Marin’s big-wheeled hardtails are split into four distinct groups. They include titanium and carbon offerings as well as more upmarket aluminium frames.
The Alpine Trail is the most costly of three that use the same double-butted aluminium frame. The next bike down is the Bolinas Ridge, but the Alpine Trail gets a better fork and drivetrain. There are 26er versions of some bikes.
Ride & handling: Competent if you don’t ride hard
The Alpine Trail is a very easy bike to ride, nicely incorporating the inherent stability of bigger wheels and a long wheelbase with more lively steering than average, which is especially welcome on low speed technical terrain.
The cornering traction of the round-profiled Rapid Rob treads gives your confidence an extra boost, so check the bikes in the shop – some come with Geax Saguaro treads, as listed on the website. The handling is neutral, with the limits of fork control only showing up on bumpy descents under heavy braking.
Frame & equipment: Well designed with great wheels
This is a nicely set-up bike, with a quality frame and decent choices in finishing kit, but we were disappointed to see a RockShox XC28 fork. The bump-swallowing performance is on a par with most at this price, but those skinny 28mm stanchions flex more than those of the 32mm-legged XC32s. This sometimes becomes an issue when braking hard on rough descents.
The lockout, preload and rebound damping dials are welcome. The frame has plenty of standover clearance plus two sets of bottle bosses, rack mounts and a set of angles that leaves it slightly shorter in the top tube and slightly steeper at the head tube than average.
The wheels are tightly built and Schwalbe’s Rapid Rob 2.25in tyres are grippy, fast rolling and non-blocking, with a big enough air chamber to boost comfort. The 3x9 drivetrain is a cost-trimming but still thoroughly efficient mix of Shimano Deore, Acera and Alivio, with a SRAM cassette and chain.
Braking duties are competently performed by Tektro Draco hydraulics, with a 180mm rotor up front as an extra stopping boost. A short head tube and low-rise bar keep the front end low, but there’s plenty of height adjustment built in via steerer washers. Most of our test riders appreciated the 28in width and good sweep of the low-rise bars, while the WTB Silverado saddle is quality – if rather unforgiving on some behinds.
While we expect to see a fatter-legged fork on a bike at this price, we’re reluctant to over-emphasise the XC28 as a downside. Like the drivetrain, it’s a minor cost-cutting glitch on a bike that offers a great ride. But it loses the Marin a point in a competitive market where the minor details of fork performance are crucial.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.