Marin Nail Trail 9.6 review£800.00

Smart single ring spec with lively but loveable handling

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It’s a fair chance that a bike is excellent value when you send multiple emails to double check how much it costs – and then still make sure online. This isn’t just very cleverly specced for the money; it rides well above and beyond what we expected.

The Nail Trail is definitely nu-skool too. Single ring transmissions are a great idea. They’re lighter, cleaner running and a narrow/wide chainring and clutch derailleur keep the chain more secure too.

Related: the best mountain bikes under £1000

The 11-40t or 11-42t cassettes needed to give a wide enough gear range are generally very expensive though. Whoever specced the Nail Trail cunningly managed to source an affordable Sun Race 10spd 11-42t cassette that we’ve never seen before. Together with an anonymous thru-axle crankset, this creates a very cost effective setup that feels surprisingly stiff underfoot too.

Corner-carving accuracy

The smart spec doesn’t stop there on the Marin. While most bikes in this bracket still have flexible QR forks from the bottom of the RockShox barrel or somewhere near the top of the Suntour selection, the Nail Trail gets a mid range RockShox Recon with a 15mm thru-axle.

The composed ride gives the confidence to corner much harder than you'd think possible: the composed ride gives the confidence to corner much harder than you'd think possible
The composed ride gives the confidence to corner much harder than you'd think possible: the composed ride gives the confidence to corner much harder than you'd think possible

The Marin's composure gives the confidence to corner much harder than you'd think possible

That makes a really noticeable difference to both rocky/rooty composure and steering accuracy. Even with just 100mm of travel you can take the fight to the trail.

While it’s not slack in the head angle or particularly short stemmed, the flat bar keeps weight low and planted, and the whole handling package hangs together really well.

Add accurate feedback from the fork and chunky rear dropouts and we were totally happy mowing hard into corners on the normally nerve wracking ‘Performance’ compound Schwalbe tyres and drifting out the far side with a big grin.

Sourcing a 1x transmission for this sort of money represents great work: sourcing a 1x transmission for this sort of money represents great work
Sourcing a 1x transmission for this sort of money represents great work: sourcing a 1x transmission for this sort of money represents great work

Sourcing a decent 1x transmission for this sort of money represents great work

Though that Schwalbe rubber can be sketchy, its fast-rolling nature coupled with the bike's low overall weight and stiff single-ring crankset mean rapid acceleration and easy speed sustain.The 180mm front rotor on the Shimano brakes means you can go in hotter and brake harder too.

While smash and grab trail fun is what separated it from the selection of similarly priced budget bikes we were riding alongside the Marin, it also gave them a hard time under power or over distance. Complete weight is impressively low at 12.6kg too.

Add the extra trail smoothing 29erwheels and reasonably smooth S-bent rear stays and the Nail Trail cruises comfortably all day. If you want more flickability and acceleration pop in an otherwise identical package there’s a Nail Trail 7.6 with 27.5in wheels – but either way you’re looking at a versatile hardtail benchmark.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster tfhan the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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