Reviewed by Evan Turpen and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller
Introduced in late 2013, the Carbine 29 is the first long-travel enduro 29er from Intense Cycles. It has a full carbon front triangle and carbon swingarm linked together by two counter-rotating CNC’d aluminum VPP links with options for either 127 or 140mm of rear travel. Complete with the well-regarded 160mm RockShox Pike fork, this rig is designed to tackle anything you can throw at it. With that in mind, we pedaled up and pointed it down some of the rowdiest descents Sedona, Arizona has to offer during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions.
Carbine 29 Highlights
- Carbon frame
- 29-inch wheels
- 127 or 140mm (5 or 5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel
- VPP suspension
- Tapered headtube
- 67-degree head angle
- 72-degree seat tube angle
- 13.75-inch bottom bracket height
- 17.75-inch chainstays
- BB92 press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured complete weight (size Medium, no pedals): 28-pounds, 1-ounce (12.73kg)
- Claimed frame weight with shock: 5-pounds, 13-ounces (2.63kg)
- $8,950 MSRP as tested with optional ENVE upgrade
From the moment you set your eyes on it, the beautiful Carbine 29 frame looks well thought out and purpose built. Close inspection reveals very clean cable routing that flows effortlessly from one end to the other with a mixture of secure external and internal options. Internal tubes make routing less painful and effectively eliminate any chance of the cables rattling, resulting in a bike that is as quiet as can be.
There are ISCG05 chainguide mounts as well as water bottle cage mounts in the front triangle. The shock is also easily accessible in case you need to flip the FOX CTD lever (or optional Cane Creek DBair CS lever) on the fly.
Integrated downtube and chainstay protectors help maintain the carbon investment from flying debris, but the VPP suspension design does show a potential weak point with its exposed bottom link. The two links rotate on an angular contact/collet bearing system that is serviceable through replaceable grease zerks should you find yourself riding in nasty conditions often. Mud clearance is very acceptable with around 1 to 1.5cm of room for build up with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires. Replaceable 12x142mm Intense G1 dropouts round out the frame.
Those wanting a custom build can secure a frame and shock package starting at $3,200. Alternatively, lose the ENVE wheel upgrade shown on our test bike in place of Novatec Diablo wheels for a complete spec rolling in at $6,599.
On The Trail
One look at the Carbine 29 and you know it’s ready for business. Wanting to see what kind of craziness we could get away with, a combo of Sedona’s Slimshady, Hi-Line, Baldwin, Broken Arrow, Little Horse, and HT trails were used to evaluate the bike. This selection of trails provides a huge variety of terrain, with everything from slow, techy climbs to steep rollers, nasty rock shelves, and wide open, steep descents. We got pretty lucky with the weather, which provided mostly hero dirt with the occasionally muddy or snowy patch.
Hopping on the bike for the first time, the stock cockpit feels very close to ideal. The bars are plenty wide at 740mm with a comfortable rise and sweep. The saddle is also decently comfortable, though we needed to push it forward on the rails to get the most comfortable climbing position. We also swapped the stock 70mm stem for a shorter 50mm option to get the most out of the bike’s descending prowess.
There was a lot that felt great about the Carbine’s geometry. The cockpit was roomy while seated and standing. With the new stem in place we felt well-centered with no complaints when climbing or otherwise. Looking at the numbers, the reach and top tube are relatively short compared to several other size medium frames, but this doesn't hold the bike back on the trail - it feels every bit as stable as newfangled bikes with longer front ends, and the bike feels roomier than the numbers would suggest. The head angle is decently slack at 67-degrees, meaning you can get away with a lot, but the bike remains relatively easy to maneuver in tight spots without feeling sluggish at the cockpit. Front stack height felt spot on too, which is surprising given the 160mm 29er fork up front. While it may seem high at 13.75-inches, the bottom bracket height is a-okay on trail and doesn’t seem to hamper the bike’s cornering ability while also providing plenty of crank clearance in rough rock sections.
Travel was set to the longer 140mm setting for the majority of our test. Changing to the shorter 127mm mode takes about two minutes, including the need to change the pressure in the shock. Note that the geometry is unaffected by the travel change.
After a casual climb to the top, dropping in on the gnar is a real treat. Aided by good suspension, legit tires and big wheels, the bike glides over the roughest bits with ease. It is very confidence inspiring and is easy to get used to. Traction is readily available and the bike is so stable and so well-supported that taking wild lines at speed seems almost too easy. What sets the bike apart is that it can be ridden and enjoyed both casually and aggressively. Most bikes can't do that - they often perform best one way or the other. It is fairly playful while maintaining a precise and responsive feel. Despite the long-ish 17.75-inch chainstays, getting the front end off the ground is surprisingly easy to do, whether pedaling into a wheelie to get over obstacles or pulling back to pop into a manual between rises in the trail. The Carbine also changes lines better than most 29ers, and you can place the front and back end with precision. It was slack enough that steep sections could be attacked effectively with a lot of control. The frame was also pretty darn stiff laterally and never once had any noticeable wiggle. Up front, the Pike fork was plenty stiff with no noticeable flex even in the long legged 29er version.
