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Hands-on Gear Review
Intense Recluse 2017 Review
Cons: Poor pedaling performance, one of the stiffest suspensions in the test
Bottom line: It is a rough ride that doesn't come together to be more than the sum of it's parts
Our testers were stoked to order up the 2017 Intense Recluse for our Trail Bike review. We were all curious to see how the red and teal beauty stacked up, especially against the similarly gunned Santa Cruz Bronson. While we like riding it in some circumstances, and it's definitely the best-dressed bike in the test, its sluggish pedaling performance didn't come close to keeping up with the other test bikes. The Recluse is nimble, with sharp steering, but it tracks poorly, and its suspension is shockingly harsh. The bike just doesn't come together as a whole. That magical alchemy that animates several of the other bikes, livening up the Bronson and the Ibis Ripley LS 2017, is absent. It never seems like more than the sum of its parts.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Trail Mountain Bikes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Analysis and Test Results
Six testers raced six bikes through our detailed benchmark time trial and review process that's been two years in the making. We bought the Intense Recluse and five other bikes to rate their relative performance on the trail. Read all about the process in our How We Tested article.
The Intense Recluse did not excel in the speed department. Its poor power transfer left us huffing up the climbs, and a lack of momentum, disappointing suspension, and under gunned tires kept us from catching up on the descents.
As a result, the Recluse was the slowest bike on all three of our time trails — the technical climb, smooth climb, and downhill course.
We really only like taking the Recluse down flowing trails, which is a crazy thing to say about a 5.5" bike. It's fun in berms and flow trails where you can just lean it to swing around, and it launches jumps. Its precise steering can certainly find a line, but its suspension felt consistently and uncannily bad. You feel every hit, large or small, in a jarring way. This forces a wandering procession down the trail.
For the downhill testing we ran the Fox Performance Float X2. It was recalled by Fox shortly before our uphill testing began. Intense offered us a replacement Cane Creek DB Air CS for $300, which we ran during our two uphill time trials.
So the Recluse didn't crush the descending portion of the test, coming in last with a score of 5 out of 10. It's still manageable to get down a trail on, and fun in spots, but it can't hang with the rest of the bikes. The Pivot Mach 429 Trail, a 116mm travel bike, scored a 6, and the Yeti SB5.5 wins the category with a 9.
The Recluse feels slow, so you keep pounding on the pedals, even on the downhill. Our time trials bore this out, with the Recluse placing last on our downhill course, The Scorpion.
We make more mistakes on the Recluse because it shakes our confidence, especially at speed. Its stiff suspension just doesn't feel like it can take on the trail like we want it to. As a result, we take it slow. The hits came so hard on occasion that several testers found themselves wincing in preparation. The fork is particularly harsh, which is odd for a boosted 150mm Fox Performance Float 36, set up on the slackest headtube angle in the test at 65°. Some of it could be explained by the vibrations picked up by the less than cushy 2.3"Maxxis High Roller II tire choice, Mavic Mavic XA Elite Ultimate wheels (25mm inner rim) and aluminum 760mm Renthal Fatbar handlebar.
As a result of the Recluse's rough riding personality, it's not a very predictable ride. The Recluse's precise handling is wasted by a rear end that struggles to track the front end and the rocks that regularly jostle the bike out of line. We find ourselves all over the trail and hovering over the brakes.
The Recluse's steering is remarkably sharp, especially for a bike with a 65°, the steepest in the test. The edge of the grip translates directly to the tires, providing a more direct feel than the Santa Cruz Bronson. It whips through tight sections of trail and is easy to push through those hard 180 degree corners that make most long and slack bikes feel sluggish. The problem arises when the terrain is less than buff singletrack. The smallest amount of trail undulation or rocky terrain can engage the harsh suspension and derail the bike, leading to poor tracking as the tires fail to remain in contact with the ground. The bike moves around so much that you have to fight back, resulting in weird swooping lines down the trail. In contrast, you could take your hands off the handlebars on the Ibis Ripley LS and it would hold your line, the Bronson also tracks better. As a result, the Recluse's precise steering doesn't amount to the effective handling of the Santa Cruz.
