true quiver killer bikes, and they're perfect for trails in the Hood River and Columbia Gorge area, but each one will work best for slightly different riders. Read on to decide which one is right for you.




THE PRIMER

"Striking, aggressive, innovative, driven, INTENSE."

The Primer is all of the above, and more. From its sleek paint scheme, to its slack geometry and DH-inspired suspension kinematics, the Primer keeps close company with the most aggressive trail bikes on the market. It's an efficient and polite climber, but make no mistake, this bike will promptly mow down women and children on its path to the bottom of the mountain. It exists in perfect alignment with Intense's mission: to be the leading downhill-inspired independent bike brand.


Given their history of supporting several of the sport's greatest downhill athletes (Palmer, Kovarik, Gwin, and many others), it's no surprise that the Primer is the way it is. A quick glance at the geometry paints a picture of a trail bike that's purpose built for railing corners, smoothing out steep, rough trails, and then pedaling back up for another lap. It's worth mentioning that the Primer is Aaron Gwin's go-to bike when he's not racing the World Cup Downhill circuit.


FUEL EX

The Trek Fuel EX is our best selling bike for a reason: it's kind of the perfect bike... Not just for our trails here in the Gorge, but for many, many, other trail networks as well. It's sort of like an amalgamation of the best attributes of all the other trail bikes on the market. If you could somehow combine all the other bikes out there into one, you'd end up with something similar to the Fuel. It's not the longest, shortest, lowest, highest, slackest, or steepest trail bike out there. It's the exact happy medium. This is, of course, perfectly in line with Trek's brand strategy. They make bikes that appeal to a wide range of riders, and they nailed it here. The Fuel is a bike that 90% of riders will be instantly comfortable on. It's balanced geometry makes for a very intuitive handling bike. Mountain View's GM, Jeff Craven, chose this bike as his daily driver and loves it. Check out his bike check article for more details on his build.

THE COMPARISON



Modern mountain bikers ask a lot of their trail bikes these days, and rightfully so. With the cost of a mountain bike rivaling that of a car, it makes sense for a lot of us to have that one solid quiver killer mountain bike. This is where trail bikes excel. They're not necessarily purpose built for pure climbing or descending, they have to do it all. And these days, most of them do it all quite well. That being said, this category spans a very wide spectrum, and the bikes often skew to one side or another of said spectrum.

If you've read this far, you probably understand that the Primer skews toward the DH/bike park/black diamond trails end of the spectrum, while the Fuel EX sits squarely in the middle. The reasons for the Primer's increased descending capabilities are its geometry, suspension design, and component spec.

Measurements taken from size Large in the "Lower" setting.

GEOMETRY

From a geometry standpoint, the Intense Primer's flip chip settings are aptly named "Low" and "Lower." The "Low" setting is about equal to the Fuel EX "Low" setting, but the "Lower" setting puts the Primer on par with some enduro bikes out there. Compared to the Fuel, the Primer is significantly longer, lower, and slacker, and it has an extra 10mm of suspension travel, front and rear. 

All of these differences are designed to make the bike descend a little more aggressively, once again, tipping the proverbial hat to their downhill racing roots.


Measurements taken from size Large in the "Low" setting.

Where the Primer is born from a downhill racing platform, the Fuel offers a more playful descent. The shorter wheelbase and shorter chainstays let it jump and pop with less effort, which riders will appreciate on flow trails. It can also be built up with a 150mm travel fork, which slackens it out half a degree, putting it on par with the Primer in it's higher setting. This will be a necessary modification for riders who want to push the Fuel down gnarlier or steeper terrain. The short chain stays and 130mm rear travel give the bike a fun and playful personality going downhill. That said, the more aggressive the trails you like to ride, or the more concerned you are with racing the clock downhill, the more you will probably like the Primer.


