Marin’s San Quentin 1 is a modern hardtail that flaunts a rad frame but flawed components.

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 7

Marin San Quentin 1


  • • Progressive frame offers loads of room to get loose
  • • Slack head angle increases stability and confidence on descents
  • • Fun, agile handling
  • • Loves to get airborne


  • • Clunky coil fork lacks support and adjustability
  • • Constant risk of slipped gears from the drivetrain
  • • Tyres are vague and unpredictable in corners
  • • Square-taper cranks won’t last long


The Marin San Quentin 1 is the most progressive hardtail I’ve ever tested, but a few compromises stop it reaching full potential


Price as reviewed:


If you’re looking for a radical hardtail, at a down-to-earth price, one bike stands head and shoulders above the rest. That bike is the Marin San Quentin. Clearly inspired by the dirt jump bikes ridden by Marin-sponsored Matt Jones, and with a hint of Sick Bicycles (remember them?) about it, the low-slung top tube and steep seat angle scream style and amplitude, while the slack head angle and generous sizing look primed for high-speed bombing.

Marin San Quentin 1

Kudos to Marin for having the courage of its convictions when it comes to the San Quentin 1’s radical sizing and geometry.

Marin San Quentin 1 need to know

  • Alloy frame with low standover and progressive geometry
  • SR Suntour XCM34 fork with 130mm of travel
  • 1x drivetrain with 9-speed Sunrace cassette and MicroShift transmission
  • Fixed seat post, but frame is dropper post-ready

It comes with 27.5in wheels with big volume Vee Snap tires, which I know from testing the Calibre Line T3-27 and other plus bikes, is a surefire way of introducing comfort and composure to the ride of any hardtail. The fork is only 130mm in travel, so there are no radical swings in geometry as the fork compresses, causing unpredictable handling.

Sounds like Marin has all its ducks in a row. So, why doesn’t the San Quentin deserve a place among the best hardtails currently on sale?

Marin San Quentin 1

That low standover really makes it easy to chuck around. But the quick-release seat collar stops working after the first wet, gritty ride.

Frame and geometry

Marin has really gone out on a limb with the San Quentin’s 6061 T6 double-butted alloy frame. It has perhaps the most progressive styling and geometry of any hardtail under £1,000 (maybe even more), and (from a distance) looks more like a boutique, hand-crafted, hardcore hardtail that you’d see somewhere like the Bespoked show, than a mass-produced model.

The hallmarks of the small volume, boundary-pushing, backyard bike builder-look start with the knee height top tube, offering acres of standover clearance for chucking the bike around in the air and on the ground. Then there’s the steep 77º seat angle, aping modern enduro bikes to improve climbing, and allow Marin to tuck the rear wheel in obscenely tight for maximum agility. Up front, the head tube reclines lazily forward at 64º in a chopper-like stance. But, as soon as you stand on the bike to descend, and your weight moves forward – compressing the fork, and steepening the head tube – this extreme angle makes complete sense, keeping the steering stable and controllable at speed. For a final flourish, there are swoopy, curved seat stays, designed to encourage flex and compliance.

Marin San Quentin 1

Curvy seatstays add a flourish to the back end, although we’d be hard pressed to say they make any difference to the ride quality.

The San Quentin’s utilities (brake hose and gear cable) are mostly routed through the frame, entering behind the head tube and exiting at the bottom bracket, before continuing to their final destinations externally and held by cable ties. Marin has made a good job of this, and the cables are secure and silent inside the frame.

Although it doesn’t come with one, there’s a port at the base of the seat tube to allow the installation of a dropper post. Given the compact frame, Marin has only been able to add a single bottle cage mount on the down tube. At the bottom bracket, there are ISCG mounts to make it easy to fit a chain guide for extra drivetrain security.

There are four sizes available, with the reach starting at 422mm on the small, moving up to 450mm and 470mm on the Medium and Large, and stopping at 500mm on the XL. Extremely short seat tubes across the range give riders the chance to choose between two frame sizes depending on the handling they’re looking for, but tall riders will have to run a very long dropper to get the right saddle height for pedalling.

