Ragley has always had a great reputation for hardcore bikes at high-value prices and the new Marley has been worth the long development wait if you’re after an affordable aggro machine.
A cheap but classy chassis
It may be the cheapest bike that Ragley does but there’s still a decent level of detailing on the Marley. The tapered head tube gets a metal head badge and the multi-shaped 6061 alloy tubes are externally braced and internally butted for reasonable weight and a relatively forgiving ride quality.
With good details and dialled geometry the Marley’s chassis is a match for many boutique frames
The controls all run under the top tube and there’s an ISCG mount on the conventional screw-in BB shell. The swerved-and-curved chainstays with a split ‘finger bridge’ plate behind the crankset give room for 2.4in tyres and the seat clamp’s QR cam gets a brass insert for long-term smoothness. While the top tube isn’t super-long the rest of the geometry is state-of-the-art slack-and-low for flat-out riding, and you can buy the frame on its own for £249.
Ragley have made sure the componentry backs up the ballsy handling as much as possible. The 130mm (5.1in) travel Manitou Minute fork gets a 15mm thru-axle and the WTB rims are fitted with sticky front/fast rear tyres to match the rad front, rapid rear handling character.
The Manitou Minute fork is better than most at this price once you’ve worked out the bayonet axle technique
The Deore gearing includes a clutch rear derailleur and is driven through a FSA double crankset with a polycarbonate bashguard for rock and log protection. The Deore brakes are definitely basic in feel but Ragley’s own-brand seating and steering kit is all decent stuff.
In typical Ragley style, the 65.5-degree head angle is radically slack unloaded, but takes into account the fact that only the front end of a hardtail sags when you sit on it, steeping the steering angle. Together with a 50mm stem it gives the Marley a serious amount of swagger for pushing your luck on technical trails. While the 740mm bar is a handy enough width for decent control without having to stop to squeeze between trees in your local woods, we’d be tempted to go even wider to maximise the power steering potential of the geometry.
The short stem and slack head angle give the Marley serious gravity confidence
Once you’ve worked out how to get the half-turn Hex Lock axle on the Manitou fork consistently connected and tight, it adds an obvious edge to front-end accuracy compared with the QR forks on many similarly priced bikes. It also means you won’t have to change the front wheel if you decide to upgrade to a fatter-legged, stiffer and more consistently damped fork (such as Manitou’s own Mattoc) later.
The sticky-compound ‘High Grip’ version of WTB’s Vigilante tyre up front means you can make the most of that accuracy and short-stem steering agility even in the sketchiest conditions. Even with the stock mid-width bar, having the front wheel way out front and the BB slammed low means the Marley rips and rails corners like a maniac, so long as there’s nothing big hidden in them to buck the back wheel off line.
The short back end and low-slung top tube mean easy hop-and-pop agility for keeping the unsprung rear wheel out of trouble as much as possible too. We didn’t have any trouble with the QR rear hub, but it’s worth checking the skewer for tightness regularly because the Marley’s ‘have a go hero’ character means you’re likely to be taking every part of the bike to its limits and yours on a regular basis.
The low bottom bracket means your bashguard will be seeing some service
The ‘Fast Rolling’ Trail Boss rear tyre keeps the Ragley lively through the pedals too, and it’ll trundle between your favourite technical bits reasonably efficiently all day if that’s your plan.
Inevitably there are downsides to such a downhill-focused ride if you’re more of an XC rider. The super-low bottom bracket means regular pedal – and occasional crankset bashguard – contact on uneven/rocky/rooty terrain, and the super-slack head angle will wander all over the place on steep climbs until you’re used to it.
The basic Shimano brakes also lack finesse on a bike that’s otherwise bred for the most mental trails, and the Manitou fork flexes noticeably and occasionally chokes when pushed to the max. Like any hardtail that encourages flat-out riding, the rear wheel and tyre are always at more risk than on a full-suspension bike too. At least the back end is forgiving enough that you can leave pressures high to help pneumatic survival.
If you’re up for a ton of fun for your money, then the Ragley is right up there in the ready-to-riot ratings.