The Intense Carbine has been around for six years now, but the latest generation bike — a big-hitting 155/160mm 29er — draws upon the experience that Intense founder Jeff Steeber and product manager Chad Peterson have gained from the growing range of bikes launched over the past year.
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Their combined experience, as well as plenty of feedback from Intense Factory Racing’s Jack Moir, who has raced prototype Carbines to top ten finishes in the first two rounds of the 2017 EWS series, mean it’s a bike with plenty of attitude.
There are two frames in the line-up, with the top three models and the frame-only option using the ‘SL’ (Super Light) frameset, which uses a high modulus carbon with thinner tube walls, while the lower two models use the standard carbon — which adds around 200g.
The carbon frames are built around a Metric shock, which provides 155mm of travel based around Intense’s JS Enduro linkage system.
The JS Enduro linkage is similar to the JS Trail and JS DH linkages found on other Intense bikes, but is better tuned to enduro applications.
German industrial designers Ceed has designed the linkage and each linkage system has its own suspension curve. The Trail system benefits from slightly better pedalling characteristics, while the Enduro and DH curves are much more descent focused. So, Intense suggests the Medium and Firm shock modes are only used when needed — this isn’t a bike where descending performance has to be compromised for climbing ability either.
While some recent Intense bikes have had the ability to change travel by adjusting a chip in the frame, the Carbine has only the 155mm travel setting. This means that the suspension leverage rates on the shock are consistent, so there are no compromises on shock set up.
Intense worked with Cesar Rojo on the bike’s geometry, and while he may be better known for his radical geometry ideas, the Carbine sticks to relatively tried and tested shapes.
The reach (for size Large) is 455mm, there's a 23mm bottom bracket drop, 445mm chainstays and 65.5-degree head angle. While the reach isn’t long, the 1,233mm wheelbase, thanks to the reasonably slack head angle, has a decent length, adding to the stability of the big wheels.
In tune with the increasing number of 150–170mm dropper posts, the seat tube isn’t super long nor the stand-over particularly high, meaning smaller riders will find it easier to up-size on frames, should they wish.
Integrated chainstay and down tube protectors should offer decent levels of protection against rock strikes, while the bolted thru-axle at the back means there are no levers knocking around the rear wheel either.
With a high price tag, you’d expect the frame to be nicely finished, and Intense delivers here. The linkage bolts and bearings all look to be quality items, while there’s full internal sleeving for the cable routing.
The models: spec and pricing
Alongside the £3,100 frame-only option, there are five Carbine models available:
Intense Carbine Factory
The Factory version is the top-line version at £9,000 / $10,399 / AU$14,999.
As you’d expect, it comes with range topping kit: a 160mm RockShox Lyrik RCT3 is mated with a Super Deluxe RC3 shock, SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain, Shimano XTR Trail brakes, Enve M70 HV / DT Swiss 240 wheels, Enve and Fabric finishing kit and a Fox Transfer dropper.
Intense Carbine Elite
The Elite, priced at £7,200 / $7,999 / AU$11,550, has the same suspension as the Factory version, Intense’s own carbon rims built around DT Swiss 350 hubs, an XO1 Eagle groupset and Guide RS brakes. Finishing kit includes Intense’s own bar/stem and the Transfer post.
Intense Carbine Pro
At £6,200 / $6,999 / $10,190, the Pro has the same spec as the Elite, but with DT Swiss M1700 alloy wheels and an Eagle groupset partly made up of the new GX Eagle group.
Intense Carbine Expert
The £4,800 / $4,999 / AU$7,499 Expert comes with the non-SL frame, a Yari RC fork, DT Swiss M1900 wheels, XT brakes, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and Renthal finishing kit.
Intense Carbine Foundation
Finally, the Foundation comes in at £3,900. This translates to $3,999 / AUS$5,799. The Foundation is kitted out with the Yari RC and Super Deluxe RT3 shock, RaceFace rimmed wheels, SRAM GX 11 speed gears, Shimano M500 brakes and a RaceFace Aeffect dropper.
First ride impressions
I spent two days riding the Carbine at the Punta Ala Trail Center in Italy on a mix of tracks from fast and flowy to steep, rocky and gnarly — it’s an area previously raced in the EWS, so was the perfect testing ground for the big-wheeled enduro bike — where I rode the Factory version of the bike.
This bike is dripping with Gucci kit – with the highest level of suspension and wheels — it’s fair to say that the Carbine was off to a good start.
My first day of riding was more pedally and mellow than the second day, which was uplifted by the resort. This gave me the chance to get used to the bike before I hit the big stuff.
Despite being told that I’d needed to use the compression lever on the shock, I actually managed to ride the vast majority of the climbs unlocked. Sat down, the suspension is relatively neutral with little pedal bob. Stood up there’s more, and when I was trying to beat others up the climbs I would flick the compression switch on the Super Deluxe to combat this.
The larger wheels, with wide WT spec Maxxis Minion rubber, give plenty of traction on all but the loosest of climbs. The 30mm internal width of the rim with the 2.5-inch tyres means pressures can easily be dropped to the low 20s PSI, without too much undue tyre roll, which therefore boosts traction.
I found the front wheel a little light on the steepest climbs, despite a 74-degree seat angle, needing a good bit of body weight shifting to find the perfect spot between front wheel accuracy and rear wheel traction.
When it comes to the descents, the Carbine shows its enduro credentials, but fortunately seems to avoid the curse of long travel 29ers — it’s not an absolute slugger on flat or very tight trails. It’s still agile enough to muscle through tight, repeated corners, and that longer back end still gives speed stability.
On all but the steepest trails I found the front end a touch light, until I slammed the stem — an almost inevitable function of having a regularly shaped, longer travel 29er — the front end is always going to be high, pushing your weight back.
With the stem dropped as low as it could go, and the wide rims supporting the chunky tyres, cornering grip was very impressive on the Tuscan rocks, roots and dust. The 2018 Lyrik also showed it’s calibre, offering plenty of support in its mid-stroke, while remaining supple on smaller hits and confident when pushed deeper into its travel.
The rear suspension felt relatively neutral, with no noticeable hang-ups on square edged hits, nor any unwanted pedal kickback — those big wheels again help smooth the trail.
At 82kg, I was bang on Intense’s recommended weight for adding volume spacers to the shock. It doesn't come with any, but I would definitely recommend adding some if you are at or above this weight, or are a particularly aggressive rider. Adding volume spacers will help the shock ramp up towards the end of its stroke and I managed to bottom it out a couple of times on the uplifted ride.
Intense Carbine early verdict
I’d like to get a Carbine in for proper testing on known trails, but the initial signs are that Intense has created a rapid bike.
If you’re not expecting hill-sprint stability from the rear suspension, but want a bike that’ll get down and over pretty much everything, the Carbine could be one to watch.