Intense Carbine 29C Expert review

Big travel and big wheels don't mean a dull ride

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5
GBP £3,499.00 RRP | AUD $6,899.00 | USD $3,999.00

Our review

The Intense Carbine is a bike that’ll tackle the big stuff, but won’t shy away from a big day in the hills
Buy if, You want a long travel trail bike, or a nimble enduro bike
Pros: Neutral shape will suit many, really versatile ride that’ll do anything, go anywhere
Cons: Conservative geometry won’t appeal to those looking purely for descent focussed performance, Yari fork feels under-gunned
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Intense’s 155mm travel 29er enduro bike made a bit of a splash when it was launched in 2017, largely thanks to its top-level Factory model having a rather eye-wateringly expensive £9,000 price tag. Cheaper prices have arrived, and the Carbine still has that light, nimble feeling that I enjoyed when I first rode the bike.

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Pricing has changed at Intense here in the UK at least, with the brand going direct to consumer via its distributor Saddleback, bringing with it some relatively drastic price drops — that £9k Factory model now has an RRP of £6,299 for example. The Expert model that I have been testing was also subject to a price drop, bringing the boutique brand’s mid-level carbon enduro 29er bike down to £3,499.

I had no issues getting this bike airborne, the Carbine has a very confident swagger
I had no issues getting this bike airborne — the Carbine has a very confident swagger
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

All the bikes are fully checked over here in the UK, and along with shipping you also get reportedly around £70 of tools and accessories to get you out on the trail sharpish.

This level of delivery is similar to what you’d find from the likes of Canyon, and while the American brand can’t quite compete with Canyon on value, it’s a lot closer than you might think.

Intense Carbine 29C Expert frame

Intense's JS Link suspension, here in its 'Enduro' format provides a decent pedalling platform and a playful ride
Intense’s JS Link suspension, here in its ‘Enduro’ format provides a decent pedalling platform and a playful ride
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The frame is, as per all Intense bikes, built as a carbon monocoque, and this one comes with an alloy swinglink in the JS Enduro Link suspension. While the top three Carbine models get a higher modulus ‘SL’ frameset, this one gets the standard, slightly cheaper carbon, with roughly a 200g weight penalty.

The frame provides 155mm of rear wheel travel, supported by a metric length shock. The JS suspension system comes in three flavours — Trail, Enduro and DH — it’s the Enduro one that’s found here. This has a descent focussed bias, so pedalling stability is less of a focus. 

Intense says that the intention is to use the compression adjustment on the shock to firm up the suspension during climbing. While some bikes in the Intense range have adjustable travel, the Carbine’s remains static.

As you’d expect, there’s internal cable routing for brakes and dropper, as well as frame protection ‘Flack Guard’ armour to keep the down tube safe from rock strikes. ISCG05 mounts give the option for chain guides.

SRAM's GX Eagle has a wide ranging cassette
SRAM’s GX Eagle has a wide ranging cassette
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Intense has stayed conservative with the Carbine’s geometry. A size Large has a short for the genre reach of 455mm, balanced with long-ish 445mm stays. This gives a wheelbase of 1,233mm, which is pretty middle of the road. 

The 66-degree head angle isn’t massively slack, and the 74-degree seat angle is a touch slacker than we’re starting to commonly see. The bottom bracket height of 348mm isn’t super low, either.

Intense Carbine 29C Expert kit

The changes in the way Intense is being sold means that the Carbine is decked out in some pretty tidy kit for the price, especially considering you get a relatively ‘boutique’ carbon frame.

The 160mm RockShox Yari RC fork is perhaps the only weak link in the spec list. It’s controlled by the Motion Control damper, which is less refined, less supportive and more spiky than the Charger 2 damper found in the Lyrik. Both forks share the same chassis, so the Yari’s stiffness is on point. 

For £3.5k the Yari seems a bit tight, but Intense's new pricing makes the bike much better value than you might expect from the boutique brand
For £3.5k the Yari seems a bit tight, but Intense’s new pricing makes the bike much better value than you might expect from the boutique brand
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

However, save your pennies for a little while longer and it’s relatively cheap to upgrade, as the Charger 2 damper can be dropped in the Yari very easily, and you can even upgrade to the DebonAir air spring too — at that point, you have a Lyrik, with Yari decals.

