Rides more like an adventure bike than a trail hardtail designed to get your pulse racing
The Nail Trail and Bobcat Trail both get aluminium frames and both use frame size-specific wheels, where the small and medium roll on regular 27.5in wheels, while medium through to XXL sizes use 29in wheels.
And it’s not just the massive 3.0in Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres that set the Pine Mountain apart; it also gets a steel frame. Even with the different frame material there’s some crossover between the models, especially where the slender seatstays run into the back of the seat tube well below the top tube to improve comfort.
Up front, the Pine Mountain gets a straight, oversized head tube rather than a tapered one. As such, it runs an external lower headset cup and an internal upper bearing to accommodate the tapered steerer of the RockShox Recon fork. Travel is 120mm, but the combination of the conical headset top cap and high-rise stem give the Pine Mountain an overly upright handlebar position.
Being made from 4130 cro-mo, the frame certainly lacks some of the finesse of its aluminium rivals, most notably the flat-formed Boost 141x9mm quick-release dropouts. Yep, it’s the first we’ve heard of that standard too.
The seatpost binding bolt also looks like it’s from a bygone era, and much as we like the idea of using a slender 27.2mm seatpost to absorb vibrations and improve comfort levels, the downside is that it pretty much eliminates the possibility of upgrading to a dropper post at a later date.
The most obvious drawback of using a steel frame, however, is the additional weight. And, at 14.07kg, the Pine Mountain is by far the heaviest bike in this test.
With ballpark pressure ratings printed on the lower legs and a usable range of rebound adjustment, the RockShox Recon fork was a cinch to set up.
Granted, you don’t get the latest Maxle design and the chromed steel upper tubes don’t do the Marin any favours on the scales, but there’s simply no disputing the performance of this fork. It’s smooth, controlled and, when the time comes to service it, spare parts are readily available.
The Marin may be the cheapest bike on test, but the specification certainly isn’t lacking. A state of the art 11-speed Shimano SLX shifter pod and chain-stabilising Shadow Plus rear mech provide smooth, seamless shifting, even under load. And while Marin has opted for a bigger chainring than Cannondale or Specialized, it also supplies a wider range 11-42t cassette, so you won’t grind to a halt on the steepest ascents.
With a 780mm wide handlebar and 60mm stem there’s no faulting the cockpit either. And while the jury is still out on the optimum rim width and tyre size for Plus bikes, there’s no disputing the quality of the Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, even if they are best reserved for softer trail conditions.
Marin offers the Pine Mountain 1 in five frame sizes, but with less than 10mm separating the reach measurement of the L and XL, the jumps in size are pretty small.
To bring the reach in line with the other bikes in test we thought the XL size would be fine, but unfortunately the head tube height also grows by 15mm, and the end result is that that handlebar feels really high. This, combined with the lofty bottom bracket height, gives the Marin that classic perched-on-the-bike feeling. As such, it makes it much harder to keep your balance on slow, picky climbs and it feels weird when you get out of the saddle to sprint.
Even with the shortcomings in sizing and geometry, the Marin can still be ridden surprisingly hard, as the steel frame really takes the sting out of the trail. With more modern geometry and a sleeker frame finish Marin could take this category by storm.
Even with massive Plus-size tyres to cushion the ride, the inherent damping of the steel Pine Mountain frame was still appreciable — our hands, feet and lower back were thankful of the additional compliance. Unfortunately, the Marin rides more like an adventure bike than a trail hardtail designed to get your pulse racing. So if taking in the view is your primary focus it could be the perfect fit. With some tweaks to the geometry and sizing however, Marin could easily use the more forgiving nature of steel to allow you to really open up the taps without the need for an ice bath after every ride.