Marin’s Rift Zone has been around for a while, starting as a short-travel marathon racer, but now dressed up as a more aggressive thrill hunter. The geometry and suspension don’t match up to the tougher kit though.
The carbon fibre mainframe certainly looks sturdy, with an extended head box, flat-sided, angular main tubes and a massive triangular buttress between the top tube and the asymmetric seat tube. The screw-fit BB has an optional ISCG mount in case you feel the need for more chain security, and there’s a thick piece of belly armour to protect against rock strikes too.
The alloy back end relies on flex in the chunky seatstays rather than a rear pivot to give 110mm of rear wheel travel via a short-stroke RockShox Monarch RL shock. There’s a useful amount of tyre clearance but the big chainstay bridge cutout is an obvious mud trap. Spacing is 142mm, not the latest Boost 148mm standard, and the loose receiver for the thru-axle needs holding in place to engage.
You still get a mount and internal cable routing for a front derailleur, even though none of the carbon Rift Zones have one. The external dropper post routing guides are removable in case you upgrade to an internal ‘stealth’ post, and there are external brake and gear guides, should you want to simplify servicing.
Some cost-cutting kit
That’s probably a smart move too, because without genuine Shimano cable outer (Marin has cut costs here) the Shimano SLX shifter is thumb-breakingly stiff in action, even before it gets mucky. The Magura MT4 brakes have their issues too – the pads require extensive bedding-in to stop them wearing out super-fast and the lever feel is soft even when they’re burnt to full power.
The own-brand chainring looks very basic but actually works fine, with no more chain drop or noise than normal. Up front, the 120mm-travel RockShox Reba RL is a light and reasonably smooth fork – if not particularly stiff – while the 780mm bar gives power-assisted steering leverage. Wide rims bulk up the volume of the fast rolling, hard compound, Performance series Schwalbe tyres, while the KS dropper post gets you ready to throw your weight about on the descents.
Twitchy character away from smooth trails
Unfortunately the frame just can’t match the playful promise of the kit package. With a head angle of 69.5 degrees, the Rift Zone feels steep and twitchy rather than inherently stable, and the Reba fork is obviously flexy when worked hard through the big bar.
The pivotless, thick-stayed back end gives the suspension a really numb and inert feel too. Add plasticky tyres that react badly to any sort of dampness, and it’s a fight to keep the Marin connected and obedient even on relatively tame trails.
Bigger impacts really bully it about, and make for more unpredictable rebound from the ‘flex stays’. On the bright side, the 12.98kg weight is decent for a trail-style 29er at this price and it rolls fast and easy if you keep it straight on smooth trails.