Just when you thought winter was here and nothing was happening in your bike world, Intense Cycles unleash a monster and therodfather gets a leg over. Have a look at this beast of a bike.
Carbine 29". 65.5 degree head angle. 155mm travel. Righto...that's enough drooling! Now you have to listen to my drivel.
Ever since I got my hands on this bike it's been a nightmare. I really wanted to love this bike. I was already convinced that 275 is dead and long live 29. That was until I rode the Nomad4 a few weeks back and totally confused myself. That bike blew me away and so when this long legged 29er arrived I was ready to get blown back in the other direction.
It wasn't the bikes fault. Everything was against me from the start. As a mediocre journalist from a little known website with zero skill in the art of photography, I was last on the list to get this bike. I didn't get it until a week before this press release and as I have a few real jobs that actually pay cash money, I wasn't going to have a chance to ride it until the weekend... two days before said release. Anxiety central.
Day one saw me taking precious time off work to collect the Carbine from a more respected publication, taking it home, cleaning and fettling with it for these photos and it's first ride. I had started listening to the un-named journalist, (who I'll give the pseudonym Bono Diddiley from Hoax Magazine), about how it rode, but I tuned him out as I wanted to start with an open mind. I vaguely remember hearing something about punctures and tubes which came back to haunt me later.....
I took more time off work to snap these lovely railway shots. I could show you Graeme Murrays photos that he got paid a fortune for but I'm a one man circus show and this is all about me. Incidentally, this bike had a custom build so I'm not going into any detail about the parts spec ok?
Day two was a cracker, so I took a loooooong lunch break and drove into Wellington to my favourite test site, Mt Victoria, for the usual hardcore shredding action. Upon remembering something about tubes, I first had a look at the front wheel to make sure Bono had put the thing back to tubeless. The valve core was removable (so far so good) and when I loosened the lock nut and pushed the valve in, air started pissing out so tubeless it must be...good on ya Bono!
I met up with a couple of mates and hit the climb feeling pretty overwhelmed, struggling to get up the hill with legs feeling like lead. Was it the bike? Probably not. I had after all been awake since 4am with a headache and had subsequently started work two hours early to compensate for this lunch break. At the summit we partook in a bit of bike chitchat then turned I her around and opened her up. Boy did this bike plow down the trail. That is until I smashed a steep drop into a berm and the Carbine shook it's head and attempted to throw me down the bank. On inspection the front tyre was soft and sealant had sprayed the sidewall. Whoops, rider error, not enough air...too used to wide rims/low pressure. Oh and look, a couple of holes in the sidewall, I don't remember hitting anything? Out with the plug kit, sealed her up and I was good to go again. But that bloody tyre kept going soft. I persevered with a few pumping sessions, but had to return to the van for workshop action to find that there was indeed still a tube in the tyre. Goddammit Bono! Time was running short and by now I was seriously stressed and a tad fatigued, but I managed another quick half run before I had to return to the day job. Bugger.
Day three was another cracker, so I took more valuable time off work and left early for a session on the way home via Porirua's Spicer Botanical Park. I had stayed up late the previous night converting the Carbine back to tubeless so I was good to go and sprinted up the first climb trying to beat the rain that was chasing me home. By the time I got to the top my perenium had divorced the Fabric saddle and I could hardly sit down. I tried to lower the saddle nose but it was already at the limit of adjustment due to the lazy 66 degree seat tube angle and the almost not compatible Fox Transfer dropper head. Then twenty metres into the first descent and I nearly rolled my front tyre again. The rim valve hole had unsealed and air was pissing out.
I spent a long time with my mini pump and random bouncing of the wheel trying to get it to seal and success came after about 20 minutes even though I had put a too short valve stem in and for every pump stroke I was losing half as much back out...enough time to get in one run before I had to be home for the kids after-school activities. So angry right now.
Day Four, another cracker but I had to pay the piper and couldn't get out of work.
