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Double Tap: 2020 Intense Sniper T finds shaper focus

First impressions of U.S. brand's long-travel XC rocket

When the Sniper was launched last year, it was one of the bikes helping push cross country geometry into new territory. With a few key refinements, Intense Cycles has elevated its Sniper T from an XC bike that happens to have longer travel, to a truly long travel XC bike.

The difference may seem pedantic, until you dive the Sniper T into your first high speed berm, or rocky section of trail. It quickly becomes clear that Intense has made something different with the new Sniper T. The bike is still XC light, and designed to be raced, or at least ridden very fast. But, with the addition of a second vertical strut completing the rear triangle instead of the Sniper XC’s asymmetric single strut back end,  the Sniper T is quite happy pushing into longer rides and rowdier terrain than your standard purebred cross country race bike.

I’ve had a couple weeks to test out the newest new Sniper T Elite from the storied American brand. Read on for details and first impressions of Intense’s new breed of cross country bike.

2020 Intense Sniper T – Tougher, but not “Trail”

One change for 2020 is that Intense is no longer adding the “Trail” tag to the 120 mm travel version of the Sniper. Instead, the “T” in Sniper T stands for Travel. Since it has 20 mm more travel, front and rear, than the pure World Cup focused 100 mm travel Sniper XC that we tested last year. Intense made the name change because it wanted to be clear that the Primer is its designated trail bike.

Intense added a second vertical strut to the rear triangle for 2020.

So what is the Sniper T, then, if it’s not a trail bike? Intense bills it as an endurance XC bike, capable of tackling marathon or stage races. Having the extra travel adds comfort for long days. These longer races often take riders into rawer terrain than the manicured loops of an XCO course, though, requiring more than just longer travel. Adding the second vertical strut to the rear suspension, and an added cross brace on the lower link, helps keep the rear end in line when you encounter the unexpected far off in a stage race. It also makes the bike hold a line and accelerate out of corners, or through rocks and roots, when you’re pushing hard on your local trails.

To keep you well hydrated for long days on the bike, Intense has added a second water bottle mount to the front triangle of the Sniper T for 2020. You can now fit two full size water bottles in the front triangle.

Fox Factory Float 34 Stepcast adds stiffness up front without adding much weight.

Sniper T Elite – Race light and built to shred

Intense builds the Sniper T Elite, the top end of the three bike line, with a race-worthy mix of light and tough parts. A full carbon fibre frame has internal cable routing throughout, a carbon fibre upper linkage and magnesium lower suspension link. There’s even titanium hardware, to shave those last few grams. As you would expect from a bike in this price range, the Elite build is filled out with a drool-worthy build kit.

New e*thirteen XCX Carbon fibre wheels help keep the Sniper T’s weight down. The XCX’s are wrapped in 2.35″ Maxxis Forekaster tires.

Up front, a Fox Factory Float 34 Stepcast fork adds extra strength without adding many grams. The 34 SC’s 120 mm travel is matched out back with another 120 mm rear wheel travel, controlled by a Fox Factory Float DPS shock.

The drivetrain is made up of a mix of gold-bling SRAM XX1, for the rear derailleur, and XO1 12-speed Eagle cassette. SRAM’s Stylo Carbon fibre Eagle 12-speed DUB crank turns a 34-tooth chainring.

Switching things up, Shimano XT M8000 hydraulic discs provide plenty of stopping power. A 180 mm front rotor reflects the more aggressive riding Intense envisions for the Sniper T vs the Sniper XC, paired with a 160 mm rotor out back.

Keeping with the race theme, Intense specs KS’ Carbon Lev Ci dropper post, with a Fabric Line Wide Elite saddle. Dropper travel matches size, with 125 mm for size small frames, 150 mm for medium and large, and full 175 mm on XL frames. Intense’s own Recon Elite stem (50 mm)  and Recon carbon fibre bars in 760 mm width fill out the build.

Last, Intense includes a quite nice torque wrench kit and Intense-branded shock pump with the Sniper T Elite. Because if you’re going to put this much effort into making a top-end race bike, and add this many carbon fibre parts with very specific torque ranges, you want to make sure it is set up just right.

2020 Sniper T Elite – On the trail

Since Intense is billing the Sniper T as an endurance XC bike, and one capable of taking on rowdier trails, I headed to Mount Tzouhalem in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley. The network has hosted BC Bike Race’s opening stage for the last two years, and includes everything from winding climbing trails to high speed berms, jumps and a fair bit of classic B.C. technical singletrack.

Right away, the Sniper T’s race pedigree shines through. It jumps forward when you hammer the pedals, and accelerates quickly out of every turn. Part of this is the bikes svelte weight, with sneaks in a hair under 26 lbs for a size large (without pedals). Lightweight 29″ e*thirteen XCX Carbon fibre wheels and Maxxis Forekaster 29×2.35″ tires help here too.

On twisting singletrack and rolling corners, the Sniper T carries speed, and feels more like an XC race bike than its 66.5-degree HTA might suggest. It’s not until I was back on the tightest, steepest switchbacks in Victoria that the front end started to float up, or get away from me.

As soon as the trail points down, the benefits of Intense’s forward geometry become enjoyably obvious. The Sniper T picks up speed, fast, and dives into corners like a bike with much more aggressive intent. The Fox 34 SC and more stout rear end add a stability to the ride that holds a line through rough trail, and pops out of corners with speed. Where some XC bikes can be tentative or flexy on the downs, the Sniper T encourages you to target KOM’s on the descents as much as it does on the climbs.

A headbadge that carries the weight of Intense’s long tradition of racing mountain bikes

Sniper T – Sights set on speed

With the updated frame features for 2020, Intense has created a bike that mixes cross country race intentions with a playful ride that is fun to ride on days when you’re not lining up to race. It’s geometry encourages you to push the descents as well as the climbs, adding a level of confidence in terrain where more traditional XC bikes have struggled.

No bike can be everything to everyone, and the Sniper T does give up a little ground on the tightest, old school trails and steep switchbacks. It’s a small trade off, though, for the benefits of the bike’s modern geometry. Add in a top-end parts build that adds durability without giving up much at all in weight, and the Sniper T is a sharp bike.

If you’re looking for a bike to take on long races, or your big goal stage race, or if you’re just really into riding fast, this super bike should be on your list.

Intense 2020 Sniper T Pricing

All 2020 Intense Sniper T and Sniper XC bikes are available for pre-order at MEC now, or direct through Intense. MEC’s pricing for the Sniper T line is:

2020 Sniper T 29 Expert Bike $5,900
2020 Sniper T 29 Pro Bike $7,500
2020 Sniper T 29 Elite Bike (tested) $8,600