This carbon-framed model costs £750 more than the all aluminium i-Drive 4 1.0 and only weighs about 100g less, so is it worth the extra money? Well, possibly. It's a great looking bike that'll appeal to lots of riders, and it offers a Fox FLOAT R fork in place of the RockShox Revelation on the £1,750 1.0 alu version. To some, the presumed kudos of the carbon frame plus a Fox fork will justify the overspend.
The i-Drive concept is a way of creating a very active suspension system with minimum pedal feedback by using a bottom bracket subframe that 'floats' underneath the mainframe. Theoretically, suspension feedback and chain growth on the i-Drive system counteract one another, leaving you to point, pedal and let the suspension do the donkey work. It works well, and each new i-Drive generation has worked better than the last.
The Carbon Pro exhibits a look of almost insectile grace. The rear triangle/swingarm is aluminium and apparently the same as on the new full aluminium frames. The carbon front end is, not surprisingly, very different to what has gone before. The almost organic curves, twists and spinal bulges of the frame shape are, presumably, a case of form following the desired function. It looks the part, it does the job, and the fact that it feels both stiff and lively under power suggests that the carbon layers and shapes have been well thought out.
The internal cable routing caused occasional problems with rear gear shifts because the short outer cable loop sitting between the mainframe and the rear triangle formed too tight a curve as the suspension compressed. This is easily sorted but it'll be interesting to see if the internal routing throws up any problems when it comes to re-cabling.
The Carbon Pro looks and feels superb, although it's hard to say whether the carbon mainframe makes it faster, more comfy or even more durable than the similarly equipped alu model. We couldn't detect any differences in ride feel that couldn't be explained by minor changes in tyre, fork and shock performance.
Both the aluminium and carbon i-Drive 4s are fantastic short travel cross-country bikes - there are times when the 100mm travel feels like more over rough terrain, in that it rarely feels challenged, but the overall impression is of a taut, rapid and very lively ride character that climbs with the best hardtails and rarely shows its limits on demanding descents.
Oh, did we mention that it's a lot of fun on singletrack too? Of the bikes we spent time with on the demo days at the Interbike show, this was the one we kept wanting to take out again.
Component wise, the Carbon Pro hits all the right buttons. The Fox FLOAT R fork and RP2 shock are superb and the drivetrain is a sensible mix of Shimano XTR (rear mech), XT (front mech and crankset) and LX (shifters). The wheels feature twin Onyx hubs with DT Swiss rims and they're shod with fast-rolling Kenda Nevegal treads. Stoppers are Avid Juicy Fives and most of the finishing kit is from Truvativ.