Marin Toscana CX £999

All-out fun machine

BikeRadar score 4.5/5

The Toscana takes its inspiration from cyclo-cross race bikes but is designed primarily as a commuting workhorse.

Ride & handling: Great geometry, excellent bar and razor sharp responses make this just all-out fun

Compared to a dedicated 'cross bike, the Toscana feels somewhat hefty, weighing in at 25.3lb, but this isn’t a machine made for carrying in the heat (or should that be cold) of a winter series, it’s a bike intended as a commuter that can handle the rough stuff should the need arise.

And handle it it will. This sturdy machine positively inspires bad behaviour and on more than one occasion during our test period it has made for late starts in the office.

Its balance of agile handling and the long, low position made us want to leave our well worn paths and hit the singletrack trails usually reserved for mountain bikes.

The big volume front tyre combined with a good carbon fork keeps road buzz in check, and the disc-compatible wheels with their V-shaped rims are incredibly resilient.

They certainly stood up well to testing. We banged and crashed these over tree roots, drop-offs and steps with little in the way of finesse, and they’ve stayed straight and true with every slight misdemeanour.

The CX is not without some issues though. The frame is capable of almost any extreme behaviour you can throw at it, and obviously a lot of the knowledge Marin have gained from their top-flight mountain bikes is present here.

But this is also its fault. The frame is so rock solid and stiff that the ride can be pretty harsh, and what makes it nimble and flighty on the trails can be wearing on longer rides.

It’s not helped by the Marin’s Arione-alike saddle, which despite being deeply padded has a stiff hull – once the padded core compresses that’s all you can feel. A carbon seatpost would help and would be our first upgrade.

Frame: Looks good, is well built and has all the braze-ons you’d ever need

The hugely hydroformed frame features a collection of shaped tubing that’s visually arresting, but how much the swoops, shapes and curves add to the riding quality is debatable, though it does look suitably rugged.

Marin claim that their use of hydroformed tubing is more than just cosmetic. Having each major tube broad at the joints and skinny in the middle provides a greater surface area for the welds and increased strength; the tubing is also size-specific, so no matter what size you need you will get the same characteristics.

The frame has eyelets for a rear mudguard and rack, and the stout carbon fork also has provision for mudguards and low-rider panniers.

Equipment: Great stoppers, handlebar and drivetrain, but saddle is poor and chainset a little dated

One major difference from a standard ’cross bike is the inclusion of Avid BB5 cable-operated disc brakes with 6in rotors (discs) front and rear.

They have a positive, crisp, dependable performance regardless of weather, and despite some initial rub which was quickly adjusted out at the calliper, they performed faultlessly.

The groupset is a combination of Shimano Tiagra rear mech, Sora front and the latest incarnation of Sora STI levers, and an FSA Vero triple chainset. Up front is our current favourite bar, FSA’s compact drop Vero.

Sora shifters might not sound the most exciting, but the 2010 incarnations have a top of the range Dura-Ace like shape, and combined with the Tiagra mechs shifting was crisp and quick, just like its more expensive brethren.

Which does make us wonder: with entry level groupsets now performing this well, at what point does it make the flagship sets irrelevant to all but those of the professional ranks?

The FSA Vero triple chainset is a capable performer, but it’s something you’d expect to see on bikes a couple of hundred quid cheaper than the CX.

It’s a three-piece design running on a dated square taper bottom bracket, but we can understand the need to compromise to accommodate the disc brakes.

Wheels are the classic and dependable Mavic CXP22 rims laced to a pair of Shimano M525 disc hubs, shod with 35mm treaded Maxxis Overdrive tyres with puncture protection. The tread is more for road and path than traditional off-road ’cross tyres.

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