Marin's new Rift Zone captures the essence of agile handling and an engaging ride and slaps on a price tag that doesn't just appeal to hedge fund managers.
From a brand steeped in heritage comes a bike that focuses on the stuff that matters: suspension, handling and price.
Need to know
- Alloy trail bike with 130mm travel
- Revised frame geometry and kinematics over previous generation
- Updated frame detailing with bespoke protection, SRAM UDH hanger and internal cable routing
- Three spec levels starting at £1,695 for the Rift Zone 1 (Rift Zone 2 is £2,195)
- Jr version comes with 26in wheels
Sometimes the simplest ingredients make the most delicious dishes. The Spanish turn a tomato, a clove of garlic, some salt, olive oil and a slice of crusty toasted bread into a moorish appetiser that distils the essence of Mediterranean flavours. Italians can effortlessly convert some fresh pasta, a drizzle of olive oil and a shaving of truffle or parmesan cheese into a plate that tastes as good as any Michelin-starred dish.
Which brings us to the new Marin Rift Zone, an unassuming trail bike, that’s plain vanilla next to the likes of Trek’s feature-laden Fuel EX and Specialized’s manipulatable Stumpjumper Evo, but has been infused with the flavour of a freshly scraped pod rather than the blandness of a drop of essence.
Although outwardly similar to its predecessor, the Series 3 6061 alloy frame has been reworked with new tubing and forgings. The seat tube reinforcement strut has also been replaced by a gusset, there’s a slightly shallower bend to the seat tube, the internal cable routing has been improved and the non-driveside chainstay is no longer elevated. It still gets a chunky tapered head tube, radically sloping top tube and Marin’s MultiTrac single-pivot suspension design, where the vertical shock is driven by a rocker link. Shock length and stroke remains the same compared to the previous model (210x50mm), but Marin has teased out another 5mm travel to bring it up to 130mm. Although most, if not all, of this extra travel will be down to the chainstay lengths having been extended to 430mm across the size range.
As the old Rift Zone was not lacking in length (at the front at least), Marin has not felt the need to comprehensively overhaul the sizing. Instead reach numbers grow by 5mm across all the sizes except the XL, which goes up 10mm. As head tubes have also been extended by 10-15mm, and the seat tube has been steepened by 1º, the seated riding position shouldn’t actually feel too different. But by stretching what was one of the shortest chainstays on the market, the new Rift Zone should feel more in proportion than it used to.
The head angle remains a balanced 65.5º, at 337mm (measured), the BB height is thankfully not as tall as advertised, and Marin must be commended for keeping the seat tubes stubby and the standover generous. Which means the profile of the Rift Zone not only resembles an old four-cross bike, but it can be thrashed around like one as well.
Consumers get to choose between three wheel sizes; 27.5in and 29in obviously, but there’s also a 26in JR model for the groms. Build kits start at £1,695 and go up to £2,995 for the XR model, which makes a very welcome change from the seemingly endless stream of bikes costing well over £5k that have been launched recently. Even more impressive is the fact that the Rift Zone 1 and 2 command a premium of less than £50 over the outgoing models, despite currency fluctuations and inflationary pressures. What’s conspicuous by its absence is a carbon version, but these usually follow a year or so later going by previous Marin scheduling.
For under three grand, the top of the line XR model that I rode comes with Marzocchi’s Z1 fork with 140mm travel and Fox’s Float X piggyback shock. The drivetrain is Shimano SLX/XT 12-speed, the brakes are Shimano MT420 with four-piston calipers and long, four-finger levers that have proven reliable and easy to modulate from experience. Standard fit with organic pads, you will need to change the rotors if you want to upgrade to more durable sintered metal versions, though.
Reinforcing the playful vibe is a stubby 35mm stem, Marin’s excellent in-house flanged Grizzly Lock On grips further endears the cockpit, and there’s a healthy 170mm drop TranZX dropper post on the size large – even if the Shimano remote is a bit sticky. Overall, it’s a functional spec with little to criticise given the competitive price point.
How it rides
In a world of sagging scales, bottomless travel and stratospheric price tags, the Rift Zone is as refreshing as plunging your face into a glacier-fed stream. It reminds you that it’s fun, rather than frills, that’s important in a mountain bike.
You sit bolt upright, so the bike shrinks beneath you on the climbs, but there’s actually plenty of length to bring composure at speed. That dinky stem ensures an almost telepathic connection to the steering, and the head angle is slack enough to create confidence on off-piste plunges, but not so reclined as to be lazy when weaving through tight, tree-lined turns. It’s a bike that hasn’t forgotten the fact that trails come in a variety of gradients.
Step on the gas and there’s a delay – the freehub body takes a while to engage – but then the Rift Zone takes off responsively, with the anti-squat tensing against your rearward weight shift to balance grip and chassis stability. Equally it’s pleasingly calm when seated, plodding up a climb, even with the shock fully open.
Looking at the separate rocker links, I was concerned that the Rift Zone might get squirmy slamming into berms. But the chassis is actually rock-solid, with the seatstay bridge taking up any potential slack. Equally, it never felt too stiff, or harsh against the hands and feet.
I was hoping for a beautifully supple and sensitive suspension response from the Fox Float X shock, and while it did a decent job of tracking the trails, there was less pop than I’d expected. Having said that, the Rift Zone is still a bike that pokes and prods you all the way down a descent to play with the trail, seek out side-hits and throw the bike around to fully exploit the diminutive frame and balanced handling. Perhaps a longer break-in period would give the shock time to free up.
Although overinflating the Marzocchi fork to get enough support did leave the front and rear operating in slightly different performance spheres. With more time, I’d have liked to try and play with lower pressures and an extra volume spacer to try and get a better match up. With a bit of extra cash, upgrading the damper would be another option
Having ridden both the Rift Zone 2 and XR, it’s obvious where the extra money has gone. Better damping from the Float X shock and superior grip from the Maxxis tyres worth the XR’s price of entry alone. That said, at £2,195 it’s possible to extract more than your money’s worth in fun and frivolity from the more basic model. And with a well-sorted frame, you’re going to get a solid return on upgrade investments in the long term.
While the headlines are filled with bikes that would blow most people's budgets into smithereens, Marin has managed to deliver a fine trail bike at a realistic price. It might not have passing riders rubber necking at the trail head, it might not come with a long bullet point list of features, but if you prefer to let your riding do the talking rather than strut about preening your feathers on something that cost the equivalent of a house deposit, then the Rift Zone won't disappoint.