The Recluse feels front heavy and despite utilizing the very limited adjustment on this fork we couldn't find the love. The alloy bars, stiff headtube and meh fork come together without confidence. As a result, the fork seeks out the ground on the drops and doesn't want to pop up and over obstacles, instead, it slams into rocks and pitches us forward. We're all hesitant to roll into an impact on the Recluse, some of us just dreading the hit and others feeling like the front wheel might tuck and toss. It doesn't help that the aluminum 760 mm Renthal Fatbar handles impacts like a tuning fork, sending the panging vibrations up to your bones. Getting the front wheel where we want it to go utilizes a wide range of our bike handling skills and expends way more energy than we'd like.
The Recluse's cockpit feels compact and rides small. Which is interesting, as the measured reach and wheelbase are the longest in the test, at 440mm and 1,173mm respectively. (It also has the second tallest bottom bracket in the test at 343). The cockpit sets you up further forward and over the bars than the extremely neutral Santa Cruz Bronson. This is great for leaning your way through flow trails but twitches up the technical descents. To counteract this, our we find ourselves inching back to hide behind that 65° head tube. This reduces our pedal power though, which is most effective if you move forward on the frame.
It's not that the Recluse feels completely out of control, but it's squirrelly, getting caught up on the trail more than the other bikes. The Recluse only shines on smoother trails. If all you need to do is swoop and roll through the corners it's great. Slower speed handling is also more manageable.
We ran the now recalled Fox Performance Float X2 for the downhill benchmark time trial test. That's the shock we're referencing in this section.
Suspension and Traction
As one tester put it, "it's not really a boss in the rocks." The Recluse jostles us around a surprising amount for a 140mm suspension bike with a 150mm Fox Performance Float fork. That fork was especially problematic. With no low-speed compression setting, it lacks adjustability. The heavy front end it's attached to also affects its functionality, all but refusing to roll up and over obstacles. Overall it offers a rough ride.
These hard hits can toss you upfront. It made us want to hide off the back of the bike, even in the flats. The fork could probably use a volume reducer to ramp up the suspension later in the stroke. We bottomed it out a few times. This could help the struggling small bump compliance as well since we could likely run less pressure, lessening the entry level hit needed to open the suspension up.
The Fox Performance Float X2 didn't impress either. The levers and rocker links of this VPP suspension in no way echoed the ride quality of the Bronson. It lacked small bump compliance and the ability to deal with large features. We bottomed it out too.
It's not much fun struggling to make this suspension feel good. No matter what we did to the compression or rebound we couldn't fix the dead feeling. Everything feels really firm, offering up way too much trail feel. We feel more of the terrain features than on everything else. It can get through the more moderate chunder, but it's certainly not suave about it. Holding traction wasn't a huge issue on the Recluse but the poor small bump compliance and wimpy tires didn't make the bike overly sticky.
The Recluse also comes in last for its climbing skills at a 3 of 10. The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie rated a 5 and the winning Pivot Mach 429 Trail earned a 9 of 10. While its sharp steering is still appreciated, it's impossible to overcome the Recluse's sluggish pedaling performance and jostling suspension. We'd like a bike with this much travel to smooth out the trail as much as the Santa Cruz Bronson does because it is more efficient to climb a bike with this type of geometry sitting down. That's too jarring of an experience on the Recluse. We all shared the blunt view of one tester of the Recluse on the climbs — "I put in a tremendous amount of effort to go slow." It's not terrible, but it is the worst in the test.
