2023 MARIN RIFT ZONE ALLOY REVIEW

MADE FOR FUN…SUCCESSFULLY

Review by Robert Johnston
Riding Photos by Mirror Media | Mountain Bike Connection Summer

There are many ways to have fun on a mountain bike, but Marin has given their new Rift Zone Alloy the specific tag line “the made for fun bike”, so what sets it apart from other “less fun” bikes? We’ve been putting it to the test prior to its release today to find out, so read on to learn all about what fun is to Marin, and how their new Rift Zone XR performed out on the trails.

The Lab

The Rift Zone has not changed much in terms of its silhouette compared with the outgoing alloy model. However, Marin was keen to trickle down some premium construction features to their value-minded trail bike. The new Rift Zone received a boost in geometry and suspension performance to create a higher quality product that’ll provide fun for a wide range of riders.

QUICK HITS

• 130mm Multitrac Suspension
• HTA 65.5
• STA 77 (effective)
• REACH 485 (Large)

Price: $1,799 /£1,695 /€1,999 – $3,499 /£2,995 /€3,499
Website: Marinbikes.com

The new Rift Zone is a “Series 3” 6061 alloy frame, offered in dual 27.5” or dual 29” options, as well as a a JR (Junior) 26” and 24” version for shorter riders. Regardless of the travel, the rear end was bumped up 5mm to 130mm, still making use of their MultriTrac linkage driven single pivot design, but with tweaked kinematics to improve performance all round. This rear end is paired with a 140mm fork up front as standard for the 29” and 27.5” bikes, whereas the junior bikes get a 130mm travel unit. There’s a mount for a bottle in the front triangle on all frames, as well as the same internal routing.

Marin Rift Zone 29

In terms of the improvements, they’ve made to the frame, they’ve added a Sram Universal derailleur hanger for easier replacements. The Marin engineers revised the tubing profiles and forgings to improve performance and looks, as well as re-working the internal routing to have cleaner ports all round, and a neat chainstay bridge which routes the cable through the forging. They rounded off the updates with high quality protection on the rear end to keep things quiet and looking fresh.

We’ll focus on the 29er tested for the geometry, though many of the numbers are shared across the range. The Rift Zone 29 is offered in sizes small to extra-large, with corresponding seat tubes of 390mm to 430mm, and reach numbers from 435mm to 515mm. I chose a size large for my 6’2” stature and preference for slightly shorter cockpits. The numbers that constitute a fun trail bike to Marin in this size large are a 485mm reach and 637mm stack, 65.5-degree head tube angle, 77-degree seat tube angle, 430mm chainstay, and 35mm bb drop. This produces a 1234mm wheelbase which is quite average for this style of bike. The reach and stack are fairly large to give a roomy cockpit which is paired with a stubby 35mm stem and tight rear end to keep the fun-provoking agility.

Marin offers the new Rift Zone 29 in three build specs, the 1, 2 and XR. I tested the top-of-the-line XR, which is still certainly towards the budget end of the spectrum at $3,499, with some well-considered componentry throughout to give great bang for the buck. There’s a Marzocchi Z1 air fork up front, which is paired with a Fox Float X Performance rear shock. The fork has the Ramp damper with a singular non-indexed “Sweep” compression adjuster and rebound, whereas the shock features a lockout lever and rebound adjustment, keeping things simple and the focus on the trail ahead. Shimano’s Deore-series MT420 4-pot brakes stop on a 203mm front and 180mm rear rotor. Gearing is handled by a 12 speed Shimano SLX and XT combo, with an FSA Grid alloy crankset. Marin supplies a 29mm inner width, double-wall alloy rim which is laced to “forged alloy” hubs. They also provide their alloy 31.8mm cockpit with a 35mm forged stem and 28mm rise bars; and their Speed Concept saddle. Rounding out a purposeful but flash-free parts spec are the Trans X dropper with 150mm to 200mm travel depending on the size, and Maxxis Assegai EXO casing tires.

Marin Rift Zone 29

THE DIRT

Marin was showcasing the new Rift Zone at the Mountain Bike Connection event in Andalo, Italy, a couple of months prior to the release of the bike, then gave me one to test back on my home trails in the UK for a few weeks in some very different conditions. This allowed the knowledgeable dudes from Marin who were in attendance of the event to give me the low-down of what was new and what they aimed to provide with their updated bike. In short, Marin wanted to offer high-end performance and capability at a reasonable price point. That said, it was vital in their eyes to retain the fun-loving, well-rounded nature of the outgoing Rift Zone – the staff at Marin essentially wanted to create their dream bike for the slightly less gnarly lunch rides or longer days in the saddle.

Compared with the typical high-end builds we get sent to test at the site, even in its top-end XR spec, the Rift Zone is towards the budget end of the spectrum. That said, save for a cheaper fork damper, there’s little but weight and shiny finishes to set the majority of the spec apart from a premium build – you still get a great 12spd drivetrain, effective 4-pot Shimano brakes and even Maxxis Assegai tires to latch onto the trail. Sure, discerning mountain bikers may pick holes in some of the spec, but as a compromise of price and performance it’s hard to argue with what you receive here. It’s amazing how little the spec of a bike can affect the ride quality of a bike when the basics are covered well, and that certainly seemed to be the case with the Rift Zone – there was no cheaping out on the amount of fun had.

