The Marin Rift Zone harks back to the day when the company used to reign supreme in the 100mm full suspension market, being the first company to really popularise the benefits of full suspension to XC racers and trail riders alike with its classic Mount Vision.
And so as the Mount Vision has slowly increased in travel over the years, so a gap has appeared in Marin’s range at the shorter travel end. So it was with some interest that the company finally plugged that gap when it launched the 100mm Rift Zone last year.
We’ve been blatting around on the Rift Zone for a while now, and have come away impressed. Read on to find out how we got on with Marin’s most exciting bike in a few years.
The Rift Zone name has been around for ages but for 2011 the guys at Marin decided to give it a total redesign, from the bottom bracket shell up. The bike now has a more determined focus with less travel and a less swoopy frame than the 2007 model ushered in. It gets 100mm (4in) of travel, is lighter than its predecessor and, as these photos show, looks fantastic.
Made from 6066 aluminium with hydroforming used throughout, the top tube is now straight and the downtube has a gentle curve where it leaves the headtube, with both tubes are square in profile. The result is much nicer looking bike, and if you’re not a fan of the increasingly curvy tube affairs on other company’s bikes, the Rift Zone is a nice change. The large does look ‘big’ when leant up against the side of the car, a result of the straight top tube and plenty of space inside the main triangle, with the Quad Link packed down low. There’s plenty of space for a large water bottle if you shun hydration packs.
And while the Quad Link 2.0 suspension system remains essentially unchanged, it’s been repackaged in a more compact and slim swingarm and downtube assembly. The Quad linkages are now ‘Y’ shaped which reduces weight but more importantly keeps everything narrower meaning there’s more clearance for those who pedal with their knees slightly inwards.
The shock still lives inside the linkage arrangement keeping it clear of mud splattered up by the wheels. Talking of mud clearance, there’s ample around the swingarm and with less metal in the new swingarm there’s less for the mud to cling too. All cables are routed on the underside of the downtube and there’s a bottle cage mount and a full-length seat tube.
I was fortunate to test the top of the range XC8, a bike which costs £2499 and comes with a healthy specification, as you would hope for this much cash. Up front is a Fox 32 100RL fork, which once dialled in with the correct air pressure was an excellent performer. Only the 9mm QR axle was a slight downer: are 100mm bikes ready for 15mm bolt-thru axles just yet? Soon, probably, yes.
The SUNRingle Black Flag Pro Tubeless Ready wheels are a departure from the company’s usual favouritism to Hope, but they’ve proved decent performers on the trail. On to the rims were fitted Maxxis Aspen 2.1in tyres, which are fine and fast on dry or slightly damp trails but give up grip easily on more squidgy stuff. Their round profile tyre features a shallow tread pattern with small evenly spaced knobs that does prevent them from clogging up in the mud, but they’re better suited to drying trails where they promise excellent traction (read our review of the tyres here).
It’s good to see Formula’s RX brakes getting some recognition, as their short lever is a good shape and fit and they provide stacks of power but with the right degree of modulation.
SRAM supplies most of the components on the shifting front, with a 2×10 setup courtesy of an X9 chainset and shifters and upgraded XO rear mech. I’ve really become of a fan of the simplicity of 2×10, offering all the gears you really need on most UK trails, but with less shifting required you can spend more time just riding. And there’s the extra clearance of the smaller large chainring for hopping over fallen trees in the woods too.
Before I could ride the Marin I had to make one change. I often sit between sizes, sometimes finding a medium the perfect fit and other times a large is better. With the Rift Zone I tried a large, which has a 24.25in top tube. For the bikes intention the 100mm FSA stem is fine, but I decided slap on a 60mm stem. The change proved a good one, while still keeping the stretch to the bars roomy but with the bars brought closer handling was sharper and more precise, and a lot more fun too.
Yes the Rift Zone has 100mm of travel, but it’s not pitched at XC racers. Instead, a 69 degree head angle suggests Marin have aimed this bike at trail riders who want to enjoy the ride back down the hill and through technical sections, as well as flying up the climbs. It maintains a planted vibe through long stretches of singletrack and over rough terrain, with the geometry giving a sharp but not twitchy feel. It ebbs and flows from corner to corner with real joy. Direction changes come quickly with the Rift Zone, mid-corner corrections a cinch.
On the trail suspension performance is impressive. I’ve always liked Marin’s Quad design. It has a rising rate so it ramps up towards the end of the suspension stroke quite a lot, but I still got full travel as noticed by the position of the O-ring at the end of my first ride. The progressive feel gives great confidence, and it offers up tons of traction, the bike managing to scrabble up loose rocky climbs that would normally unsettle other bikes.
It’s a delight to thread through narrow singletrack, the front wheel easily hopped over rocks and the sprightly feeling endowing the rider with a sense of confidence few bikes can match. It’ll appeal to the rider wanting a surefooted lightweight XC bike with the durability that bikes in this travel category can often fail to match.
The Quad Link suspension doesn’t squat down nor get too wallowy, staying firm and responsive and never gets flustered with more demanding situations. While the Fox RP23 shock has a ProPedal lever I found the bike coped just fine with it switched to open most of the time, evidence of just how balanced the Quad Link is that it doesn’t need to rely on fancy shock tuning to make it ride well.
A great handling short travel and lightweight package that is well suited to a vast range of UK trails, with a solid package of components and an inspiring ride. One of the nicest trail bikes I’ve ridden so far this year.