Staff Walks: Intense Primer S by Photographer Nathan Hughes
Intense Primer S by Nathan Hughes
“Never buy a car in the rain” is always the advice. A good recommendation that definitely extends to bikes as it hides scratches and gives the machine a completely unfair shine. This bike is not for sale so I hope you will forgive the free use of moisture to improve it. For maximum effect, on an already very humid day, I took it to a lumberyard that had intermittent sprinklers to preserve the wood, also making the photography more fun.
They have made a strong claim to creating ‘striking mountain bikes since 1993’, and the striking part is something that I personally engage with. There’s no way I’m not one-sided, having been the DH team’s photographer for the past few seasons, but I find the bikes exciting and I feel a nice pinch of nostalgia for the entire history of the racing under the greats like Kovarik, Palmer and now Gwin. Anyway, the release of this “mixed-wheel corner sculptor,” as Pinkbike dubbed this mule bike at the end of 2019, piqued my interest. Mostly, if I’m being honest, because of its pointy look and racy stripes than anything else. As a photographer and esthete rather than an athlete, I try to admit the purely visual appeal without shame.
PB testers Mike Levy and Mike Kazimer found the original Primer S “mind-blowing in the corners”, but they also had quite a few bad things to say about the bike in the Field test. As someone said in the comments “I wanted this bike to be better” … so did I, so I tried to make it that way. The last mule I owned was straight out of college in 2009 and it was a success. However, early employers disagreed and mules are still controversial to this day.
Origins of actions
The bike began its journey to improved beauty and performance (strictly as a side benefit) as a stock model for 2020. Among other differences it came with the Fox DPX2 Float shock and the 2020 Fox 36 fork with the Fit4 shock absorber. It was fitted with Shimano XT brakes on 180 rotors, E13 alloy rims and, most notably, a Maxxis Rekon plus tire at the rear. *Chills*. Why not opt for Carbine or Full 29 Primer? Since I have fairly long legs, a mule might not be that “necessary” for me, but then the idea of blowing my left and right was appealing to me. Plus, as mentioned, there was the must-see draw of the paint.
• Intended use: All-Mountain / Enduro
• Displacement: 160 mm at the front, 140 mm at the rear
• Wheel size: Mullet 29 / 27.5 in.
• Frame construction: carbon
• Head angle 63.5 ° (ish)
• Base length: 440 mm
• Size L
• Weight: 33.5 lbs / 15.2 kg
• Price: $ 5,799 plus major extras
• Color: Black / gray
Did that ruin the climbs by installing a longer fork and removing the oversized Rekon supporting the rear? How can we further spoil the already wasted misery of the escalation itself? Without getting so philosophical, I like to think of the extra 10mm being spent as sag and comes with a 63 point harder head angle for descents. He could still slack off with the flip chip in “lower” mode, which could be a nice ode to owning a Yeti DH9 years ago.
Maybe it’s the Grip2 damping system, maybe the extra stroke I’m not sure, but the new 36 is a butter front wheel mount and seems to stay higher in the stroke on the brakes than the original 2020 version. Other perks include that I can now use the new Fox mudguard, which looks made up and will keep used zippers out of sea turtle nostrils. No man tells me not to have fork tokens; I run them plug and play.
Fork: 2021 Fox 36, 160mm
Shock: Fox DHX2, 550 lb spring
Wheels: ENVE M730 29 ‘(F) & M735 27.5’ (R)
Brakes: Hope Tech 3 V4, 200mm (F) and 180mm (R)
Tires: Schwalbe Ultra Soft Magic Mary (F&R)
Handlebars: Renthal Carbon Fatbar 35, 785mm
Stem: Renthal Apex 40mm
Pedals: Hope F20 flats
Transmission: Sram Eagle XO mechanical, GX shifter
Cranks: Truvativ Descendant
Grips: DMR Deathgrip (thick camo with straps)
Centers: Chris King
Saddle: Fizik Antares carbon rail
Dropper: Fox Transfer and Raceface shifter
Lots of carbon
ENVE rims are hard to miss and complete a mostly carbon construction on the bike. They are quite loud and proud and after the first few laps for fear of crushing them and blowing them up, I really appreciate the feeling of liveliness they bring to the lap. I’ll probably have to pay more attention to tire pressure than I ever cared about on alloy rims, but that sounds like a great lesson in life.
At the back, I decided to use a Magic Mary for maximum grip. This appeal was probably reactionary after riding the oversized stock tire for too long with such a low tread. Still, the bite is definitely back and I’m not bothered by a little extra rolling resistance. The Aero spokes and “non-flat” rim tape are very cool touches to the wheels and made an afternoon hell on earth by fitting the Marys to a worthwhile 35mm rim.
A Renthal cockpit was an easy choice to bring light resistance and a bit more graphite gray and gold to the overall look. Continuing the carbon theme, I chose to use a light and tidy 155g Fizik Antares saddle and stick with the perfectly adequate Truvativ Descendant cranks that came with the bike.
Huge Hope Bulb hubs in anodized red adorned my very first downhill bike and I have admired Hope’s CNC artwork ever since. It is true that with a wide range of color customization options comes great responsibility, but I don’t think the orange and gold touches are too important for this setup. Upgrading to a 200m rotor up front and 4 piston caliper at the rear certainly helped stop, but since he’s a mule, I figured I’d better stick with the small rotor in the back or to lock all the way up the mountain.
Added to cart
As a flat lifer pedal, the very thin Hope F20 pedals with their impeccable machining make me happy. I never learned to hang on and while I’m certainly pretty old by now, my home terrain of Chamonix just doesn’t seem like the best place to get in when a few hundred vertical meters of ‘cycling’ is always a possibility. You don’t want metal clogs for that. DMR Deathgrips made me change my mind about thicker grips and a BMX style bridle never goes out of style, just like camouflage. Chris King stealth hubs came with the wheels and the original Fox dropper keeps the Kashima dream alive under the saddle. As for the stock SRAM Eagle drivetrain, while it was good enough for the dreaded soldiers of Ancient Rome, it is good enough for my ATV.
Blow yourself up
Both the observer and the cynic would be quick to point out that the 2021 Primer S already came with a coil damper … and in an incredible Ferrari red. This was all unknown to me a year ago, but I was on the same line of getting the grip of the DH bike and pumping up small bump sensitivity. I consider the DHX2 to be the real game changer on all build upgrades. Seamless actuation is nice and flat turns are now a closer friend. € 800 and something plus spring seems to be a stretch for this upgrade, but we must not forget that money is a construct with no real existence in this universe other than the human mind.
But it’s not even clear
It certainly brings a tear to the eye; all the semi-extravagant upgrades have somehow only added more volume. The original Primer S weighed 13.6 kg, although it was medium in size and without pedals. Granted, what was lost in the wheels was slapped by swapping the Fox Float for the DHX2 coil, the latter weighing almost double the former. The sturdy housing of the Magic Marys is a big part of that as well, but with the ENVEs in play, I’ll take the extra weight of the padding. I suspect the fork is a bit heavier, but now I can land 10mm bigger drops. Anyway, the bike weighs 15.2kg no matter how many times I reset the scale.
How does it roll?