Day Five (Friday) was looking grim (yet dry) but bad weather with lots of rain was forecast for the weekend. Oh shit...more anxiety. So I took another looooong lunch break and headed into the Akatarawas to see how a big lazy 29er would handle tight tech pedally jungle single-track. As luck would have it, as I approached the trail head there was that uncanny line where the dry earth turns to wet. The winter had come up through the valley and there were puddles everywhere and a fine drizzle. Yes, I was out of the Kapiti Coasts micro-climate and into Wellingtons shitty southerly. The next two hours were a slipfest of wet roots, greasy clay climbs and high speed 4wd tracks with no Marshguard to keep the crap out of my eyes. An added bonus was my hands went numb from a pair of grips I now hate with a passion.
The good news? I had swapped out the saddle for a favourite and could sit on the saddle for once. The worst news? Back home,I started on the the write up and my "lapops keybad sit it's pnts and a fe letters ween't appeaing" so I dropped it off to my computer guy only to get a message that he'd sent it off to Auckland for a new keyboard and I now had to use pen and paper.
Back on a borrowed computer and, Hey...thanks for listening. I felt I had to give you the back story so you can take the review with a grain of salt.... I was ready to throw the bike in the shed and take up aerobics again. This is an abject lesson in gear reviewing. Sure I had some good times on this bike...they came when things weren't going wrong with my luck/organisation.
All of this reminded me that bike reviews really are a bunch of arse. A stem 5mm too long, bars 20mm too narrow, a tyre 100 grams heavier than normal, or even a too early breakfast or the wrong thing for lunch can really throw things out big time. If you had read my Nomad4 review you may have said to yourself that of course Rod loved the bike. Santa Cruz paid a lot of cash to get him to France to ride that bike and he's not going to bite that hand now is he? But if we look at reality for a moment, I was in a good head space. A free European "holiday" with everything on tap. Great weather and friends. Amazing trails. Wake, eat, ride, drink, eat, drink, tell dad jokes, sleep and repeat all over again. No work, commuting, kids, wife, bills, chores etc. etc. I lapped that trip up and felt amazing the whole time. I could have been riding a donkey and it would have got good feedback.
Moral of the story?
1.It's not all roses and chocolates being a part time unpaid journalist.
2. Give therodfather a decent time frame to do a new bike review.
So here we are back home with a pretty Intense (get it?) week. Anyway, I digress. The bike.
Getting to the top: For me, climbing sucks unless I'm on a cross country race bike. With the modern tech available today, you can get a long travel bike to climb admirably well. All you have to do is make it reasonably lightweight with a steep seat angle so you can get over the bottom bracket but a lazy head angle will hinder you a bit as the steering slaps a bit from side to side and needs a firm hand. This Carbine is almost light enough at 31.7 lbs with DH pedals and the seat angle is fairly modern at a virtual 74 degrees, but as it is a real 66 degrees it will have the saddle back a bit more than is fashionable if you have long legs. I have the legs of a dwarf so I wasn't too fazed but I couldn't get the saddle to the angle I like (slightly nose down so with sag is pretty much level) as the Fox Transfer dropper doesn't have an asymmetric seat rail cradle. If I owned this bike I would either swap out the dropper or find a seat that has rails at a better angle, both of these fixes would be a major hassle.
Just pedalling along: The Carbine sports an active virtual pivot type suspension which makes for a very absorbing ride and soaks up the trail chatter but does detract from any playfulness that arrives as you step on the gas. I needed to use the compression switch when I wanted the bike to fight back as I stomped on the pedals. It feels like a big bike. I didn't know the reach measurements or even the travel for my first two rides and It felt like a longer bike in both categories. It is a super stiff bike and the Enve M70HV rims (30mm internal) with Maxis 2.4 WT tyres add some grunt so I wasn't expecting it to dance down the trail. But once I opened it up and flexed some muscle there was a definitive point where it stood up and sang. It reminded me of driving a speedboat and getting it up on the plane.If you have no idea what I mean then.....( Boats with planing hulls are designed to rise up and glide on top of the water when enough power is supplied. These boats may operate like displacement hulls when at rest or at slow speeds but climb towards the surface of the water as they move faster).
