Glued. That's the word that all three testers agreed was the appropriate descriptor for the sense of traction gained from Intense's recently updated 155-millimeter-rear-travel Carbine. In the rocky and root-infested trails of our Marquette, Michigan, testing grounds, the Carbine tracked in a supple, soft manner—seemingly unaffected by camber or slope when descending at any speed. One tester found this to be a blessing and a curse. Looking for more mid-stroke support, he bumped up his shock pressure after starting at 30-percent sag. All agreed, nevertheless, that the Carbine had an incredibly sensitive, infinitely-conforming-to-terrain feel. This did not necessarily lend itself to poppy, airborne and playful behavior, as the Carbine wanted to do what it does best: track over things. But its relatively light weight allowed testers to heavy-handedly maneuver it without much fuss. One larger tester did notice a bit of lateral frame flex as well as wheel flex when comparing the Carbine to other bikes in this capable, slightly longer-travel 29-inch category.
Despite its glued nature, the Carbine is no slouch on climbs. The VPP opposing linkage suspension, now referred to by Intense as 'JS Tuned,' does its job by creating firm efficiency any time pedal and chain tension is applied while still maintaining proper traction while grunting up steep climbs. Long-legged buyers should try before they buy as the actual seat-tube angle is much slacker than the effective seat-tube angle. Running a lot of exposed post will cantilever you out behind the sweet spot, costing you some power on the climbs.
Where the Carbine did not earn as high of marks was in the geometry department and in slow-speed maneuvering—it was a long bike for threading the needle in tight situations, feeling less agile than other bikes in the 150-ish-millimeters of rear travel category—almost as though one had to climb out of the travel before effecting any directional change while ambling along. However, if this is a race bike as listed on Intense's website, it's meant for speed, not slow-speed noodling.
Intense did a good job keeping the Carbine's weight down, and it has a lot of boutique appeal for $5,000. That number is significant because, when we were testing it, Intense hadn’t launched Rider Direct, their take on the consumer-direct movement. We were riding it with a price tag of $7,000 in mind, which is on par with the premium we’ve expected to pay for Intense bikes over the years. But their new system will be an interesting experiment in the evolution of bike sales.
Nitpicks aside, the Carbine offers incredibly supple traction and is a capable climber and descender. It may not be best suited for somebody looking for a poppy, playful bike, but for the rider looking for a bit more of the sled mentality along with unparalleled traction at a reasonable weight, look no further.—W.R.
Q&A with Jeff Steber, owner of Intense Cycles
What's the difference between 'JS Tuned' and what many riders think of as 'traditional' VPP suspension? Is there a difference?
We wanted to approach JS Tuned as a system, "JS Tune System," as the whole is a sum of the parts. We are now in the business of selling mainly complete bikes, so the system isn't just the suspension kinematics, it's also the geometry, form, fit, wheel size, product spec and how all these factors work together for each bike designed for a specific segment. We have narrowed down to three different link configurations: the Trail, Enduro and DH Link. Each different link design produces a unique shock curve and different feel that is optimized and not compromised.
So, the new Carbine gained more reach, the links have lengthened and you have further developed the 'Enduro Link.' What exactly is the 'Enduro Link' and what were the ride characteristic goals you hoped to achieve when updating the Carbine?
The Enduro Link configuration paves a new way for the Carbine. The design team wanted the bike to behave a bit more like downhill bikes but maintain climbing prowess found in models using the Rail Link. The new configuration has a more linear to progressive curve. Those changes give the Carbine a supple and sensitive ride that absorbs the small bumps with good platform mid stroke and nice ramp toward bottom-out. The Tracer 275 shares similar kinematics .
The Carbine 29 came to be in a time before there were many long-travel 29ers. At this year's Bible, we were wading through a sea of them. How has the rise of longer travel 29 influenced the redesign of the Carbine?
We have been in the long travel 29er game for quite some time going back to the original alloy Tracer 29 that was way ahead of its time and even further now with the M29 project. Geometries have evolved along with a new enduro segment and the new Carbine follows suit.
Intense lists the Carbine as an enduro race bike on its website, leading one to believe that the Carbine is at home at higher speeds. If this is indeed the case, what are your thoughts on decreased offset 29-inch long travel forks—the move from a 51-millimeter offset all the way down to a 44-millimeter offset as seen on Fox 36 forks spec'ed by Transition and Orbea. Is the Carbine 29 compatible with a 44-millimeter offset 29" fork, and if so, would decreased offset benefit the Carbine's handling?
We choose the 51-millimeter offset for the Carbine as it is already a long bike—long front center and slack head angle so we choose to reduce the trail a bit (more offset) to bring back a bit of maneuverability at slow speeds—it's plenty stable at high speeds. This can be a slippery slope with fork offsets and very confusing but is a way to fine tune how the bike will handle and the relationship between fork offset and head angle and the amount of trail it creates—more is less or less is more. Some riders are very sensitive to the subtle changes and others not so much.