Marin El Roy Hardtail Review



Review by Dario DiGiulio

Marin might not be the first name folks think of when it comes to hardcore hardtails, with people instinctively assuming their bikes are going to be more on the conservative side. Those people would be wrong. The California brand has been pushing their geometry numbers quite a lot recently, and those changes haven’t just been on their longest-travel bikes. The El Roy hardtail is their hat in the ever-growing ring of downhill-focused hardtails on the market, and its geometry follows the same trajectory as their other bikes, pushing the extremes. Have they gone too far, or is too far just enough to push the genre forward?


• Steel framed, 29″ Hardtail 
• HTA 63°
• STA 78° (effective)
• REACH 480mm (Regular)

Price: $2,399


The Marin El Roy is an aggressive 29er hardtail with a chromoly frame with double butted tubing. The headtube features drop-in bearings and the cables are routed externally (save for the dropper cable) for ease of maintenance, maintaining part of the allure of hardtail ownership. The El Roy is a bike that proudly does things differently, and that starts off with the sizing. There are only two options available: Regular and Grande. I’ve been riding the regular, which sports a 480mm reach, 645 stack, and a 63° head tube. There’s 65mm of bottom bracket drop, a 435mm chainstay, and a 78° seat tube to keep things upright. The Grande size has essentially the same geometry, but with a 510mm reach number. These charts are based around a 140mm fork, which is right in the middle of typical travel numbers for hardtails of this disposition.

The featured fork on the El Roy build is the simple and burly Marzocchi Z1, with 140mm controlled by a GRIP damper and a sweep knob lockout. Drivetrain duties are taken care of by the equally utilitarian Shimano Deore 12-speed groupset, with a FSA Comet crankset swapped in to keep the price from climbing too high. Braking is done by the Shimano BR-MT420 brakes with a 203mm front and 180mm rear rotor, which proved to be a surprising highlight of the spec – read on to hear about those unique stoppers. The Regular size comes with a 150mm X-Fusion Manic dropper, while the Grande gets a 170mm. Most of the other touchpoints and cockpit parts are Marin branded, and work quite well to the intended use of the bike. Speaking to that intention, the bike comes with one of the most aggressive tire specs I’ve seen to date: a MaxxGrip compound Maxxis Assegai in the rear with Double Down casing, and a MaxxTerra Assegai EXO+ up front. It’s unusual to have the grippier option out back, but luckily you can swap things around as you please. The geometry is free, but the frame and parts will set you back a grand total of $2399, which in my eyes is a pretty good deal given how capable this bike is.

Marin El Roy Hardtail Review
Marin El Roy Hardtail Review


One look at this bike and you can see its intentions. It looks like a machine made to winch up steep climbs, and rocket down even steeper descents. What initially intrigued me about the El Roy was the geometry, as on paper it looked to be damn near spot-on for what I think is ideal all-mountain hardtail geometry. The 63° head angle and mid-travel fork give it great stability out front, and because the fork can’t compress all that much the geometry is preserved on all but the hardest hits. More on that later but suffice to say it rips.

Per Marin’s size charts, I should be riding a Grande, but I opted for the Regular to get a reach number more in line with other bikes I’ve been riding recently. The 480mm front end felt great, and after swapping the stock 35mm long stem to a 50mm unit, it felt perfect. The back of the bike was a bit harder to set up for me, mostly due to the very steep seat angle. Where on a full suspension, things tend to slacken out as you sag the bike, hardtails only get steeper, pitching you further over the front end as the fork compresses. This proved to be a bit of a pain with the El Roy, as the 78° seat angle felt like it was damn near vertical on all but the steepest climbs. I moved the saddle pretty far back in the rails to reduce its severity, which made technical climbing easier and seated pedaling more comfortable for me. Take the time and it’ll fit right, it’s just a bit different than bikes with more traditional geometry.

Once the El Roy was set up, climbing was as expected from a hardtail, which is to say it was efficient and harsh over bumps (big surprise). The front end doesn’t wander as much as you might fear, and I found it did well on most technical climbs, though a super-slack hardtail is rarely the bike you’d reach for if that’s your primary jam. This thing is made for the descents, as even Marin’s own landing page bills it as “the ultimate aggressive steel hardtail that’ll get you to the top, and then really shine on the way down.”

