Marin's new Rift Zone range is ready to go up against the best 'fast and loose' 100mm-travel full-suspension bikes. It’s less radical but hopefully more reliable than last year’s aborted Alchemist. It’s not the lightest or smoothest ride but its relaxed character should please more trail-orientated riders, and Marin's interactive suspension feel still has many fans.
The mid-range XC7 sneaks under that signiﬁcant £2,000 mark too, although that comes at an equipment cost. Compromised suspension and front end ﬂex introduce a vagueness in control that means you can’t really make the most of its relaxed conﬁdence. Weight and spec are slightly disappointing too.
Ride & handling: Trail tough and attitude rich, but suspension struggles against competitors
Marin are very keen to explain that, while it only has 100mm of travel, the Rift Zone is more a trail bike than a race bike, and it’s certainly got the handling to suit. With a relaxed 69-degree head angle and long front end, there’s an instantly lazy and conﬁdent feel to the ride when you’re loping along ﬂowing trails.
The long front end swings through corners securely too, even when the tyres are starting to scrabble and struggle to hold traction. There’s also enough bar leverage to bully it through tighter sections when you need to, although the natural inclination is to sit back and let it ﬂow rather than get forward onto the attack. This means you can pop the front wheel up easily to take the heat off the fork.
The combination of ﬂex from the long front end, quick-release fork and wheels means wheel placement is approximate rather than super-accurate. The XC7 tends to snake and shimmy through the line of least resistance in rough sections, rather than slicing straight over and through. Not a problem most of the time, but it can get bent out of shape under heavy braking or through tight descending corners.
The suspension isn’t a strong point either. The basically damped RockShox Recon fork soon gets out of its depth as the rebound struggles to cope with multiple impacts. This adds to the front end ﬂex to undermine conﬁdence when the singletrack turns savage, and the back end also struggles in bigger hit situations. The initially plush feel from the rear shock is great for cruising comfort, but the rapid ramp-up through the travel leaves it feeling overworked and rubbery through compressions or bigger hits.
Marin’s suspension character is still a love/hate setup. The pedal/rear wheel feedback gives large amounts of rider interaction in terms of ﬁrmer power feel and easy front wheel lift, but the need to ﬂick the shock lever to stop constant pedalling-related motion won’t please everyone. While Marin’s engineers have done a really good job chasing weight out of the Rift Zone's frame and the tyres are fast, overall bike weight and acceleration is comparable with similarly priced 120/130mm-travel bikes that deal with rougher ground better.
Frame: Long and slack, with slimmed down Quad Link setup that saves significant weight
The obvious difference from recent Marin frames is the straight rather than S bent top tube, which gives the Rift Zone frame a more purposeful, sleeker look. The short bobbin head tube is still a conventional inset rather than fat based tapered tube, which reduces weld area, but it’ll be upgradable to a tapered fork once Cane Creek release their 44 tapered headset.
The hydroformed trapezoidal down tube curves back from the head tube to the conventional bottom bracket. The Marin gets separate front and rear linkage mounts to help save 170g of mainframe mass over the long shoe section of the previous Mount Vision bikes. The seatstays also pinch together at the front to connect to a wishbone linkage. This saves another 25g, reduces the chance of leg rub and improves access to the shock controls slightly.
The curved, rectangular section stays have been downsized and lightened by 165g too. The dropouts are conventional quick-release style rather than modular, though, and Marin have missed the chance to ﬁt more user-friendly post style rear brake mounts. The bike/rider relationship is typically well sorted otherwise.
A skinny 27.2mm seatpost allows ﬂex between saddle and frame, there’s masses of mud room around the semi-slick tyres and the triple sealed suspension bearings have a lifetime warranty, so replacement is free if they start to rattle. Cable clips take the complete outer gear cabling neatly along the underside of the curved down tube and chainstays and there’s room for a bottle mount on all four frame sizes.
Equipment: Slightly disappointing spec and overall weight
The XC7 sits between the Marzocchi forked and Shimano SLX/Alivio specced XC6 at £1,599 and the Fox forked and SRAM X0/X9 specced XC8 at £2,499. To hit its £1,999 price point the XC7 has clearly had to take a cut in componentry. The RockShox Recon fork with simple Turnkey damping certainly looks and feels low rent compared to Fox forks on competitors, even if you do get an alloy steerer to save weight.
The chainset is a non-groupset model where we’d hope for at least Shimano SLX. The Mavic CrossRide wheels with bladed spokes are average performers with above average looks, and the Continental Race King semi-slick tyres will ﬂatter your ﬁtness and speed as long as you remove them before the rain comes.
Marin’s own brand bar and stem are well sized and colour co-ordinated, and the twin-bolt seatpost is a secure clamping butt saver. The full metal Drop Guard end caps on the grips show Marin always place practical advantage over a few saved grams. Total bike weight is 12.7kg (27.9lb, size medium).
Guy Kesteven: "We can't help comparing the Rift Zone to the excellent Whyte T-120s from the same distributors. Where the RZ's handling is undermined by overworked suspension and flex, the Whyte gets more travel, bigger tyres, a tapered head tube, screw-through axle fork and modular rear dropouts. Semi carbon construction and 2x10 transmission mean it's a full pound lighter for the same price too."