The back end is controlled by a RockShox Deluxe RT3 shock, with three compression damping settings. It’s a decent shock, though if you are going to ride some prolonged enduro-esque descents, it’ll start to heat up and change in damping characteristics, losing a bit of compression and rebound control. It’s not a massive issue though, given the price of the bike.

SRAM’s ubiquitous GX Eagle groupset and alloy Descendant crank propels the bike forwards, while the whole shebang is brought to a stop by Shimano’s XT brakes, with 203/180mm rotors. 

GX Eagle is a popular choice on a wide range of bikes
GX Eagle is a popular choice on a wide range of bikes
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The bike rolls on DT Swiss’ M1900 spline wheels with its 30mm internal width supporting 2.3in Maxxis High Roller tyres with an EXO sidewall for extra stout-ness.

Renthal provides the 780mm Fatbar Lite DH bar, Intense provides the 40mm stem, while WTB chip in a Silverado saddle and Fox the Transfer dropper post.

The WTB Silverado saddle is held by a Fox Transfer dropper — one of our favourites
The WTB Silverado saddle is held by a Fox Transfer dropper — one of our favourites
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

A light and playful ride

The Carbine is a bike that skips over the top of stuff, rather than just plowing through it. The JS Tuned rear suspension, combined with the Deluxe RT3 shock doesn’t give a buttery, wallowy ride that lets you forget everything that’s going on below your tyre’s tread, but that’s not to say that the ride is harsh, nor that the suspension doesn’t work.

It’s a bike that deserves to be navigated over and around obstacles, rather than just blasted into them — and at that, it’s very well accomplished. The handling is light and reactive, not slow and lazy.

On steeper trails that slow and lazy handling would have translated to safety and security, but on flatter trails bikes like this can feel slow and a burden to ride. 

While it'll handle big enduro stages, it's also the perfect partner for playing around in the woods
While it’ll handle big enduro stages, it’s also the perfect partner for playing around in the woods
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Fortunately, the Carbine makes light work of twistier tracks, which need quick direction changes and regular accelerations. The suspension might have a more descent focus, but it’s definitely still got a hint of trail-bike reactivity inside it.

While some of the Carbine’s better value competitors might have a triple compound tyre up front, and arguably the Minion is a better aggressive tyre up front, I was still able to find confidence in the front end of the bike. 

The front triangle is accurate and stiff, but not so harsh that the bike struggles to find grip on off camber turns. On prolonged descents, some of us found that the front end might be a touch harsh, though there’s a number of other variables that could contribute to that — namely the Motion Control damper in the fork. 

Renthal Fatbar held in place by a 40mm Intense stem
Renthal Fatbar held in place by a 40mm Intense stem
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The 66-degree head angle and 1,233mm wheelbase are neither super slack, nor super short, but nicely balanced, so the shape throws up no surprised, positive or negative. The learning curve is mild on the Carbine 29C.

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Intense Carbine 29C Expert bottom line

While the Carbine is marketed as an enduro bike, I think it also works well as a trail bike. A big sofa of a bike it is not, despite the travel numbers. Intense has created a bike that’s intuitive to ride, and one that blurs the line between some big-wheeled, long travel monster and a short-travel trail sniper. 

Product Specifications

Product

Name Carbine 29C Expert
Brand Intense

Available Sizes S M L XL
Saddle WTB Silverado Race
Rear Wheel 29
Front Wheel 29
Tyres 2.3
Chainstays (in) 445
Bottom Bracket Height (in) 348
Brake Levers Shimano Xt
Chainring Size (No of Teeth) 32
Year 2018
Wheelset DT Swiss M1900 Spline
Stem Intense Recon 40mm
Shifters SRAM GX Eagle
Seatpost Fox Transfer 150mm
Seat Angle 74
Rims DT Swiss M1900 Spline
Bottom Bracket SRAM GXP
Rear Tyre Size 29x2.3
Rear Tyre Maxxis Highroller II
Rear Shock RockShox Deluxe RT3
Rear Hub DT Swiss M1900 Spline
Rear Derailleur SRAM GX Eagle
Handlebar Renthal Fatbar Lite
Front Tyre Size 29x2.3
Front Tyre Maxxis Highroller II
Front Hub DT Swiss M1900 spline
Fork RockShox Yari RC 160mm
Cranks Truvative Descendant
Chain SRAM GX Eagle
Cassette SRAM X1 Eagle
Brakes Shimano XT
Frame size tested L