The Recluse's laboring pedaling kept it from beating any of the other bikes on our technical and smooth climbing courses, The Soul Grinder and the Crank. Thus it falls in last place in climbing speed overall. If both of these courses lasted a minute, you can see how many seconds each bike would gain over the Intense on both courses in the chart above. The Santa Cruz Bronson won the smooth pedaling climb and the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie the technical one. The Pivot Mach 429 Trail's solid result on both courses earns it the fastest climbing speed overall.
The Recluse has the worst pedaling characteristics of any of the bikes we've tested, feeling ineffective in pretty much every circumstance. It's the slowest accelerator in the test and loses momentum quickly. It starts off with the same sluggish feel of the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie, but the Recluse stays there, topping out at a modicum of speed. In contrast, the Stumpjumper will gain and hold it. The second you stop pedaling the Recluse you feel the bike slow down.
There is an optimal pedaling zone way upfront over the bars where it feels much more efficient. But staying up there is tiring and throws off your steering. Being the only bike in the test without the Eagle drivetrain helped us realize just how nice the Eagle is. We noticed some flex in the drivetrain, which is apparent at around 75% of power. The hub also felt slow to engage, affecting acceleration.
We like this bike the most when you don't have to pedal it. It shines when you just need a few pedal strokes on a flow trail.
It's mostly comfortable on the climbs, similar to the Bronson, but can feel small. When you're out of the saddle to get pedal power, you're on the bike's nose, squirreling up the steering. You've got to counterbalance the unstable feel with your body, it's not something you want to keep up all day. If you ram a rock from here you can get thrown too far forward for comfort, feeling like your waist is up against the bars and throwing your balance off. Since the bike settles your weight toward the front of the bike, you often have to rock back to keep traction on the climbs. It's subtle but noticeable. You don't have to do that on the Bronson.
The Recluse's stubborn front end is hard to float over square stairs. It won't roll over or plow through. To maneuver this bike up the hill you have to pull up on that heavy front end at all times and hammer away at the pedals. When you do just pedal through a rough patch, even just fist-sized rocks, that not-so-plush fork pings around in a manner similar to the boosted 130mm Fox Float 34 fork on the Ibis Ripley LS. You have to fight the bike a lot, wasting a lot of upper body strength just to keep the bike online.
On the smoother climbs, the direct steering and fairly steep seat tube (measured at 74.5°) are comfortable. Here the fork's simple interface is pleasant.
Intense offered the Cane Creek DB Air CS as a replacement for the recalled Fox Performance Float X2. Here we're talking about the Cane Creek setup.
Suspension and Traction
The boosted 150mm Fox Performance Float 36 fork hits hard on the climbs as well. This is not a plush bike. On the rough uphill, the Cane Creek DB Air CS made the rear end feel even worse than it did with the Fox Performance Float X2. The rear suspension felt dead in open mode and stole power from the pedal strokes. It feels more efficient in trail mode, but then you get bounced around even more.
The Santa Cruz Bronson does what we want the Recluse to on the climbs. The Bronson feels far more efficient in the open mode, with better small bump sensitivity. It bowls over the rocks without jarring you, whereas you feel every one of them on the Recluse. You can sit on the Bronson and spin, knowing that the suspension will smooth out the ride, not so on the Recluse. It just doesn't feel like it has the amount of travel the 150mm stanchions and 140mm suspension should provide.
On smoother climbs, it's not much better, inefficiently wallowing in the suspension and wasting energy while bobbing up the hill. The fork and rear suspension can feel they're fighting each other. Traction isn't flawless either. We spin out on occasion.
At slow speeds or in the berms the Recluse corners like the Santa Cruz Bronson, quite well. The mechanics of the turn on these two bikes are really similar in these circumstances, except that the Maxxis High Roller II's on the Recluse don't hold traction as well as the Bronson's Maxxis Minions. So the Santa Cruz gets a leg up while the Recluse fades a bit in the long turns. The Recluse's overall lack of speed also hurts it here, as it loses momentum it starts to drift the face of the berm. The lack of traction also eroded trust.