Marin San Quentin 1

Marin has chosen a relatively burly fork with 34mm stanchions in the Suntour XCM, unfortunately the suspension performance is underwhelming.


Marin has fitted an SR Suntour XCM34 fork up front with 130mm of travel. This is important, as it gives just enough movement without causing the geometry to vary wildly on descents, which can be unsettling and unpredictable.

To keep the price down, the fork is coil sprung. The problem with this is that you can’t easily tune the spring rate to your body weight. Indeed, while the spring in the large frame size was about right for my 77kg weight, it’ll be too soft for heavier riders. The action is very rudimentary, and there’s a lack of grip up front, as friction in the system makes the fork feel sticky over small bumps. Nor is there much support, so when I pushed down before a jump, or to hop the San Quentin over an obstacle, the fork just sank through the middle of the travel.

Marin San Quentin 1

No need for an o-ring thanks to the grease marks on the steel stanchions!

There is a rudimentary compression damping dial, which does add some support, but also restricts the flow of oil, so when you hit a big bump the fork can’t cope and you get a harsh jolt through your hands and arms. Rebound damping is on the slow side, and there’s no way of adjusting it externally either. An air fork would go a long way to improving the San Quentin 1, but Marin says it’s just not possible at this price point.

It’s not all bad news though. The 34mm upper tubes and bolt-through axle were appreciated and helped ensure the San Quentin tracked accurately on rough descents and landed solidly on jumps.

Marin San Quentin 1

Evidence of the extreme chainsuck we experienced on our first ride. A replacement chainset did solve the problem – mostly.


A short 45mm stem and wide 780mm bar nail the cockpit on the San Quentin 1, giving ample control on chunky trails, while also keeping the steering accurate and controllable.

Tektro’s basic M275 hydraulic brakes do the job, but don’t feel exceptionally comfortable against fingertips. There’s not a lot of power or feedback through the lever, so it’s hard to feather the brakes as grip levels change.

Marin San Quentin 1

The Marin’s chunky Vee Flow Snap tyres should have improved grip and comfort, but this didn’t prove to be the case.

Marin’s no name rims are fairly narrow given the chunkier than average 2.6in tyres fitted. As a result, the Vee Tire Flow Snap rubber gets pinched in at the base and creates quite a pronounced crown. So the San Quentin tended to fall too easily onto the vague cornering knobs when turning, while the hard rubber skated across wet roots and dirt.

Marin San Quentin 1

Square-taper cranks and BB just don’t cut it for proper mountain biking, and particularly jumping, so they’ll need to be upgraded down the line.

Normally big tyres with extra air volume are a huge advantage on entry-level hardtails, as they can be run at lower pressures (under 20psi), generating a larger footprint on the ground that not only provides more grip, but better isolation from bumps. With basic suspension up front, and no suspension at the back, it’s generally a win-win move, bringing less harshness and more control on the descents and better traction and seated comfort on the climbs. So it was unfortunate that this wasn’t the case with the Marin.

Marin San Quentin 1

The MicroShift Advent drivetrain has a clutch to reduce chain rattle (the switch on the knuckle), but we experienced numerous chain skips during test rides, which eroded our faith in the drivetrain.

Marin has kitted the San Quentin out with a modern single-ring drivetrain. There’s a 32t chainring up front with a 9-speed cassette with a decent range of gears that works on all but the most prolonged climbs, where a lower bailout gear would help ease those leg muscles. However, the chain suffered from the worst chainsuck I have ever experienced, where it would continue to stay wrapped around the chainring and get wedged against the frame. Turning the clutch on at the MicroShift mech improved matters to a degree, but the chain would still skip and jam randomly, often when I was least expecting it. Which almost caused me to crash on several occasions. To rectify the problem, Marin replaced the chainset, and this did solve the chainsuck issue. However, the chain still skipped on the sprockets under power, which was alarming, and eroded any confidence I had when pedalling hard.

Marin San Quentin 1

The geometry and low-slung top tube of the Marin San Quentin 1 promotes aggressive riding. But it’s held back by the components.


