Marin Rock Springs review£1,549.00

Aggressive mini-downhill bike that'll unleash your inner beast

BikeRadar score4.5/5

In the past couple of years, Marin has radically overhauled its range, adding serious aggression to a line-up previously associated with maps more than mentalism. Nothing sums that up better than the Rock Springs.

This is a bike with full-on downhill attitude and confidence without most of the extra weight and wallow of excess inches. However, even with its impressive pedal response and full seat height, those 34lb still drag on long climbs.

This is a bike for riders who want an aggressive, punchy freeride bike that can still play all day long.

Ride & handling: boulder-solid, laser-precise

It comes as no surprise that a bike so densely packed with metal and bracing feels boulder-solid as soon as you sit on it. It is a surprise that it pedals so well, though. Chain growth early in the stroke keeps the back end locked as you put the power down, and the Marin hides its weight remarkably well when you’re accelerating out of corners, towards lips or up short climbs.

Obviously, a weight of 34lb gets to be a real drag on long ascents, and the same chain tightness means it can spit traction on loose surfaces but persevere with your efforts and the payback is worth it.

Travel of 140mm front and rear might not seem enough to go nuts with, but the great thing about this bike is that the insanity is so well controlled. It’s an efficient big-trail killer, achieving with one well-aimed shot what you might not manage with a whole magazine of flexy, sawn-off shotgun riding.

For a start, there’s total feedback and precision on the run into any situation, so you hit stuff at exactly the right speed and angle rather than hoping extra travel mush will mop it up. Second, the super-slack axles, massive bars and short stem give genuine freeride/downhill handling confidence for an instant shot of ride testosterone.

Maxle screw-in axles front and rear mean stiffness and tracking accuracy are equally inspiring, so the bike is able to snatch back control very quickly on landing, or take some seriously sick lines without sliding or slurring.

Even with cost-compromised spec, the Rock Springs is light and tight enough to pop really well as soon as you launch it or try and whip it round in the air. It’s got the snap to get you to launch speed in confined spaces – something you won’t get from many big freeride bikes, and certainly not the ones which cost £1500.

While there’s a fair amount of leverage going through it in various parts of the stroke, the shock takes its medicine really well. There’s certainly no fluffy, comfy float in the shock, but it does exactly what it has to. There’s no spiking and just enough ramp up to stop the shock slamming too badly or splitting tyres open, and no rebound hiccups to throw you off on landing.

The younger, madder testers in our entourage have been dropping 15-foot shore drops on this bike and declaring it as sorted as bikes with an extra 50mm of travel.

Although the bike’s weight inevitably affects how comfortable you’ll be riding cross-country at speed, it’s certainly ridable enough to twiddle up to the top of Glentress or Cwm Carn a few times in a day, rather than paying for an uplift.

If you’ve got any sort of skill to add, it’ll have no trouble staying with bigger bikes on proper downhill trails, making it the perfect choice for big bike owners. Coming from the opposite perspective, it gives a very accurate idea of exactly what you’re doing in relation to your limits, so you’re much less likely to overstep them.

Frame: maximum beef for maximum rigidity

The squat 140mm FRS frame is new for this year, sitting between the 120mm cross-country bikes and the Quad XLT bikes in a new mid-travel mentalist category that Marin are the only mainstream brand to even try.

The main tubes are thickwalled pieces with big ‘fish gill’ gussets supporting around 30 per cent of their length. Monster square section stays run to replaceable chainring bolt-thru Maxle dropouts and there are other hidden plates tying things together between them.

Gussets aren’t just about insuring your pants against unsightly damage, as they can also do the same job on frames. Using extra metal plates (as opposed to M&S cotton/leopard skin nylon) spreads stress away from loading points such as tube junctions or shock mounts. Some of these gussets or mounts are really subtle and hard to spot, while other frames make a feature of their reinforcement. No prizes for guessing which option Marin chose.

The short H linkages are broad for extra stiffness, and sit on a long hydroformed shoe on the massive down tube. The mid-stroke Fox air shock sits neatly between the two diagonals and is hidden from filth.

The Rock Springs is very UK-friendly, with masses of mud room, bearings with a lifetime warranty and neat gear cable runs. There’s no room for a bottle, but plenty for your bits should you have to straddle it unexpectedly, while a straight seat tube means full cross-country-FR saddle height adjustability.

Equipment: spot-on selections

The Rockshox Pike coil for is a perfect match; ditto the big bar cockpit and details such as ‘locked on’ grips.

The cranks will likely prove the weakest link if you’re going really big, but they’ve survived our biggest drops so far, and we couldn’t get the wheels out of shape either.

The SRAM gears are great for the kind of riding this bike encourages, too.

More powerful brakes would be an upgrade worth considering, but for this price you really couldn’t ask for more.

Summary: a great playbike for the money

Marin has got real balls for building a bike like this, but it really works. Choosing tightness and accurate control over attention-grabbing but terrain-masking travel creates a truly outstanding rig. Whether you’re bored of pushing up hills or wanting to push new limits you won’t find a better or more entertaining play bike for £1500.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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