Named after the state penitentiary in Marin County, California, the new San Quentin is helping Marin escape their cross-country image. With plenty of design input from their pro dirt jump rider Andrew Taylor, this new bike has a healthy potential to be a superb weapon in the fight for fun.
While it's aimed at jump and street riders, we wanted to see how versatile it is – sure, it may perform well at the trails, but can you pedal it there too? After all, not all of us can afford more than one bike. As it happens, the superbly well thought out geometry and cockpit layout make the San Quentin a blast for trail centre riding.
Carefully shaped seatstays take the sting out for long-ride comfort, while the well controlled short-travel fork means it can shred the downhill runs too. Dirt jumps are handled with ease, and the fairly long frame definitely suits those still learning their air art.
It's a versatile chassis that coped with every bit of terrain we could throw at it. We're not fans of the lovingly decorated chunky monkey of a saddle, but the rest of the bike gets a big thumbs-up. It achieved exactly what we set out to find – cheap thrills.
Ride & handling: Great middle ground geometry for all-round fun
With an effective top tube length of 22.5in, the San Quentin has a reasonable length cockpit for pedalling. With the saddle at full extension we found we were still about 65mm (2.5in) short of the ideal pedalling height, but it was comfy enough for a blast down the singletrack. The short stem gives an uncomfortable position when climbing out of the saddle, but that’s alleviated slightly by the wider wrist stance the bars afford.
Hacking down the hill, we instantly felt the benefit of being able to back off the spring preload and tune our damping using the Suntour Duro DJ fork's external adjusters. The front end felt composed and, despite its minimal travel, we were encouraged to push much harder than we had expected. With the wide bar-and-stem combo, steering inputs are intuitive and are met with superb feedback. The brakes lack outright power and require a fair tug in a panic braking situation.
Shifting is reliable, if a little agricultural, as can be the way with SRAM. Battering through rougher terrain, the controlled front end was bolstered by an easygoing back end. The S-bend seatstays and longer chainstays were kind to our ankles and let us play with the trail at speed, rather than getting constantly pinged off line. The only negative factor was the sofa-esque saddle. With grippy corners it constantly grabbed at shorts and had to be run slammed to the top tube to stop it from being a hindrance.
Things were all good in the jump park too. The small, 15.5in frame gave us good manoeuvrability and a dirt jump bike feel. The short stem gives great control and the wide bars allow you to change direction and tweak the bike at will. The relatively long and soft back end meant it wasn’t snappily fast through the dirt jumps and round the pump track, but it was certainly way more than competent.
The fork advantage was evident again here – we were able to wind on full preload to give a stiff fork to power round the pump track and tune the damping to boost off any jump. This really is a good all-round ripper. Fit a quick-release seat clamp, a longer seatpost and a more slender saddle and you’ll have a bike that’ll happily tear it up round the trail centre as well as bust moves at the local jumps.
Frame & equipment: Light chassis with forgiving rear end, plus good fork
At the heart of the San Quentin is a 6061 aluminium frame with double-butted top and down tubes. Marin have shied away from going hydroforming crazy and specced standard round tubes throughout. A strengthening gusset is welded externally to the underside of the down tube/head tube juncture and stiffening webs span between the seat tube and seatstays.
Using a lightweight tubeset that isn’t carrying the excess baggage of cosmetic hydroforming has resulted in a simple, light (for a playbike – 14.86kg/32.8lb) and purposeful frame. The angles and lengths put it slapbang in the middle between trail bike and dirt jumper – its 16.7in chainstays, 70-degree head angle and 22.5in top tube length are all equidistant from the ideal setup for each discipline.
Just 80mm (3.1in) of suspension travel is on tap from the Suntour fork, but it’s adjustable and oil damped, proving that quality of travel is far more important than quantity. Preload can be wound on and the fork can be tuned to remain composed, not become a hyperactive pogo stick. The bike doesn’t come with a seatpost quick-release, which is a definite oversight, and its short-ish seatpost means that saddle height adjustment is limited to 140mm.
Marin obviously know how to give a bike an instant feel-good factor. Full 710mm width bars with a superb shape are clamped into a diminutive 45mm stem. Lock-on grips as standard are a quality touch and show Marin really do listen to riders about spec. Tektro’s Novela cable-actuated disc brakes are reasonably easy to set up, and give good feel, despite the obviously budget brake levers. SRAM’s X4 shifters and X5 rear mech are typically clunky, but always reliable, and the un-named chainguide is easy to set up for quiet and efficient running.