Marin Juniper Trail £679

Eye-catching women's hardtail

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

This women’s hardtail has well sorted contact points and a capable 100mm Marzocchi fork, but its strange-shaped frame makes fit difficult, and the ride is disappointingly neutral. It would suit a nervous rider looking for an easy ride, or someone who wants a tough build package from the off.

We wanted to love the Juniper Trail, simply for its paint (because orange looks great with a tan, darling...), but it left us feeling that something was lacking.

If a frame rides well then we’d tolerate some unsatisfactory spec until it’s time to upgrade, but this one can’t make up its mind whether it wants to go with the hardcore trail bike spec or the lightweight cross-country  frame.

Add this to the weird sizing, and Marin definitely has some work to do.

The Juniper Trail sits firmly in the middle of Marin’s range, yet is the uppermost of the company’s three female-specific hardtails.

Ride & handling: stable but uninspiring

The Juniper Trail is short of the twitch and spark that makes good hardtails fun. It’s a safe, stable, unsurprising ride that rolls happily along and over everything without any hint of a spook, but with a total lack of vim and vigour. 

Even hard efforts failed to elicit any giggles, and getting it up to speed was a real struggle at times. If you like your bikes to pull no surprises on you, then you’ll like the Juniper Trail, but we prefer a bit of sparkle to make the trails come to life.

One area that’s absolutely spot-on is the contact points. Clearly arranged by someone who knows what they’re doing, they include own-label custom bars that are tapered to a slender 19.1mm grip diameter to make life easier for smaller hands, while the WTB saddle is a favourite with many women. 

Having a comfortable cockpit goes a very long way towards improving ride quality for all riders, so it’s great to see a stock set-up that really works.

Chassis: eye-catching but odd with great fork

This is one eye-catching bike, and it’s not just the tangerine paint that grabs the attention. Closer examination of the frame reveals triple-butted, hydroformed top and down tubes, with diamond-section seat and chainstays out back. The butting drops weight and should help liven up the ride, while hydroforming adds strength.

Fit-wise, Marin’s sizing is on the extreme end of short, and rather odd. Unlike the female-specific full-suspension bikes Marin builds – which are classic examples of the dreaded ‘pink-and-shrink’ – our 19in test bike featured a wee 22in top tube, yet felt exceptionally tall and leggy for its length.

The result is a cockpit that’s too cramped in the larger sizes for technical trails (even for short-bodied riders). That’s a real shame, because the curvy top tube increases standover height, giving great potential for a confidence-inspiring ride. Smaller sizes approach normal proportions, with top tube lengths decreasing by approximately half an inch with every two-inch drop in frame size.

Sizing issues aside, we appreciated the 100mm Marzocchi MZ Race fork that has been custom tuned with a softer spring for lighter riders. Once worn in, it’s a plush and bombproof ride (if a touch on the lardy side), and with both preload adjustment and lock-out, you should be able to get the fork feeling exactly as you wish. 

The additional 20mm of travel makes this a better weapon for hardcore technical trails than the 80mm Contessa, too.

Equipment: decent quality but a bit overbuilt

Braking duties are covered by Shimano’s adequate M485 hydraulic discs. Unfortunately we had a problem with a leaky rear calliper, which stemmed from a recognised fault with a few of these brakes. Shimano has issued a dealer recall, so if you notice oil seeping from the join between the two calliper halves after you’ve cleaned away any manufacturing residue, then take your bike to the shop you bought it from for a quick calliper switch.

Wheels are tough WTB SX24 double wall rims on Shimano Center Lock hubs, and WTB also supplies the chunky 2.1in Prowler MX Comp tyres. They’re predictable, grippy, high-volume treads that roll remarkably fast on hardpack as well as gobbling up rooty trails.

The rear mech and shifters are Shimano Deore LX, while the front mech remains Deore. Chainset is Truvativ’s Five D 3.1, running on a Powerspline bottom bracket, but we’ve seen some longevity problems with these and we’d upgrade the crank and bottom bracket once they die to Shimano’s reliable yet cheap Deore Hollowtech II or similar.

An oversize FSA stem gives a bit of label panache to the front end.

It’s a reasonable spec list, but appears to be on the overbuilt side for something that’s aimed at smaller, lighter riders.

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