The Marin Nail Trail is the smaller-wheeled half of a 27.5/29in hardtail twinset, and it's an enjoyably versatile bike for more cross-country style riding and singletracking.
Ride and handling: smooth and stable but not so hot on sprinting
The Nail Trail isn't the most eye-catching machine, and its ride is similarly neutral and unassuming at first too. The 650b wheels combine with the long, skinny stays and decent fork to create a ride with noticeable smoothness and speed sustain.
Compliance in the back end and controlled fork damping mean the Marin naturally glides through chattery rooty, rocky sections with a peak and trough flattening smoothness.
The Reba fork flatters its short stroke with noticeably more controlled and consistent damping than the RockShox XC 30 on the Merida or the Fox 32 on the Scott. The malleable rear end also keeps traction higher than expected if you're prepared to feather power when it's damp or soft.
The long wheelbase, relatively relaxed steering angle and boosted-leverage 730mm bar mean you can surf the Schwalbe tyres through surprisingly sketchy winter corners without ending up on your arse. The lowest complete bike weight and rolling resistance on test mean acceleration is good if you smoothly rev it up to race pace in the saddle too.
Try to stamp it up to speed faster though and the heavy rear wheel and soft-feeling stays take a noticeable torque tax on your pedal power, which leaves the Marin lagging in snap sprint situations.
The otherwise confident ride often left us wanting more travel when we piled into problem sections harder than the fork could cope with too. Add the easy stability of the bike and it creates a laconic and slightly lazy ride feel that doesn't get flustered easily by rough off-piste riding but doesn't encourage you to attack either.
As a friendly feeling, fatigue reducing long-distance cruiser with an easy confidence on technical trails, the Marin is a thoroughly enjoyable bike to pilot. It's hard not to think riders after those attributes might not be better served by the otherwise identical 29er version though.
Frame and equipment: lots of useful details, but we'd expect better gears and chainset on a bike like this
The dark grey Marin may look a bit basic to start with but the longer you look at the hydroformed frame, the more you notice subtle little details like the top tube bulge behind the tapered head tube, the forward-facing seat slot that keeps rear wheel spray from seeping into the frame so easily and the slotted cable guides under the top tube that make lubing easy too.
While the forged dropouts, with an IS brake mount and open slots for a quick-release (QR) wheel, and the threaded BB are definitely traditional rather than bang-up-to-date, Marin have clearly worked hard to fit the 650b wheels in without compromising practicality.
There's masses of tyre clearance behind the small cross-brace between the chainstays, so it won't be a problem if you size up from the already generous 2.25in Schwalbes with something fatter or more toothily treaded. Those long, skinny chainstays have an obvious softening effect on the ride though – in both positive and negative senses.
Making the most of the tapered head tube is a tapered-steerer RockShox Reba fork that belts-and-braces steering precision with a 15mm Maxle screw-through axle at its tips. Given the short stem and broad bar at the top of the fork, we're slightly surprised that travel has been kept down tojust 100mm (3.9in).
The tyres are full-on race rubber, in the shape of semi-slick Schwalbe Racing Ralphs front and rear, rather than just on the rear as is normal for a fast trail bike. The hard Performance compound doesn't do minimal mechanical grip any favours either, but at least they come in a generous 2.25in width. Luckily there's plenty of control and modulation in the Shimano disc brakes to give you a fighting chance of staying upright in slippery conditions.
While they're fantastically functional, the Shimano Deore chainset and SLX/XT gears are under par for an alloy framed hardtail. Marin's own-brand finishing kit is good though, with enough red detailing to add some pride to your purchase.