Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2 Review
Like everything in life, there are compromises to be made, so in deploying more extreme geometry has the new Rift Zone moved too far away from its all-day trail riding capabilities? Or has the iconic Californian brand managed to hit the sweet spot of capability and pedal-ability with great geometry and 29in wheels?
The guys at Bike Radar took the Marin Rift Zone to some of the wettest and grottiest trails.
Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2 ride impressions
Swing a leg over the Rift Zone 2 and its intentions become apparent almost instantly. The fork looks raked out, there’s plenty of cockpit room and there’s a nice front-to-back balance that only some bikes have without extensive fiddling and tuning.
Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2 climbing performance
Set off on a climb and that slack head angle doesn’t impede swift progress. In fact, the bike happily accelerates fast when provoked, with very little of your driving motion lost to pedal bob when seated, especially at lower cadences on rougher terrain.
Switch to pedaling out of the saddle at a low cadence and the back-end does absorb some of your legs’ power. Likewise, if you’re spinning your legs on flat fire roads, the rear-end undulates with every pedal stroke. However, this movement isn’t especially pronounced and I’m yet to find an XC-focussed bike that doesn’t do this.
The amount of comfort on offer is fantastic, especially with a full complement of volume reduction spacers fitted to the rear shock. It’s supple enough to remove the majority of small, square-edge bumps that, if the bike wasn’t working so well, can be uncomfortable.
With this compliance and the ramp up from the rear end, the bike’s always ready to tackle medium and bigger hits on climbs, such as larger roots, rocks and holes. Riding seated over this sort of bump doesn’t cause it to rock rearward in its travel and it remains stable, making it easier to control.
This resistance to blow through its travel also helps to reduce pedal strikes and maintains a steep-as-possible seat-tube angle compared to bikes that are less supportive. And, because the ramp-up feels quite gradual, you aren’t suddenly hitting a brick wall of resistance that feels impossible to overcome.
The level of support the rear-end provides helps you to generate speed from pumping terrain, which makes the bike feel lively when you’re fully engaged with the trail. There are truly enjoyable feelings of easily-generated speed if you’re willing to work with the bike and to pump the ground.
And let’s not forget the bike’s geometry. The reach number gives you plenty of room to move about on the bike when you’re climbing and, when combined with the short stem, I didn’t feel like I was being stretched out.
In fact, the seated pedaling position is fairly upright, which is almost certainly a combination of the short stem and fairly steep seat tube angle.
Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2 descending performance
Point the Rift Zone 2 downhill and it truly comes alive, with fantastically-controlled suspension, a great riding position and a well-damped and impressively capable chassis.
The long front-end and short back-end mean that it suits a heels down, elbows out approach.
The bike responds well if you’re pushing your weight aggressively through the pedals into the back wheel when riding around turns and gave me the sensation of cornering elation.
The short rear-end also makes it quick and easy to change direction as long as confidence and skill levels are up to the job. This has to be one of the best traits of the Rift Zone and very few things in life can beat the feeling of nailing a turn.
Along with the addictively competent cornering, the Rift Zone likes to be worked hard into the terrain. Speed is easily generated from the bike’s chassis by simply forcing it into and pushing it through holes and bumps, especially once I’d got the shock set up for my preferences.
This supportive characteristic is backed up by the chassis’ predictability and, when pushed hard to the limits, it doesn’t squirm, buck or bolt unpredictably. Instead, the feedback from the bike is consistent no matter how hard you ride it.
That fantastic numbness relates to outright control – surely generated by the bike’s chassis, 31.8mm clamp bars and well-built wheels – and reminded me of times gone by on the eternal quest to find the perfect setup for downhill racing. A true compliment, then.
This means it tackles off cambers, roots, rocks and rough sections with impressive attitude and forces from the trail aren’t adversely transferred into the rider. Instead, a damped but accurate feeling of the ground’s contours feedback into both feet and hands.
In the bike’s current spec, it offers as close to enduro bike performance as you can get without actually buying an enduro bike.
Even with the Fox 34 fitted, which was popping at the seams with tokens, it still took some doing to find the bike’s limits and those limits were still a long way down the road of ‘what the hell am I doing on a 125mm travel bike on this terrain?’
And that’s the kind of question this bike will make you ask again and again. Its downhill performance is truly unique because of how capable it is – even in its current guise if it’s set up correctly – but that wonderfully capable chassis needs to be accompanied by a bigger, burlier fork to really unlock more of its potential.
Marin Rift Zone Carbon 2 bottom line
Although the Rift Zone 2 is mildly compromised on the climbs, thanks in part to the hefty Maxxis rubber and fairly high headline weight figure, some key parts of its spec, namely the tyres and wheels, could be changed to vastly improve climbing performance and drop weight.
I think this would be missing the point of the bike though, because it would alter its descending performance. On the downs, the Rift Zone has truly magical ride qualities that bring a smooth and controlled presence to what could be a rowdy experience. This makes it easy to ride fast, which is unfortunate for the Fox 34 fork because its flaws are easily highlighted.
Therein lies the riddle of the 125mm travel bike with a bite much bigger than its bark. It’ll happily keep up with enduro bikes pretty much everywhere, and with an even bigger fork on the front, it could quite happily convince you it is an enduro bike, but it does have limits and the more enduro it becomes, the less trail it is.
So, if you’re a trail centre hero, an occasional bike park dweller, someone who rides all-day gnarly enduro epics or just a natural singletrack shredder, I reckon the Rift Zone has to be a top contender for your cash.
Yes, it has some flaws, but as an overall package it spans disciplines, performing better than some specific bikes for a price that isn’t outrageous. If only there was the option to spec a bigger fork on the front from the factory…