Intense Carbine SL frame £2399

Short travel cross-country bike with big personality

BikeRadar score 4/5

While the new 650b-wheeled Carbine and Tracer 275s (named for those 27.5in 650b wheels, even though they’re more like 27in… ‘Official’ measurements are a mess) hogged the spotlight at the Interbike show, the Carbine SL remains Intense’s trail flagship.

Ride & handling: Aggressive ride that needs some taming

That lack of mass combines with the power amplifying, torque-stiffening Virtual Pivot Point 2 (VPP2) suspension design to make the Carbine SL not just pop but explode as soon as you press the pedals. 

However, the speedy not grippy tyres, flexy wheels and long, narrowish XC cockpit undermine the lairy trail potential of the low slung and inherently ground-sucking frame.  

The VPP2 balances incoming impacts against outgoing power, so when you back off the gas heading into boulder heaps the swingarm yawns back and swallows them extremely well for such a lightweight bike. 

The Fox fork does a similarly impressive job of hiding its relatively short travel in a smoothly controlled, impact-happy stroke. Add fatter tyres, stiffer wheels and a shorter stem and that super-low bottom bracket lets you really rip and roar through turns.

It’s a fairly extreme and – yes – intense ride and that, along with the pedal clearance issues of the low BB, annoyed some riders. There’s also more brake jack and pedal tug than some will like, and the outdated QR back end and those thin-walled tubes can struggle to hold a line when you’re really caning it.

Intense tag this bike for cross-country and light trail use, so regular hooliganism might not be wise, despite its strengths. If you’re an aggressive but skillful rider who likes a bike that constantly communicates through your feet and responds with intuitive immediacy to your hands, you’ll love it.

Frame & equipment: Desirable details on lightweight tubes

Intense co-developed the Carbine frame with German composite engineering specialists SEED to get an impressive, near 2.2kg (5lb) weight.

The VPP2 suspension still gets grease injection ports on the lower link and two shock positions for 120 or 132mm of travel. It sticks with a quick-release rear axle, however, and the press-fit bottom bracket doesn’t have those useful chain guide tabs. It does have dropper post cable guides at least, and the whole frame is slammed super low.

Intense distributors Extra built our sample into an ethereally light cross-country bike with a wishlist of Easton carbon bits, including the cockpit, seatpost and its feathery EC90XC wheels. Fast rolling Hutchinson tyres and a braided carbon-rail Fizik saddle top it out at 10.5kg (23.2lb) – a level many race hardtails struggle to match.

Intense’s short travel trail machine is an incredibly responsive and intuitively reacting chassis that can match race bikes on climbs, but will still do its share of rabble rousing. Yet it’s not, despite the price, perfect.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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