When the trails get rocky or the corners get flat, the Recluse doesn't work as well. The stiff front end digs in, but, while the the rear end follows suit, it isn't as compliant. As such it earned a fourth place in turns with a 6 of 10. The Bronson and Yeti SB5.5 tie at a 7 and the whip it Ibis Ripley LS wins with an 8 of 10.
The Recluse only really shines in the short radius turns. It's good in small spaces. The Recluse certainly takes these better than the tall Pivot Mach 429 Trail, but some of our testers got a similar tower-like feel from the Intense. It does have the second tallest bottom bracket in the test, behind the Yeti, at 343mm. As such the bike sometimes resists leaning into the corner, forcing you to steer it through.
It's a MTB kinda good time on flow descents, and the accurate steering is a plus. It's just not as fun to ride as the other bikes in the test. We're grateful we were just speed dating. For that reason, it earned only a 5 of 10 for fun. The performance oriented Pivot Mach 429 Trail came in at a 6 and the Ibis Ripley LS and Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie tied for the win with a 9 of 10.
Jumps — When launching rock drops the heavy front end feel made this bike dive back to the ground like it was scared. Even on the smaller hits, the fork didn't initiate its travel very fluidly, leading to above average sidewall deformity before the stanchions started doing their thing (i.e wheel jack). This kept us from feeling confident.
Interestingly, it can be fairly predictable and stable in the air when sending park jumps. We think the difference is the entrance, the featureless ramp at the park doesn't distract your focus from lining up, loading the suspension and handling the bike in the air. It still has a bit of a twitchy feel even then.
We weren't overly impressed with the Pro Build on the Intense Recluse, ranking it last at a 4 of 10. The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie rated a 5 for aluminum bars and cranks and a nearly non-adjustable rear shock. The Bronson got the highest score of a 9 of 10 for an excellent fork and rear shock. We liked everything but the tires.
Cockpit and Fit — The fit was fine for everyone, feeling similar to the Bronson but the Recluse wasn't as well balanced. It also set us up a little further forward than the very neutral Santa Cruz. The Recluse cockpit can feel a little narrow, despite its 760mm handlebar width being on par with the fork on the excellent handling Ibis Ripley LS. The bike can also feel a somewhat tall with the second highest bottom bracket in the test (343mm).
Suggested sizing: S (5'0" — 5'5"), M (5'5" — 5'10), L (5'10 — 6'1"), XL (5'9" — 6'6")
Frame and Suspension — The frame's geometry doesn't seem to set the bike up for success. We didn't love the rear suspension action with either of the rear shocks we tested, the Fox Float X2 or Cane Creek DB Air CS, but we suspect some of that had to do with the construction of the bike's VPP suspension.
Conventionally thought to be less effective at reducing pedal power loss than the DW-link on the Pivot Mach 429 Trail and Ibis Ripley LS, the VPP relies more on its rear shock's stiffness to increase efficiency. That didn't seem to work here. The super stiff head tube and aluminum bar also seemed to weigh the fork down, greatly impacting performance. We measured the head tube angle at 65°, the slackest in the test.
The boosted 150mm Fox Performance Float is not a premium fork. The main difference between the Fox Performance fork and the more expensive Factory version is the damper. The Performance version uses the GRIP damper, versus the FIT4 found on the Factory version. The Factory version also has Kashima coated stanchions. Some feel that the black stanchions on the Performance are stickier, making the fork less supple over small bumps. The air spring is identical on both models and the crown and steering tube are as well. The Performance version has only 3 clicks of high-speed dampening adjustment and the Factory version has 22. Bottom line: The Performance has less adjustability, a cheaper GRIP damper, and is slightly heavier. We think the bike would feel a better with a Factory version fork. The price difference is $150.
The Fox Float X2 performance was fine - we don't think that's why the bike felt funky on the descents. The replacement Cane Creek for the climbing portion is not as good. There's not that much travel and almost too much adjustment available, most of it in an impossible position to use the Allen wrench it requires.
