by Mark Alker
December 16, 2013
A harsh terrain endure bike offering massive appeal to downhillers kicking back from full-on downhill rigs
Intense was one of the first companies to design a longer-travel bike with 29in wheels, scoring podium places in both downhill and enduro events with early versions of the Carbine. The VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension design it shares with Santa Cruz easily accommodates 140mm of travel without making the back end long; the Carbine is designed to be fitted with a fork offering up to 160mm of travel, suggesting it appeals more to harder hitters than those looking at the Trek or the Niner. Rear wheel travel can quickly be dropped to 130mm by repositioning the rear shock bolt, and a 140 or 150mm travel fork would be adequate for riders who are less aggressive or less concerned about flat-out downhill ability. Our bike came with a 160mm RockShox Pike with a 51mm offset. For those not committed to 29in wheels, there are 26in or 27.5in Carbine models designed for 150mm travel forks too.
As the name suggests, all Carbines are built from carbon with a focus on low weight: Intense claims that a medium 29in frame weighs 5.8lb. The test bike weighed in at 28.6lb, making it the lightest of the three bikes on test (but also the most expensive): bear in mind that the other two have aluminium frames.
Intense has a lot of experience with, and an excellent reputation for, carbon composite structures. The Carbine frame is sturdily built where it needs to be, notably behind the head tube, at the bottom bracket and where the swingarm connects. Standover clearance is generous and the cable routing is tidy, with full outers everywhere, mainly routed internally (including routing for the RockShox Reverb dropper post). The right-hand chain stay has a thick wrap and a bash plate to protect the frame from chain damage and there’s a front mech mount incorporated, although we’d imagine a lot of Carbine buyers will opt for a SRAM X0 1×11 set-up, like our test bike. With the 32t ring up front and the 10-42t cassette all bases are covered without superfluous clutter. ISCG chain guide tabs are ready for those who want them and you get a Fox Float CTD Kashima rear shock with its climb/trail/descend lever, nicely matching the three-position lever on top of the right leg of the Pike fork. Fine detailing on the frame is well considered: the pivot bearings with grease ports under the bottom bracket are angular contact/collet units, the short head tube is tapered, there’s a decent amount of mud room and the lower down tube has a thick reinforcing pad to protect it from rock damage. Additional dropper post cable guide eyelets double up as down tube bottle cage bosses.
Looking back at what was available just a few short years ago, sub-30lb bikes with more than 120mm of suspension travel were a rarity… and that was with smaller, lighter wheels. But the big surprise is not so much that a longer travel sub-30lb bike with big wheels is available, but that it can tackle the uphills and high speed cross-country singletrack better than those short travel 26in bikes of a few years back. The VPP back end feels great; it’s taut and acceleration-friendly under pedalling loads, while at the same time perfectly controlling every shock in both the ‘trail’ and ‘descend’ modes. The softest setting is more sensitive to a point where it’s activated more by weight shifts too. We never felt the need for the ‘climb’ mode and spent most of the test in the middle ‘trail’ setting, as this was better than the ‘descend’ setting for avoiding pedal strikes on compression dips and step-ups while pedalling hard.
The static 67º head angle and 160mm fork inevitably give the Carbine a more laid-back feel than the Trek or the Niner, and the longer fork means its climbing character is a little less dynamic. But there’s almost no interference between pedalling and the shock so you can really power up climbs: you just bend your elbows more to accommodate the longer fork. Obviously that longer fork is a real bonus when you want to let loose on the steeper downhills, too. The handling is supremely confident and amazingly stable at high speeds, but the fork offset sharpens the steering nicely at lower speeds, to the point where it felt more at ease than most short travel small-wheelers on our well-manicured local trails. That’s unusual for a long travel 29in. On the more natural rock- and root-strewn terrain, it rails its way through the turns in ways that allow right-on-the-edge speed to be carried with ease rather than using the brakes, although obviously part of that was down to tyre choice: 2.2in Kenda Nevegals are an ideal choice and the DT Swiss M520 wheels never flinched.
The Intense Carbine 29 was the last bike to turn up and the one that instantly produced the biggest thrills on our favourite riverbed trail descent. Its nicely sorted, relaxed geometry and extra fork travel were a big bonus in terms of confidence, especially on the high speed bouldery sections, but also meant it was slightly less willing than the Trek or the Niner on steeper climbs. All three bikes climb well but a 150mm fork means that more concerted elbow bending is needed to keep your weight forward on nose-to-stem climbs. Still, it makes up for that elsewhere. The Carbine is probably the best harsh terrain enduro bike of the three tested here, offering massive appeal to downhillers kicking back from full-on downhill rigs – but it’s not cheap. Start saving.
- Frame // Intense carbon fibre w/130-140mm Fox Float Kashima shock
- Fork // 160mm RockShox Pike
- Hubs // DT Swiss 350
- Rims // DT Swiss M520
- Tyres // Kenda Nevegal John Tomac 2.2in
- Chainset // SRAM 32t
- Front Mech // None
- Rear Mech // SRAM X0
- Shifters // SRAM X0 1×11
- Cassette // 10-42t
- Brakes // Avid 9 Trail w/180/160mm rotors
- Stem // Thomson
- Bars // FSA SL-K carbon 740mm
- Grips // Intense bolt-on
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb
- Saddle // Intense
- Size Tested // Medium (46cm)
- Sizes Available // S, M, L
- Weight // 28.6lb (12.87kg) without pedals