Bike: 2015 Intense Carbine 29
Size Tested: Medium
Geometry: See page 2
Build: 2014 SRAM X01 Kit; see section below
- Rear: 125 – 140mm (adjustable)
- Front: 160mm
Reviewer Info: 5’8”, 160 lbs.
Test Location: Boulder City, Nevada
Interbike’s outdoor demo is located at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s a fantastic network of trails, and it’s a great escape from that wretched hive of filth and villainy that is Las Vegas.
The trails we spent most of our time on were relatively fast, with a fair amount of sand and some pretty rocky sections.
Having said that…
Riding bikes at a demo is always kind of tricky. For starters, we’re unable to get as much time on each bike as we like–our test durations are measured in minutes and hours, not our preferred time frame of weeks and months. One good ride can tell you a lot about how a bike handles, but it certainly doesn’t allow for the customary, in-depth, Blister analysis.
Demo days also don’t generally permit the time needed to get each bike dialed to our liking. A quick suspension setup and fiddling with the bike’s ergonomics gets it most of the way there, but it takes days to really get everything running just right. Furthermore, differences like tire selection and tire pressure can have a huge effect on how a bike rides, and we generally don’t have the chance to get to tinker with those variables too much.
So while we believe it’s important to be upfront about the limitations of reviewing bikes in such settings, there is also merit in riding a slew of bikes, back to back, on the same trail. Subtle differences that might not become apparent if our test rides happen weeks or months apart are able to come to light, and each bike’s attributes may be more easily identified.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Intense Carbine 29.
The Intense Carbine was one of the first of a new breed of 29” wheeled bikes, including the Niner WFO, Specialized Enduro 29, and the Transition Covert 29. The bikes feature long travel, short rear ends, and slack head tube angles. While many 29ers have stayed close to 70° head angles, the Carbine features a 67° head angle, a slack measurement that would seem more at home on a bike with smaller wheels.
At the Interbike demo, 29” wheels had a distinct advantage in terms of rolling speed on the sandy soil on our test loop.There were a few rough bits where stability and controlled suspension performance were appreciated, but they weren’t long and sustained enough that a bike optimized for rough terrain was really desirable. Much of the test trail was smooth with small features interspersed, and a bike that could be popped over the features was extra fun.
Given all this, I was excited to hop on the Carbine 29er. The bike can be set up with either 125mm or 140mm of travel in the rear, and has a disproportionately long 160mm RockShox Pike up front. The bike looked like it would be very capable through rough sections because of the slack head angle, big wheels, and relatively long fork, but still pedal particularly well because of the firm, shorter travel rear end.
You can purchase the Carbine 29 as just a frame, or as a complete bike dressed in several build kits. The bike I rode was set up with Intense’s 2014 X01 kit, featuring a RockShox Pike fork with a 51mm offset, Fox Float shock, SRAM X1 drivetrain, Rock Shox Reverb post, Novatec Wheels, Avid Guide brakes, and High Roller II tires.
Hopping on the bike, I was surprised by how long it was in a size Medium. The bike wasn’t too long, but I definitely felt more stretched out than I have been on many other Medium frames. If I hadn’t known, I would have guessed I was riding a size Large.
If this were my own bike, I would have swapped the Carbine 29’s 70mm stem for a 60mm or 50mm one, and probably been very happy.
The Carbine 29’s big wheels held speed really well, and its slack geometry made the bike easy to rally. I felt like I could attack rough sections aggressively, yet the steering still felt quick. I’d bet the increased offset on the bike’s fork helped make the 67° head angle work, but I don’t have enough time on other 29ers to say for certain.
The Carbine 29’s frame and Novatec wheels both felt laterally stiff, lending me confidence on the trail. The bike was well balanced, and I could flick it across the trail or pop off a jump pretty easily, but it certainly didn’t inspire those actions. In a smaller frame size, the Carbine 29 may have felt more playful, but more than anything, the Medium just wanted to go really fast and stay on the ground.
The Pike handled whatever I could find to throw at it with some travel to spare, and the rear shock took the edge off any hits to the rear wheel. I started in the 125mm setting in the rear before moving to the 140mm setting. In the shorter setting, the suspension was very taut and controlled. In the longer setting, the bike pedaling performance suffered just a bit, but the rear wheel tracked better in rock gardens and provided a smoother ride.
In either setting, the Carbine 29 carried speed well through rough terrain without hanging up on sharp-edged hits. The rear end never felt cushy, even in the longer setting, just quite capable. The Carbine 29 wasn’t as plush as either a Niner WFO or a Specialized Enduro 29er, however, I could push it almost as hard through rough terrain. The action felt fairly progressive and I never felt a hard bottom out, even on the hardest hits on the test loop. But the rough sections on the trail at Interbike’s demo were short with smaller rocks, so it was often very hard to distinguish the suspension’s performance from the benefits of the 29” wheels.
At the same time, the Carbine 29’s taut rear suspension was a boon when I needed to sprint up short climbs. With the rear shock set to the shorter, 125mm travel setting, the bike’s pedaling performance was great, much better than the Enduro 29 or WFO, closer in performance to a Santa Cruz Tallboy (but not quite as good). In the longer travel setting the Carbine 29 still pedaled better than the Enduro 29 or WFO, but not significantly so; it definitely felt less stable under pedaling efforts. I would use the shock’s CTD switch on climbs while using the longer travel setting, but probably not in the shorter travel setting.
The Intense Carbine 29 is a great option for anyone looking for a 29er that can be ridden really hard, but that also climbs well. In fact, the bike balances pedaling efficiency with downhill performance better than most 29ers I’ve ridden, namely the Specialized Enduro 29 or Niner WFO 9.
It wouldn’t be my first choice for really rough, tight trails, but if I wanted a bike to chase XC racers on climbs and still thrash descents, I’d be eager to do so on the Carbine 29.
Next Page: Geometry