The Marin Rift Zone 5 has a modern attitude but felt sluggish
- 10-speed drivetrain uses a wide range 11-42 tooth cassette to extend gear range
- Forged, stiff, alloy crankset with narrow/wide chainring to keep the chain on
- IsoTrac suspension relies on tuned flex in the aluminium seatstays rather than traditional pivots to save weight and reduce maintenance
- The Trans-X dropper post is heavy, both in action and weight, but still way better than no dropper post at all
Californian brand Marin’s short-travel Rift Zone looks beefier than most traditional, slender framed XC bikes. With its new IsoTrac suspension system and big, 29in wheels, it’s certainly pitched more towards proper trail riding than its 110mm suspension might suggest.
With modern, roomy sizing, a single-ring drivetrain, bags of standover clearance and a dropper seatpost, it certainly ticks all the trail bike boxes. A slacker head angle is another sign of modernity, but something about the Marin didn’t quite add up; our medium size test bike measured a very relaxed 67.5 degrees, two full degrees slacker than claimed.
Still, the frame sizing is generous compared to the 650b Rift models, and this translates to ample space to move about when stood on the pedals. Seated, the slack seat tube angle necessitates some serious saddle jiggling to get enough weight over the front for climbing though.
Instead of using dedicated pivots on the seatstays, that add weight and complexity, Marin’s IsoTrac suspension is designed to let the seatstays flex as the suspension compresses though its 110mm of travel. Damping duties are care of an X-Fusion 02RL shock, where the lockout is super-firm and ideal for fire roads.
Up front, the Suntour Axon fork sports 120mm travel, but it was very sticky to begin with and had an annoying ‘top-out’ knock on full extension. During the course of the test the clank mysteriously cured itself, the fork loosened up, and, while we never got firmly to grips with how the Q-Loc 15QR axle worked, we had no complaints about flex in the lowers.
Taken together, the suspension response on the Marin offered a stable platform that coped well with g-outs and shifts in rider weight, without ever unsettling the bike. The shock always felt too slow and over-damped though. It was strangely cushy and soft in the car park, but very spiky and sharp once the hits started coming fast.
Marin has matched the modern frame shape with bang-up-to-date parts. WTB i25 rims have a wider profile that provides extra tyre stability, and combined with lesser-known Vee tyres the Marin lays down a lot of rubber for maximum grip. The 600g rims build into heavy wheels, though, and one major gripe for less fit riders might be that the Marin is pretty hefty to haul around.
With a 32t chainring, the gearing is a little tall and it definitely doesn’t offer the get out clause of a super-twiddly gear for the steepest winches, even with the Sunrace 11-42 cassette.
With a dropper post, the components are forward thinking. The wide bar and stiff stem ensure a commanding riding position, while powerful Tektro Auriga brakes get you out of trouble just as quickly and effectively as the 29in wheels get you into it.
Confidence-inspiring pointed downhill, the Marin Rift Zone feels bombproof, steady and composed. The slacker-than-advertised geometry keeps you safe, ably assisted by ample braking traction from the chunky Vee tyres, even in slippery, slick conditions.
The flip side of this calmness in the face of adversity is that the Marin has a nasty habit of dulling flowy sections of trail. And with no real sense of urgency, or zip, when switching lines or giving it full beans on the pedals, it’s a slightly lacklustre ride.
The Marin’s steering response is equally sedate, no doubt due to that slack head angle. As such, climbing technical steeps it feels more like a hearse than a Ferrari, even for riders used to giving 29ers a bit more grunt through the apex of a corner to keep the big wheels rolling.
The IsoTrac suspension stabilises the chassis well through compressions and big berms, but under repeated hits, from rocks and roots, it’s a really rough ride, even with the edge-softening effect of the bigger tyres.
The Marin Rift Zone 5 bolts ride-enhancing features like a dropper seatpost and single-ring drivetrain to modern geometry and sizing. As such, it’s easily the most progressive bike on test, and easily the most confident in a straight line. We wanted to love its modern attitude, but it rode heavy, felt sluggish and was difficult to manoeuvre quickly. It’s more stable down flat-out, sketchy descents than its travel suggests, but those big 29in hoops can’t disguise the fact that the Rift Zone has spiky suspension and handles more like tectonic plates shifting than the volcanic eruption its name suggests.