Marin Rift Zone 29

As a trail mountain bike, uphill performance has got to make up a good half of the equation of the Rift Zone’s performance. The climbing geometry is satisfactory to winch up most average climbs, but those with ultra-steep climbs may benefit from a machine with a longer rear end, as the front wheel can occasionally go a touch light. The relatively steep seat angle and corresponding centered seated position do prevent this from being a major issue, but it still occasionally shows in the largest cassette cog. That centered seating position prevents suspension bob from being an issue when seated, and when stood and mashing there’s only a small amount that can begin to creep in. I’d suggest a shock without a lockout lever would be just fine here.

A few runs into testing a fresh bike, I would often be very much in the “fiddling” phase with the suspension dials, if not still undergoing more extreme volume spacer and air pressure adjustments. On the Marin though, the reduced adjustability means it’s easier to find a “good enough” setup. I ended up playing around with the adjustments back in the UK to unlock the last bit of composure, but the baseline setup proved to get things very close. With a composed and impressively controlled 130mm of rear travel, there was a ton of “go” any time I pumped hard down a roller or through a corner, yet on the rougher sections of trail it managed to take the edge off without any pronounced skittishness.

Marin Rift Zone 29

Successive harsh impacts, a botched landing or huck to flat will all find their way past the limits of the Rift Zone, but you’d expect the same for just about any 130mm travel machine, and what it does with that travel is very pleasant. The braking characteristic does lead to a bit of a firm feeling when hard on the anchors, but it keeps things composed for the steeper sections of trail. The geometry strikes a really nice balance between stability and agility for the typical riding you’d take a 130mm travel bike down, but when things get very high speed or very steep it does show that it’s not impossible to unnerve.

Linking turns and switching direction were the most notable pleasantries of the Marin fun machine. This was no doubt helped by the extra sticky and predictable Pirelli Scorpion Race and Maxxis Assegai tires fitted, but the geometry and chassis dynamics lended their hand to the equation and had me tipping the Marin in harder than many other bikes. The only drawback was in fast and rough flatter turns, where the short rear end produced a more sensitive response to body movements and made it vital to actively weight the front wheel to prevent washing out. For me, this is a compromise I’m happy to make on a bike of this flavor, where flat-out speed is not the aim. The back wheel-loving nature that results makes for a whole lot of fun. The package is impressively stiff for a more budget oriented machine, where many will have a wheelset or frame construction that make you wary to push hard into a supportive turn or feel worryingly vague through a big compression, the Rift Zone feels stout and inspires confidence, letting you charge hard until you hit the limits of the geometry or suspension.

Marin Rift Zone 29

The Wolf’s Last Word

As a more budget-conscious option for trail riders looking for a pleasant pedaling machine with a healthy serving of capability, the new Rift Zone hits the mark very well. It’ll still hold on for most of the gnarlier terrain if you find yourself in the remit of an enduro rig, albeit requiring a slightly more delicate touch. Most importantly though, it’ll climb relatively efficiently, and pop and play happily on groomed terrain, making for a great fun all-rounder. It definitely ticks that “fun” box.

Price: $3,499 /£2,995 /€3,499
Website: Marinbikes.com

VISIT MARIN BIKES TO LEARN HOW TO GET YOURS!

RIFT ZONE 29″ XR SPECIFICATIONS

CHASSIS
Frame: Series 3 6061 Aluminum Frame | 130mm
Fork: Marzocchi Bomber Z1 29″ | Rail Damper w/Sweep Adjust |140mm
Shock: Fox Float X Performance | EVOL | Custom Tune | 210x50mm

COCKPIT
Brakes: Shimano Deore MT420, 200F/180R rotors
Handlebar: Marin Mini-Riser | 6061 Aluminum | 780mm W | 28mm R
Stem: Marin 3D Forged Alloy | 35mm
Headset: FSA No 57E, Semi-Sealed Cartridge Bearings
Seatpost: TranzX YSP23JL | 1x Remote
Seatpost Lengths: S: 150mm | M/L: 170mm Travel | XL 200mm
Saddle: Marin Speed Concept

WHEELS
Hubs: Forged Alloy | 32H | 110mmx15mm/148mmx12mm
Rims: Marin Aluminum Double Wall | 29mm Inner width
Front tire: Maxxis Assegai, 29×2.5″, MaxxTerra, EXO
Rear tire: Maxxis Assegai, 29×2.5″, MaxxTerra, EXO

DRIVETRAIN
Bottom Bracket: Mega EXO 73mm BSA
Cassette: Shimano SLX | 12spd | 10-51T
Cranks: FSA Grid | Modular 1X | 32T
Shifter: Shimano SLX | 12spd
Derailleur: Shimano XT | 12spd

Marin Rift Zone 29

We Dig

Well rounded
Good value
Lots of fun, as advertised

We Don’t

Not the best in steep climbs
Need to actively weight front wheel

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