In­tense Car­bine Fac­tory Build

THE IN­TENSE CAR­BINE FAC­TORY BUILD

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHER: NICK WAYGOOD TESTER: DAMIAN BREACH

In­tense is a bike com­pany with a lot of his­tory and her­itage. They have al­ways led the mar­ket in long travel down­hill bikes and were the go-to brand of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Leg­endary mul­ti­sport bad-boy Shaun Palmer was their poster child and that her­itage of speed and at­ti­tude still sticks to­day. How­ever, over re­cent years, In­tense has suc­cess­fully trans­ferred their down­hill his­tory and ex­pe­ri­ence into their trail bikes (they were ac­tu­ally one of the first to ex­per­i­ment with a 29er down­hill bike) and the all-new and up­dated Car­bine is a tes­ta­ment to that legacy and his­tory.

The Car­bine has been in the In­tense line-up for about five or so years, but this up­date is sig­nif­i­cant in the sense that it’s pretty much a re­launch. It has been up­dated with longer travel and now sits at 155mm, new geom­e­try (in­clud­ing a longer reach) with a nice slack head an­gle of 65.5 de­grees, up­dates to the sus­pen­sion de­sign (JS Tuned Enduro Link) to op­ti­mise the lever­age curve and axel path, and an over­all mod­ernising of the plat­form to pro­duce a bike that is de­signed for the ex­tremes of enduro rac­ing.

The Car­bine range comes in two dif­fer­ent car­bon frames (SL and Stan­dard car­bon) and mul­ti­ple price points, from the Foun­da­tion Build at $5,999 to the eye-wa­ter­ing Fac­tory Build we tested, a cheese­burger short of $15,000.

The Car­bine sits in a rel­a­tively young, but in­creas­ingly crowded, mar­ket place of long travel 29ers - where the likes of Trek and Spe­cial­ized have been al­most alone in the past. Even this year there have been fur­ther in­tro­duc­tions into this space with Marin, Or­bea, Norco and many oth­ers show­ing that long travel is def­i­nitely the com­fort­able do­main of the 29er trail bike now.

AT FIRST GLANCE

The first thing I thought when I picked up the bike was, “Hot dang, look at all that bling.” The Car­bine Fac­tory Build is ab­so­lutely drip­ping with only the best parts and, when you add that lit­tle hint of gold SRAM Ea­gle, it’s a head turner for sure. Not

only does it bling, but I was grabbed by how tough and ag­gres­sive it looked - with big tubes, slack and long geom­e­try, wide M70 Enve rims, a wide and ag­gres­sive Enve cock­pit, and a strik­ing (but ad­mit­tedly po­lar­is­ing) paint scheme.

In­tense call the Car­bine a “29-inch Enduro Race Ma­chine” and my other first im­pres­sions were just that; it looked strong and built to with­stand the abuse of the Enduro World Se­ries (EWS). This tagline from In­tense can be backed up too, since this bike (in a few dis­guises) has been through a tough test­ing regime on the EWS cir­cuit with Aussie Jack Moir al­ready hav­ing good re­sults on the new plat­form.

“Big” is a word I found my­self com­ing back to fre­quently and In­tense haven’t skimped on any area of the bike. Big link­ages, big solid chain stays, big bear­ings, big ev­ery­thing. With all this big I ex­pected the bike to weigh a ton, but at a lit­tle un­der 14kg (claimed) it sits pretty well for what you’re get­ting. The Fac­tory Build fea­tures the lighter SL Car­bon frame with an all-car­bon up­per link, so weight sav­ings were ob­vi­ously a goal.

Some­thing un­com­mon, though, is the mix of Shi­mano, Fox, and SRAM prod­ucts. Gen­er­ally a bike model stays in one com­po­nent camp or the other, but the Car­bine’s mix of Shi­mano XTR brakes, Fox Drop­per, and SRAM driv­e­train was a lit­tle un­usual. It’s not strange in terms of per­for­mance, I as feel the best parts for the job were se­lected, but def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent in terms of aes­thet­ics. Maybe I’ve been con­di­tioned by the mar­ket­ing de­part­ments too much?

Set­ting up the Car­bine was sim­ple and I un­der­took my usual regime with test ma­chines by copy­ing my set­tings from my ev­ery­day bike. I was able to get all my mea­sure­ments pretty much the same, al­though the front end does sit a lit­tle higher than what I am used to and so I was in­ter­ested to see how that would trans­pose to the trail. I also set up the sus­pen­sion with 30% sag on the rear and 20% on the front. I tend to run my sus­pen­sion a lit­tle firmer than that, but wanted

this bike to tell me its story first and then make fur­ther ad­just­ments later.

