First Ride: Marin's First eMTB - the 2021 Alpine Trail E2
Mountain biking wih a boost beyond capable, both up and down, in even the most challenging terrain maximizing fun.
The Alpine Trail E is Marin's first foray into the world of electric mountain bikes. The company has used its existing Alpine Trail aluminum 150mm platform and added Shimano’s drive system, with the brand new EP8 on the range-topping model, a mixed wheel size setup and coil shocks across the range.
Marin Bikes likes to remind us that it makes bikes for fun - it’s printed several times across the bike including the top cap - but it’s more than a marketing buzzword; this is truly a fun bike that doesn’t fail to make you giggle all the way around the trail. Anyone who has ridden an e-bike - a number that is growing fast - will talk enthusiastically about how much fun they are and Marin has done well to retain the handling of its regular Alpine Trail with the added capability the motor provides.
The Alpine Trail E comes in two flavors, the E1 costing $4499 / £4295 / €4899 and the E2 tested here priced at $5999 / £5695 / €6199 with both bikes using coil shocks. The E1 will be available in December with the E2 following in Spring of next year.
Frame and Drive System Details
Marin is also big on value for money and has eschewed an expensive carbon fiber main frame for an aluminum one just like that found on its regular Alpine Trail. The Multi-Trac linkage-driven single-pivot rear suspension is ported over from that bike too, dishing out 150mm of wheel travel via coil shocks across the range, driven by a one-piece linkage mounted to the seat tube. Marin then pairs that with a 160mm fork for an emphasis on descending capability.
Wheel sizes are mixed, as appears to be the trend for e-MTBs, with a 29in front-wheel and 27.5+ rear wheel. Marin says it reached this decision after much testing, concluding the smaller rear wheel increased the playfulness of the bike with maximum traction for climbing and descending, while retaining the rollover capability of the 29in front wheel. There’s generous clearance around the 2.8in tire with no mud clogging issues on a typical British winter ride.
The frame is packed full of nice details like bump stops on the down tube, internal cable routing and lots of protection around the chainstays. Oh, and there’s space for a water bottle cage with a 500ml fitting inside a side-entry cage. It’s tight, but it fits.
Powering the new Alpine Trail E2 is Shimano’s brand new EP8 on this range-topping model - E7000 on the more affordable model. Production bikes will feature a 630Wh battery, though my test bike had a 500Wh battery, and the battery is housed inside a custom made case and easily accessed by removing four Allen bolts. Charging can be done by removing the battery or using the charge port located just above the motor. The main power button is located on the top tube so it’s within easy reach and you get a display and remote control on the handlebar. More on those later.
Marin has been pushing the geometry of its bikes in recent years - I was very impressed with the shorter travel Rift Zone I reviewed - but the company says its “reach numbers are long but not too long” because it wants its bikes to by playful while being as capable as progressive geometry surely provides.
There are four sizes to choose from, S to XL, and with short seat tubes and low top tubes you can size up or down more easily. The size large I rode gets a 485mm reach, 63-degree head angle and a steep 78-degree seat angle, 340mm bottom bracket height and 1264mm wheelbase. The chainstays are 435mm across the range, only 5mm longer than the regular Alpine Trail.
Marin’s first foray into e-bikes provides us with a very simple range of two bikes. Both use the same aluminum frames and mixed wheel sizes, and there’s a strong emphasis on solid equipment choices with no real signs of corners being cut to achieve a target price.
The E1 uses Shimano's E7000 system but gets the same frame and attention to detail
The cheaper E1 uses Shimano’s E7000 drive unit with a 500Wh battery, RockShox 35 Gold fork and Super Deluxe Coil R shock with a Shimano Deore 10-speed drivetrain and four pot brake and Maxxis EXO+ tyres.
The more expensive E2 gets the latest Shimano EP8 drive unit with a 640Wh drive unit, Fox 38 Performance Elite fork and DHX2 coil shock, Shimano XT/SLX 12-speed drivetrain with e13 crank and four pot brakes, Deity handlebar and stem and Maxxis EXO+ tyres, Assegai front and Minion DHRII on the back.
The wheels are Marin’s own double wall tubeless rims with a 32/38mm front/rear inner width and there’s an X-Fusion Manic dropper post, 125mm on size small, 150mm on M and L and 170 on the XL.
My time aboard the Alpine Trail E2 was all too short, one local ride plus a trip to the local bike park for a day of gravity-induced smiles. That's not nearly enough time to form a well-rounded conclusion but it is enough to share some thoughts on how it performs.