The way down really does cast the El Roy in a different light, and boy it was a glow I came to enjoy. This is the most capable stock hardtail I’ve ridden to date, which can pretty much all be chalked up to the very progressive geometry and solid component spec. This thing feels like it’s tailor made for bombing down steep and smooth tracks, with an impressive stability and the ability to hold a line that many hardtails don’t achieve. Because the front wheel is further out ahead of you than it would be on a more conservative (read: steeper) head angle, you can really get hard over the front of the bike and commit to turns while riding the fork. This commitment is probably what led me to setting some personal records on trails that I had a hard time beating with some fully enduro-ready full suspensions; more of a mental advantage than mechanical obviously, but I’ll take it. Like any fast hardtail, there are plenty of moments that remind you just what you’re riding, especially when nuking into a section of braking bumps or successive roots and rocks. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking geometry is going to take the edge off those hits, it’s just going to allow you to carry more speed into – and hopefully over – those sections of trail.

Marin El Roy Hardtail Review

Components on this bike are well appointed for the price, and none of the more budget-minded parts really hold it back from performing well on the descents. The Shimano-Marin wheelset is quite heavy and a little clunky, but they’ve proven to be robust enough to handle some pretty rowdy hardtail huckin’. The Deore drivetrain is as reliable as ever, shifting well under load and remaining pretty quiet over rough terrain. I’ve found that most derailleurs tend to work better on hardtails, due to the lack of elongation and bob in the chain, and that’s certainly the case here – shifting is consistent and reliable, no matter the situation on trail.

Two parts that really stood out to me are the Z1 fork and the BR420 brakes. The Marzocchi fork is quiet and composed, providing an impressively comfortable ride through just about every variety of terrain. It gets a bit deep into travel while hard-braking on steep tracks, but the super slack head angle helps to mitigate its detriment. The Shimano MT-BR420 brakes impressed me right out of the gate, quickly proving itself to be a brake worth far more than its generic-appearing finish might imply. Not only are they the most consistent Shimano brakes I’ve ever used, never once displaying any wandering bite point issues; but the power on tap is impressive and very easy to modulate. If you’re someone who finds Shimano brakes too touchy or digital, then these might be the ones for you. Since they lack the Servowave linkage that more expensive Shimano stoppers employ, they feel more like a SRAM Code, with a linear lever feel and a noticeable ramp up as you squeeze harder. Their all-out power is a bit less than something like an XT or a Code, but I never found them to be lacking for the stuff you’re riding on an aggressive hardtail. Sadly, the bike does come with resin-only rotors and pads, so that’s a piece worth upgrading pretty quickly out of the gate if you do any riding in the wet. That combo does bite nicely, but seriously lacks the heat and grit resistance of metallic alternatives. Luckily, any non-finned 4-piston Shimano pad will fit into these brakes, and any standard steel rotor will be an upgrade over the stock option. One little setup frustration relating to the brakes is the odd location and design of the rear brake mount on the frame. It is essentially blocked by the seat stay, making access to the bolts pretty tricky with anything except a long T-handle hex wrench. Small complaint, but worth noting if you’re someone who wrenches on their own bike.

The Wolf’s Last Word

If you’re in the market for a downhill-oriented hardtail that can truly hold its own, there are few stock options as well sorted as the Marin El Roy. The sizing is a bit limited, and the geometry is extreme, but those interested in pushing their limits on a solid steel bike are well catered to here. The price is great for what you get, and I’d probably opt for this over many other entry-level full suspensions for its descending prowess alone. 

Price: $2399
Weight: 34.8 lbs.


Frame: Marin Series 3 Double Butted and Formed CrMo Steel

Fork: Marzocchi Z1 | EVOL | GRIP | 140mm

Brakes: Shimano BR-MT420 4-Piston | 203/180

Handlebar: Marin Mini-Riser | 780mm Width | 28mm Rise | 5º Up | 9º Back
Stem: Marin 3D Forged Alloy 31.8 | 35mm length
Headset: FSA Orbit 40 No.42 ACB
Seatpost: X-Fusion Manic, 150mm (Regular), 170mm (Grande)
Saddle: Marin Speed Concept

Hubs: Shimano HB-MT410B

Rims: Marin Double Wall Alloy | 29mm Inner | Tubeless Compatible
Front Tire: Maxxis Assegai 29×2.5″, MAXX TERRA, EXO+
Rear Tire: Maxxis Assegai 29×2.5″, MAXX GRIP, Double Down

Bottom Bracket: Mego EXO 73mm BSA

Cassette: Shimano Deore | 10-51t
Cranks: FSA Comet Modular 1x | 32t
Shifter: Shimano Deore M6100 | 12-Speed
Derailleur: Shimano Deore SGS | 12-Speed

Marin El Roy Hardtail Review

We Dig

Excellent downhill-oriented geometry
Great value
Fast and capable

We Don’t

Short dropper posts
Very steep seat angle
Awkward rear brake mount


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