TAK­ING TO THE TRAIL

Be­fore we get into the fine de­tails, I would like to ex­plain my test­ing process. Gen­er­ally I like my first few rides to be blind. Not in the sense of clos­ing my eyes, but rather be­ing blind to the tech­ni­cal and mar­ket­ing de­tails of the bike. I de­lib­er­ately avoid read­ing ar­ti­cles or even glanc­ing at the mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial be­cause I don’t want to be prej­u­diced by it all. I want to ride the bike with a 100 per cent open mind - and as time goes on I reach back to the ma­te­ri­als and in­for­ma­tion to ex­plain or en­hance my thoughts and feel­ings.

It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber what this bike is made for. It’s not made to go up hills like a gazelle, but it should get you up a long climb with­out mak­ing you too tired to ab­so­lutely pin

the down­hills. Think of your tra­di­tional Euro­pean Alps ride: A long three-hour climb with a mix of fire-road, sin­gle­track and some hike-a-bike all the way to the top. That’s fol­lowed by a baguette, some cheese, maybe a lit­tle wine, and then about one hour of the tough­est, rough­est, and loos­est down­hill runs you’ll ever do. This is also true for enduro rac­ing, apart from the wine bit. EWS races are all about very long days on the sad­dle, with some pretty epic climb­ing in­ter­spersed with long in­tense (no pun in­tended) down­hill rac­ing in-be­tween. My ini­tial thoughts from my first few rides on the Car­bine were...“Holy s**t this bike is fast!” This thought and feel­ing stayed true for the three weeks and 15+ rides I had on the bike. Hands down it’s a fast bike and the longer I had it the more con­fi­dent I felt. I was hit­ting gaps that I was pre­vi­ously hes­i­tant to do, over-jump­ing things, try­ing dif­fer­ent lines, and gen­er­ally go­ing much faster. I am not a data rid­ing per­son and can­not con­firm these feel­ings with num­bers, but the amount of over-jump­ing I was do­ing and over­con­fi­dence I was feel­ing was enough to con­firm things in my mind. I am gen­er­ally an in-be­tweener and can ride ei­ther a small or medium, how­ever these days I tend to only go for medi­ums as I en­joy the in­creased sta­bil­ity of a big­ger bike. There’s no