I found the size large a good fit, with the 485mm reach in my sweet spot combined with a stubby stem and 800mm handlebar. Setup time was limited, but getting the suspension dialled in was straightforward, using the recommended settings for the Fox 38 got a good base tune from which I opened up the rebound and compression to my liking, and the coil shock was set and forget. Fitting a coil shock is a good move; the weight penalty is negligible on an e-bike but the performance it offers is so good. It’s supple and sensitive with good ramp up for bigger hits, and was a real star of the package.
Climbing is a comfortable experience with the 78-degree seat angle helping to make light work of the trickier climbs, keeping weight over the front wheel and balancing the power to scramble up some ridiculous climbs, while the short back end helps you nip and tuck through tight bends. There’s a lot of fun to be had from riding climbs you wouldn’t even contemplate on a regular bike, the only real limit is traction on the wet trails at the time of year the test was conducted. Tricking along in eco mode on mellow fireroads lets you conserve battery for the more challenging trails and when they arrive, the trail mode is the perfect setting for letting you scamper up root-infested tracks. The coil shock has a climb mode, but I left it in open the entire time. While it does move about when you’re riding, pedalling efficiency concerns aren’t the same as a regular bike so I revelled in all the traction and comfort it provided.
Pulling the bike out of the back of the car you’re reminded just how heavy and cumbersome e-bikes are compared to regular 30lb trail bikes, but on the descents, the weight largely fades away. Naturally, you get up to speed quickly, a few forceful stabs on the pedals and you’re up to speed - gassing out of slower speed corners, especially if you’ve made a mess of the entry, is great fun. But when the trail gets steeper the Marin is really in its element. I spent a lot of time well above the speed limit, but when you’ve got gravity working for you, the Alpine Trail E2 is very maneuverable. I was really impressed with how I could chuck it about with the ease I’d expect from a much lighter regular bike. Hop over jumps, hip around stumps, the agility of this bike is highly impressive. And when you come to a very rocky section you can smash right through, the tires and suspension soak it all up. I will say that despite its agility, muscling an e-bike around a bike park all day is a full body workout - I need to start adding some press-ups to my morning routine of drinking copious amounts coffee and scrolling the ‘gram.
With my bike having a smaller 500Wh battery than the 640Wh that’ll feature in production bikes it’s unfair to talk about range, but a day at the bike park saw me totalling 50km and just shy of 2000m climbing which I’d call a good ride. The new Shimano EP8 is a nice refinement with some appreciable improvements. The trail mode is much more usable in a wide range of situations, so much so that I never needed the boost mode even on trickier climbs. Shimano has reduced friction in the motor and this enables eco mode to be more widely employed on flatter trails to eke out the range. Heck, I was even able to turn the assistance off on flatter trails and I don’t recall ever doing that on an e-bike before.
The motor is pretty quiet for the most part and you get used to the faint whir. Thankfully issues with earlier units rattling weren’t present on this bike, save for a few instances when you can detect a faint rumbling but it never really became an issue or annoyance.
I didn’t have time to delve into the available customisation via the smartphone app, but toggling between the eco and trail mode was easy with the control unit, and as the boost mode was rarely needed I spent less time switching frantically between boost and trail as I’ve experienced in the past. The display unit gives clear readouts of useful data by as Ralf pointed out in his detail first ride of the new drive system, I would love a percentage display of remaining battery level to just make it a little easier to judge how well you’re doing at conserving battery.
Marin nails the equipment on its bikes and this Alpine Trail E2 is no exception. It pays attention to what matters, from the excellent tire choice to the solid rims, reliable Shimano drivetrain and brakes (which gave no bite point issues) and sorted suspension. I’m no fan of the X-Fusion Manic dropper lever - the upgraded PNW Loam Lever fitted to the Rift Zone Carbon would be nice to see here, but it's an easy aftermarket upgrade.
Even though my time with the Alpine Trail E2 was brief, it’s abundantly clear Marin has nailed it straight out of the blocks with its first attempt an e-bike. By using the tried-and-tested Alpine Trail platform, incorporating Shimano’s newest EP8 drive unit, and giving the bike geometry numbers that maximize capability and fun on the climbs and descents it's a very appealing entry into their lineup. I’m already wondering how I can persuade Marin to let me keep the bike a bit longer...
*All photos courtesy of Andy Lloyd
You can also read the full review here.