Comparing the Intense Carbine and the Santa Cruz Hightower is like critiquing the same song as performed by two very different artists. They use the same notes and the same lyrics, but each takes it in its own direction. These are both 150-millimeter travel frames with 29-inch wheels and relatively similar angles. And each still uses its own version of VPP. But both Intense and Santa Cruz have historically had different interpretations of the storied linkage design, and these bikes are no exception.
Santa Cruz still calls its linkage VPP, while Intense's version has evolved into something they call JS-tuned. We found the Intense was more supportive but less active while climbing as compared to the Hightower LT. The Carbine’s classic, firm-pedaling VPP feel should appeal to the power-hungry and race-oriented riders that Intense has traditionally served. And although the Hightower LT wasn’t the most active climber in this year’s garage, it is noticeably more supple than we’re used to from Santa Cruz.
Likewise on the descents, the Intense seemed more focused on winning at all costs. It's a significantly longer bike, both front and rear, and stacks an extra ten millimeters of travel up front. The Hightower LT focuses more on practicality. While it's appropriately more capable than the Hightower we already know, it's much more of a trail bike than the Carbine. It's more nimble and playful while the Carbine is more confident and aggressive.
And as of very recently, the Intense has a bit of a price advantage having just gone consumer-direct, but each has several build kit options to choose from. And there's more to it than that, and you can get a closer look at our take on the Intense here and on the Hightower here.