Wheels and Tires —
The bigger deal to us though was that the wheels aren't boosted, but the frame and fork are. They used spacers to bridge the gap. While it's nice that the frame and fork were boosted, some of the function seems to be lost without setting up the bike with a wider, stiffer wheelset.
The Maxxis High Roller II 3C/EXO TR 2.3" mounted on 25mm rims aren't horrible, but they aren't good on our hardpack to sandy to rocky trails. They have a bigger gap between the center and corner knobs and pedal traction wasn't that good anywhere. They are extremely average feeling tires in our terrain, similar to the traction type on the Purgatory GRID's on the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie. But the Specialized makes up for it with its 3" size.
Groupset — The Recluse runs a SRAM X1 Trigger 11-speed drivetrain, rather than stepping up to the newer 12 Speed Eagle group. We assume this is a cost saving decision. The Eagle is a big upgrade over X1 11 speed. The shifting is crisper and smoother, especially as you move into the larger cassette cogs. In addition, the range of the 12-speed Eagle drive train is far superior. Intense made an effort to narrow the gear ratio gap with a 44-tooth E-13 cog. It still doesn't come close to the Eagle's 50-tooth inner ring. The E-13 cassette also shifts poorly compared to the Eagle, particularly when moving into that 44-tooth ring, pushing the X1 shifter past its design range. Considering the price of the Recluse, the drivetrain is unacceptable.
The SRAM Guide RS with Centerline 180/160mm rotors are solid. The front can have a watery sound and we tend to like an even 180/180 set. But that might have locked up because they don't have enough tread to handle it.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — The RockShox Reverb Stealth is great and we mostly liked the Fabric Scoop Radius Elite saddle. One of our testers thinks the nose is too long, more akin to a road bike than a mountain one, but it's not bad.
The Intense Dual Density Lock-On grips are fine, kind of cool actually, taking some of us back to our BMX days. They're novel but wear quickly. We shaved them down quite a bit in seven weeks. The aluminum 760mm Renthal Fatbar handlebars are our big issue. The aluminum cuts into the comfort but its stiffness seems to add to the bikes wicked sharp handling. While the control feels pretty good, several of our testers felt like their hands were constantly hanging off the end of the handlebars, they'd want a longer one and make 'em carbon while you're at it.
Given our far superior experience on the other bikes in the test, we just can't recommend the Intense Recluse anywhere. As part of our testing process, we pick bikes for different applications, races or locations that help us determine when we really want to use each bike. Of six testers and 17 application questions, no one chose the Intense once. That said, if you own it already, or have access to one, we'd recommend it for milder downhill laps or a mellow trail half-day without much climbing, because, you're still mountain biking. If we hadn't had all these bikes to compare it to we would have enjoyed it more.
The Recluse isn't horrible to ride but for $6,999, plus $300 for the replacement Cane Creek DB Air CS, it's not a good deal. It's the second most expensive bike in the test, the most expensive if you count the new shock in with the price, coming in at $7,299. For that price, you could get the award winning Yeti SB5.5 or Ibis Ripley LS with $250 or $700 to spare, respectively. If you're choosing between the Intense and the Santa Cruz Bronson it's a no brainer. Save $700 and get a far superior bike with the Santa Cruz.
Again, if you have your heart set on this style of aggressive, 27.5 trail bikes, just buy the Bronson. We'd also steer you towards the Yeti SB5.5 if you can stand to roll a bit slower on the mellow climbs, want to hit the bigger descending lines and climb mountainsides in a single day. Get the Ibis Ripley LS if you hardly ever find yourself on technical uphill climbs and love to play. Still, the Recluse can be fun until you have to pedal. The Recluse's agility is striking, the rest is meh.
— Clark Tate, Curtis Smith, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal, Sean Cronin, Cat Keenan, Otto Trebotich
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