Usually, 29in wheel mountain bikes are about 0.5lb heavier than their 26in wheel price brethren. In most cases they have some downmarket parts too, and this is more relevant on £500 bikes than at higher prices.
The big issue is trying to decide whether the bump-taming, easy rolling stability of the wheels makes up for compromises elsewhere. In the case of the Marlin, it rides well enough to overcome its heft burden, but you get cable disc brakes instead of hydraulics and, as usual, the fork is very basic.
Ride & handling: Excellent handling for a 29er
We like the Marlin’s handling. Fisher’s G2 geometry results in a lively steering character that dispels the cliché that 29ers are sluggish over technical terrain. This is a 29er that steers like a 26er but still has the smooth confident roll that makes bigger wheels popular with so many riders.
The long top tube results in a flat backed ride posture that appears to suit most riders, and noticeably makes sat down climbs more efficient. It’s only the limitations of the fork that hinder confidence on rough terrain. We had to strip it and regrease the seals and stanchions after the first wet ride as it all but seized solid.
Frame & equipment: Wheels good, fork bad
The Gary Fisher Collection seat tube graphic is a reminder that Trek have a lot of 29er experience. It pays off in chassis design subtleties. The Fisher G2 geometry has a long top tube, shortish stem and a fork offset that makes slow speed handling more lively than is typical on a 29er, without losing high speed stability. It works.
The Marlin frame is worthy of a much more costly bike. It’s a light, well built, sleek looker and we like the way the short head tube allows for plenty of adjustability in bar height. The curved down tube allows fork clearance without jacking up the front end, the short back end has lots of mud room, and there are two sets of bottle bosses but no rack eyelets on the seatstays.
At this price you’re still getting an SR Suntour XCM fork that rebounds far too quickly and needs servicing after wet rides (removing legs, drying and regreasing takes about 10 minutes) but the G2 geometry ride position helps to keep the rebound in control by placing more upper body weight over the fork, and that helps keep all but the harshest bumps in check. The lockout is very effective but using the spring preload dial doesn’t make much difference.
The Marlin’s drivetrain is a slick-shifting mix of Shimano Altus (crankset, front mech and cassette) and SRAM X4 (rear mech and shifters). The wheels use the bafflingly named Bontrager AT 650 rims, anodised red Formula hubs and minimally knobbed Bontrager 2.1in tyres that roll fast, grip surprisingly well in all but wet mud and never block.
Tektro’s Novela cable-pull disc brakes feel a bit wooden when they’re new but their power and modulation improves as the pads bed in – adding a full outer cable to the rear would avoid frequent servicing. The wide, low Bontrager bar, two-bolt seatpost and saddle are all good quality items.