Heading back down: HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! I'm going to say it right now. This bike is FAST! If you are a bruiser, a racer, a heavy rider then find your local Intense dealer and tell him which colour you want and can you have it NOW!? At speed (which is any descending in my book) the Carbine shrugs off its blanket and delivers a sharp uppercut to your solar plexus. I couldn't quite believe it. I was sure I was just cruising but I was over shooting my regular trail features with ease. This meant I could ride faster and harder with no qualms about the bike or it's handling prowess. The faster you go the smoother it gets.
There was some annoying clatter when hitting square edged features, but I put this down to the non-adjustable Eagle clutch just not clutching enough chain and allowing a bit of the dreaded old fashioned chainslap. I blame those bastards at Shimano for patenting the adjustable clutch. Smoke some weed brothers and share the love...we're all in the same club, dont IP your shit man! Don't get me started on Specialized and their reluctance to let anyone else store their drugs in their frame cavity.
Railing turns and the Carbine hugged the dirt like an American back on U.S. soil after a "holiday" in North Korea... I just couldn't get it to let go. It ate any big terrain and held onto the last 15mm of travel until it was really needed. I found the sweet spot at 30% sag sitting on a lowered saddle with my hands lightly on the bars. It is without doubt a weapon in the hands of a skilled bike handler. I wasn't man enough to get the most out of this machine with the time I had it. If you are reading this and find your current sled is letting you down and can't keep up with your riding style then listen up! This bike is a BRUTE! Like it's little brother the Recluse I rode last year, it wants to be pushed and pushed hard.
Let's look at the bike itself. The 455mm reach on this large takes it into the modern arena, especially as 29ers we're recently thought to be better a bit shorter. The lazy head angle of 65.5 is still quite rare for 29" bikes and this puts the front wheel way forward so an aggressive over the bars riding style is needed. The long wheelbase adds to a very planted bike, it's not easy to get the front wheel up which makes for added traction when climbing and getting rowdy.
The shortish 17.5" chain stays do their best to keep the handling snappy and the 23mm BB drop is low enough to rail those turns with ease. Seat tube length is short at 17.6" which means I could go to an XL size and still fit a 150mm dropper..Bonus, and the standover is correspondingly low so that helps too. Pivot axles are the collet system with angular contact bearings and grease nipples, and like all the modern Intense bikes, the seat stay/shock bolt is one piece for added stiffness and security. Tidy internal cables, pressfit BB, external bottom headset cup, 31.6mm seat tube.
The bike is beefy everywhere you look. From a birds-eye view the tubes are very wide which must give the bike it's incredible lateral stiffness. And of course it has a 230mm x 60mm metric Super Deluxe RC3 shock which I have come to realise is a far superior shock than the old Monarch Debonair... It tames every trail I have tried it on. This test bike had the current Lyrik fork but all new builds will have the new 2018 model which has had some serious air and damper tweaking.
What if you are a lightweight or ride like my mum but love the muscular lines of this assault weapon? Don't despair... with alloy wheels and lighter 2.3 non-WT tyres I'm sure it will tick most of your boxes.
Disclaimer: It was a tough week for me and not the ideal space for a decent bike review. Without the dramas and maybe rolled oats instead of bacon and eggs I may have found the Carbine to be a little more playful. I sure wasn't feeling playful. Maybe it was all me after all? Ford or Holden?... sometimes it's all about personality.
Like cars these days...all bikes are pretty good but the Carbine is definitely in the Ferrari/Lamborghini/Porsche category, and is backed by a company that will support its products and customers. Wide Open Distributors in Rotorua bring Intense to NZ and they are some of the best guys in the business. Just tell them therodfather sent you, undoubtably I'll be in their bad books after this rant.
THE GOOD: long, low, lazy and tough. Four great colourways. Incredible stability at speed. A superior bike going down hill fast yet still handles tight stuff very well. STIFF... big/heavy riders/racers will fall in love with it's brawn. A great looking bike. Can take a medium drink bottle. Backed by a solid local distributor.
THE BAD: STIFF...smaller/lighter riders may find it "too much bike". Lazy actual seat angle means possible saddle tilt compromise and long legged riders will have their weight back too far when seated.
THE UGLY: If you don't own one then you will get overtaken by one soon.