29in wheels and solid frame which can be easily upgraded means the Trek Marlin 7 is the winner of our £500 category in the Hardtail of the Year test
At first sight, Trek’s Marlin 7 seems to offer a pretty standard set-up. In slate grey, the lightweight alloy frame is somewhat understated. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll quickly notice that it’s a well thought-out design; the oversized down tube forming a sold backbone from which to hang the 29in wheels.
The head tube is equally stout, for pinpoint steering accuracy, while at the opposite end of the bike the stays are slender to provide a modicum of comfort. Tyre clearance is also ample, so the Marlin won’t grind to a halt even in deep mud.
Thankfully, Trek hasn’t been sucked into the lockout trap and the Suntour XCT fork is so much better for not having one. And, even though the fork only has 100mm of travel, it uses it wisely. Super-sensitive off the top for improved grip and comfort, with no harsh bottoming-out on bigger hits. Yes, it’s got a bit of a top-out knock on full extension, when launching the bike off jumps or smashing it though rocks, but it wasn’t as shocking as some of the forks on cheaper hardtails.
Further control in the rough stuff is added by a nice wide handlebar. We weren’t so happy about the fat grips with their built-in palm rests, though. The Bontrager XR1 tyres don’t look particularly knobbly, but the decision to fit wider 2.2in rubber at the front and only 2in out back seems to balance traction nicely, and they coped well in most conditions. Indeed, the Marlin is a really great bike for sliding the rear end, while the front remains composed. So while the Tektro Auriga hydraulic discs can’t quite match the performance of a Shimano system, it has to be said that the overall ability of the Marlin 7’s frame, fork, wheels and tyres mitigate any negatives.
From the very first outing the Trek felt fast, ruthlessly efficient and incredibly easy to ride. The combination of the big wheels, quality tyres and a fork that worked for, rather than against you, meant that we had no problems attacking every trail.
Granted, it’s not the lightest bike at this price point, but as is often the case with 29ers, the bigger wheels made climbing so much easier. The frame has ample length too, so when you hop aboard you’re already in an outstandingly composed riding position. Having that extra room to manoeuvre means that you could easily fit a shorter, more gravity-focused stem, without transforming it into a kid’s bike, leaving you free to rail turns and dive off drops, without worrying about losing control. Also, in terms of keeping its pilot in shape, it is without a doubt the most comfortable machine on long rides. In short, it’s a great bike.
For a first step into the world of mountain biking, the Trek Marlin 7 is an impressive option that allows the rider to take on most challenges with confidence. It’ll be there to rescue you when you run out of talent, and it’ll treat you right if you’re planning a full day in the saddle. In fact, as your new best friend on the trail, it’s hard to beat. And best of all, the frame is so good you can happily use it is a solid base to start upgrading and enhancing your bike as you improve your skills.