doubt that the Car­bine is a big bike. 29” wheels, 2.4” tyres, and 160mm of travel all makes for a tall and long bike. How­ever, I felt that it fit­ted me well. I still had room for the 150mm drop­per (with about 1cm of seat height ad­just­ment avail­able) and the reach of the front end didn’t feel un­com­fort­able or un­nat­u­ral. The short 40mm stem and high front end did mean that su­per steep switch­back climbs were more of a chal­lenge (as the front end wanted to lift) but not im­pos­si­ble. I was also sur­prised that the wheel­base of 1205mm (medium) didn’t feel as long as it may ap­pear on pa­per. In fact, I was able to ride the in­fa­mously im­pos­si­ble Black Snake climb at Stromlo on my first at­tempt - and that’s one trail that will high­light neg­a­tive as­pects about the climb­ing abil­i­ties of any bike. I am not say­ing it’s go­ing to get you to the top of the hill quickly - that would be a lie - but it will get you to the top of the hill com­fort­ably and some­what ef­fi­ciently. And you can’t ask for much more from a bike like this. Even the 50t of the Ea­gle makes life pretty damn easy to get to the top. De­scend­ing, which is ul­ti­mately what the bike is made for, was where the Car­bine re­ally, re­ally shone. It does take a lit­tle more ef­fort to get up to speed on such a big bike, but once you’re there it is pretty damn hard to stop it. The com­bi­na­tion of ex­cel­lent sus­pen­sion, ag­gres­sive geom­e­try, and very stiff and strong Enve rims meant that I was lit­er­ally float­ing over rock gar­dens and rarely get­ting stuck in holes, which can suck mo­men­tum and speed. The whole plat­form was very con­fi­dent when hit­ting very large high speed bumps and bot­tom­ing out never felt harsh or too quick to blow through the travel. Even the small bump per­for­mance was pretty good which showed that the JS plat­form was work­ing as per ad­ver­tised. Get­ting my weight back and lift­ing the front end wasn’t an is­sue and do­ing man­u­als and wheel­ies was also pretty sim­ple. I only had to play with the sus­pen­sion a frac­tion from my orig­i­nal set-up and it was more about stiff­en­ing it up a lit­tle as I was car­ry­ing more speed into things. I was able to add more air and get it to about 25% rear and 18% front sag. And speaking of sus­pen­sion - the Open, Trail, and Lock-out set­ting on the Rock­Shox Su­per Deluxe worked well and was pretty much a hard­tail in the lock-out set­ting. I tended to only use the Open and Trail set­tings and ul­ti­mately left it on Open all the time as the rear bob on climb­ing wasn’t a ma­jor is­sue (but was more no­tice­able when you stood up and put in big­ger pedal strokes) and I found the ex­tra small bump per­for­mance on tech­ni­cal climbs and flats ad­van­ta­geous. If I were to make a state­ment over­all about how the bike han­dles I would say it’s ag­gres­sive, very sta­ble, and has a pos­i­tive feel with a truck­load of trac­tion. It’s the type of bike you can point and let go and have a sense of con­fi­dence that it will han­dle ev­ery­thing in front of you, in­clud­ing mak­ing up for your mis­takes and poor line choices (which I did many times in the test pe­riod). Ba­si­cally, just point it with con­fi­dence and trust in the bike. It will rarely let you down. Neg­a­tives of the ride? The first point is prob­a­bly more re­lated to my rid­ing style than the bike it­self, but worth mentioning and un­der­stand­ing. I gen­er­ally don’t hold good speed through corners and I tend to rely on us­ing my legs to get me up to speed at ev­ery exit. I’m like a lit­tle rab­bit that sprints be­tween corners, rather than a smooth steam train that flows through them. The Car­bine does take ef­fort to get wound up and thus it was more ef­fort for me than I am used to. That be­ing said, though, and echo­ing what I have pre­vi­ously stated, the bike is in­cred­i­ble at hold­ing speed and I was start­ing to ex­per­i­ment with chang­ing my style to suit that abil­ity. If I owned this bike I would def­i­nitely con­cen­trate on work­ing on my cor­ner­ing tech­nique to take full ad­van­tage it. How­ever, if you’re the type of rider who nat­u­rally has good cor­ner­ing speed then this bike will scare you with speed in the bends. A sec­ond point of note (and not a neg­a­tive at all) is that the frame is ac­tu­ally de­signed to ac­com­mo­date up to a 170mm drop­per. How­ever with my height I could only fit a 150mm, so that’s some­thing you would have to con­sider if you’re an in-be­tweener like me. You can ei­ther have a smaller bike with big­ger drop, or a larger bike with less drop. I still pre­fer the big­ger bike as 150mm is plenty of seat drop for me and I was never wish­ing for more. The fi­nal point was some noise from the rear end on big bumps. I wasn’t able to work out if it was ca­ble or de­railleur in­duced. The in­ter­nal ca­ble rout­ing is guided in­side the front tri­an­gle (and even pro­tected with foam) and was to­tally silent but the rout­ing through the chain­stay wasn’t the same. Call me picky but I do like a silent bike and for the most part the Car­bine was as quiet as a mouse.

OUR TAKE

The In­tense Car­bine is a very fast and ca­pa­ble bike and there’s no doubt it meets the goal of be­ing an enduro race ma­chine. It ex­cels at go­ing su­per-fast when pointed down­hill and if and you’re up for the task it will hold in­cred­i­ble speed though corners and across the deep­est rock gar­dens. It will also jump, and jump big, and I even got to test the strength of the Enve car­bon bars with some huge over-jump­ing. It met all the mar­ket­ing hype and even high­lighted that the 29er has come a long way in re­cent years – to the point that I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the big­ger wheels start tak­ing a larger mar­ket share in the long travel mar­ket. I have no doubt that this bike will make you a more con­fi­dent and a faster rider. But is it good value? That’s a hard ques­tion as $14,999 is a whole truck-load of money and peo­ple see value dif­fer­ently. As a sum of its parts you can see what you’re pay­ing for and the level of bling would make Kanye West feel a lit­tle in­ad­e­quate. If you’ve got the money then sure, go for it, but most prob­a­bly many of us don’t - and that’s why it’s great that the en­try level for this bike is ac­tu­ally at $5,999 with other price points through the range: $7,399 (Ex­pert), $10,199 (Pro with SL frame), and $11,659 (Elite, also SL). I am pretty con­fi­dent that the en­tire range - be­ing that it’s based on the same plat­form - would give you the same feel­ing of speed and con­fi­dence al­beit with some ob­vi­ous de­vi­a­tion in weight and other per­for­mance points. Over­all the Car­bine is an ab­so­lute weapon for enduro rac­ing (as Jack Moir has al­ready shown), or lifted/shut­tled runs, or on any down­hill/flow/gen­eral trails. This bike is ridicu­lously bet­ter than down­hill bikes of yes­ter­year, and now you can ride it all day (even on the most tech­ni­cal climbs). In fact, I think if Shaun Palmer had this bike at the 1996 World Cham­pi­onships in Cairns, he would have won.

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