This article is part of the Mtbr's Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here--https://reviews.mtbr.com/category/enduro-compare-o-2014
Perhaps no brand exemplifies the Southern California mountain bike vibe better than Intense Cycles. From pioneering early '90's gravity designs to present-day Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) models across the entire spectrum, Intense's reputable founder and chief designer Jeff Steber has a knack for blending amazing aesthetics with even better performance. The Carbine 29 looks to take that DNA and interpret it in long-travel, carbon fiber, 29-inch wheel form. And as our cursory look reveals, the 160mm front/140mm rear travel all-mountain whip makes a strong case for success not only in its good looks, but smart spec as well. It's got the beauty, it's got the brains, and if it can deliver the on-trail goods, this $6,600 big wheeler might just be a sleeper hit.
A SoCal Frame of Mind
The Carbine's frameset is a sight to behold. Its orange-accented, matte black carbon front triangle is mated to a matching carbon asymmetrical rear triangle via a series of trick, aluminum VPP linkages machined on-premises at Intense's Temecula, Calif. factory. A two-position upper linkage allows travel adjustments between 140 and 127mm settings while maintaining consistent geometry. Its lower counterpart tucks tightly under and behind the bottom bracket shell to keep wheelbase and chainstay length to a minimum. Minimum being a relative term as the Carbine's chainstays measure 17.75-inches, with a 46-inch wheelbase on our size medium test bike.
The upper linkage has two shock mounting positions-one allows the full 150mm of travel, while the other limits it to 127mm without altering the bike's geometry.
A look at the protractor shows the Carbine hitting the all-mountain sweet spots with a head tube angle of 67-degrees, and the seat tube at a 72-degree effective angle. The bottom bracket is a bit tall at 13.75-inches, perhaps not a bad thing with VPP undercarriage clearance to think about.
Tidy cable management was clearly a priority for Intense as all the Carbine's hoses and housing runs internally through the main frame and chain stays to their destinations with the exception of the dropper hose. It routes externally on the downtube before disappearing through a port in the seat tube then attaching to an internally actuated seatpost. There is, however, an unoccupied internal routing tunnel along the top tube that could be used for a non-internally configured dropper post.
Despite the complexity, buried cables always look better than overhead lines.
While internal cables add a level of complexity to installation and maintenance, Intense makes threading them easy with internal sleeving. We love the clean look and expect they'll help keep the Carbine quiet in the rough stuff as well.
Another plus for the Intense-an uncluttered, concise control configuration. Unlike some of the bikes in our test that have a veritable bird's nest of cables near the head tube, the Carbine is a minimal affair with only a single rear shifter cable, a single hose for the hydraulic dropper post, and hoses for each of the two brakes. The handlebar's zen is made even better by the use of SRAM's Matchmaker hardware that pairs controls on a single clamp-the dropper post remote and front brake lever on the left clamp, and the rear shifter and brake lever on the right. Looking down, the setup is refreshingly simple, utilitarian and purposeful.
Fewer cables mean less distraction and more focus. We like it.
Functional frame details are dialed with a nicely executed integrated downtube protector as well as a rubberized chainstay protector adding armor where necessary. Like fellow manufacturer Santa Cruz, from whom they license the VPP design, Intense includes Zerk grease fittings for easy pivot lubrication. Combined with smart, collet-style fixing hardware, overhauls and rebuilds should be a piece of cake on the Carbine.
If you're into chainguides, Intense accommodates with ISCG-05 tabs, not to mention a front derailleur mount for running the Carbine retro style. Finally, the bike ships with Intense's G1 dropout system that accommodates every rear axel style you can think of, including the preferred142x12mm configuration that came with our bike.
Just after eating a front derailleur, this California golden bear hopped on an Intense for the ride of his life.
Special Blend Parts Mix is Spot-on
By splurging on parts that make a discernible difference-the luxurious RockShox Pike fork, for example-while conserving dollars where possible-the less-expensive SRAM XO1 drivetrain instead of XX1-the Carbine chooses functional substance over fashion to the benefit of your pocketbook.
The biggest step-down savings comes from the XO1 aluminum cranks SRAM only offers its OEM customers for presumably much less than their carbon aftermarket counterparts. Clearly Intense elected to save on the cranks and up the spec elsewhere-a strategy we applaud.
Carbon for show, alloy for go-in this case 11-speed yet much-less-expensive go.
Perhaps our biggest round of ovation, however, is reserved for the fork spec-a 160mm-travel RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air. Light and buttery, we've been high on the new Pike since we first cycled one, and can't imagine it disappointing us on the Carbine. A Fox Float CTD Kashima assumes duty astern, regulating the rear end motion with its familiar Climb, Trail, Descend damping.
Though SRAM has taken no shortage of static for their hydraulic brakes in recent history, we've found the Avid Elixer 9 Trails to be pretty darn good and we're glad to see them here. SRAM gets one other piece of hydraulic spec in the form of their excellent RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post.
The Carbine rolls on a pair of Novatec tubeless-ready Diablo 29 wheels, which notably feature a 23mm inner rim dimension. The wide stance maximizes the profile of Maxxis' grippy High Roller II's, which should stick like Velcro in their 29-inch incarnation. Despite the heavy-ish, 1,900-gram wheelset, the bike's overall weight still comes in respectably under 28 pounds.
Though we've seen Intense ebb and flow over the years, some recent management improvements along with a steady stream of product wins gives them the look of a company on the upswing. While the Carbine 29 predates the front-office changes, it exudes the kind of innovation that made Intense great in the first place-a kind of innovation that doesn't so much invent the wheel as make it roll better, faster and smoother all the while looking really damn cool. On paper and at first glance, the Carbine 29 has the potential define what big-wheeled, big-travel bikes look and feel like. High expectations perhaps, but ones we can't wait to put to the test.
Editors Note: Our test bike was damaged in shipping resulting in some gouging on the bike's top tube as well as a mangled front wheel and rotor. The bike is pictured with a wheel we swiped from another bike.
2014 Intense Carbine 29 Spec Highlights
- Weight: 27.75 pounds
- Wheel Size: 29 inches
- Frame Material: Carbon fiber front and rear triangles
- Travel/Suspension: 160mm front/140mm (or 127mm) rear; RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air; Fox CTD Adjust Kashima
- Drivetrain: SRAM XO1 1x11, 32t front chainring, 10-42 casette
- Brakes: Avid Elixer 9 Trail
- Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
- Wheelset/Tires: Novatec Diablo 29, with Maxxis Highroller II 2.35-inches
- Bar/Stem: FSA SL-K Carbon, 740mm; Thompson X4 70mm
- Bottom Bracket Type: SRAM GXP Press Fit
- Head Tube Angle: 67 degrees
- Seat Tube Angle: 72 degrees
- Chainstay length: 17.75 inches
- Bottom Bracket Height: 13.75 inches
- Bike MSRP: $6,600
- Frame MSRP: $3,000
This story is part of Mtbr's 2014 Enduro Compare-O. Check out our intro story here for all the ground rules and goings ons.
Read our Bottom Line Evaluation of the Intense Carbine 29 here.