This article is part of the Mtbr's Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here--

In our First Look at the Carbine 29 we remarked at how refreshingly clutter-free Intense made the handlebar on this bike. No suspension lockouts, no electronics, no front shifter-and only a single clamp on each side, due to judicious use of SRAM's Matchmaker hardware. Essentially three buttons, two levers and a whole lot less on the brain. Beautiful. That said, we now feel the Carbine 29 should probably come with one more control-an Easy Button, because that's how it feels to ride this bike.

Whether bombing descents, huffing up long climbs or taking it airborne, our test riders found the Carbine a comfortable, easy whip to command. And while a couple of the 29ers in our test instill similar confidence, they do so by more-or-less muting-out the bike. The Intense, on the other hand, manages to instill a sense of self-assurance while still keeping things exciting.

"There's something about the Carbine that feels like an old friend-I was immediately comfortable, but it wasn't that numb, passionless feeling," said one test rider. "I felt I was in control despite being on the ragged edge of chaos."

Going downhill fast-in the good way

It should come as no surprise that the Carbine Pac-Mans chunky downhill terrain. Its 29-inch wheels combined with 140mm of Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) commanded rear suspension in combination with a buttery smooth RockShox Pike 160mm-travel fork gives the bike a luxurious but responsive ride quality. What did surprise, however, was what happened when the Carbine left the ground.

Photo by Sean McLaughlin.

"After gobbling up the chunky sections like a trophy truck, I expected the Carbine to flatten out the lips and just kind of swallow on jumps," said one rider. "Instead, I the Carbine snaps into the air confidently and lands with a certain sure-footed authority."

On the up and up

Equally surprising was the way the Carbine 29 climbed. At 28 pounds, the Intense is respectable for its gravity-biased ambitions, but not a lightweight. On long ascents the Easy Button analogy again comes to mind as the bike pedals with a certain lightness and efficiency. It's not at-the-front-of-the-pack speed, but its right there in the second group ahead of all the other big bikes, and without all the whining.

The Carbine 29 shines on technical climbs as well, charging up and over rock gardens, big logs and other "no way" obstacles like Godzilla stomping out Japan-the attack angle-limiting wheels working in tandem with the supple suspension to claw spin and lift over the gnar. Once you trust the bike enough to keep pedaling in the face of iffy-ness, the Carbine rewards you with pull-through.

There seems to be a misunderstanding

Having looked at the Carbine's specs the night before our test, one of our riders determined that the bike's long wheelbase and chainstays should result in a stable but poor maneuvering ride. Indeed, the Carbine both looks big and puts big numbers up on the spec sheet, but what that test rider-and the other six-foot-or-taller riders who signed up to ride the bike-didn't realize is our Intense was actually a medium-sized frame, not large as they had presumed.

A well-hidden grey-on-black frame decal indicating its size went unnoticed, tricking the riders into riding a frame size they normally wouldn't consider. More than that, the misread ended up being a blessing in disguise.

"Honestly I thought you were joking when you said it was a medium," said one test rider. "Had I known before hand, I probably would have dismissed it. I'm glad I didn't, because this was my favorite bike in the test.'"

While both bikes have a longish 17.75-inch large chainstay length, the wheelbase of the medium Carbine 29 is 46-inches, a full inch shorter than its size large brethren. While the large's 47-inch wheelbase would have been the longest, and theoretically most unwieldy, in our entire test, the medium is about average for the 29ers and is actually shorter than a few of the 27.5-inch bikes. On the trail, it made for a maneuverable ride.

"I expected the Carbine 29 to be stable in the wide sweepers-which it was-but where it surprised me was tighter turns," commented one rider. "There's a 180 hairpin around a fence post I only make about 50 percent of the time on my 26er that I made on the first attempt with the Carbine. I went back and did it two more times just to confirm it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't."

Continue to Page 2 for more on the Intense Carbine 29 and full photo gallery »

Parts pick done right

Even before throwing a leg over the Carbine 29, we knew its solid spec would serve us well. And it only took a few pedal strokes for confirmation-RockShox Pike, check. SRAM XO1 drivetrain, check. FOX Float CTD Kashima, RockShox Reverb Stealth, Avid Elixer 9 Trail brakes, Maxxiss High Roller II tires-check, check, check and check.

Though the Novatec Diablo 29 wheelset was a bit on the portly side at 1,900 grams, we liked them better than the flexy Stan's ZTR EX's on many of our test bikes. The 740mm FSA SL-K handlebars could have been a little wider, but were acceptable. All-in-all a pretty sweet build and not a bad value for $6,600.

Down the road, we'd maybe go with a carbon wheelset and maybe upgrade to a lighter crank, but those are "nice to haves" not "have to haves." As is, this bike's stock spec is respectable in every way.

Who is this bike for?

The Carbine 29 loves to go fast and could easily be the go-to whip for the aggressive enduro race type. At the same time, the Intense rides "fun," eagerly playing confidently on jumps, drops and technical challenges. We have dreams about riding Porcupine Rim on this bike where it would seem to be fully in its element floating over chunks of red rock and popping up and down ledges.

The last word

The Carbine 29 is capable, fast, fun, and yes, easy to ride. Though it's not inexpensive, it is a good value-you get a smart pick of parts for your money that you won't need to upgrade any time soon. The Carbine 29 inspires confidence and helps you progress as a rider. The only caveat we'd add is that getting the correct size frame is critical (and may not be what you think it is). Our 6-foot to 6-foot-2 riders who all initially thought they should have been on larges all felt the size medium tester was spot-on.

The Good

  • Fast, gnar-eating performance
  • Confidence-inspiring, but still playful
  • Loves technical terrain
  • Climbs like a lighter bike
  • Great spec-to-price ratio

The Bad

  • Sizing is tricky
  • Long chainstays and wheelbase
  • Handlebars could be wider

2014 Intense Carbine 29 Key Specs

  • MSRP: $6600
  • Weight: 27.75 pounds (size medium)
  • Wheel size: 29 inches
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Color: Matte black/orange
  • Frame Material: Carbon fiber front and rear triangles
  • Fork: RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air, 160mm-travel
  • Rear Travel: 140mm/127mm adjustable
  • Rear Shock: Fox CTD Adjust Kashima
  • Headset: Cane Creek 40
  • Handlebar: FSA SL-K Carbon, 740mm
  • Stem: FSA Afterburner, 70mm
  • Grips: ODI/Troy Lee Designs Lock-On
  • Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
  • Brakes: Avid Elixer 9 Trail
  • Brake Levers: Avid Elixer 9 Trail
  • Shifters: SRAM XO1 11-speed
  • Front Derailleur: na
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM XO1 11-speed
  • Cassette: SRAM XO1, 10-42
  • Crankset: SRAM XO1 alloy, 32-tooth
  • Rims: Novatec Diablo 29
  • Hubs: Novatec Diablo 29, 142x12mm Rear
  • Spokes: Novatec
  • Tires: Maxxis High Roller II, 2.35-inches
  • Bottom bracket type: SRAM Press Fit
  • ISCG Tabs: Yes
  • Chain guide: No
  • Head tube angle: 67-degrees
  • Seat tube angle: 72-degrees
  • Chainstay length: 17.75 inches
  • Bottom bracket height: 13.75 inches
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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.