Everything about the Intense Carbine 29 is big. Large tyres wrap big diameter 29″ wheels, a tall 160mm travel fork up front leads the way for a generous 140mm of travel out the back. Who would need such a big bike, and what type of trails will such a unique monster feel at home on? We found out.
The Carbine has been around in various incarnations over the last few years, it’s well-known as quite an adaptable bike with the 27.5″ Carbine and older 26″ Carbine using special dropouts that would let you adapt between two wheel sizes, we tested one in 2013. For 2015 the Carbine 29 receives a sleek new carbon rear end dedicated to the use of 29″ wheels.
With Intense now offering complete bikes rather than just frames, the components are carefully selected to play to the strength of the bike’s unique intended use.
Also you can read our review on the 130mm travel 2016 Intense Spider 29c here: Intense Spider 29c review.
The Carbine is all about carbon and the VPP suspension linkage, carbon is the lustrous material that gives the frame its light weight and responsive stiff frame, and the Virtual Pivot Point delivers Intense’s trademark pedal efficiency. VPP suspension is found on both Santa Cruz and Intense, and also many other ‘non-patent infringing versions’ of the design can also found on a Giant, Pivot, BMC, Ibis and many more. In short the rear suspension gets its efficiency from the way that the rear end of the bike moves away from the bike’s front end when the rear suspension compresses, adding tension to the chain. So when you’re pedalling and applying your own tension to the chain, the suspension has a firmer feel and allows your pedalling effort to not get lost in unwanted compression of the suspension.
Two CNCd aluminium linkages make up the VPP, and you’ll find nifty grease ports on the lower linkage to make maintenance a snack, with the bearings so close to the dirt and in direct firing line of any debris shooting off the front tyre, it’s well worth keeping the moving parts full of fresh and clean grease.
Rear travel is adjustable between 125 and 140mm by swapping the mounting of the lower shock mount to the other hole. It’s a big jump in travel, and we’d only imagine that running the bike in 125mm with the fork still at 160 would make for an awkward and unbalanced ride with such a difference in travel amount, so we left it at 140mm. Perhaps with a 140mm fork setting you’d effectively have two bikes in one.
Intense have run most of the cables internally through the frame, it’s only the seatpost that runs outside the frame. Love it or hate it, the use of internal cables sure does make for a tidy and neat frame, but when it comes to maintenance directing the cables in one end and out the other can more painful than picking a lock with a piece of cooked spaghetti. We would have voted for externalyl routed cables done right.
But most importantly, how GOOD does this frame look? Intense have taken a bit of a risk with this fairly unconventional frame paint job, and we bloody love it. The red, orange, black and white colours combine to make a bike look like nothing we’ve seen before. All the decals and graphics are also so nice to look at, neatly finished and cleverly placed to highlight the creative shapes of the lovely carbon frame.
In recent times Intense made a move to offer their delicious frames to consumers as complete bikes, whereas for many years you were predominantly faced with a daunting and costly process of building one up from a bare frame. Each Intense is available in a few different build kits, and we tested the Carbine $7799 Expert model. The $7999 Pro build and a top shelf $11999 Factory build are also available here in Oz. Frame only price is $4199 with a Cane Creek Inline rear shock, so no, these bikes aren’t cheap. A real mixture of parts made their way onto this Carbine 29; with Renthal bars, a Thompson stem, a KS seatpost, Stans wheels and a Shimano drivetrain and brakes. We appreciate the way smaller boutique brands like Intense can pick on-trend parts that we rarely see come stock on bikes, it adds to the fact that you’re buying something different and a little bit exotic.
Front to back all the spec worked a treat during our test duration. The wheels with meaty Maxxis High Roller II tyres felt light enough to get rolling – especially considering their size – and can easily be set up tubeless with a couple valves and a good squirt of sealant. The cockpit suited the bike nicely, but we’d love to try the bike with a flatter handlebar to help counteract the tall feeling front end a 160mm travel fork gives you.
The drivetrain is a classic Shimano 2×10 setup, with two small chainrings up the front. This may not please those riders who are falling over themselves to simplify their bikes with a single-ring drivetrain conversion or SRAM setup, but the gear range that you have on offer here is fantastic. Nothing beats that feeling of dropping down to the small ring and spinning lightly on the cranks to get you back up to the top of the trails. A burly 29er like this one takes a lot more to get moving, so a low and wide range of gears is nothing but a blessing in this instance.
