Marin's popular Rift Zone has had a complete makeover for 2007. Those swoopy curves will grab the headlines, but the suspension has been completely reworked too and it now offers an inch more rear travel over last year's model.
Hydroforming is used on this bike to great effect. It enables designers to spec a tube that's exactly the right shape and weight for the job, adding extra material or tweaking the shape where extra strength is needed and shaving weight where it's not.
Marin's excuse for a root-and-branch redesign of their full sussers is that they wanted to create enough space to mount a water bottle inside the main frame. The design looks fantastic, and the cunningly recessed head tube means that even speed obsessed raceheads will be able to find a handlebar height that's right for them.
It's all change at the rear too - Marin's familiar Quad-Link has been tweaked for 2007, with reduced leverage on the shock theoretically offering better small-bump compliance and a bit more travel for big hits. Mud clearance remains impressively huge, and screw-on bearing covers, together with a lifetime warranty on the bearings, provide added peace of mind for riders who don't stop when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Keeping the rear wheel stuck to the ground is a Fox Float R shock and the claimed rear travel is just under 120mm (5in). The clearance around the valve was a bit tight on our pre-production sample, but we understand that this should be sorted on production bikes.
Up front, a Fox Float R fork provides a perfectly matched partner for the rear shock, with exactly the same amount of plush travel. Big ring stompers might miss the lack of lockout, but in other respects it's a gem, steering accurately and soaking up everything from square-edged ledges to braking bump wash-outs.
A bike that's likely to be ridden hard and often needs decent kit, and the Rift Zone doesn't disappoint. Avid's excellent Juicy Five hydraulic discs work fantastically well after a short bedding-in period, and a Shimano and Truvativ based transmission keeps the shifting slick. Hope hubs are reliable choices that emphasise the British design connection, and the finishing kit - from the Mavic rims to the WTB tyres and saddle - is all top notch.
It's a sign of just how far Marin have come in developing their suspension systems that this bike only feels like a 120mm (5in ) travel rig when that amount of suspension is really needed. Or perhaps it's because we only managed to find 105mm (a shade over 4in) of rear travel when we finally got the tape measure out.
Marin tell us we were measuring it the wrong way, but it's a moot point - the Quad-Link system has a rising rate towards the limit of its travel anyway, meaning that big hits will never bottom-out the shock. This gives the Rift Zone a progressive ride feel and endows its rider with the confidence to ride right up to the limits of the bike's travel and traction.
None of this big-hit ability comes at the expense of small-bump response, which is plush without ever threatening to become wallowy. And the real beauty is that it all works without relying on complicated shock valving or rider decisions about how much to twiddle a dial one way or the other.
Adding to the rider's feelings of smug invulnerability is a fit that feels instantly right. The top tube is neither too long nor too short, and the head tube/stem schizophrenia of earlier incarnations has been replaced with a well sorted front end geometry that's just the right blend of stable and plantable.
There is one potential fly in the ointment in the form of an unusually high bottom bracket. However, this is soon forgotten as the bike settles into the first part of its travel, and the plus side is it keeps the pedals out of gouging reach of rocks and roots.
Does it matter that we couldn't coax 120mm of travel out of the bike? Not really. The Rift Zone doesn't ride like a true long travel machine, but neither does it have the nervousness of a race-tuned short travel rig. If Marin set out to build a bike that would do most things well, most of the time, they've come up trumps.