Marin used to be kings of epic cross-country but in recent years they have worked hard to lose the bearded old bloke image for a more radical, seat-of-the-pants reputation.
Despite a discount fork, the Northside Trail's excellent frame and handling mean it's masses of fun when the trail points downhill. If that’s what you’re into then there’s nothing that matches it for the money.
Ride & handling: Immediate gravity gratiﬁcation plus long-term upgrading potential
Compared to many other bikes at this price the Northside is deﬁnitely optimised for riotous, gravity assisted riding. The heavy weight and chunky tyres mean it struggles when you’re providing power, and while there’s plenty of grip, climbing is deﬁnitely about patience rather than pace.
The low cockpit creates a naturally aggressive ride attitude, however, encouraging you to get forward and really work the bike to the max in tight situations. The length and geometry means outstanding stability at speed and when you’re launching off stuff.
This is where the evolved frame and big tyres really shine too, taking a lot of sting out of rocks and drops, and keeping you connected well into chaos sections.
The Suntour Raidan fork is best thought of as a bare minimum for the use this bike encourages, but at least it’s structurally solid. Having ridden the same frame with a 140mm bolt-through fork, we know exactly how much push-your-limits potential it has.
While most manufacturers just offer one breed of bike at this price point, Marin also have a more cross-country oriented Hydro Light hardtail range. The £775 Hawk Hill offers a similar spec level hung on a lightweight chassis.
Frame: Excellent hardcore chassis, but heavy weight limits appeal
It may not have the level of components of Marin’s £1,300 Rocky Ridge, but you’re getting the same frame – one of the most evolved and sorted hardcore hardtail frames available, with a wealth of hydroformed tube tweaking throughout.
Front-end height and standover are particularly low for aggressive riding and Marin omit the seat tube bottle mount so you can slam the saddle right down to the top tube for ultra technical descents.
A tubular brace between chainstays and a cross brace on the seatstays means loads of room for even a 2.4in tyre. While having only half the budget of the Rocky Ridge inevitably has some effect on the Northside’s weight, Marin have done a good job of leaving the ride character largely unscathed.
Equipment: Could do with a better fork, but spec is good overall
The Marin's Suntour Raidan fork isn’t as smooth as the RockShox Toras and Recons found on some other bikes at this price, but it sucks up the big stuff ﬁne, and it’s a lot more accurate and controlled than RockShox's budget Dart model under braking and cornering loads.
The 120mm-travel Suntour fork creates a slightly steep head angle and the 680mm bar is narrow, but Marin stick with a very short 60mm stem for maximum responsiveness. This offsets the relatively slack angles and long wheelbase so it doesn’t feel too bus-like in really tight stuff.
Kenda Kinetics tyres grip and protect well in all conditions, and WTB All Mountain rims add a bit more girth and protection too. Brakes aren’t a strong point but a 180mm front rotor means they do stop bearably if not subtly. While having three fewer gears than many other bikes at this price might seem like a big deal, the fact that we didn’t notice until we’d ﬁnished testing and started spec checking proves it really isn’t.
Sturdy wheels, chunky tyres, fat seat and wider than average bars all add weight which will put off some riders. They’re grammes well spent if you’re more into surrendering to gravity than ﬁghting it, though.