In some respects the Marin San Quentin was a delight to ride. In others it was extremely frustrating.

Marin San Quentin 1

You’ll need a long dropper post to get the right saddle height for climbing on the Marin San Quentin 1.


A couple of things hampered the San Quentin’s climbing prowess, and while ascending was probably never going to be top priority when designing this bike, it’s something most riders will have to do. The steep seat angle is great for severe gradients, but on gradual climbs and flat tracks it puts your weight through your hands and sit bones, which starts to get uncomfortable over long distances. Less of an issue on bikes like this where they are more likely to be pushed or ridden short distances to lap a fun jump trail in the woods, but one worth bearing in mind if planning to use for longer rides. Equally, putting aside the chainsuck issues, the 46t sprocket on the cassette means you can’t sit and spin as easily as you could if it was a 51 or 52t. To keep that gear turning I had to get out of the saddle more frequently, which did help ease those pressure points.

Marin San Quentin 1

A relaxed head angle really feels at home on faster or steeper trails.


Here’s where the San Quentin 1 really was a mixed bag. First the negatives. The harsh, yet divey, fork lacked any kind of support when pushing for grip or to generate lift. Any confidence created by the stout chassis was quickly eroded by the performance of the spring and damping. Upgrading the fork will be one of the first things you’ll need to do if you buy a San Quentin 1 – not a cheap job.

Then there are the tyres, which flopped over onto the subtle edge knobs easily, didn’t really conform to the terrain, and skated across surfaces where grip was in short supply. Better 2.6in tyres, such as Maxxis’ Minion DHF or Rekon, might transform this bike, although the narrow rims will reduce the cushioning effect and limit you to 2.5-2.6in options.

And then there was the drivetrain, which – even after swapping the chainset – I had to soft pedal for fear of the chain slipping and skipping.

Marin San Quentin 1

With short chainstays and a dinky stem, the Marin San Quentin 1 is an easy bike to manual.

But, when I could generate speed by pumping, or gravity was on my side, the San Quentin frame shone through these issues with a zest for fun and eye-popping agility. As I’d hoped, it felt in its element hitting jumps, boosting effortlessly, and carved corners like Franz Klammer (look him up, kids). I could lay that diminutive frame over so that the bars almost touched the dirt, brace my knee against the top tube, and rail or drift through tight bucket turns, loose loamy turns, and endless constant-radius turns.

Marin San Quentin 1

It looks like a jump bike, and it feels really comfortable in the air. It’s clear some of Matt Jones’ influence has rubbed off on the Marin San Quentin 1.

It was particularly comfortable in the air, with a lightness to the handling and chuckability that shone through on any jumps. Again, a better fork here would really take it to the next level.


With a change of fork, tyres, and drivetrain, and the addition of a dropper post, the San Quentin 1 would be an amazing bike. The potential is there, it just needs redressing to capitalise on the excellent frame and geometry. Unfortunately, the kind of upgrades needed are going to cost around two-thirds of the price of the whole bike. Spend a bit more and you can get the San Quentin 2 for £1,355, which comes with a dropper post and an air-sprung X-Fusion fork – yes, it's a lot more money, but it will cost you less in the long run than upgrading the San Quentin 1.


Frame:6061 alloy, double butted
Fork:SR Suntour XCM34, coil-sprung, 130mm travel
Wheels:Marin alloy rims, forged alloy hubs 110x15mm front, 141mm QR rear
Tyres:Vee Tire Co Flow Snap 27.5x2.6in tyres
Drivetrain:Marin Forged Alloy crank, 32t, 170mm, Microshift 9-speed shifter and r-mech
Brakes:Tektro M275, two-piston, 180/180mm
Components:Marin Alloy Stem 45mm, Marin Mini-Riser bars 780mm, Marin Alloy fixed post, Marin Speed Concept saddle
Sizes:S, M, L, XL
Size tested:L
Rider height:178cm
Head angle:64º
Seat angle:78º
Effective seat angle:78º
BB height:310mm
Front centre:810mm
Down tube:750mm
Seat tube:380mm
Top tube:615mm