Frame and equipment: solid selection with a few niggles
The spec is strong, with a drivetrain that’s fully Shimano XT and a set of Shimano’s SLX brakes that give away little in power or feel to the more expensive XTs. Reach adjust for the levers is tool-free. Our bike had three rings on the XT cranks rather than the double shown on the site, but it suits the ride well.
Marin's revamped Quad Link suspension leaves more luggage room within the frame
The neutral rear suspension is the latest evolution of Marin’s Quad Link, and it leaves a lot more room in the frame for luggage/bottles/fingers to tweak shocks than previous versions. It also pivots on sealed bearings that are lifetime warrantied – a boon for high-mileage riders. The Float CTD shock has to make do with Fox’s basic Evolution damper, which means feedback is a little dull.
The Fox 32 fork gets a welcome upgrade to the mid-level Performance damper, though those long legs are fairly flexy despite the 15mm axle and tapered steerer. This, coupled with a set of light but similarly flexy Easton EA70 wheels, means the steering can get a little vague and twangy when pushed. With just 24 spokes each and a claimed weight of 1720g for the pair, the Eastons add useful accelerative pep despite the unremarkable 12.97kg (28.6lb) weight without pedals.
Ride and handling: a safe pair of wheels
The Rift Zone centres your weight well for most riding, but very steep, techy climbs can be a struggle. Here the wandering front is difficult to weight despite the very long 461mm chainstays, sharpish 70.5-degree head angle and downsloping 80mm stem.
On steep technical climbs, you may find yourself perching further onto the point of the Rift Zone's Fizik saddle than you'd like
On the steepest gradients you must perch so far forward on the Fizik saddle that you're in danger of being impaled on it, then wrap your elbows round your knees MotoGP-style to keep it tracking straight. The hard-compound Schwalbe Racing Ralphs don’t help, thanks to their love of spinning out on wet or hard surfaces – but then they don’t help much anywhere else.
The Rift Zone is stable, steady and comfortable, but push on or get loose and it gets a bit skittish. It never feels lively and inspired like Giant’s 100mm Anthem 27.5, but neither does it have the front-heavy nervousness of Specialized’s 110mm Camber. It’s a bike that ticks ‘medium’ for practically every parameter you can think of and, while it’s potentially too sensible for some, it’s arguably what you need for long miles in remote terrain.