A solid, well-designed bike with great handling
The Marin Rift Zone 1 is the entry-level bike in the range. Designed as a 120mm travel 29er trail bike, all Rift Zones share the same alloy frame.
Marin Rift Zone 1 review
At £1,350 it’s also the cheapest bike here, and there are some obvious concessions that go hand in hand with the lower price tag. The most obvious being that the Rift Zone gets a 10-speed drivetrain, rather than the 11-speed transmissions found on the GT and Norco. There’s no faulting the shifting of the 10-speed Shimano Deore kit though, offering light, crisp, precise gear selection even under load.
A less obvious concession to price is the rear hub. The frame has the latest 148x12mm Boost dropouts, so it’s bang up-to-date, but to bring this bike in at such a competitive price, Marin has fitted a 141x9mm Boost quick release hub with adapters. You still benefit from the wider hub flange spacing and the extra wheel strength that comes with it, you just don’t get the frame stiffening benefits of the bolt-thru 12mm rear axle.
Most brands like to have a single suspension layout to hang their hats on, not Marin. It uses different designs depending on the amount of travel and application of the bike. The Rift Zone gets Marin’s longstanding MultiTrac design which is a single-pivot with a linkage-actuated shock. The key difference between this design and the 4-bar linkages on the GT and Norco being the absence of the chain stay pivots. And it’s probably the direct connection between the main pivot and rear axle on the Marin that means you don’t feel any loss in stiffness even with the quick release rear hub. You can feel that the X-Fusion O2 R shock isn’t as plush as the Pro version on the GT though, and we suspect that’s because the negative spring isn’t as strong, so it takes more force to get the shock moving.
Matching travel front and rear is the 120mm RockShox Recon RL suspension fork. It’s shares the same model name as the forks on the GT and Norco, but it not as high a spec. It comes with a quick release though, making it much easier to load the bike into the boot of your car.
The dual compound Vee Tire Crown Gems aren’t the fastest rolling tyres here, but they offered the best balance between speed and grip. Control is enhanced further by the Shimano M315 hydraulic brakes. Yes, the longer four-finger levers look dated next to Tektro’s two finger units on the GT and Norco, but the lighter lever action of the Shimano units instantly won us over.
The rest of build kit on the Marin is solid, but the angled seat tube design limits saddle height adjustment. Also after just a couple of rides the quick release seat collar felt like it could snap off in your hand, so our first upgrade on the Marin would be to fit a dropper post.
From the very first pedal stroke, the riding position on the Marin Rift Zone 1 felt dialled. The handlebar height relative to the pedals, the distance of the saddle relative to the handlebar, all felt perfectly proportioned for a 120mm travel 29er.
What really set the Rift Zone apart from the GT and Norco however, was that Marin didn’t screw up the BB height. And it’s not that the Marin is pedal-clipping low. There’s ample clearance for technical climbing and smuggling in pedal turns to maintain speed on flat muddy trails, but it’s low enough that you don’t feel disconnected from the trail or the bike. So even though the Marin is by far the cheapest bike here, it offers a superior ride. And because the frame proportions and handing are so good, it’s the perfect entry-level bike to upgrade as bits wear out our your riding skills progress.
Being the cheapest bike in this test the Marin Rift Zone 1 was always going to be the underdog, but at every step of way it proved its worth. At the weigh-in it turned out to be the lightest bike. And even though it does have the longest reach measurement, thanks to the low BB height and balance geometry it offered by far the best fit, making it agile, fast and very capable. So unlike the GT and Norco, there’s nothing quirky about the Marin that you need to ride around, it’s just a solid, well-designed bike with great handling.