BUILD KITS

Different brands have different target markets, and therefore different priorities when putting together a parts spec for their bikes. Intense tends to prioritize spec'ing their bikes with good suspension and brakes, to optimize downhill performance, while saving money in other areas. Again, their mission statement and roots come through here: even their entry level Primer Expert build comes with a Fox 36 fork, DPX piggyback shock, and 4-piston Shimano SLX brakes. They use Sram's budget NX drivetrain to keep the overall price of the bike down, which is a trade off many riders will be perfectly content with. By contrast, Trek bikes generally come spec'd with similar tier components across the entire bike. This is a subtle difference, but worth thinking about if you are trying to optimize for an aggressive riding style on a budget. You get more downhill ready parts on an Intense than a Trek at a given price point.

The Primer comes in three builds, Expert, Pro, and S. The Expert model retails for $4299, and features a Fox 36 fork, DPX 2 shock, Shimano SLX brakes, and SRAM's NX drivetrain. The Pro comes in at $6099 and features a full XT drivetrain and brakes, as well as upgraded Fox suspension. The S models are purpose built for aggressive descending, with Ohlins Coil suspension and powerful Magura brakes. The S models retail for $6299.

Trek offers a multitude of build kits to suit several different price points. In our experience, the best value price points are the EX 8 and EX 9.8. The EX 8 features an alloy frame and a mix of components such as an XT drivetrain, entry level Deore 4-piston brakes, and Fox's Rhythm 34 fork. The EX 8 retails for $3929. The 9.8 features a carbon frame, and better components all around, such as Shimano's SLX brakes, and a Fox 36 Performance fork. The 9.8 also gets Trek's proprietary Thru Shaft shock. It retails for $5999.

The 2020 Primer S came stock as a 27.9 mullet.

MULLETS

Both bikes can be set up with a 29" wheel up front, and a 27.5" rear wheel. This makes a bike more playful and contributes to better cornering. While this is a common set up for the Primer, the Fuel EX doesn't really need it, because the Fuel is playful and snappy right out of the box, and the shorter wheelbase of the Fuel makes for a great cornering bike naturally. The Primer comes in both 27.5" and 29" wheel platforms, which can both be mulleted, but with different end results. Throwing a 29" fork and front wheel on the 27.5" frameset yields a mullet with shorter chain stays and better bottom bracket clearance. Pinkbike reviewed the 2020 Primer S and called it "mind blowing in the corners." The 2020 model was based on a 27.5 frame, with a 29" fork and front wheel thrown on.


SUSPENSION DESIGN

Trek's suspension platform is called Active Braking Pivot. ABP is designed to separate braking forces from suspension action, leaving the suspension free to do its job when you need it most, which is often under hard braking. Trek suspension curves are designed to be relatively linear, compared to other bikes on the market, which gives the bikes traction and predictability.

The Trek Fuel EX comes with a Reactiv Thru Shaft Fox shock with a built in thermal compensator to reduce overheating. Reactiv is Trek's proprietary pedaling platform to increase efficiency, and Thru Shaft is designed to increase small bump sensitivity.


Intense's suspension design is known as the JS Tuned Link system, aptly named after Jeff Steber, their founder and designer. The design uses two counter rotating links to separate braking and pedaling forces from acting on the suspension. While both the Trek and Intense platforms are responsive, efficient, and stiff, the Intense is noticeably more progressive. This means you can run lower pressure for greater small bump sensitivity, while still getting bottom out protection deeper into the travel. The right suspension tune for you depends mostly on your riding style. Many riders prefer the predictability and consistency of a linear set up, while others prefer the ramp up of a progressive set up.

The Primer comes with a full piggyback style shock, which keeps fluids significantly cooler on gnarly descents.


OUR BOTTOM LINE

For riders looking for the ultimate in versatility, the Fuel EX is arguably the best bike ever made. It climbs as well as it descends. It's light, fast, playful, and poppy. Riders with a more gravity bent outlook on life will appreciate the Primer's DH heritage, thoughtful components spec, slacker angles, and slightly longer travel!

Which bike sounds right for you?

$3,799.99 - $3,899.99
$5,499.99 - $6,499.99
$5,699.00 - $6,099.00