Marin Wolf Ridge Pro: First Ride
Marin and Polygon were both on the ground floor while Naild was putting the final touches on its R3act rear suspension system, and it must have been tough keeping the novel looking design a secret. According to eye-witnesses, who reported seeing some wild-looking, unadorned carbon machines flashing by with familiar faces on board, Marin's staff have been riding prototypes and first production samples for quite a while. How their secret did not appear on social media may be a miracle.
One of those ended up in my stable for a number of weeks this year for a first ride on my home trails. Officially, the carbon-framed 29er is called the "Wolf Ridge," and, while you'd never know that from looking at my bare carbon test sample, there was no hiding its dramatically different profile. I fielded many mid-ride questions. Marin's embargo lifts today, so I can finally show you what the Wolf Ridge looks like all dressed up and tell you a bit about how it rides.
|...a bike rooted in the birth of mountain biking, when one bicycle did it
all and there were no category-specific machines.—Marin mission statement
Marin Wolf Ridge
Marin's Wolf Ridge is intended to be the "one bike" for experienced trail riders with well-honed skills and an appetite for speed. What that means is that its R3act rear suspension brings ultra-efficient pedaling to a chassis designed with numbers that once were the domain of gravity-oriented all-mountain machines with lackluster acceleration and climbing performance. The magic of this recent development is that the Wolf Creek is equally capable of leveraging the skill sets of less experienced riders.
Two versions will be offered: the $8,599 USD Wolf Ridge Pro, suspended by Fox, and the $6,799 Wolf Ridge 9, suspended by RockShox. The chassis is designed for one-by drivetrains, and both models feature versions of SRAM's 12-speed Eagle transmission.
Weights hover around 29 pounds (13.2 kg). Marin says that, while the Wolf Ridge is efficient enough to race cross-country, its components reflect that the bike has technical skills which reach all the way up to enduro racing, where Kyle Warner will be using it to contest the EWS series this season. Marin, however, stops short of condoning their new hot rod for bike parks and downhill.
What R3act Suspension Does
Equally important, but less apparent, R3act requires less suspension sag—20 to 25 percentand it tends to remain at that height in motion. As a result, the chassis feels and acts as if it has more wheel travel available than the more heavily damped all-mountain and enduro designs that we have grown used to.
The mono-stay swingarm design also keeps the R3act suspension compact so that it can be adapted to almost any size frame, and its elevated chainstays bypass the heavily constrained area near the bottom bracket, crankset and rear tire, which allows frame designers to shorten the chainstays at will without sacrificing clearance for full-width rubber. Finally, with the swingarm above the chain, the Marin runs across rough ground quietly.
|The chassis feels and acts as if it has more wheel travel available than the more heavily damped all-mountain and enduro designs that we have grown used to.|
About Marin's Frame Design
Marin could have gone full futuristic with the Wolf Ridge, but the carbon chassis design is tastefully modern. The conventional-looking front section's semi-rectangular tubes expand into reinforced box sections where they terminate at the head tube and bottom bracket areas. To provide clearance for the mono-stay swingarm, the seat tube must angle sharply inward, and the bottom bracket sits beneath the swingarm on a rigid "tray" that is the full width of the Wolf Ridge's 92-millimeter-wide press-fit bottom bracket shell The telescoping element slides on sealed bushings, as does the yoke-type shock driver, while the rocker control link pivots on sealed ball bearings. All of the cables and hoses are internally routed, and the floor pan created by the bottom bracket extension is protected by a thick, screw-on plastic bash guard.
As mentioned, the low-stance of its R3act suspension allows for a generous measure of stand-over clearance. Marin offers the 29-inch-wheel chassis in small, medium, large and extra-large sizes, and reports that the small size can fit riders down to five-foot, four-inches (162.5 centimeters). As an added benefit, the low-slung seat tube allows smaller riders to choose longer-stroke dropper posts than most compact frames would normally allow.
Speaking of dropper posts, the Wolf Ridge uses a custom-made KS LEV seatpost with a set-back saddle clamping head. The reason stated was to buy another inch of space behind the seat tube to clear the rear tire and swingarm at full compression. The benefit of Naild's R3act suspension is how efficiently it pedals when paired with copious amounts of unrestricted rear-wheel travel, so Marin offset the seat tube to squeeze out 160 millimeters from the Wolf Ridge chassis while maintaining a relatively short, 430-millimeter chainstay length.
Bio-Metric Frame Sizing
The premise of anti-squat kinematics is to create an opposing force to counter the mass of the rider, so it makes sense to position that person in just the right place above and between the wheels to optimize that action. Marin says that its team charted average body types to determine leg and arm lengths, torso proportions, and center of mass, and then used those biometrics to determine the Wolf Ridge's frame geometry and sizing. Reportedly, the result of their efforts ensures that riders will enjoy similar handling and power transfer attributes across the four sizes that Marin offers. 'Tweeners can take advantage of the Wolf Ridge frame's low stand-over height to size up to the next longer reach without suffering progeny issues.