Brakes from Shimano are a real Flow favourite, and we aren’t the only ones who call the Shimano XT brakes the best out there, we’d just like to have seen the Shimano i-Spec system used to combine the brake lever and shifter into one handlebar clamp in the name of neatness.
Do we need to comment on the RockShox Pike? What more can be said about this magically smooth, supportive and controlled fork that we haven’t already? Although, to match the adjustable rear end travel amount the Carbine could have benefited from the Dual Position Pike (travel adjustable on the fly) version. This would have widened the bike’s abilities, especially as a more general trail bike with less travel. The RockShox Monarch Plus on the other hand is a fairly simple version with only air pressure and rebound speed adjustments, it is factory set with a fairly firm compression tune. The plushness is there, but at times we wished for a more supple ride when the speeds turned up, and the three position version of the Monarch Plus would have been sweet.
We knew the Carbine 29 was going to ride like a monster truck, and we weren’t at all surprised when we took it to the trails when started running over stuff. It’s a real point and shoot type of bike, it’s all about finding hard terrain and mowing it down with reckless abandon. Line choices became less important, ledges on the trail felt smaller and steep roll-downs were significantly less intimidating. But is that what you really want from a bike? Did it just make things too easy?
There is always going to be a tradeoff of a bike with this much confidence in the rough, but in this case, the Carbine as been able to minimise two particular drawbacks that would normally come with such a burly ride; weight and efficiency. The high end parts build and lightweight carbon frame help keep the weight down, and the firm rear shock tune combined with the VPP makes sure the 140mm of travel doesn’t bog you down when you need to get moving.
But take a look at some of the numbers in the geometry chart. The chainstays are 451mm in length, that makes for a lot of bike trailing behind the bottom bracket. What comes with a long rear end is a bike that is less flickable in tighter terrain, and also a chore to lift the front end on when climbing up steps and ledges. Add to the fact that as the rear suspension compresses the rear end moves away from the bottom bracket to a degree, lengthening the bike even further. It takes some getting used to, but even after a few good rides we found it a hard task to duck and weave through tight singletrack. We even battled to pop a wheelie, or manual the Carbine, it’s really quite long.
Of course on the positive flip side of all this is there advantage to having a long rear end? Yes, of course. You just need to let the brakes off and seek out more open terrain to ride. We took the Carbine to a rough old fire road littered with ruts and loose rock, and it was time for it to shine, in its element the Carbine was as stable and confident as your average downhill bike. With a big 29″ wheel, a short and wide cockpit and the venerable RockShox Pike leading the way, you felt unstoppable.
The 67 degree head angle is on the slack side of things, and with such a tall fork the whole front end felt tall and a little sluggish at slower speeds, so climbing out of the saddle the bars feel quite high. We’d love to try the Carbine 29 with a travel adjustable fork to drop the front end down with the flick of a switch when climbing, and even a flatter handlebar if you’re not over 6 foot in height could be a good option.
Laterally the Carbine isn’t the stiffest of frames we’ve ridden lately, the rear end doesn’t quite match the front end stiffness, and when pushed hard the rear wheel can chatter sideways. And it didn’t get the best marks in the classic carpark rear wheel flex test, the tradeoff for low frame weight.
The VPP suspension does a great job of keeping your hard pedal power from getting lost in translation, the pedal efficiency is right on the money. In the small chainring you’ll feel the rear chain tugging on the pedals as the rear shock compresses, it’s a bit lumpy but something that you eventually forget about after a few rides.
The Carbine 29 is a very specific bike that is best suited for a specific type of trail. If you’re a rider who cares less for choosing the smoothest lines, and don’t mind lugging a bigger bike through the slower trails in search of the toughest technical trails around, the Carbine 29 is your guy. But if you’re a lighter rider and under 175cm the height and length of the bike might be a bit much to handle unless you’re lucky enough to have massive mountains within range.
It’d even make for a fast enduro race bike if you don’t mind a 29″ wheel beneath you.