Stiff frame with great geometry.
The Marin Hawk Hill has nearly all the makings of a great bike. The frame is solid, the sizing is on point and the specification is competitive.
Marin Hawk Hill review
Most mountain bikes are available in multiple models that used the same frame with different build kits to create a range. Not the Hawk Hill. It’s a standalone bike that’s only available in one flavour. Thankfully, it’s not plain old vanilla.
With progressive geometry and a whopping five frame sizes on offer, our size L test rig felt perfectly proportioned. The alloy frame is stout too, and much more solid under foot than the Norco Fluid 7.3 FS, even though both bikes are sporting 120mm travel and the exact same suspension fork.
Some that stiffness can be attributed to the wider 142mm dropout spacing, a standard that eludes most entry-level full suspension bikes due to the prohibitive pricing of the rear hubs. Marin skirts the price hike by using cheaper 135mm QR hub with adapters and an extra long skewer. It’s probably a halfway house in terms of improved stiffness, but it’s a benefit whichever way you slice it. The only downside is that you need to be careful not to lose any of the loose parts when removing the rear wheel.
Unlike most brands, Marin isn’t married to a single suspension configuration. As such, the 120mm travel Hawk Hill uses its MultiTrac design, which is essentially a single pivot with a linkage-actuated shock.
The shock in question is the X-Fusion O2 Pro R. It’s air sprung and has external rebound adjustment, so it has the same degree of tuneability as the RockShox Monarch R fitted to the Calibre Beastnut and Norco. There’s a world of difference in performance though, which we will come back to in a minute.
We mentioned earlier that the Marin and Norco have the same fork, but the RockShox Recon Silver RL on the Marin felt much smoother at the beginning of its travel and the rebound was easier to dial in too. At this level, perhaps it’s just luck of the draw.
With its 780mm handlebar and 60mm stem the Marin is ready to rumble, the cockpit streets ahead of its rivals. In fact, it’s only the grips that let the side down, as they are too short for bigger hands and they are not locked onto the handlebar with collars, so the first sign of moisture will have them spinning that throttles.
Shimano’s four-finger brake levers also look like something you’d find on a motorcycle, but the lever action is super smooth and if you push the lever clamps well in board of the grips you can take full advantage of the extra leverage to increase their stopping power. It looks weird, but the brakes are a little under-gunned, especially when dragging them down longer descents, so it’s totally worth it.
Big volume tyres like the Schwalbe Hans Dampfs fitted to the Marin provide extra cushioning and grip, but we’d prefer something like a Nobby Nic up front as the more pronounced side knobs offer better cornering traction; keeping the Hans Dampf on the rear for improved puncture protection.
With the saddle slammed forward on the head of the seat post, and the brake levers positioned for maximum stopping power the Hawk Hill offers a very commanding riding position. On loamy, fresh cut trails the stiff frame and great geometry allow you to slam turns and ride much more aggressively than on the Norco.
Unfortunately, the X-Fusion shock feels sticky and lifeless. Only bigger hits provide enough force to wake it from its slumber, so the bike feels much more jarring on all the small square edge bumps that make up the majority of manmade trails. Are we behaving like the Princess and the Pea? Possibly, but when Caliber and Norco are providing a magic carpet ride, Marin can’t afford to be caught napping.
Which is a real same, as Marin has the makings of a great bike in the Hawk Hill. The frame is solid, the sizing is on point and the specification is competitive. It’s just needs a better shock and a different front tyre for a fairytale ending.
Suspension performance shouldn’t be considered secondary to geometry. Not only does it iron out the bumps, it’s what allows a rider to effortlessly pop over a root or spring out a corner. So in many ways it defines how a bike rides. And, it’s the X-Fusion rear shock that robs the Marin of sensitivity and gives it a somewhat lacklustre ride. With a RockShox Monarch R the Hawk Hill could easily have given the Beastnut a run for its money, as everything else about the bike is pretty much spot on.