Which Trail Mountain Bike is Right For Me?
Don't be put off by all those kick-ass Marin mountain bikes, we're here to make choosing your dream bike a breeze.
Buying a new mountain bike can be daunting. It’s a bit like turning up to a restaurant where they have a hundred different dishes and you’ve never tried any of them before.
But there’s a reason for all this choice, and it’s because the bike industry is made up of people who are trying to give you the best bike for you and your trails. In this piece, we’re going to be your helpful waiter, and navigate you through the menu of options to find you something that’s going to perfectly hit the spot. Sorry though, no wine this time!
What Makes A Mountain Bike?
A bike is a simple thing - a collection of tubes with wheels, pedals, a saddle and handlebars attached. But things start to get more complex when we’re talking about mountain bikes. To keep it simple, let’s look at each ingredient that you’ll need to consider.
First up, what is a trail mountain bike? That's a pretty easy one. Trail mountain bikes are designed to do most things really well. They'll go up, along and down your favourite trails and are designed to do all of those things as best as they possibly can. Trail bikes are the Jack-of-all-trades, Swiss-army-knife of the mountain bike world... and we love them!
A bike's frame can be hardtail (without rear suspension) or suspension (with rear suspension) and made of aluminum alloy, carbon fiber or steel. Aluminum alloy is the bike industry’s bread and butter – it’s light, easy to work with, and strong enough to stand up to the rigours of off-road riding.
Carbon fiber is the wonder material of bike design. Made of individual layers of fiber sheets, it’s possible to build a frame that’s lighter than alloy while being strong in all the places that matter. But each frame has to be layered up by hand before being set in a custom mould, which makes it more expensive to produce.
Steel is the wild card: heavier than aluminum, but prized for its classic look and its ride quality.
It’s not just about materials though – the profiles of the frame, the lengths of the different sections and the angles they’re joined at will all change how a bike rides.
Hardtails only have front suspension, meaning your legs do the work of soaking up the bumps as well as propelling you. For some riders it’s more fatiguing, for others it’s part of the fun.
Full suspension frames have front and rear suspension and have taken over the top end of the mountain bike market, and are generally more comfortable and controlled to ride when things get rough.
The forks and rear shocks on mountain bikes are complex things, and a top-end one can cost as much as a whole bike. The payoff is less weight and better control on technical descents.
Wheels and Tires
In general, 27.5" wheels are slightly lighter and stronger at a given price point, and suit smaller riders or anyone looking to get their wheels off the ground. 29" wheels tend to suit taller riders and are good for smoothing out rougher terrain or covering lots of distance.
Tires tend to be a balancing act between weight, grip and rolling resistance. A more aggressive tire will drag on longer, faster rides, but pay you back with better braking and cornering.
The drivetrain lets you tailor the effort your legs are making to the trail you’re riding. Single front chainrings are becoming the norm on all sorts of bikes – they’re easy to live with and work well with full suspension frame designs.
To compensate, the range of cassettes (the assembly of cogs on the back wheel) has increased, with super-easy bottom gears for climbs. A 46T or 50T bottom gear will let you get up a climb with less effort, which is great for all-day rides. More expensive drivetrains tend to work more smoothly, with smaller jumps between gears and less weight.
When descending or jumping on a mountain bike it helps massively to have the saddle lowered, as it means you can shift your weight around and use it to control the bike, rather than just being a passenger. On many Marin mountain bikes you can control your seat height with a dropper post – just push a lever, sit on the saddle, and it’ll move out of the way. Press the lever again when you need to do some seated pedalling, and it’ll return to full height.
Complete mountain bikes don’t tend to come with pedals as there are so many different types out there, but some of Marin’s range include basic ones so you can hit the trails straight away.
XC, Trail, Enduro
XC means 'Cross Country' and is mountain biking with an emphasis on fast climbs, low weight, and covering distance at speed.
Enduro is very much the opposite: while you get to the top under your own power, it’s all about the downhills.
Trail bikes sit between these categories. A well designed, high-spec trail bike will climb well, but feel controlled and composed once the trails point downwards.
Most of Marin’s models are available in different specifications, with a more expensive, higher performance build getting a higher number in its name - for example, the Alpine Trail E2 is the top-spec bike and the Alpine Trail E1 sits underneath that. Get it?
So... Which Trail Mountain Bike is Right for YOU?
Now you've got the basics nailed, let's work out which Marin mountain bike is best for you and your trails. Whether it's the heavy-hitting, big-bump crushing Alpine Trail or the wallet-friendly, newbie-welcoming Bobcat, the Marin range has something for you.
For the Newbie
If you’re a novice mountain biker who’s just starting to explore off-road riding, or returning to the sport after a break, a quality hardtail will let you get out on the trails with minimal cost.
The Marin Bobcat Trail is our value trail bike, with a light aluminum frame, a choice of 27.5" or 29" wheels, 120mm front suspension and modern geometry. It’ll look after you when things get rough, and you can even fit a luggage rack to double it up as a commuter or tourer.
The Marin Bobcat Trail 3 is a great place to start though if you’re able invest a little more into the Bobcat 4 or Bobcat 5 you’ll be rewarded with lighter and heavier-hitting components.
The Bobcat 5 in particular is a killer value, aggressive XC bike with on-trend tan wall tyres, a 1X drive train and a super-capable SR Suntour suspension fork that won’t let you down.
For the Bit of Everything Rider
Why restrict yourself to just one type of trail, even if you’ve only got one bike?
