Iconic Californian brand Marin’s hardtail range is nothing if not comprehensive, with 17 models that range from dirt jump dirtbag to cross-country race whippet. The Hawk Hill occupies a position one rung above bottom in the Hydro HT range.
It aims to take some of the design cues from the race bikes, inject a little practicality and end up being a bike that’s just right for most riders, most of the time. With its easy-going handling and (mostly) decent spec, it ticks most of the right boxes. But there are lighter, better specced and more inspiring bikes at this price.
Ride & handling: Easy to get on with; competent in most areas without excelling
The Hawk Hill counters its decidedly average all-up weight (13.25kg/29.1lb without pedals) with the spot-on geometry and ride manners we’ve come to expect from Marin. It’s an easy bike to get on and ride, delivering just the right combination of stability and manoeuvrability to keep both newbies and experienced riders happy.
The stem’s a tiny bit too long for our tastes and tends to give the front end a rather ponderous feel. More importantly, the Hawk Hill feels like it's missing something. Conservative tubing wall thicknesses and small touches like the budget SRAM derailleurs mean it lacks the overall sparkle of the best of the competition. It’s okay, but that’s not really enough at this price.
Frame: Good attention to detail, but could do with more mud clearance
Lurking underneath the Hawk Hill’s unassuming grey paint is a frame that positively bristles with tweaked, shaped and proﬁled tubes. The subtly curved top tube features triple butting to save weight and a hydroformed ridge at the head tube joint, presumably for extra strength and rigidity in this critical area.
The down tube also gets the triple butting treatment, but arcs far more obviously into the head tube. Flamboyantly curly chainstays plug into elegantly cut away dropouts, which in turn lead to a pair of surprisingly straight-laced seatstays with, it has to be said, rather miserly tyre clearance. Rack mounts add some real word practicality, and there’s a pair of bottle bosses too.
Equipment: Average spec and weight dull the riding experience
The Marin’s stop and go bits are about par for the course, although SRAM’s X5 derailleurs are no match for Shimano’s budget offerings in the looks department and, in our experience, don’t stand up to hard use quite so well either. It’s nice to see Marin opt for a good-looking FSA crankset instead of the Shimano Alivio found on many bikes at this price.
The Hawk Hill's Suntour Raidon coil fork is among the better ones we’ve seen. It offers a useful 100mm of trail-taming travel with adjustable lockout and, unusually for this price, adjustable rebound too. The wiper seals are rather ineffective, though, and soon leave a trail of grey gunge all over the stanchions. This doesn't bode well for long-term durability.