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.
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.
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.