Trail Bike Numbers
In the handling department, the Wolf Ridge' geometry is a contemporary trail bike. Considering its 29-inch wheels, the 66.5-degree head tube angle is plenty slack enough to descend technical steeps without steering like a wooden tiller on the climbs. Reach is ample, measuring between 415 and 476 millimeters (16.3 and 18.74 inches) across the four available sizes, and the chainstay length is on the short side of the scale at 430 millimeters (16.9 inches). Mix in a sufficiently low bottom bracket height (336 millimeter/13.2 inches) and the Marin stacks up to be a playful trail machine with a good measure of stability. The old-school 73.5-degree seat tube angle, however, seems out of context with the rest of the Wolf Ridge's numbers—a necessity, says Marin, to position the rider where the suspension's kinematics are optimized.
I had the opportunity to ride the Wolf Ridge on a number of trails ranging from cross-country tracks to chunky natural rock descents and groomed flow trails. Weather conditions ranged from tacky hero dirt to classic Southern California's mixture of rock hard clay topped with a mixture of ball bearings and dust. Up until then, I had ridden rough aluminum prototypes. The Marin was the first dialed-in production model that I had a chance to put through its paces. To begin with, the suspension setup was different than I am used to. I prefer the fork to be slightly stiffer than the rear suspension, so I can descend steeps without dropping the front wheel into a hole. I was prompted to equalize the fork and shock sag at about 20 percent and to try riding with a minimum of low-speed compression damping in the fork. With 25 psi in the front tire and 27 psi in the rear, those settings turned out to be a good starting point.
I chose a rolling cross-country trail to come to terms with the bike and, in spite of the fact that my test bike's tires had heavy downhill casings, it rolled along much better than expected. Oddly, until I became used to the way the R3act suspension hugged the ground, the rear wheel felt like it was chasing me and not quite attached to the bike. I don't have a better phrase to describe that sensation. I think I was anticipating the rear wheel to unweight slightly on the back-side of each bump and roller. Instead, the tail end of the Marin rolled the backsides so closely that as it extended, it felt like I was getting a tiny push each time. By day three, I became accustomed to the sensation.
With plenty of traction on hand and suspension set foolishly soft for any 160-millimeter-travel bike I had previously ridden, I learned that could roll around sketchy corners with a degree of surety. Big 29-inch tires rarely push in the turns, which allowed me to experiment with the ground-holding ability of the Wolf Ridge's nearly undamped rear suspension (they tell me it uses 40% less compression and rebound compared to a standard Fox X2 damper). I had learned to equate mid-stroke firmness with superior cornering traction, but the Marin poked a hole in that logic. As long as I could manage to hold a line with the front wheel, the tail end would follow through with such ease that I thought I could hear it whistling tunes while I was mashing from corner to corner. Well, okay then.
With all of that cushion back there and minimal rebound control, I anticipated that I'd nose case every landing, but there is enough energy in the chassis to naturally level the bike when popping off of boulders and smaller jump faces, and a normal tug on the bars will do the trick on larger ramps and drops. No drama there, and to be truthful, the Marin didn't feel like it out-performed the better 160-millimeter travel bikes I have been riding down technical steeps and the boulder fields which are common fare in these parts. But, if pedaling is involved, even in short bursts to power over rock gardens and such, the Wolf Ridge move forward with measurable ease.
|I'll have to admit that the damn thing works as advertised.|
Saving the best for last, there is no question that the R3act-equipped Wolf Ridge has something special going on in the pedaling department. Hey, it's a massively huge 29er, which automatically qualifies it for lackluster acceleration and those three leg-sapping pedal strokes that follow each time you bog down in a G-out or are forced to push over a steep roller in a taller-than-anticipated gear selection. In spite of its big-wheel genetics, however, it is an efficient pedaling machine. My times were four to six seconds faster on my two-mile test climb, and I bettered most of my popular test loops. It defies reason that those events occurred on a thirty pound, softly sprung, 160-millimeter-travel bike with the fork and shock set wide open.
Is the Wolf Ridge the perfect trail bike? It's delightfully good, but thirty pounds is the borderline for a do-it-all trail bike, and the mono-stay swingarm occupies the full width of the crank arms, so if your heels drift inward, you will be scraping it often. Caveats aside, there is much more to love about the product of Marin's partnership with Naild. I'll have to admit that the damn thing works as advertised. So, what's next? A trip to B.C., where we will hopefully get a chance to put the Wolf Ridge Pro and its R3act 2 play suspension to task in an entirely different and perhaps, more hostile environment for a comprehensive review.