The Marin Rift Zone is designed to be fast, fun and easy to ride combining XC bike travel and enduro bike geometry. It’s an insanely capable mountain bike that will take on your local trail, your favourite bike park or your summer holiday to the mountains. Built around 125mm of rear suspension and a 130mm suspension fork the Marin Rift Zone is lively and engaging but has aggressive enough geometry to tackle most trails, as Martha Gill showed when she rode her “Nifty Rifty” to win this year’s UK 4X championship.
We made the Rift Zone to be versatile and to suit as many riders and trails as possible. The Rift Zone 27.5” (meaning it has 27.5” wheels) is for riders that prefer their bike to be easy to ride, quick-to-accelerate and easy to throw around on the trail. The Rift Zone 29” (with those bigger 29” wheels) is for anyone that prefers a bigger ‘feel’ to their bike or wants to carry speed a little better through rough, fast terrain.
The Rift Zone 1 is a perfect first ‘proper’ mountain bike that has the feel of a high-end mountain bike without the high-end price tag. Upgrade to Rift Zone 2 and you’ll get a dropper post and improved suspension then up to Rift Zone 3 for a kick-ass trail bike that’s built to take on your favourite trails anywhere in the world.
For riders looking for something even more special, there’s the Rift Zone Carbon, a world-class carbon mountain bike that’s available in two versions. The Rifty 1 is built with everything you need to make it your dream bike, the Rifty 2 steps that up to the next level with high-end Fox suspension, powerful 4-pot brakes and components from Maxxis, Deity and FSA. It’s a real dreamboat!
For the Enduro Hero
If you’ve decided that you want to step your riding up a level, whether it’s big mountains, bike parks or racing enduro, the Marin Alpine Trail is calling your name. A big-wheeled big hitter, all the models feature 150mm of rear travel and 160mm front suspension from Rock Shox. A slack head angle means it’ll tackle steep technical trails with ease, while the steep seat angle means you’ll pedal back to the top for run after run. Take a look at Mark Matthews' Instagram account if you want to know what the Alpine Trail can do.
Just like the Rift Zone, the Marin Alpine Trail is available in aluminum or carbon versions, both with components to suit a range of riders. The aluminum-framed Alpine Trail 7 is built to hit the trails hard, without damaging your wallet and pairs heavy-hitting components and a 1X drivetrain to create a bike that’ll impress even the most experienced of riders. The Marin Alpine Trail XR is a special-edition bike that’s built for pure speed on the most aggressive trails, specced with top-performance coil suspension for riders that want that extra edge. And yes, XR does stand for 'eXtra Rad'!
The Marin Alpine Trail Carbon 7 and 8 models are both beautifully light, incredible to ride and the perfect bikes for steep, technical mountain bike trails. The Alpine Trail 7 is built with slightly more affordable components, the Alpine Trail 8 is built as a no-nonsense dream bike that's dripping with primo gear but at a price that isn't out of this world.
For the Rider That Needs an Extra Boost
Forget what you think you know, eBikes (or eMTBs) aren’t just fantastic for older mountain bikers, or anyone with health issues. Marin’s Electric Mountain Bikes are perfect for riders who want to pack the most riding into the least time or want to go higher, further and faster than their conventional bike will allow.
The Marin Alpine Trail E series takes the geometry and performance of the Alpine Trail family and adds a Shimano STEPS motor, so you can double your descents. The bikes also feature mixed wheel sizes, with a burly 27.5 inch rear wheel helping you up the climbs while a 29" front wheel keeps things on track. Both bikes come with heavy-hitting coil suspension and top-class components that will give you the confidence to push yourself further and faster.
Just like all of our bikes the Alpine Trail E1 version matches performance and value, without compromising your ability to go fast and ride hard. The Alpine Trail E2 is our balls-to-the-wall, trail-crushing, double-black trail destroying dream machine that upgrades pretty much everything to create that best eMTB you’re ever likely to need.
For the Speed Fiend
If you’re hankering to ride fast and cover long distances, an XC bike is the answer. The Team Marin has a lightweight alloy frame, quick-handling geometry, 120mm of front suspension, and fast-rolling but comfortable 29er tires. In its base version the Team Marin is both a great first mountain bike and a perfect N+1, great for anyone looking for a more affordable hardtail for rides that don’t need full suspension.
The Team Marin 2 steps things up with a dropper seatpost and Fox’s acclaimed 34 StepCast fork. In this guise, the Team Marin is built to compete and is more than capable of anything from your local mountain bike trails to those big and nasty National XC race tracks.
For the Hardtail Hardcore
It’s 2021 - why are they still making mountain bikes with no rear suspension?!
If you ride a modern hardtail, you’ll see why they’re still in demand. The Marin San Quentin range takes cues from Marin’s dirt jump and slopestyle bikes, featuring short chainstays, slack head angles and 27.5" wheels for a bike that’s fun, flickable and ready to take to the air. Just watch any of Matt Jones' videos to see for yourself.
The Marin El Roy is the epitome of hardcore hardtails, designed by our British team and born out of the UK's obsession with steel bikes. The El Roy is big, slack and long, designed to ride anything a full suspension bike can, with progressive geometry and 140mm of travel from a Marzocchi Z1 fork.
And that's a wrap!
These aren't the only bikes in the Marin range, but between them, they've got your back on the singletrack.
And while you might not win if you turn up to an XC race on an enduro bike, you'll probably manage to have fun. And fun is what mountain biking's all about. Pick one, and go hit the trails!
You Might Also Be Interested In
There’s no doubt the Larkspur is a bit of an enigma, but for all of us here at Marin it makes perfect sense. To understand the mysteries of the mysterious modern step-through Mixte, we started right at the source with Marin Product Director Aaron Abrams.Aprende mas