Sitting on the bike in the garage and cycling the shock for the first time, the rear of the bike felt harsh and sticky, especially compared to the buttery smooth Pike up front. That was all quickly forgotten on the trail though, as the rear end's brighter side started to show through. The linkage rate is regressive through the sag point, then becomes progressive for the remainder of the stroke. On the trail, this translated to very controlled small bump performance when weighted, and square edge hits seemed almost to disappear under the 140mm travel back end. The bike tracks well, maintaining its composure and impeccable traction over chunky/bumpy/chattery terrain. While the Carbine 29 shares the VPP system with Santa Cruz bikes, it has a decidedly different, more lively feel to it than Santa Cruz bikes with similar travel.
The bike offers enough progression after the sag point to prevent excessive bottoming, though you will find yourself using the full stroke pretty often. Large g-outs and moderately sized drops had the rear end reaching full travel a little too quickly for our tastes although it was never a harsh bottom out. The addition of an air volume reducer in the rear shock’s air can could solve this. The Carbine took to jumps with ease, although the compression off lips felt slightly uneven from front to back. While this never created any issues when getting airborne it did take a little getting used to.
The 28-pound bike has the stability of a heavier bike but the liveliness of a light one. No spindly feeling frames or components here! Rolling speed could be improved with a quicker rear tire, though it seemed like the faster we went the more it wanted to maintain that speed. Nearly every time we entered a rough section with speed and avoided the brakes, we'd leave the section going every bit as fast.
Out of the saddle, sprinting doesn't feel as efficient as it could, with the bike settling well into its travel. At the same time, though, it doesn't feel like it's robbing any massive amounts of power. It's decently fast to respond, but it's akin to four-stroke acceleration compared to that of a two-stroke - the acceleration comes on smoothly and just keeps on building down the trail. There is a very minimal amount of bob that isn't really noticeable. The power gets to the rear wheel with little to no loss of power.
Pointed uphill, the Carbine is an efficient and very enjoyable climber regardless of the rear shock setting. On technical climbs the VPP system, big wheels, and meaty treads did a great job of maintaining traction both seated and standing. The geometry was comfortable while climbing and it wasn’t hard to keep the front end planted up steep climbs and switchbacks. As with most 29ers, there was a very slightly awkward sensation during slow speed up and over maneuvers.
Intense did a great job when choosing the components to complete this bike, and everything comes together to create a remarkable ride. The only thing we’d change is the Thomson stem to a shorter 50mm length. Additionally, some might prefer a separate Reverb dropper post remote from the brake lever - it’s easier to reach under the bar than on top of the brake.
The RockShox Pike fork is a definite highlight, and certainly adds to the bike's overall performance and well-mannered characteristics.
In the 29x2.3-inch size, the dual Maxxis High Roller II tires have excellent grip in most conditions and a very nice casing feel with the EXO protection sidewalls. Braking performance is superb and they roll smoothly, although not as fast as more XC oriented options. They were confidence inspiring tires and an excellent match for this bike’s charge anywhere attitude.
Those with a healthy bank account will find that the optional ENVE all-mountain 29-inch rim upgrade laced to DT Swiss 240 hubs work great. The hubs spun very smoothly with solid engagement, and the rims were plenty wide which helped add to the great profile of the Maxxis tires. They also felt very stiff and light which helped acceleration and handling. Overall they’re an excellent choice for the Carbine to help it perform at its best.
Avid’s X0 Trail brakes worked surprisingly well with plenty of power. The modulation was better than most, especially when combined with the larger 29-inch wheels. We never experienced any fade and the lever feel is among the best in class. Riders looking to race the bike may find a 200mm front rotor beneficial as speeds pick up and more performance and control is needed compared to the stock 180mm rotor.
SRAM’s X01 1x11 drivetrain and aluminum OEM crankset also performed flawlessly throughout the test. The system shifted well with no skipping or dropped chains even though there wasn't a chainguide. The drivetrain was extremely smooth and quiet with little to no drag, helping make the Carbine arguably the quietest bike we tested without any additional noise prevention applied on our end. The silent sensation definitely helped add to the smooth, confidence inspiring ride of this bike. Even the hub was quiet.
Long Term Durability
The Carbine 29 looks to be a fairly stout, well put together frame with a much improved collet pivot axle system which should help keep things stay tight and slop free. With regular scheduled maintenance of the pivot bearings, there’s no reason why we can’t see this frame lasting for many years to come.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Intense Carbine 29 is a well-thought-out and beautifully constructed machine that inspires confidence better than most. Sometimes everything comes together to make for an incredible ride, and that's exactly what happened with this bike. Smart component selections and dialed suspension/frame design combine to create a ride that's impeccably well mannered. It allows you to try wild new lines and begs for more. You'll find yourself hucking into oblivion and riding out with ease. It's incredibly quiet which only adds to the great ride. With only minor tweaks to the cockpit and possibly the addition of an air volume reducer in the rear shock, this rig is ready to rip.
To feel so comfortable on this bike right away tells us that Intense is definitely doing something right. If you race enduro or simply love going fast on challenging and rough trails, the bike will not let you down. Of the 25 bikes tested during Vital’s 2014 Test Sessions, the Carbine 29 was definitely among the best.
For more details, visit www.intensecycles.com.
About The Reviewers
Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.